Lake County Poor Farm

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Lake County Poor Farm
Established 1847
Opened 1855
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Single Building
Location Libertyville, IL
Alternate Names
  • Lake County Nursing Home
  • Winchester House


At a special meeting of the Lake County Commissioners Court in October 1847, it was decided to purchase 190 acres of farmland from Alva Trowbridge, also a commissioner at the time, for $2,025 ($57,045 today) to be used as a poor farm. Located at what is now the Northwest corner of Milwaukee Ave. and West Winchester Road on the edge of Libertyville, the farm included a comfortable farmhouse, barn, as well as a small wooded area around 10 acres in size. However, the commissioners soon realized that their plan was more expensive than they had originally anticipated, leading the newly constituted board of supervisors to adopt a resolution on November 15, 1850 to sell the farm and send the poor away. The board’s decision led to warring editorials in local papers about the pros and cons of a poor farm along with a large number of residents protesting the sale at a crowded meeting on December 6, 1850. Because of the protests, the board rescinded their previous resolution, retaining the farmhouse along with 35 acres. The controversy over the poor farm wasn’t over yet though, with residents arguing over whether it should be paid for by Libertyville or Lake County. Eventually after much back-and-forth and two separate injunctions in the local court, the issue was put to a vote. At a meeting of Supervisors on May 11, 1853, the vote count found 636 in favor of county support to 531 for township support, clearing the way for the construction of an almshouse in 1855.

According to the newspaper accounts of the time, the poor farm offered “little more than food and shelter” for its residents, made up largely of unwed mothers, people dealing with alcoholism or mental illness, and those who simply had nowhere else to go (History). The earliest residents of the farm lived in a cramped, ill lit, two-story brick house with little to no ventilation. Men and women were kept separate, with women sleeping on the first floor, men on the second, and an enclosed porch being used to house people suffering from mental illness. Residents who weren’t bedridden were expected to work to help pay for their own upkeep, producing beef, raising chickens, and attending to the vegetable garden and orchard. In 1870, Charles Appley was elected as the first director for the poor farm. In 1883 an annex with iron bars on the doors and windows was built to house inmates dealing with mental illness (some of whom were kept locked in their rooms day and night). Another feature of the farm was a pauper’s cemetery for residents who could not afford to be buried elsewhere.

By the early 1910s, there were fifty-two people living at the farm, in addition to the three women and one man the county hired to care for residents and to help tend the one hundred and fifty acre farm. On November 9, 1912, the State Charities Commission inspected the farm, and in its report, recommended the immediate removal of residents suffering from mental illness along with repairs to the almost sixty-year-old almshouse. The removal of mentally ill residents would eventually be accomplished, although not without changes in state law all but forcing the supervisor to do so.

Then, on March 16, 1918, a scandal erupted when it was revealed that a twenty-six year old resident of the farm named Lina Larsen, who was described in the papers as a “half-wit,” was pregnant (Libertyville Independent 1918, p.1). A meeting of the Board of Supervisors was held in Waukegan on March 21, where the now seventy-year-old Appley was questioned about the matter. After the meeting adjourned, a reporter from the Waukegan Daily Sun, attempting to interview a committeeman, was told only that “He admits he is guilty” (Libertyville Independent 1918, p.1). Crying, Appley begged the reporter not to put his name in the paper, saying that he would “pay any sum necessary to hush matters up,” but the damning conversation was published anyway in the next day’s edition of the paper (Libertyville Independent 1918, p.1). Charles Appley resigned on Friday, April 19, and on Thursday, April 25 his son, Schuyler Appley, was appointed superintendent of the farm.

In 1926, the seventy-year-old almshouse underwent a series of major renovations, including widened stairways, modern plumbing, and additional bed space, allowing for up to 90 residents who required medical care. The people of Libertyville took a certain amount of pride in the farm, with the County Board Chairman Martin Ringdahl declaring in 1928 that he “couldn’t find a weed” and compared the farm to those of Samuel Insull and J. Ogden Armour. Then, on October 29, 1929 the markets fell, marking the beginning of what would become known as the Great Depression. Predictably, as factories closed and bread lines grew, more and more people turned to the farm, which at one point had one hundred and twelve residents. Among the farm’s residents during this time was a man who, despite having lost his wealth in the crash, insisted on remaining impeccably dressed despite his circumstances. In 1932, the county estimated that it spent 96 ¢ per day (around $17.26 today) to feed, house, and clothe each resident of the farm.

By 1940, the same year residents stopped working the farm, its name was changed again to the Lake County Nursing Home. In 1973, the current five story nursing home was built at a cost of $2.5 million ($ $13,782,995 today) and renamed once again, becoming Winchester House, completing the sites transformation from poor farm to nursing home. In 2020, after occupancy of Winchester House needed repairs to the structure had mounted and occupancy had declined, the remaining occupants were moved to the Thrive Lake County facility in Mundelein, which is the first new skilled nursing care facility to open in Lake County in more than 20 years. In 2021, the Winchester House was demolished.

Today there isn’t anything left of the original farm, except for the small cemetery with a white fence around it and a small bronze plaque honoring some of the residents of the farm that were known to be buried in this pauper’s cemetery.