1855-1856: Breaking Ground on the Farm



Early 1800s | 1855-1856 | 1861 | 1886

“In 1855 the county supervisors decided to procure a “poor farm” to provide systematic care with economy. Every type of dependent person would receive care at this one facility and it was hoped that the farm (originally 160 acres) would be in some measure self-supporting. The proposition was put to the vote of the county in May.”

A public vote was held and yielded 987 for and only 146 against the construction of the Poor Farm and Asylum. The supervisors purchased 160 acres on the edge of the Coralville and Iowa City area and erected a building. The operation was up and running by January 1856 when a steward was elected by the supervisors to oversee the operations. The first steward was John W. O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien’s signature can be seen on pubic documents under the title of "stuart".

The original home consisted of a “four room frame or log building.” Unfortunately this building is no longer standing but when it was in use, it housed the entire operation. One room was designated for the Steward and his family, a second for the kitchen and eating area, and the last two rooms held the patients of the farm. One room male and the other female regardless of the condition each patient was in.

After five years of this home, the county supervisors decided that there was dire need for an expansion:

"Ten or twelve persons crowded together in one small badly ventilated apartment, some of whom are sick, and all generally very uncleanly and offensive in their personal habits, present a very forbidding prospect to the deserving poor." - Aurner



Also part of the original complex is the anonymous cemetery located at the back of the farm. Discoverd in the 1960s when locals were digging a pond, this site has now been preserved. There are no grave markings and the cross was erected by the Johnson County Historical Society upon its discovery. It is unknown how many people are buried here, but there are some records stating how many people died in the Poor Farm in certain years:

"The Pauper Dept. In this department on January1, 1888 there were in charge and cared for twenty-two persons. We received during the year from the several townships upon oder of trustees thereof eight additional persons. Four of the inmates died and seven were discharged leaving us at this date in the dept., 19 persons of whom 14 are male and 5 are female."

There are currently 11 burial records for this cemetery that have been located to date. At least two of of the patients buried here were Civil War veterans.

For questions or comments, please contact Catherine Stewart