Newspaper Articles regarding the County Poor Farm

The Decatur County Journal
January 10, 1884


The poor farm of Decatur County, Iowa, is in Eden Township and contains one hundred and eighty acres, only part of which is in a state of cultivation. W.A. KETCHAM, the present steward of the farm, makes the following statement of products for the year 1883:

One hundred tons of hay.
Fifteen hundred bushels of corn.
One hundred and twenty bushels of oats.
One hundred and fifty bushels of potatoes.
Twenty-five bushels of onions.
Ten bushels of beets.
Three bushels of white beans.
Ninety gallons of molasses.
Thirty bushels of turnips.
No. of hogs killed - 22.
Beef - 1.
No. of cattle on the farm - 20.
No. of hogs - 16.
No. of acres of land put in cultivation - 21.
Wood sold - $80.00 worth.

This statement shows that notwithstanding the fact that some complaints are made about the manner in which MR. KETCHAM attends to the farm by people who do not personally know anything about it, that it is the best cultivated farm in the county.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"

March 3, 2001

The Decatur County Journal
January, 1886


The Board hired W.A. KETCHAM as steward of the poor farm for the coming year. MR. KETCHAM has been steward for some time and everything about the farm has been run in the best possible manner. The Board did a sensible thing in retaining him for another year.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
February 18, 2001

The Decatur County Journal
October 7, 1886


On Thursday morning last, between 10 and 12 o'clock, the poor house was destroyed by fire. The fire was first discovered between the ceiling of the first story and the floor of the second.

MR. KETCHAM and all those present made all possible efforts to save the building, but all the water which they could put on seemed to do no good and the flames spread rapidly until it was seen that further attempts to save the building would be useless, when they turned their attention to saving the contents. All of the contents of the lower story were removed but most of those of the second story were destroyed.

The inmates, of whom there were 17, were all brought safely out. They and MR. KETCHAM's family are now housed in the old dwelling -- a building containing but three rooms. The building and contents were insured for $2,000, but the loss is estimated at between $3,000 and $4,000. All of MR. KETCHAM's personal effects were destroyed, with a small amount of insurance.

The Board held an informal meeting Friday and decided to proceed, as soon as the loss is adjusted with the insurance company, with the erection of a new building. In the mean time temporary provision will be made for the accommodation of the paupers.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
February 18, 2001

The Decatur County Journal
Wednesday, July 27, 1887


Last Week's Reporter contained a column article devoted to the management of the county poor farm, the object of which is to lay the foundation for an attack on the members of the Board of Supervisors. The itemized expenses of the poor farm for last year appeared in THE JOURNAL some time ago and it is unnecessary to repeat them here. There are some facts connected with this subject which The Reporter man forgot to mention and we hasten to supply the omission.

W.A. KETCHAM, the present steward of the poor farm, was appointed by a democratic Board of Supervisors. His salary was originally fixed at $500 per annum, but was afterwards raised to $600 by the same democratic Board of Supervisors. He never filed a report of his management of the poor farm and was never called upon to do so by the democratic Board of Supervisors. THE JOURNAL has no fault to find with the Board's appointment of MR. KETCHAM. We endorse the appointment and also the action of the Board in raising the salary to $600 per annum.

The duties devolving upon the steward of the poor farm in caring for the indigent and controlling the insane are of a most arduous character, requiring the exercise of tact, nerve and sound judgment. These qualifications MR. KETCHAM undoubtedly possesses and we believe he has conducted the affairs of the farm honestly and economically. THE JOURNAL believes that complete and satisfactory annual reports of the condition of the poor farm should be filed with the Board by the steward. But if the present Board of Supervisors are to be censured for failure to compel the steward to make his reports, then a democratic Board is equally censurable for a similar neglect, and we see no opportunity for the manufacture of democratic political capital in this direction.

The truth is that a republican Board, for the first time in the history of the county, exacted of the steward last year a report of his management of the county poor farm. The report was presented to the Board by the steward in compliance with the request.

