1864 Jefferson County Poor House

“The poor house of Jefferson county has a population of one hundred and seventy-four; sixty-one of whom are lunatics. Twenty-two are males, and thirty-two are females, who have been admitted at various dates within the last twenty years; the records do not show the period at which many were admitted. Five were admitted in 1864. Thirty-seven are mild cases. Only four of these have been treated in an asylum. Of the sixty-one, six males and sixteen females are capable of labor. All the males working out of doors. There is inclosed an acre of ground on which to exercise, and a swing is erected for amusement. [To what extent are these useful in the winter and stormy days, and what indoor amusements are furnished?] Eight are destructive to their clothing, and seventeen require occasional restraint by straight jacket, or handcuffs; confinement in cells and a bath are occasionally resorted to, to enforce restraint. The house has a very scant supply of water. It has one bath tub, and the insane are required to bathe once a week and to wash hands and face daily. It is very rarely that any are confined in cells without the privilege of coming daily to the open air. There are bedsteads of wood in all the rooms except the basement. Q. “What is the greatest number who sleep in one bed?” A. “Three to five idiots at times in a large bunk.” Straw is used for bedding, which for the idiots is changed weekly, for others less often. The building is heated by furnace and stoves, and a comfortable temperature is maintained.

There is no efficient accommodations for the various grades of the insane. The sexes are not entirely separated. Aside from the keeper and the assistant keeper of the poor house, there are none but paupers employed in the immediate care of the lunatics. Q. Did you look for vermin on their persons? A. Now and then there are lice. The county receives in its charge recent cases. Five were without either shoes or stockings last winter. Fifty of the lunatics are separated from the paupers and are in the asylum building; eleven are in common with the paupers. Eleven were removed by their friends, between November 1, 1863, and November 1, 1864. Three died during the year, and sixteen were discharged. An attending physician, at a salary of $150, visits the institution twice a week by requisition, and oftener if required. Cases receive care with reference to recovery if not thought incurable.

The county house consists of two separate buildings—”the old poor house,” and “the new asylum.” Most of the insane are in the asylum. This in the main is well planned and constructed for its purpose, and is well ventilated. The poor house part is very badly ventilated. Both are deficient in a supply of water and conveniences for bathing. The grounds attached are sufficiently large. The main rooms of the asylum are of good size, well lighted and very cheerful. The bedrooms are separated from the main body of the rooms by upright bars, of about 3 x 4 inches (transverse section,) leaving some four inches in space between each two bars. [A sort of cage.] * * There are thirty-eight bed rooms in the asylum and they are generally without fault.”

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 196-197.

New York State County Poor Houses.