Saint Joseph County Infirmary

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Saint Joseph County Infirmary
Established 1838
Opened 1907
Current Status Active
Building Style Single Building
Architect(s) Freyermuth and Maurer
Location South Bend, IN
Architecture Style Classical Revival
Alternate Names
  • St. Joseph County Asylum and Poor Farm
  • Portage Manor


Originally opened in 1846, referred to White Hall. Dorothea Dix wrote the following comments on St. Joseph County’s relief system in 1847: “The poor house and farm… is situated on Michigan Road, six or seven miles from South Bend. The farm contains 200 acres, with a remarkably pleasant and convenient family residence. The building in which the poor are kept is in the rear of this, and very defective in construction and the general plan, and poorly furnished. I found there but two who were dependent on the public and on the Superintendent for their support and daily comforts; one, an insane man, who had in the winter been found in the woods with his feet frozen; the other, an aged negroe. The number of inmates increases as the winter month’s advance. Formerly the poor were kept in the town, but serious evils attended this arrangement, and now the opposite extreme is adopted, they being too far removed to come under the frequent and benevolent supervision of official persons and the Christian visitor. The superintendent receives compensation for carrying on the farm, and I think receives all supplies for family use from the overseers, a plan not likely to prove either economical or satisfactory, or at all desirable.”

The state constitution expanded required care in 1851 to the insane, deaf and blind. It specified, “treatment and attempted cure of patients for custodial care without treatment.” Thus, it recognized the need for assuming responsibility for both curable and incurable insane. Yet, at that time, the terms “insane” and “feebleminded” could mean anything from Down Syndrome to active psychosis to learning disabilities to less than average intelligence to stating or displaying some peculiar views or beliefs with regards to various societal “norms.” However, there was generally an accepted differentiation between the harmless insane and the dangerous insane. The county commissioners purchased a plot of 240 acres and ordered construction of poorhouse facilities the following year, which was completed by 1857.

The St. Joseph County poorhouse was intentionally located on land between the two townships that supplied most of the admissions (Penn and Portage.) It was considered to be far enough removed from the city of South Bend so as to be less affected by that evil influence. But by the turn of the century, the State Board of Charities sharply criticized the facility and the property was deemed to be much more valuable for other uses by the city. Some of the Asylum area eventually became Potawatomie Park.

The current 113.8 acre location on Portage Prairie was obtained in 1905 and several buildings were erected including the main building (dubbed The St. Joseph County Infirmary and, later Portage Manor or at times as the County Home or the County Poor Farm) along with the farm (specified as the Cleveland Road Farm) and the pauper’s cemetery (initially known as Potter’s Field while at other times denoted as The St. Joseph County Cemetery or even as Portage Cemetery.) In future years, the three would at times continue to be perceived as separate entities, while at other times would be construed to be one entity together (the St. Joseph County Asylum and Poor Farm.)

By the 1930s, the facility became so overcrowded that patients determined as "feeble-minded" had to be housed with the insane. The total number of residents living here rose to 298 in 1937 and peaked at 351 in February 1939. The hospital was built to house about only 120. By the early 1950s, those diagnosed with severe mental illness were moved to Norman Beatty Mental Hospital. The lock-up cells however, were used through the 1970s for those that had escaped, were a danger to others or frequently broke rules. In the late 1970s the facility changed it's name to Portage Manor and farming operations ceased. Today the main focus of the facility is residential long-term care.

Images of Saint Joseph County Infirmary[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Saint Joseph County Infirmary