The present Board of Supervisors will see that hereafter complete and accurate reports are filed by the steward and of the servants of the people. The gentlemen composing our Board of Supervisors are among our heaviest taxpayers, and they are interested in having the affairs of our County Government administered with the strictest economy and in a business-like manner.

Heretofore no record has been kept of the number, cost and dimensions of the bridges of the county. The Board, desiring to introduce practical improvements and correct any existing abuses, have ordered the bridges of the county numbered and a book kept by the auditor, which will contain the cost, dimensions, and a complete history and description of every bridge in the county.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
March 15, 2001

The Decatur County Journal
August 2, 1887


To state facts truly and impartially, and to enlighten the public concerning our County Government, is laudable and necessary. But to mislead, most especially those not familiar with public business, is truly contemptible. I have not examined the poor farm account which was so carefully looked over by the editor of The Reporter, but I trust he will fulfill his promise to make a more thorough and searching investigation. That is what we want. If he will go back to January 14, 1880, and examine the records he will discover on the minutes that MR. KETCHAM was appointed steward of the poor farm for one year from the 10th day of March, 1880, by a Board composed of democrats as follows: HIRAM CHASE, R. BANTA and ED. CONWELL. This same Board fixed the steward's salary. Let us look farther; On page 20 it will be seen that this same democratic Board visited the poor farm in January, 1881, and declared it to be in a satisfactory condition. On page 28 we find our Board complimenting MR. KETCHAM by appointing him steward for another year. MR. KETCHAM undoubtedly accounted for his stewardship, though our democratic Board did not require him to put it in writing. The same democratic Board visited the poor farm at every session, always "partaking of its fat dinners," and always reporting the farm in a satisfactory condition. In 1882, a republican, W.H. CLARK, was elected a member of the Board, his associates being democrats. They visited the poor farm in January, 1882, and reported everything satisfactory. On page 108 it is recorded that MR. KETCHAM was continued in office by the democratic Board. In June, 1882, MR. CLARK did not attend the meeting on account of sickness, but his two democratic associates visited the poor farm, and after as usual "partaking of the fat dinners", again reported everything in a flattering condition. But no written report was required of him. These visits and findings continued until the election of a republican Board. The Board then required the steward to file his written report and this was done. So far as MR. KETCHAM is concerned, it is to his credit that he managed the poor farm so as to give satisfaction to a democratic as well as a republican Board. "Union" is in dirty business to attack, without any foundation whatever, the record of our present Board of Supervisors.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
March 15, 2001

The Leon Reporter
Wednesday, September 17, 1896

The Board of Supervisors have very wisely decided on making some extensive improvements at the county farm by erecting a new building for the insane patients. It is something that has long been needed. There are a number of insane patients at the farm and the accommodations have been very crowded and poor. The Board has decided to erect a two story addition on the north side of the old building, 31x37 feet, containing 14 rooms 11x12 feet. A full basement will be put under the entire building and a good steam apparatus will be put in. In addition to heating the new addition the steam plant will be located so that it will be used to heat the entire old building.

The Board employed WILEY SELLS to make the plans for the addition and he will be in charge of the work as foreman. Work will be commenced as soon as the lumber arrives, it having been decided to use Washington pine. W.H. JENKINS will have charge of the brick work. The old building will be remodeled so that while the new building will be built entirely separate from the old, it will be connected with it by a hall.

This step by the Board will be the means of making quite a saving to the taxpayers of the county, for with the new accommodations quite frequently insane patients can be properly cared for at the county farm, who would otherwise have to be taken to the asylum at Clarinda, and it already costs this county about $4,500 a year to maintain its insane at the state asylums. Then too it will do away with the danger from fire in using stoves in the insane department, and the inmates can be made comfortable in cold weather.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Siefert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
November 13, 2002

The Leon Reporter
Wednesday, April 8, 1897

'A Visit to the County Farm'

On Tuesday we accepted an invitation to accompany the Board of Supervisors to the County Farm on their regular inspection trip. We started early in the morning, but such roads! The heavy rains had washed out numerous culverts, and at other places we can testify to the poor condition of the roads, as the team had to pull our carriage through long mud holes where the wheels sank down below the hub. A trip to the country now will certainly impress anyone with the necessity of good roads.

