1864 Erie County Poor House

“The population of the Erie county poor house averages about five hundred. Of this number one hundred and twenty-one are lunatics. At least three-quarters of them are females. Of one hundred and three, eighty-six are of foreign birth. They have all been admitted since 1850. Fifty-five cases are of mild type. Only two cases are noted as having been treated in an asylum. About twenty-four are capable of labor. Sixteen require occasional restraint and two constant restraint. The straight jacket and a restraining chair are used for this purpose. The house has not a full supply of water. It has no bath tub. All the rooms have not beds and bedsteads. About twenty sleep on straw, without other bedding. The straw is changed once in one or two weeks. The building is heated by stoves for coal or wood. There are no accommodations for the various grades of the insane. The sexes are separated, but paupers only are employed to care for the insane, and to attend to their daily wants. The rooms are generally clean, and the air very good, except in the rooms occupied by the worst cases. The county takes recent cases. Nineteen cases were admitted in 1864. About twenty had no shoes or stockings during the winter. The county house is only designed to accommodate eighty cases, but at times one hundred and fourteen have been forced into it. The very mild cases are put in with the sane paupers. Ten or twelve were removed by their friends during the year, and two escaped who were not returned. The physician appointed by the superintendent of the poor house visits the insane twice a week. Temporary cases are admitted for ten days, of which no account is here taken.

“The largest building for the insane especially, is of stone, 118 x 40 feet, two stories high, and has fifty-two cells, with two wards, one for male and one for female patients. The second building is also of stone, 40 x 40, with eighteen cells. The third building is wood, 26 x 50, with fifteen cells. The accommodations are limited, for so large a number, but everything looked neat and comfortable. The accommodations are not suited to the favorable care and treatment of the insane. Their construction is not such as is approved by medical and sanitary authorities, and it is impossible to separate patients into proper classes. The air in the rooms occupied by those designated as the worst patients, is unfit to breathe. The supervisors of Erie county, at their last session, appropriated $20,000 for the purpose of erecting another building for the insane, adjacent to those now built, but the four buildings will be detached, and at the best, illy adapted to the proper treatment of the insane. In fact, the State of New York should maintain, at this place, a charity like the Utica Asylum, as it would confer a great benefit upon society. I assume the responsibility of urging some action in behalf of the insane of Western New York, commensurate with the importance of the subject, the interests of humanity, and the dignity of the State.” These earnest remarks are from Dr. Josiah Barnes, of Buffalo, who made the investigation in Erie county.

THE PROVIDENCE ASYLUM.
“This institution at Buffalo, built expressly for the insane by the Roman Catholics, is under the management of the Sisters of Charity. The rooms are spacious and well ventilated. At each end of the building, in each story, is a balcony supported by pillars and a balustrade, so that the insane can enjoy the fresh air, without descending to the ground. The property embraces several acres, and is well adapted for the purpose for which it is designed; and the Sisters, to whose management every thing is entrusted, are indefatigable in their efforts to render as comfortable as possible the unfortunate persons committed to their charge.” This institution has twenty-five inmates. It has a free supply of water, and three bathing tubs. The insane have amusements provided for them, and every possible care, with reference, to their ultimate recovery, and nothing seems lacking that could promote the comfort and happiness of each patient. Two have died here during the year, and several cases have left, having convalesced.”

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 191-192.

New York State County Poor Houses.

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