Monday, March 27, 2017

More on the Old Madison County Home, winter and Welfare Reform

Workers starting the rebuilding of "The Home!.

This week as usual has been cold for the most part.  Winter does not read its still winter.  The snow is still on the I thought I would continue with the story of the old "Madison County Home.

The building of the news Almshouse almost coincided with the new wave of welfare reform that swept New York State after the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as the new Governor.  Roosevelt, elected in 1928, set to work immediately modernizing the poor laws and the rules governing public assistance in New York State.

The Superintendent of the Poor at this point in Madison County (since January 1, 1927) was Freeman MacIntyre.   The new governor signed the new Public Welfare Act into place.

The new Welfare Act came into law in April of 1929, modernizing the Madison County poor laws, which had been put into place in 1821.  This “Act” placed all the monies at the charge of the new Commissioner of Public Welfare.  Freeman McIntyre’s title had changed.

This new Welfare Act removed the terms “pauper, alms house and superintendent of the poor”.  The term Alms House that had been used for over one hundred years, was to officially become County Home.  (It is interesting to note that in Madison County documents it continued to be off and on referred to as the “Almshouse.”

Those interested in historic markers can go to the Town of Eaton Office Building and see the beautiful plaque that was removed from the Gerrit Smith Infirmary before it was sold; this bronze plaque clearly reads “Almshouse.”

From a 1931 clipping we find that the County Home and Freeman MacIntyre was placed in a number 1 classification for administration.  These times were the times of great poverty and depression in the United States, and the County Home contained over 95 occupants.  The highest number for the year was 112.  From July of the year before, there were 67 admissions and 61 discharges in addition to many “transients” that received food and shelter.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

More History on the "Old Madison County Home" a highly rated facility in its day!

What a week!  The weather has been nasty this weekend with wind chills in the minus range.  So once again stuck indoors I decided to catch up on some history.
Since so many have thanked me for information on the Old Madison County Home I thought I would add more to the story... 
The original site of the Home was a stone farm with many stone buildings including a stone hop house.  These structure probably pre-dated the 1806 Madison County forming.  The picture below in color is the "Home" made up of three sections that were joined.  Behind the building were two story outhouses.... The brick building that is still standing today was built after a fire...story below!
It is on October 23, 1913 that the next chapter in the “Poor House Story” begins. One of the Curtis girls, who was musically inclined, left the building early as she often did to teach a music lesson.
Once outside, she noticed that the building was on fire. She ran into the building and alerted those on duty and rang the bell sounding a call of alarm to the sleepy village above. 
Though helped arrived from every corner of the county, the building turned into a raging inferno and burned to the ground. The pictures that we have of the “Home” at this time are directly related to the quick thinking effort of one of the help that threw her trunk of belongings out a window and who called for someone to come and take it. Other than that “All was lost.” 

From Mrs. Partridges booklet on the Infirmary dated 1878-1979:
“Although it was never proved the fire was thought to have started in the lavatory of the men’s dorm in the wiring. A few days earlier electricians had been making repairs there.
One elderly resident reported having seen blue smoke there behind some of the plumbing but was not aware he should report it.”
The fire actually caught the roofs of a number of town homes ablaze.
It is recorded that men were housed in an adjacent building while the sick, women and children were put up in homes in Eaton Village until the building was completed.
All in the community helped to keep the many people involved in this terrible tragedy safe and cared for.
The Alms House fire of 1913 and the death of S. Allen Curtis left an amazingly large job for the next superintendent of the poor. After Curtis’ death, Lew Burden was doing the superintendent’s job.
After the fire, however, Republicans were pushing heavily to have Lewis Close of Lebanon made his successor. (An interesting note: George Lathrop who had been S. Allen Curtis,’ assistant and he married one of Curtis daughters.)
The new “home” was to be made of brick and arrangements were made to start the project immediately as the former and new inmates were being housed all over the village and in temporary quarters on the grounds. The new project was to be completed in two years, and it was! 
One if the still standing early stone structures in Eaton New York, now empty!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Old Madison County Home, Craig Colony for Epileptics, and Eaton History.

