1864 Monroe County Poor House

“The Monroe County Insane asylum is, by a special act of the Legislature, made a separate and distinct institution from that of the poor house, and is under the control of the board of supervisors of the county. It is a three story brick building, the basement being 10 feet ceiling, and the other two stories 12 feet each. The single rooms are 5 x 10 feet, and the double rooms 8 x 10 feet. The windows are 2 x 7 feet. There are four rooms without windows opening out of doors. The building is heated by stoves; and in winter the temperature is maintained uniform by the indication of a thermometer. The lunatics are confined in four separate wards; four occupy the same room. The whole number confined during the year is 105; but the number has been reduced by patients discharged, deaths and absconding, so that only 74 have been in confinement at any one time: 46 were males, 59 females; 38 American, 67 of foreign birth; 54 were mild, and 18 were filthy; 27 had been treated in the State asylum. Ten males and ten females were capable of labor; but those who could not labor were unprovided with occupation or amusement. Fifty-four human beings, with at least some intellect in action, though not guided by reason, shut up in one building, with neither occupation or amusement! The only restraint resorted to, aside from handcuffs, is close confinement and cautious showering. This asylum has one bath tub, but not a full supply of water. The lunatics are required to wash daily. All the rooms have single iron bedsteads; some are fastened to the floor. Only one sleep in a bed, and the bedding is comfortable. The diet is respectable. About two-thirds come to a table; the remainder are served in the wards or their rooms. The sexes are kept separated, and all are under the care of the warden and his wife, assisted by two females. The rooms are clean, and the air in the upper rooms good. All had shoes during the winter. This asylum, recently erected, was designed to accommodate 48 patients; 74 are crowded into the space designed for 48 to occupy! Three escaped during the year, who have not returned. The supervisors appoint a physician, who visits the institution twice every week, and oftener if necessary, but with reference only to the physical condition of the inmates. Dr. Thomas Arner remarks of the building, “Its design is for the physical welfare of the insane poor, without reference to their ultimate recovery. * * * The personal cleanliness of the inmates, and that of the wards and sleeping apartments, the quantity and quality of food, together with the admirable discipline adopted and maintained, are all that can be desired, and reflect the highest praise upon the warden and others, upon whom devolves the care of this unfortunate class of people. There are deficiencies of an important character still to be provided for, in order to render the institution in all respects complete. In its present capacity the building is designed to accommodate forty-eight persons only, eleven of which number are provided for in the basement. The impropriety of crowding seventy-four insane persons into this limited space, some of which is damp and unhealthy, needs no remark, (it needs the severest censure from all humane citizens.)” Increased capacity is essentially necessary to the physical welfare of the inmates of this institution. There should also be a more bountiful supply of water, increased facilities for bathing, and for cooking, and for washing, enlargement of the dining halls, and better provision for exercise in the open air. The question whether, in an institution of this character, the treatment adopted should have in view the ultimate recovery of the inmates, cannot at the present be easily determined; and its solution properly rests with those upon whom devolves the responsibility of their care. The following facts are submitted:

All the insane formerly confined in the poor house (under the old system) have very much improved in every respect, by cleanliness and kind treatment, since their removal to the asylum.

Cases that have been returned as incurable from the State asylum at Utica, have afterwards improved to a marked degree, and in two or three instances nearly well.”

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 200-201.

New York State County Poor Houses.


1 thought on “1864 Monroe County Poor House

  1. How sad! My 4th Great Grandfather and wife’s house burnt down and because there were no family no take care of them (there children had already passed) they ended up in Monroe County’s Almshouse/Poorhouse.

    Joel Houghton, my ancestor, had patented the 1st dishwasher, and other farm tools. To think that he had “some intellect in action” being shut up with “no occupation or amusement” breaks my heart.

    Thank you for this incite full article.



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