1864 Cayuga County Poor House

“In the poor house of Cayuga county, situated in the outskirt of Auburn, there are seventy-five paupers, twenty-nine of whom are insane. Thirteen are males, sixteen are females. Eight are natives, seventeen are foreigners, and four unknown. They have been admitted at various periods since 1845. Eleven of these cases are mild, fifteen are violent, sixteen are of filthy habits. Nine of these cases have received treatment at the State asylum at Utica.

Ten are capable of performing labor, the others have no amusement or occupation provided for them; twelve are destructive to their clothing and require occasional restraint; the leather muff and confinement in cells being the form used. The house is supplied with water by a well and cistern, but it has no bath tub, nor have the insane any special time for bathing except when filthy. There is a standing rule requiring the hands and face of the insane to be washed daily. [Is it thoroughly enforced ?]

The building is of brick, three stories with basement of nine feet, other stories twelve feet, with rooms 8×12. There is a bedstead in each room; sometimes two sleep on one bed, but generally only one. The bedding in ticks is of straw and changed as occasion requires, not regularly. The diet is ample in variety and substance. The building is heated by furnaces, and designed to be made comfortable. The mild and inoffensive have the range of the basement and yards together, but the violent are confined in cells. Several mild cases occupy a room together, but the violent are kept in separate cells. They have only such care as can be forced from pauper attendants. The keeper said that vermin were sometimes found on the persons of lunatics. It is designed on the part of the county to send recent cases to the State asylum. The building is designed to accommodate thirty persons. Dr. Sylvester Willard, of Auburn, who made the investigation, remarks: “All the males are kept in the basement which is above ground, where they eat and sleep, and when not in the yard spend their time in the huge hall together, with the exception of the four who labor on the farm. Some cells are especially strong with iron grated doors, for the safe keeping of the violent and destructive. These strong cells being in proximity to the halls may be kept in comfortable temperature in cold weather, but are very deficient in ventilation. They have no windows or other openings and no communication with outer atmosphere, except from the hall through the grated door. At the time of my examination two cells were occupied, with one violent and destructive lunatic in each. Their beds were torn into shreds, and contents scattered over the floor. They were filthy in a superlative degree, and their excrements spread over the floor, on the walls and over their persons; with no means for ventilation or change of air the stench at their cell door was excessively offensive. Under the circumstances it may have been difficult to have had it otherwise. It is due to the keeper to say, that with the exceptions of these cells, the rooms were clean and neat.

The medical treatment is by a homeopathic physician, who visits the house regularly once a week, and oftener if required. No medical treatment is made with reference to their ultimate recovery.”

SOURCE: Documents of the Assembly Of The State Of New York, Eighty-Eighth Session, 1865, Volume 6, Nos. 199 to 112 Inclusive, Albany: C. Wendell, Legislative Printer, 1865, Pages 184-185.

New York State County Poor Houses.

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