On arriving at the County Farm, we were cordially welcomed by Steward Sam Grayson and conducted through the new building which the Board has built for the care of the paupers and insane of the county. Everybody who has passed the County Farm knows what a dilapidated old one story building was formerly used. Now a handsome new two story structure greets the eye, and we are safe in saying that Decatur County has the best and most comfortable county building in the State of Iowa.

The main building is 26x60, feet two stories, with a north wing 31x38 feet, two stories, and a south wing 16x40, feet, one story, used as a kitchen and dining room. In the building there are 30 sleeping rooms each 12 1/2x12 feet, the ceilings in the rooms on the first floor being 9 feet 4 inches high and 8 feet in the second story. From top to bottom the building has been constructed with a view for the comfort of the inmates, each room having large windows, hung with weights so they can be easily raised or lowered, and a ventilating transom over each door. It is warmly built too, the best Washington fir being used, and the walls are all lined on both sides of the studding with inch lumber, then weather boarded on the outside and plastered on the inside, a feature worthy of note being that this method makes every wall solid and the plastering is as solid as if it was on a brick wall and can not be knocked off. The floors are all of fir and oiled, and a large hall extends through the entire building north and south and east and west. The rooms will all be heated by steam, a complete steam heating apparatus being in the basement, and this does away with the danger of fire. There are no nooks and corners in which to tuck away dirt and the entire building can be kept neat and clean.

The Board, wisely as we think, did not contract the building, but employed Mr. J.W. Sells as Superintendent, thus securing the best of material and workmanship throughout. The total cost of the building including the $800 heating apparatus is a little less than $4,000, making the cost of the building proper about $3,200, and when the size of the building is taken into consideration, it has been built very cheaply, and we believe for less money than if it had been let on a contract. With this new building the Board can carry out its plans of caring for all paupers at the County Farm, and in place of allowing so much per week for their support all over the county, will order them taken to the County Farm. And right here we desire to state that they will be much more comfortably housed and fed than they are under the present system. Then too, several harmless insane patients who are now kept at Clarinda will be brought to the County Farm, where they can be kept for much less than $15 per month which the county now pays for their support at the asylum. By the expenditure of this $4,000 the Board will save that amount to the taxpayers in the course of a very few years.

After partaking of a splendid dinner prepared by Mrs. Artt, the very competent Stewardess, we looked over the large farm of 240 acres and found everything in tip top shape. The farm is well-stocked with horses, cattle and hogs, all raised on the farm, and quite a large sum is realized each year from the sale of stock. They now have about $1,000 worth of steers and hogs ready for market. The County Farm is certainly efficiently and economically conducted by Mr. Grayson and his sister, Mrs. Artt.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
November 20, 2002

The Leon Reporter
Wednesday, April 15, 1897

'Decatur County's Insane'

It will no doubt surprise many of our readers to learn that 26 persons from Decatur County are now confined in the Clarinda insane asylum, besides the insane patients kept at the poor farm. Those at Clarinda are:

Mrs. S. Smith; Joseph Needham; Volney Dorsey; James M. Harrow; James L. Wilson; John Taylor; H.E. Warner; John Kirwin; Frederick Wilson; Holley E. Kelley; Frank Baxter; Newton Judd; Samantha Swan; Beatrice Parr; Rebecca E. Tharp; Clara A. Dibble; Martha Stephens; Fanny Humphries; Lucy Boswell; Nancy Gore; Lucinda Riggs; Elizabeth Cozad; Alice Brann; Ellen M. Perry; Viola Warnock; Louise M. Warren.

