Coles County Almshouse
|Coles County Almshouse|
From 1857 until 1869, the Coles County Poor Farm was located in Charleston Township near the small town of Loxa. In 1870, the county purchased 260 acres from A. N. Graham in Section 35 of Ashmore Township for a new farm, which sat astride the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad. This small timber and brick building, constructed by H. B. Truman, was the first to sit on that property. It was 38x58 feet and two stories tall, with an attached kitchen. The initial superintendent or “Overseer of the Poor” of the county farm was Oliver D. Hawkins, who immigrated to Coles County from Kentucky in 1841.
Many of these residents, or “inmates” as they were called, died at the farm, and the county maintained a small cemetery somewhere north of the grounds. In 1879, Joshua Ricketts, superintendent of the county farm at the time, had recorded 32 deaths out of the roughly 250 inmates who had stayed at the farm between 1870 and 1879. Another pauper cemetery, established a few years later, still exists south of Route 16 and now contains the graves of between sixty to one hundred persons.
The Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities visited the poor farm in 1902. “The heating is by stove and is sufficient,” they reported. “There is no regular system of ventilation, but plenty of fresh air is easily obtained. There is no plumbing… There is no fire protection.” As for the condition of the mentally ill at the farm, they wrote, “There is no special provision for the insane… None are locked up or in restraint.” By 1911, however, the Auxiliary Committee of the State Board of Charities condemned the almshouse for its “vermin infected walls,” “rough floors,” “small windows,” and improper ventilation. It was reported that “flies swarmed everywhere” and “were especially noticeable on the poor food prepared for dinner.” In January 1915, the Almshouse Committee, headed up by John Goodyear, Ivory W. Merritt, Jr., E.N. Carter, W.R. Zimmerman, and William Knollenberg, received bids for the construction of a new “fireproof” building at the location.
The newer buildings operated for over 40 years, until in 1959, the county sold the facility to Ashmore Estates Inc. They operated the facility as a private mental hospital until 1964 when it closed to financial issues. The following year it reopened, with a change, that it now accepted patients from state-run psychiatric hospitals. In 1976 Paul Swinford purchased the building and reworked it to be used as a ICFDD (Intermediate Care Facility for the Developmentally Disabled). The building remained in use until 1987 when it was closed due to lack of funding. Three years later, in 1990, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) had attempted to turn Ashmore Estates into a mental facility for teenage boys. Due to fire safety and code laws then, The Ashmore Village Board rejected their request. The property has changed hands several times since then and is still privately owned but only functions as a haunted house for part of the year.