Sangamon County Poor Farm

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Sangamon County Poor Farm
Opened 1851
Closed 1944
Current Status Demolished
Building Style Single Building
Location Buffalo, IL


Sangamon County first created a home to care for the poor, feeble, disabled and mentally ill in 1851, four years after famed social reformer Dorothea Dix wrote a scathing commentary about the county’s practice of keeping paupers and the insane in the Sangamon County Jail. (Prior to 1844 or ’45, according to Dix’s letter, the county imposed a year’s indenture on anyone found to be a pauper; by the time she wrote in 1847, however, officials had decided it was cheaper to house them in the jail.)

In 1851, the county board bought a property known as “Two Mile House,” a 115-acre site that included a former tavern. It was named because it was about two miles north of the city proper. That original poor farm was turned over to the Sangamon County Agricultural and Mechanical Association in 1869 for use as a county fairgrounds. It now is part of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. To replace that property, the county paid $20,000 for 380 acres of land 1.5 miles east of Buffalo as the site for the new farm. About 200 acres were immediately sold off. Later descriptions of the farm give varying sizes for the property, from 177 to 188 acres. Officials sought bids to build a poor house on the property in July 1870. A two-story, 44-room building was built to house 100 people, men in the east wing and women in the west, with a large hall, dining room, sitting rooms and medical areas in the middle, along with offices and staff quarters.

The number of poor farm residents was frequently above the design capacity of 100 during the 74 years the farm operated – usually about 150 people lived there, and at times the population approached 200. The vast majority were men. Most residents were old and incapacitated in some way. The poor farm eventually became an anachronism, and with the number of residents dropping –only 58 people remained in the home by 1944 – the county board closed the facility and sold the property. Residents were transferred to boarding homes or, in the case of the mentally ill, to state institutions.

Most of the farm’s buildings were demolished. The only remnants today are the brick shell of one outbuilding and a tiny, neglected cemetery located on a dirt road that runs south from Old U.S. 36. Only one of what might be 100 graves appears to be maintained.