Behind a flimsy, wire fence surrounded by thick brush, lies an interesting part of Erath County’s history most people don’t know about.
The Poor Farm Cemetery is virtually hidden from society - much like the paupers and petty thieves buried there. It’s located in a hard-to-reach area off Lower Smith Springs Road, and on a hot summer day in July, I discovered the cemetery after more than an hour of searching.
Its history is as rich as the poor story it tells of the outcasts living in the county in the 1800s.
The Poor Farm Cemetery earned its rightful place in history in 2014 when it received a historical marker.
The marker itself gives the most accurate information regarding the cemetery’s history.
It states that in 1869, the state of Texas directed its counties to establish a “manual labor poor-house” to care for indigent residents and those convicted of petty offenses.
In 1881 Erath County commissioners purchased a farm in the Smith Springs community from J.B. Hill for $650.
“The farm included homes for paupers and a superintendent, a water well and a building with bars for convict laborers,” the marker states.
The farm existed for more than 50 years and produced cotton, peanuts and other crops.
“Over time, people began to die and were buried on the farm, but there is no identification of those who are buried there,” said Cathey Hartmann, chair of the Erath County Historical Commission.
In recent years a dowsing was conducted and about 60 graves were located.
"We don't know if we've located them all, the foliage in the area is pretty dense so we think there could be more," Hartmann said.
THE NEED FOR POOR FARMS COMES TO END
Erath County’s poor farm closed in the 1930s when federal programs improved living conditions for poor Americans.
When the poor farm closed, its last caretakers - Mr. and Mrs. Sam Swanzy - took several remaining residents to live on property they owned in Huckabay, according to documents from the Erath County Historical Commission.
Much of the poor farm was destroyed when it was struck by a tornado in 1935. Four years later the county deeded the 260-acre site to Texas A&M as an experimental agriculture station.
When the cemetery received its historical marker in 2014, Hartmann said there were no family members present of those buried there.