Bob Mitchell: Cassville’s new County Farm in 1906

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Under the heading “A Handsome New Home” covering Social Welfare Reform and Resistance in Rural Missouri, the Missouri Historical Review in its October edition includes Barry County as among the first in the state to establish a “poorhouse.”

The tracing of Almshouses in early Missouri has Barry County as among the first 10 in the state to provide facilities for those needing “Poor Houses, or County Farms.”

In the 1906 era, conditions found the state, especially rural areas, coming out of the Civil War, reconstruction and dire economic situations that resulted in a class of individuals know as “paupers,” which at the time was about as low as one might rank socially.

Citizenship was denied

Once a person’s debts reached the stage of becoming a pauper, they could not vote, nor could they own property, and they were denied running for public office until their debits were satisfied.

Ideally, in one of the earliest Almshouses to be inspected, in the northern part of the state, conditions were noted that residents “could walk among the wild flowers, trees, rocks and hills to enjoy the fresh air outdoors.”

At this particular one, fresh milk, butter, eggs and flour were offered on a special market.

Facility was open to all

It was commonly realized that when the newly constructed Almshouses came to the state, they were to be open to all regardless of class, age or condition, under one roof.

During this same time period, the state was creating institutions to handle specific problems in health and society.

A symbol of progress

In 1906, Barry County’s new poorhouse, which was at the same location as the second facility, was hailed as a symbol of progress the entire community could take pride in.

The second structure of brick and stone was built in 1923 when the first suffered damage from a fire.

Barry countians “touted” their new “modern facility” in Cassville, built 114 years ago, being especially a modern facility with running water, central heat and electric lights.”

Some statistics of the time: county population 25,532; population 10 years after construction, 23,473; Almshouse population 10, the same number 10 years later.

In our modern times

The facility was operating probably full blast in the years of my group’s youth, serving a certain sector of people who needed assistance economically or at times, with mental or health problems.

Part of the facility’s land to the south was later purchased by the Cassville city government for the Industrial Development Commission projects. Some of these locations are now home to local business firms in what is called Cassville West.

Private ownership to the south of 11th Street is dedicated for the most part to small industrial partners of the Community.

The two-story structure stayed under Barry County court supervision for a number of years before Les Chapman purchased all the property and later constructed a one-story wing that is currently a rehabilitation facility owned by a private firm.

Missouri Historical Reviews’ article included a photo of the two-story structure courtesy the Barry County Museum.

Good quail hunting memories

I have no idea of who was in charge in the early 1940s, but it was a fact that there was an ideal plot of Lespedeza on the property that extended clear to the Barber property to the north.

In those days, Truman Thompson was elementary principal in Cassville, and he permitted three of us boys to bring our quail hunting guns to school, naturally leaving them in his office while in class.

At the same time, we would tie my pointer, Sport, in John Haddock’s yard, leave him some water and wait for the school day closing bell.

After school hunting

Sometimes we’d be dismissed a little early, which cost us some quail, but we’d head to the vicinity of the County Farm and begin our hunt over the complete area. The Lespedeza was all the birds needed, and they were always around.

The other two boys in the hunt were Charles Truhitte and Glennon Horner. Both out of the picture after careers in J. C. Penny management in Springfield and Tulsa, Okla., and in medicine in Missouri and Arkansas.

We were always courteous to the landowners of the area, frequently sharing the result of the hunt with the County Farm and others.

16 more days until Christmas

Just a couple of reminders, there are 16 more days until Christmas. This year shopping for gifts is probably happening closer to home. Remember those sales taxes you pay on every purchase comes back from Missouri to local community sources for the services each of us enjoy.

Lastly, don’t overlook the practices science and medical people have recommended for staying safe during the pandemic.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.