McLean County Almshouse
|McLean County Almshouse|
|Building Style||Single Building|
In 1859-1860, the McLean County Board of Supervisors purchased 220 acres from John Grove Myers and established the county’s first permanent poor farm. Additions were made in 1888 (80 acres) and 1904 (62 acres). The buildings, which eventually included a superintendent’s house, residential quarters, washhouse, stables and various outbuildings, were situated on a 20-acre site just west of U.S. Route 51. In December 1864, there were 32 “inmates” at the Farm. The “hopelessly insane and idiotic,” numbering about a half dozen, were kept in unheated cells. “To our mind,” The Pantagraph remarked, “it is sheer brutality and cruelty to keep these unfortunate persons in cold rooms when the thermometer is twenty degrees below zero, but we may be mistaken.”
June 1877, The Pantagraph described the pitiful state of many of Poor Farm’s 50 some residents: Formerly “strong men and women from whom the light of reason has been taken away by its Giver ... fragments of once prosperous and gleeful families, the wrecks of blasted hopes and ruined lives, young women at whose breasts suckle babes brought unto the world in shame, and young men whom dissipation and sinful practices have brought from the glory of manhood to the level of the most groveling beasts.” The McLean County Poor Farm, simply put, presented “one of the saddest sights that mortal eyes can view.”
State inspector Anna Hinrichsen visited the Farm in October 1915, issuing a scathing report the following January. In it, she criticized the lack of support staff to care for the 91 residents, 16 of whom were women. “This institution,” Hinrichsen added, “employs the smallest amount of help in proportion to the population of any almshouse in Illinois.” The report noted the peeling exteriors and grimy interiors of the residential buildings. “More attention is given to the domestic animals than to inmates, and they are better housed,” was one typically blunt assessment. Over the years, the Poor Farm was home to profoundly troubled individuals. In 1894, there was the “Electric Man” William Woodard, a former Danvers resident known for his “lectures” on the electrical currents he believed permeated his body. And then there was “John the Baptist,” a resident whose name and personal history were a complete mystery. “He is a religious maniac, but will only talk when spoken to,” noted The Pantagraph. “He is a German but speaks fairly good English.” John the Baptist died in March 1900 having spent most of his final four decades under the care of the county.
In 1953-1954, the county converted the Poor Farm into the Maple Grove Nursing Home. Twenty years later the McLean County Nursing Home in Normal opened and the land comprising the old Poor Farm was put on the auction block. Russell O. Shirk, a founder of Beer Nuts Inc., purchased 320 of the 360 acres, including the collection of buildings. Today, the old Poor Farm site is private property and not open to the public.