Clinton County Poor Farm

Poor FarmHere is some information I have gathered regarding Clinton County's Poor Farm which was in Charlotte.  I still have many questions and as I research this topic more, I will add to this page.

How did someone end up at the poor farm?  Was it voluntary?  or did the court decide that you had to go and when you could leave?  

Are there any reports, books, letters, etc. regarding what life was actually like at the poor farm, the county hospital and the insane asylum?

"This is a very nice, clear old photo postcard of employees of the Clinton County Poor Farm at Charlotte, Iowa. Postcard is used and postmarked 1913. Writing on card says "Steward and Mrs. Rowan and Assistants, Clinton Co. Poor Farm". Fine print to the right says, I think, "B. T. Petersen, Charlotte, Iowa". Embossed on the lower left hand side is "Louis O. Peterson, Charlotte, Iowa", probably the photographer." 

Report of Poor Farm Committee: 1870

PoorfarmFinding your whole family in the county poor farm is not the norm. However, you might find that one of your ancestors ended up at a county poor farm if he or she was no longer self-sufficient or able to rely on family members for care. The death of a parent or spouse can send a family into a financial tailspin, especially if the family is living hand to mouth to begin with. Perhaps the widow and children spent some time at the county poor farm.

The detail of these records can vary greatly from locality to locality and from one time period to another. Records of the county poor farm may provide additional insight into your ancestor's life and may provide details not contained in other records. The Family History Library has microfilmed some of these records, and they are included in its online card catalog ( For Clinton County, they have microfilmed the County Recorder entries (1840-1859), Misc. records (1853-1905), District Court records (1859-1906) and Circuit Court records (1870-1886).  The Clinton Library has copies of these microfilms.

The CC Historical Society Gene Library has a book that the Friends of CC Family History compiled in which they have listed those who died at the poor farm.

Generally, county poor farm records may be physically located in the county courthouse or in local archives. They may be in the possession of descendants of the last administrator of the facility. In some cases, the county “poor farm” became the county nursing home, and that facility may have the records.  

The Clinton County Poor Farm is now the Community Care Facility in Charlotte.  They have been trying to track down the actual records from the poor farm.  From what I have been able to determine, the poor farm wasn't required to keep detailed records at that time.  They only had to report the total number of those that were cared for and the total costs.  This report was usually given annually to the court.  

They also had to report the names of those who died. The death records, which are microfilmed to about 1911 and indexed to about 1913, also list those who died at the poor farm.  (These microfilms are at the LDS and the Clinton Library)  There was a cemetery at the poor farm.  It is nothing but an empty lot or field now.  No tombstones or markers of any kind mark the lonely spot.  From what I understand, people from the poor farm were also buried at some of the other county cemeteries also.  Springdale was one.  

History of the Poor Farm

PROVISIONS FOR INSANE AND POOR. (From The History of CC., 1879 by L. P. Allen)

"For many years after the settlement of the county, pauperism was practically unknown. None were rich and none were dependent, except in case of especial “bad luck,” upon their neighbors for favors freely granted and reciprocated. Among the real pioneers were none shiftless or “freckless-” enough to become a charge upon the community. But as the county began to fill up and the pinch of 1857 began to be felt, it became evident that the inevitable provision of civilized communities for the indigent would have to be promptly made. 

Accordingly in 1857, a “poor farm” of 200 acres, at $20 per acre, located in Waterford and Washington Townships, besides sixty additional acres of timber were purchased. John McElhatton was appointed Superintendent, and held the position till succeeded four years ago by the present incumbent, John Blessington. 

At first, for some time, four to five was the average number of inmates of the Poorhouse, and none were considered an extraordinary crowd. But since the war pauperism has in this county, as elsewhere, rapidly increased, till the average number maintained at the county charge is about thirty, and no less than forty-six have at some times been boarded at the poor-farm. 

The healthful site, energetic yet considerate management and careful supervision have maintained the institution on a basis, both from a humantarian and business point of view, eminently creditable to Clinton County, especially when compared with the inhuman and unhealthy surroundings of many poorhouses. 

The increase of insanity has necessitated additional provision for the county’s incurable lunatics. They are no longer received at the State Asylum at Mount Pleasant, and in the absence of proper local accommodation, have hitherto been maintained in Mercy Hospital, at Davenport, at a cost much above the actual expense of keeping them in suitable local quarters. Hence, the present Board, Supervisors Ruus, Lake and Svendsen, wisely determined to build an in asylum suitable for the present and future needs of the county, as a measure of both humanity and economy. It is now under construction and will be completed during 1879. W. W. Sanborn furnished the plans, embodying the results of the most recent investigations in both this country and Europe, as to the proper economic and sanitary arrangement of buildings occupied by imbeciles or defectives. 

