Kankakee County Almshouse
|Kankakee County Almshouse|
|Building Style||Single Building|
The first Kankakee County Poor Farm was located about 1-mile northeast of what is now the Village of Bonfield. It was purchased by the county in 1856 from George Smith for $1,600. In 1958, some 102 years later, the County Poor Farm (then located in Kankakee at Entrance Avenue north of Mertens Street) finally closed its doors. In May 1890, the Kankakee County Board of Supervisors faced a crisis: the existing county poor farm was running out of room. The board was notified the Eastern Illinois Hospital for the Insane (later Kankakee State Hospital) would soon be discharging three “incurable patients” to be cared for by the county. (At that time, each county served by the state hospital was assigned a quota for patients. When that quota was exceeded, patients would be released to the county.) The Kankakee Gazette reported “The county must provide for these and others to follow as best it can outside of the county house until the new house is ready for use.”
At its meeting on June 20, 1890, the County Board approved buying the property, and 20 acres of land adjoining it to the west, to bring the total size of the farm to 42 acres. The additional acreage cost $2,500. Also approved was a contract with architect C.D. Henry Sr., of Bonfield, to prepare plans for a three-story stone building to be erected on the new Kankakee County Poor Farm grounds. A sum of $13,000 was set aside to pay for construction of the new building (when that building was completed in 1893, the final cost came to $17,000).
In May 1894, a reporter for the Kankakee Times made an unannounced visit to the poor farm and wrote a lengthy article on his impressions. In the new building, he noted, “we could not help observing how clean everything looked, especially the floors and stairs.” He had a far different impression of “the old building, which has been standing a number of years doing duty as a poor house. The old building has long outlived its age of usefulness and should be torn down.”
Describing the farm’s inmates, he observed three men who were “seated on a settee in a corridor. A more inanimate trio of human beings it would be hard to find. Apathetic describes them exactly.” Another group “was seated around a red-hot stove during our visit and seemed from their melancholy attitudes to be meditating over the past.” The Kankakee County Poor Farm shut down in 1958. The reason for closing the facility was described by County Board Chairman George R. Luehrs: “Old age pensions and other retirement funds have virtually eliminated the need for a county farm.”