Each of these patients cost the county $15 per month for their board and care in addition to what clothing is required for them. The County Treasurer has just remitted to the State for the quarter ending March 3l, the sum of $1,170, so that taking the expense of the officers in conveying insane persons to the asylum, the fees of the insane commissioners, etc., it costs the county something over $5,000 a year for the care of its insane.

At the last meeting of the Board of Supervisors, a resolution was passed requesting that seven of the most docile and easily handled of the incurable insane at Clarinda be returned to the county to be cared for at the new County (sic, house) just finished, where all necessary preparation has been made for taking care of them. If seven persons are returned, the county will have $1,260 less per year to pay to the asylum and we know they can be kept at the County Farm for one-half the sum.

Leon Reporter, Leon, Iowa
Thursday, April 15, 1897

'Resolution by Board of Supervisors'

The following order in regard to incurable insane was made by the Board of Supervisors: The Auditor is hereby ordered to notify the insane commission of Decatur County that the County (Hospital, sic) is completed and that the county is prepared to take care of seven of the incurable insane patients and that said commissioners are requested to demand the return from the asylum at Clarinda of seven of the most docile and easily handled of the incurable insane from this county.

The following order in regard to paupers was made by the Board of Supervisors:

It is hereby ordered that no further aid be furnished George Huntley and family, J.D. Bennett and wife, Peter Hinds and family, Moses Williams and family or Teresa McGovern and child except at County Farm.

No further business appearing minutes of today's proceedings were read and approved and the Board of Supervisors adjourned to meet Monday, June 7, 1897.

[Attest] J.G. Springer, Chairman.
George W. Sears, Auditor.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
November 20, 2002

The Leon Reporter
Wednesday, May 13, 1897

'Insane Returned'

Deputy Sheriff Brown and wife, member of Board Chas. Rudibaugh and insane commissioners, Dr. Layton and S.A. Gates, returned last Thursday from Clarinda bringing with them eight incurable insane patients, three men and five women, who will be cared for at the new county building at the Poor Farm. The patients returned are: Joseph Needham; Sherman Smith; John Taylor; Rebecca E. Tharp; Fannie Humphries; Martha Stephens; Nancy Gore and Clara Dibble. It has been costing the county $15 per month for each insane patient kept at the asylum, and by bringing these eight patients home, the county is virtually relieved of an expense of $120 per month, for they can be kept at the Poor Farm for a nominal sum. In the course of a year the saving in this line will amount to a large sum.

The committee found all the Decatur County patients at Clarinda doing nicely. Newton Judd has recovered so as to be able to return home and he came last week. Hollie Kelley is in good health and is able to walk with the aid of crutches.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
November 20, 2002

The Leon Reporter
Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
Thursday, November 06, 1913, Page 1

Installing New Boiler at County Farm.

Capt. A. A. Jenks, the veteran plumber of Leon, is busy this week installing a new boiler for the heating plant at the county home. Although past eighty years of age, Capt. Jenks is still quite active and is able to do a full day's work at his trade.

The Leon Reporter
Thursday, February 26, 1925


E.L. SHIRA, the very efficient steward of the County Farm, this week completes twenty-five years continuous service in this capacity, and we doubt very much if there is another steward in the whole State who has such a record. Twenty-five years ago, MR. SHIRA and his good wife, moved to the County Farm, he having been elected by the Board of Supervisors as steward to succeed Sam Grayson; and each year he has been elected to the position, for in every way he has made a splendid Official. MR. SHIRA is considered among the very best County Home stewards in the State, and the Decatur County Home is always rated very highly by the State Inspectors who regularly inspect every County Home in the State, and they consider him mighty hard to beat.

MR. and MRS. SHIRA have worked hard to conduct the County Home in an economical manner in the interest of the taxpayers. They give the unfortunates who make their home at the County Farm, the very best attention, and while they maintain rigid discipline, they do so in a manner which earns for them the respect and love of the inmates, and it is just like one big family out there. You could not induce many people to take charge of a County Home, for there are some very disagreeable features connected with it, such as the care of insane, but MR. and MRS. SHIRA are equal to every occasion. After serving so efficiently for a quarter of a century, it is safe to say that MR. SHIRA will continue as steward as long as he desires the position.

Copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
"With permission from the Leon Journal Reporter"
October 12, 2002

The Lamoni Chronicle
Lamoni, Decatur County, Iowa
Thursday, December 20, 1941, Pages 1 & 6


Thirty-six aged people are being cared for at the Decatur County Farm. Both indigents and insane are admitted to the county home where they receive comfortable quarters, plenty of good food, efficient supervision and expert medical attention.

Last year the net cost of the Co. Farm was $7,174.76 for 40 inmates. The average cost per person for the year was $174.99 and the average cost was approximately $4 less than it would cost to keep a patient at a state institution. Figured down to a weekly basis the county paid on $3.37 per person cost a week last year.

For the past 10 years Mr. and Mrs. R. C. Oney have been steward and stewardess of the county home and through their efficient work and the careful supervision of the county board members the cost has been kept at a minimum. State inspectors report that the Decatur County Farm meets all requirements of the state and that the steward and stewardess are among the most capable in Iowa.

Health Conditions

The law requires that the county physician, Doctor Bowman, pay regular visits to the home. Once each week he makes his calls.

"Surprising as it may seem" says Doctor Bowman, "I prescribe very little medicine for the inmates as their physical condition is better than one would expect. Most of their ailments are due to infirmities of old age."

Dr. Bowman credits the physical condition of the inmates to good clean nourishing food served them. The marked improvement in their health after residing at the farm for a while reflects the importance of correct diets. Although the inmates at the farm probably had sufficient food to keep them from hunger before they entered the institution, many of them are benefiting from a nutritious diet for the first time in their lives.

Sorghum is one of the favorite foods at the home and a lot of it is served. Doctor Bowman approves of the sorghum in the diet for the patients as it is one of the best sources of iron and other nutritious elements, far surpassing other foods such as spinach, which many parents try to feed children.

The same food is served the inmates that is served on the table of the private dining room. As a guest of the board of supervisors and Doctor Bowman we were at the county farm for dinner recently and after eating in the private dining room we went to the main dining hall where we noticed the same menu had been prepared for the inmates.

With the exception of sugar, bread, coffee and a bit of pineapple in the salad, everything on the table was raised on the farm. Meat, vegetables, fruit, mincemeat for the pie, jelly, butter and pickles, all came from the farm.

Rooms Kept Clean

Keeping house at the county farm is no easy task. Although the buildings are kept in good repair, they are old, a fact which any woman will admit makes cleaning a daily chore. To the credit of the county officials and the Oneys we would like to state that we discovered the claim that the county farm is ready for visitors and inspection every day in the year to be true. The corridors, stairways, and floors were polished and clean, and our visit had not been announced previously.

Kitchen Duties

In answer to our question regarding the preparation of meals, Mrs. Oney told us that it was necessary to churn almost daily as it required about three pounds of butter for the cooking and the tables; that a half bushel of potatoes were used for one meal; coffee is served once a day; milk twice daily; and pies and cakes are baked for Sundays and special occasions.

Eggs used at the farm are supplied from their own flock and during the summer Mrs. Oney packs them in salt for use when winter cuts down the egg production.

Mrs. Oney is assisted by Mrs. Anna Millsap and Mrs. Mary Murray. These three, with the assistance of a few special inmates, prepare the meals and do the canning. A visit to the fruit cellar revealed that between 4,500 and 5,000 quarts of fruits and vegetables have been canned at the farm this year. There are plenty of cabbage, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables in the bins and buried for winter use.

[Page 6] Home-made soap, something that used to be found on practically every farm, was one of the items we noticed in the cellar.

