The Johnson County Historical Society's

Asylum and Poor Farm




Background | Asylum | Today


The New England system of making it mandatory for each county to build a poor house was adopted by Johnson County. “A poor house was seen as a panacea and a source of moral treatment, where paupers and people with mental disorders were happy through honest toil, where the more able could help those who were less able, and where morale and health could soar and costs of care could decline.”

In 1828, it was recommended that care for people that were mentally ill and poor should be the state’s responsibility. Otherwise, these people would be neglected and cruelly treated in public society. On the county farm, these people could enjoy the outdoors and tend to the fields and livestock, which was said to foster a speedy recovery. The state hospital helped classify these people into groups according to the kind of treatment for each person.

Before there were county poor farms, county commissioners contracted out allowances for paupers that were not cared for by their family or friends. Agents were assigned to provide care for the needy that were abandoned. The mentally ill were “bound out” to families that would care for them for a small sum of money. This system was not very successful because some families simply put the mentally ill on a train to rid themselves of their burden.

The opening of the poor farm was proven to be a great benefit for people in need and their families. The only problem in the beginning was that the farm was too small and needed to be expanded. The poor and mentally ill received more sufficient care than they would have otherwise.


The agriculture and old barn

Quotes courtesy of an article written by Verne Kelley.

Information courtesy of Charles Ray Aurner.


For questions or comments, please contact Catherine Stewart