Seneca County Poor House

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Seneca County Poor House
Opened 1830/1852
Closed 1970
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Single Building
Location Waterloo, NY
Alternate Names


The first meeting of the superintendents of the poor of Seneca County was held on February 3, 1830 at the Waterloo Hotel, kept by L. Lynch. The appointed superintendents were: Dr. Anthony D. Schuyler of Romulus, Dr. Claudius C. Coan of Ovid-Lodi, William Hoskins of Seneca Falls, William Larzelere of Fayette, and Joel W. Bacon of Waterloo. William Larzelere was asked to look for a suitable building to rent that would accommodate the poor. The other members of the committee were asked to visit the poor houses of the adjoining counties and then report back on their programs. They met again on February 26, at the inn of William Hoskins. William Larzelere informed the other members of the committee that he was not able to find a suitable house that could be rented, but said that John P. Silvers offered to sell a house and land on Lots 7 and 16 in Romulus (Fayette). By April 9, the superintendents were meeting at the poor house. They planned to put an addition on the building but decided to delay it for a time. They were busy dealing with the litigation in the courts at the time to divide the county. They did complete plans to remodel the upper story of the building which was just a garret at that time. They laid floors and divided the attic into separate rooms.

A committee comprised of John D. Coe and Richard R. Steele reported to the board of supervisors at the November 25, 1850, meeting on their study of poor house construction. They had visited poor houses in other counties and examined the building in Seneca County. They suggested it would be better to build a new structure instead of trying to fix up the existing building. The Latham Brothers of Seneca Falls were the ones who got the contract. Their bid was, for brick, $7,395; for stone, $7,249. The Latham Brothers, notable builders of their day who built the stone mills in Seneca Falls and a number of other buildings throughout the state, got the contract for building the poor house because they submitted the lowest bid.

A quarry on the property provided the limestone that was used for the walls, the lintels and stills, the water table, and large entablature. The new structure was completed in 1853. There was a Federal-style doorway that included sidelights and a transom. Like the original structure it replaced, there was a main building and a side wing to the east. There was a wide porch that stretched across the front. As was suggested at the time of construction, the structure was built so sturdily that it would last for generations.

The institutional system for the poor began to decline in the 1920s as social work became a profession, and both national and state laws, such as worker’s compensation laws, state pension laws, and unemployment and health insurance laws, were passed. Almshouses were crowded during the Great Depression, but by the late 1930s, mainly because of New Deal legislation, the majority of the poor lived in their own homes and received public assistance. Although never politically abolished, poorhouses were nonexistent by the 1950s.

Approximately 1970, the former poor house building was remodeled and used by the county’s Department of Social Services until it moved into the new county office building in December 1989. On June 18, 1999, the property was purchased by Greystone Enterprises LLC, with Jonathan Buchwald as the managing partner. The house was converted into apartments. The “pauper” graveyard back of the house is still owned by the county.