The asylum will be three stories high, solidly built of brick and stone, and costing about $5,000. It admirably combines the features of a hospital dwelling and prison. A large yard for the inmates’ exercise-ground surrounds it. The rooms and cells contain twenty-five persons, and, at the present rate of increase of such unfortunates, it will probably not be long before it will be crowded to its utmost capacity, as some time ago fifteen incurables were, by the change in the Mount Pleasant system, thrown back upon the county’s charge. 

For some time the pernicious custom of allowing children to be associated with the idle and depraved at the county house, has been practically abandoned. Those who would formerly have naturally been contaminated by association with paupers, are now paternally cared for by Supt. Pierce at the beneficent Orphan’s Home at Davenport, where they are trained to become useful men and women. 

If, under the charitable spirit of the nineteenth century, a community’s civilization is measured by the judicious care taken of its defectives and paupers, Clinton County need not hesitate to invite comparison with any similar commonwealth.  

The contract system of boarding paupers has been replaced by the better one of paying the Steward a fixed salary. Recently the propriety of adding a needed hospital to the other county buildings has been agitated."

In this "charitable spirit of the nineteenth century" it is interesting to note that a husband could just say they thought their wife was insane, get a doctor to agree, and she would be committed.  They did not recognize post-partum blues or depression as we do now.  I even read of one "God-fearing, Christian" woman that started swearing who was declared insane!  These types of behavior were not considered normal by any means and would have made a good case for insanity.  So check those court records carefully if a female ancestor seems to 'disappear'.

This facility is still in operation in 1911.  From Wolfe's 1911 History of CC we learn a bit of additional information:

"Improvements have been made, from time to time, on the county farm, by erecting the necessary buildings, etc.  

From the December 31, 1909 report of the superintendent of the farm to the board of county supervisors, the following is shown:

Amount of corn raised, two thousand eight hundred bushels; oats, one thousand two hundred bushels; potatoes, five hundred bushels; tame hay, forty tons.  A total was sold from the farm in 1909, of four thousand seven hundred and thirty-three dollars and eighteen cents.

For the same year, there were received twenty-four inmates; nine died; left and discharged, eighteen; total enrollment for 1909, four hundred and sixty-two inmates.

In the insane department of the county farm there were on January 1, 1909, twenty-eight inmates; received during that year, one; died in the year, four; in asylum January 1, 1910, twenty-nine -- males thirteen, and females sixteen.

This method of caring for the unfortunate poor and demented has proven all that was claimed for it.  The institution is now almost self-sustaining.  The inmates are cared for in a humane manner, and all are provided with good wholesome food and warm, clean apartments, with the best of common medical attendance."

Article ca 1950s

Robin Whitsell ( )

I have enclosed a copy of an article taken from an unknown Clinton paper sometime in, I believe the early 1950's. It was found in some of my grandmother's things. She was the daughter of William Dohrmann. I thought it might be of some help to you, that is if you don't already have it. Sorry I don't  have a date for the paper. I'm guessing the date as the early 1950's due to the picture of William and Johanna, that is shown in the article. Wish I had a scanner so that I could of sent the pictures to you also.

Aged Not Ignored In Clinton County


Charlotte, IA. - "Make it cheerful. Make it their home." That's the philosophy that governs the Clinton County Home, a Haven for the mentally ill as well as the poor, a mile south of here.
The institution that began as a lone frame house in 1865 saw improvements made in 1878, 1880, 1898, 1910, 1920 and in later years until it has grown into a 200 acre farm. Now in addition to the four story brick home for the residents and the set of white farm buildings, the institution also has a herd of dairy cattle, 300 hogs sold a year, 60 acres of corn, some 30 acres of small grain, 40 acres of alfalfa and an 18 acre orchard.


William Dohrmann is steward of the home and Mrs. Dohrmann is stewardess. They came here in 1939, he from a farm and she from a catering service in Clinton. Operating a poor home and caring for the mentally ill was a new experience for the couple that presented many problems.
"The first year was the worst," Mrs. Dohrmann recalled. "For awhile we didn't think we'd be able to make it." But the couple decided to stick it out and redecorated the entire institution to make it more cheerful. Now neither cares to leave.
The have 133 men and women under their care now. This includes 61 poor people and 72 mentally ill. Of the poor, there are 38 men and 23 women and of the mentally ill, 38 are women and 34 men. All are from Clinton county.


