Through the efforts of Erath County Historical Commission, with the leadership of Cathey Hartmann, a historical marker for the abandoned cemetery on the site of the former Erath County Poor Farm will be dedicated at 10 a.m. June 12. Because the cemetery is not easily accessible, the marker will be placed on County Road 177 near the gate to the property. This piece of real estate, former location of the Poor Farm, was deeded to the A&M Agriculture Experiment Station in 1930. In return A&M would locate the station in Erath County near Stephenville instead of Brownwood, a location also under consideration.
At this time, due to other institutions and the coming of Social Security, it was determined that there was no longer a need for the Poor Farm or Poor House as it was called. The land was cleared and the building that had served as “home” to as many as 20 or 30 individuals without other support, torn down although the foundation remains until this day. Those clearing the land picked up buckets full of arrow heads and other Indian artifacts where they had once camped on this rise overlooking an infant settlement that became Stephenville.
Records for the Poor Farm are not complete but books containing the records of commissioners court are secure in the Dick Smith Library and make interesting reading for historians. One such item reads like this….”came before the court today asking for help for herself and her 6 year old son as her husband was killed in a run-a-way and she has no home and no means of support….”
After some consideration commissioners voted to give the mother $7 a month for one year at that time to be reviewed. In another item a homeless man and his mother appeared before the court and were granted $7 a month but after two months the woman died so the support was cut to $5 monthly.
The following is taken from a Poor Farm law posted in Texas 1904
County Commissioners have the duty to provide for the support of paupers unable to care for themselves; send indigent to county hospitals and bury dead. They may bind the county in any reasonable sum.
For those that have never heard of the Poor Farm except maybe in a joking way, it was a very real place, occupied by paupers, insane and sometimes criminals. Poor farms were common in counties across the country in the beginning of the 20th century and basically made a provision for individuals considered today to be eligible for “welfare.”
There are stories of people going to the Poor Farm when there was no place left to go. One story is of an elderly woman sitting in a rocking chair in the back of a wagon as it traveled a dusty dirt road. She is crying uncontrollably as the trip is made taking her to the Poor Farm.
While the folks at the Erath County Poor Farm may have been content enough, there are stories about working in their garden to provide vegetables for the table; rocking on the front porch on long summer evenings; there is great sadness when walking through the dense growth of briars to view the ground where the paupers were buried. Folks were buried there in unmarked graves and the land left untended and unvisited for years. At one time a troop of boy scouts under the leadership of adults such as Don Coan and Betty Culpepper undertook to clear the ground and place markers reading “Pauper” at places in the ground that looked as if a grave had been dug there. This was a very worthwhile undertaking but very soon the underbrush took over once more and time marched on.
One day in the late ‘70s I was interviewing Shelby Newman, then with the Experiment Station and he happened to mention the Poor Farm. I had never heard of it but he told me the story and said that in all the years he had been at the Station, only one person had ever inquired about that place and that was Ellen Lane. She had written a thesis about it while a graduate student at Tarleton.
Shelby took me to the cemetery and I was “hooked” on the place. I wrote something about it for the E-T and later told Marla Bush about it. She too became hooked and eventually helped scan the area for graves and succeeded in getting other work done including wrought-iron crosses placed at as many graves as can be located.
Civilized people have always honored their dead, often with elaborate funerals and all the trappings. The fact that a human can die and there is no notice of that passing among those left living is not comfortable for most of us. These people had nothing, took nothing with them and now are not even remembered because they lie in nameless graves lost in the annals of history.
There have been a few records unearthed due to diligent searching by historians such as Marilyn Ewers who supplied the following notes:
Erath Death Records: “R.R. Wampler, age 66, white male died of spasms at the Poor Farm 21 Nov. 1903.” B.T. Mims, age 74 died 24 Nov.1911, County Farm;”
“Isaac Franklin Powers W/M married died of senility and influenza age 98 yrs 7 mos. 25 days 29 Jan. 1941”
B.I. Trewett (sp) undertaker. Buried at County Farm Cemetery 30 Jan. 1941
The Poor Farm had already been closed in 1941 so we can only guess that Powers had lived there and wanted to be buried there or that it was a place to bury without charge. In any event that is where his burial was, in an unmarked grave.
When the Poor Farm closed, there were two residents left without a place to go so the caretaker at the farm took them to his home and cared for them until they died. We would suppose that they were buried with the others but this is unknown at this time.