1879 Dutchess County Alms-House – Poughkeepsie, NY


POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y., Dec. 14. – The Board of Supervisors visited the Dutchess County Alms-house on Friday, and found a good many things which common humanity and decency require should be at once remedied. every room and hall in the buildings was examined. A committee appointed by a previous Board of Supervisors spent $700 out of an appropriation of $1,000 in making certain improvements. but they only began a work which ought to be speedily finished. They put new floors in the hallways and 110 pairs of blinds on the windows. Friday’s inspection showed that the floors in every room are worn out, and have been for years. Strips of tin and zinc have been nailed over the cracks here and there to keep the cold out, and in some of the rooms and hallways portions of the walls have fallen. The window-panes are cracked and broken everywhere. The rooms are supplied with dilapidated wooden bedsteads of the commonest sort, which are so unclean that they are fit only to be thrown into a bonfire. Six of these beds are in one room. There are 25 new iron bedsteads stored in the building, with new mattresses, which have never been used. The kitchen is in the basement of the main building, and is so poorly ventilated that the odors from the cooking penetrate everywhere, and often make the atmosphere noisome. The garret of the main building is a miserable death-trap. Across the centre runs a partition, and 17 beds are under the low-peaked roof in the east end. A narrow, ill-contrived stairway furnishes the only exit from this man-hole. Let a fire once break out on the floors below, and the 25 or 30 paupers who usually huddle about the steam-pipes would stand very little chance of getting out alive. In the day-time this miserable room is lighted by one window in the east end. At night the light is furnished by a single candle fastened to the centre of an iron rod, which crosses the room over the heads of the occupants. The partition should be ripped out, three dormer windows should be built on each side, and substantial fire-escapes should be put up at the east and west ends. It is criminal recklessness to house the paupers in the garret as it is now.

Near the main building stands what is called the “insane building.” It needs a thorough overhauling. The “rooms” it contains are little better than wooden cells. Sliding doors separate these cells from a narrow corridor, and in each door is a small aperture through which food was formerly passed to the insane inmates. In some of these cells are two and three beds, and all the wood-work is impregnated with foul odors. New floors were put in the cells last season, but the whole affair needs to be rebuilt, and good rooms put where the cells now are. The chapel building is mainly occupied by the keeper and his family. It ought to be converted into a hospital and infirmary. The chapel could be left as it is, and at least 12 good rooms built for the use of the sick paupers. Another greatly needed improvement is a new boiler for the engine. The one now in use was put in 19 years ago, and it was only a second-hand boiler then. In its present condition it is liable to explode at any moment.

To this disgraceful condition of affairs is to be added the present commingling of the sexes. There is nothing to separate them in either the buildings or yards. They ought to be separated, and to do so need not be a difficult task. Proper fencing is all that is required in the yards. The keeper’s quarters should be removed from the chapel building to rooms in the centre of the main building. The male inmates could then be assigned to apartments in one end of the building, and the females placed in the other end. Proper partitions and doors could be easily built to divide the building in this way. The total expense in making all the necessary improvements is estimated at the very small sum of $1.500.

One thing that has helped to bring about the present disgusting state of affairs at the Alms-house is the lack of harmony between Superintendent Ladue and the Board of Supervisors. The committees of 1878 and of this year complain of the Superintendent for his refusal to carry out their suggestions, and say that had he done so many of the present evils would not exist. The committee of 1878 built an additional stairway at the west end of the building, but lath has been nailed across the exit and the stairway closed. The new iron bedsteads purchased this year have not been put in use by the Superintendent, nor have the new mattresses. Some of the latter still remain in the store where they were purchased. Other shortcomings of the same sort are charged against him by the Supervisors, and it is hoped that when the new Superintendent takes office he will make a beneficial change.

There are now 130 inmates in the Alms-house, but cold weather will probably increase the number to 150. At this time last year there were 180 inmates. Only one insane person is among the inmates, 10 incurable cases having been sent to the Willard Asylum during the past season.

SOURCE: The New York Times, Published: December 15, 1879, Copyright @ The New York Times.