"None of the insane people are violent," Mrs. Dohrmann said, "if any should become harmful to themselves or anyone else we'd take them back to the state hospital at Mt. Pleasant. They are all incurable."
But as far as Mr. and Mrs. Dohrmann are concerned the mentally ill are much easier to take care of then the poor. The poor demand more attention and show a lake of appreciation.
"The insane are 100 percent better to take care of than the poor. They are just tickled to death over what you can do for them. They won't step out of the yard when they shouldn't and if you're good to them that's all they ask," Mrs. Dohrmann explained.
The men and women have separate dining rooms, but otherwise, except for at night, the poor and the mentally ill stay together.
Many of the residents have reached their 85th year and some in their 90's. A few of the mentally ill have been here almost all of their lives. A 100-year old man who died last winter had been here 78 years. He came here as a mental patient when he 22 years old.


Recreation rooms equipped with television and various games are provided for both the men and women. They also have a room where they can visit with relations and church services are held every Sunday.
The county buys all of the residents clothes and food. The farm supplies milk, butter and eggs and fruit from the orchard which is canned and stored in the basement every year.
Clothes are washed every day of the week by county home employees and some 160 loaves of bread are baked at the home bakery.
Residents who come here as poor people must give their old age assistance to the home to help pay for their keep. They are allowed to keep pensions and social security funds. Last year it cost the county $27 a month per resident, Dohrmann said.

Picture of the women's dormitories [unable to copy]
Under the picture it reads:  Cleanliness and neatness are stressed at the Clinton County Home, especially in the dormitories. One of the finest examples of this is the women's dormitory above. Men are not as neat as the women but they also are required to keep their beds made and the floors clean. The residential building of the home is a three story brick building which houses both the employees and the poor and mentally ill.

Picture of Mr. and Mrs. Dohrmann [unable to copy]
Under the picture it reads: Mr. and Mrs. Dohrmann, Stewart and stewardess of Clinton County Home, check over records of residents. The home cares for both the poor and the mentally ill. A complete resume of each person is furnished the home by either the county or the state hospital at Mt. Pleasant. Mr. and Mrs. Dohrmann have been at the home since 1939. 

End of article.
NOTES: From the records of Robin Whitsell.
WillIam F. Dohrmann, son of Henry and Augusta Voss Dohrmann, was born 24 June 1883. William married on 12 June 1907 in Bryant Iowa, to Alma Charlotte Wessel, daughter of  August E. and Marie (Mary) Hagermann Wessel. Alma was born 26 Feb 1884 in Bryant Iowa, she died 27 June 1939.  William married his second wife (the women in the above article) on 15 Aug 1940 in Clinton. Her name was Johanna J. Ingwersen Christiansen, she had been married first to a Mr. Bach. William died 11 Feb 1958, in Clinton, he and his first wife, Alma are buried in Ingwersen/
Center Grove Cemetery in Clinton Iowa. Johanna died 16 Jan 1976. 


Robin Whitsell
Great Granddaughter of William and Alma Wessel Dohrmann

The following names appear on the Camanche City portion of the 1860 Census, pages 16-17

Lunklin,  Catharine M. 
Lunklin John T 
Handly Thos 
Ruinner Catharine
Ruinner William
Ruinner James
Ruinner Thos 
Ruinner Mary J 
Drake Wm M 
Watts Moses
Watts Lusinda
Hadley Mary Ann 
Hadley Ellen 
Hadley James
Hadley Catharine

Poor Became Problem in '57

This is from the Clinton Herald's Centennial Edition June 18, 1955:

Soon after the great financial panic of 1857, the need for a "poor farm" or "alms house" became apparent in Clinton county.

In 1857 the authorities of Clinton county purchased a farm of 200 acres near Waterford and Washington townships as well as 60 acres of timber land.

The first superintendents was John McElhatton, who held the position for many years being succeeded in 1874 by John Blessington.

At first the inmates only numbered from four to nine but soon after the close of the Civil war as many as 50 were cared for.

About 1878 it was found with the rapidly increasing number of insane and semi-insane persons, that some cheaper provision must be made for caring for these unfortunates, also.  The following year a three-story asylum was built at a cost of $5,000.

For many years the policy was to pay the superintendent of the poor farm so much per person per week, or month.  In the '70's this plan was changed and the superintendent became a salaried officer.