The Home as it was called before it burned in 1912
and was repave by the brick structure!
The weather has been really nasty this week and sitting inside I got to thinking on a number of informational articles I had that I could put out for the public to enjoy.  As the Madison County Historian I enjoyed delving into and writing the history of the county, if that history included information on the Town of Eaton I was enthralled. So I include this for those who always ask about the Old Home and Madison County’s care of the ill or less privileged....
Thanks to the Madison County Archives Project many new and interesting tidbits of information have surfaced. It is so strange how one piece of paper can start a ball rolling that suddenly garners information that most people have no idea about. One such tidbit is a paper we found on the Craig Colony for Epileptics.
The Atlantic Monthly “Review touted the new Craig’s Colony set up by New York State, as “A New York Colony of Mercy”. The Colony was set in Sonyea, New York, which was named by Native Americans, translated meaning “The open spot where the sun shines in.” The area, originally settled by Shakers and sold to New York State to be “only used for charitable purposes,” became Craig’s Colony for Epileptics.
The original plan was to make the colony as self-sufficient as possible and a steadfast rule was that it was to serve the “indigent,” not private pay patients, and that it would not handle those people that had become “insane.” The people set to the facility were from New York’s county poor houses and almshouses, including our Madison County epileptics. Each had to work at some form of constructive labor to benefit the colony.
One of the first obstacles was the realization that these epileptics were totally uneducated, as epileptics at the time were considered insane or evil and many never attended schools, but were locked up in asylums or almshouses. Even though their seizures lasted a few minutes and then the person returned back to normal, these people never were treated as a normal person.
So, immediately the colony set up a school for the young children that were brought in. The adults also had to be schooled in service jobs such as basket weaving, brick making, straw mat weaving, upholstering, woodworking, printing, blacksmithing; useful trades that would not only serve the “Colony,” but also be in part saleable to raise money. The women were mostly engaged in indoor activities and in working the gardens. The “Colony” cultivated and worked a farm of over 2,000 acres.
In the Atlantic Review article it states that in its first year Craig’s Colony worked at a level of 50 percent self-sufficiency. The other funding came from the State of New York, which provided $250 a year per person for the colony, with the county such as Madison, providing $30.
Another facet of the “Colony” was its designation as a place to study epilepsy noted in its charter was a provision to “establish a department for scientific research.” The system managed to gather much needed information on the disorder, it managed to train nurses and the laboratory it set up had a complete and unique system of keeping records, records that were put into studies and eventually, medical journals.
The Atlantic article by Sydney Brooks states that “The Craig’s Colony is many things in one. It is a farm, a school, a laboratory, a workshop, a hospital and an asylum; but above everything else it is a home.”
Information on New York State’s Craig’s Colony has surfaced in our march through older documents and the research into this institution is an interesting backwards glance into the welfare system of New York State during the late 1880’s and 1900’s. At
that time in history epileptic people who needed help were taken care of by the County Supervisors who were charged with setting up “Poor Houses” that not only acted as hospitals in the rural areas and functioned as nursing homes for the elderly or needy, but also housed epileptic people who in that period of time were looked on with fear.
In the year 1874 the New York State Commissioner in Lunacy in a report cited over 436 epileptics in the state who were so bad that they had to be housed or confined in county poor houses or in some cases in jail. The person cited to investigate the situation was William Letchworth.
After touring Europe to see other methods of care for epileptics Letchworth wrote numerous pamphlets on the appalling conditions in New York State. In his efforts to reform the system Dr. Frederick Peterson, a doctor in the Harlem Valley State Hospital for the Insane, joined him. Peterson, after touring a facility in Germany, asked for a similar colony to be built in New York, and both men convince the Legislature in 1892 to undertake to build such a facility. Letchworth and the head of the state Board of Charities, Oscar Craig set about looking for a suitable location.
The site chosen was the former Sonyea Shaker Colony established in 1836. The Shaker Colony late faded as a result of fires, floods and poor management. The State of New York eventually offered $115,000. For the land, making promises to the Shaker Community to use it only for charitable purposes.

And so it is on January 20, 1896, that Madison County and New York’s other counties, received formal notification, which the first named patients from the county’s list could be sent to the new Craig Colony.
A trip to Letchworth Park and William Letchworth's Museum

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winter, Cows, Fog, The Old Town of Eaton Museum and Me!

Burchard Farm as it used to look...still standing in Pine Woods
It seems everyone has been down with something health wise this winter.  For those that haven’t been affected physically they have been depressed by the ups and downs of the weather.  I myself am one!  It had to be tough on animals with near zero to mid sixties and back again. This got me thinking about the cows, yes the cows.
Few people realize the role the Town of Eaton has played in the history of the Holstein-Friesian breed whose relatives still dot the countryside today.  Many know of Gerrit Smith Miller and his famous cow, but few realize that the Chenango Breeders Association brought the first actual breeding herd here from Holland in the 1800’s.  As a matter of fact the group of Eatonites included Sylvester Burchard, Charles Payne and a very interesting man called by many Deacon (Alva) Cole.  As a matter of fact Burchard and Payne wrote the rules the breed was judged by. (I have some of Cole’s and Burchard’s artifacts and pictures in the Old Town of Eaton Museum.) It is also interesting to note that the old Burchard Farm was the first dairy in Madison County.
So with that being said… the “FOG” we had the other night down here made me think of a good story I remembered. One of the many things I did not realize when I move here was the meaning of the term “leavings”.  Old Nellie Wooten always would say as she went here or there that there were a mess of leavings. Okay, what are leavings? But not inquiring…. I would just shrug my shoulders and figure it was something or other. I finally realized the actual meaning once, which made sense months later.
It was a hot spring week, but the nights were still quite cool, and my cat Chat my cat woke me up and kept running to the side door. I got up and followed him as Chat was very smart, and I assumed some- thing was wrong. As we went out onto the porch I could hear this mooing that sounded eerie. It was dancing in the thick pea soup fog that had arisen. It seemed to be moving at one point, then sounded as if it was in my back yard, but neither the cat or I could see anything.
The next morning I went across the street to my neighbor Mike Curtis’ and asked, “Were there cows loose running around town last night”? He just laughed at me. ”It’s the fog, it makes everything sound that way!” I walked over to Bob Rollins, struck up a conversation and told him about it. He said, “Oh the fog can really fool you; it was for sure the farm up above.” He told me a story about how some local men had been lost in the local swamp after going bullhead fishing because the fog was so thick. He said they even had to send a search group after them when they did not return home! Something I stored in my memory should I ever go bullhead fishing in a swamp in spring! 
Just then Nellie came strolling down the street heading “over town” as she called it. I greeted her and asked her if she had heard cows roaming in the back yards last night. She said no but asked if I had looked in my back yard for leavings!
Ah, leavings. All of the bells and whistles went off in my head: leavings! Sure enough, there were cow leavings, and the piles of stuff that they left were quite visible. Even today I politely call them leav- ings!

So csome to the old Town of Eaton this Spring and view “Cow” history!