Tuscarawas County Infirmary
|Tuscarawas County Infirmary|
|Building Style||Single Building|
|Location||New Philadelphia, OH|
Counties in Ohio took steps to erect infirmaries after the Ohio General Assembly voted on March 5, 1842, to authorize county commissioners to open “poor houses” in their counties to take care of the indigent. In January 1843, the Tuscarawas County commissioners purchased two farms on what is now University Drive to erect a “poor house.” The building was built at a cost of $3,800 and was completed and accepted by the commissioners on June 6, 1844. Jesse Landes, a native of Goshen Township, was named superintendent of the infirmary in 1854. He was assisted in his duties by his wife, Eliza.
On a Friday afternoon in March 1858, a wooden structure used to house mentally ill patients caught fire at the Tuscarawas County Infirmary outside of New Philadelphia. The inmates in the building, known locally as the “Crazy House,” were locked in their cells, so there was no way for them to escape the flames. All five of the inmates were incinerated, burned beyond recognition. At the time the fire was discovered, there was no “efficient, active man upon the spot,” the newspaper said. Jesse Landes was at a blacksmith shop about a mile away at the time. “Had it been otherwise, it is barely possible that one or two of the unfortunates might have been rescued by knocking in an outside doorway which had been weatherboarded up,” the paper said.
The fire quickly engulfed the building, rescuers were driven back by the flames. Newspaper accounts differed on whether the inmates were still alive at the time. The Ohio Democrat reported that no sound came from the “Crazy House,” “save the crackling of the flames which were rapidly enveloping the dry wooden structure.” The Tuscarawas Advocate provided a more gruesome version. “Their awful yells could be distinctly heard above the crackling of the flames — but they were beyond the reach of any human agency.”
Officials believed that one of the inmates, Matilda Crey, 25, made a rope of her torn clothing and threw it through a grated door to a stove in the hallway. She succeeded in igniting her clothing and setting the building on fire. The Advocate said she was very violent and had tried to set fire to her clothing before she was taken to the infirmary.