Dairy Herd

Although the county holds title to approximately 3,000 acres of land the county farm proper is only 240 acres. A fine Holstein herd is kept on the farm. Mr. Oney informed us that about 10 gallons of milk a day are supplied for table use and for feeding the four or five calves generally on hand. Inmates at the farm help with the chores and milking. The dairy barn is kept clean by one of the inmates who takes as much pride in his responsibilities as any workman.

Inmates assist with all of the farming and gardening and most of them are willing and anxious to work. They tell the story of one patient who liked to work so well that he wouldn't stop. Chopping wood was his favorite form of labor and he was assigned to do a little clearing at the end of the farm. Every morning the inmate picked up his tools and started out across the field to his work. Investigation a few days later revealed that the inmate did not stop chopping when he finished the assigned work but climbed the fence and started clearing a bit of timber for the neighboring farmer.


Inmates at the Co. Farm are classified as indigents and insane. Indigent patients are admitted to the institution by action taken by the board members on applications made. The insane patients are admitted after they have been declared insane by the commission and when possible they are kept at the farm rather than the state institution. One of the reasons for this is expense. At present 24 insane patients are that the state institution.

Insane Patients

A trip through the dormitories reveal which wards are for the insane and which are for the indigents. State law require[s] that white washable spreads be used on the beds of the insane while colored quilts are allowed on the indigent beds.

Insane patients are harmless but nevertheless they present problems which only a person possessing experience and understanding can solve. A number of incidents occurred during our visit which proved that the board members whose duties it is to visit the farm at regular intervals, the Oneys and Dr. Bowman possess such insight and experience.

Often the patients become obsessed with harmless illusions and occasionally they become beset by imaginary wrongs and fanciful situations which require tactful handling. To the visitor's eye the presence of the insane creates more responsibility and a greater problem than any other single factor, but it is a problem which is well handled.

Indigent Patients

For the most part the indigent patients are simply aged people whose lives have not turned out as they expected they would in their youth. Overtaken by misfortune and circumstances they find in later years that they can receive the care they so much need at the County Farm. After they are admitted they soon accept the routine and take their places with the others.

If you look deep into the lives of some at the County Farm you can see traces of pathos and tragedy. Sickness, lack of care during their early life, hard work, poverty, misfortune, sorrow and lack of opportunity is written on the faces of some inmates. Most of them are sociable souls whose eyes light up when company comes, while others appear to have created a little world of their own and are hardly conscious of their present surroundings.

Relatives of the patients are free to visit the farm as often as they wish and many take advantage of the opportunity. Officials also urge the public to visit and inspect the County Farm at any time.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, December of 2015

The Leon Journal-Reporter
Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Fire Destroys Last Remnant of County Farm

Fire believed to have been caused by an electric space heater, destroyed the last building that was part of the old Decatur County Farm last Sunday night, Nov. 23. A neighbor noticed a glow in the sky about a mile from their farm and called the Leon Fire/Rescue about 7:45 p.m. Decatur County Deputy Barry Peterson arrived on the scene soon after the call came in and notified Leon Fire that the house was fully engulfed in flames. The home was (continued on page 10)


occupied by the Tammy Baldwin family and the farm is owned by Mark Smith. The farm is located just off of the Lineville Road 3 1/2 miles south of Highway 2 east of Leon. This building was the home to the Priest family who were the caretakers of the Decatur County Home. The patient facility was torn down a number of years ago.

It was originally called the Poor farm. A description follows that was taken out of the 1915 History of Decatur County.

Poor Farm

For the purpose of housing the county poor, a tract of 160 acres was purchased January 4, 1866, on motion of S. P. McNeil of High Point, for $2,700. It is located on section 14, Eden Township, and was owned by D. B. Gammon. His residence was enlarged and fitted up as an infirmary. In the autumn of 1878 a frame addition was built, as an insane hospital, at a cost of $2,000.

The County Home was restructured to house those less fortunate and supplied them with farm life including chores and the opportunity to take care of animals and earn money. Decatur County sold the farm a number of years ago.

Copied with permission by Carla Rae Perks
27 Nov 2003


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