“As next week is the time for the Commissioners to visit the Infirmary, and to inquire into its management, as well as to settle with the Directors, we thought it would be a good plan to go before, and, like John the Baptist, prepare the way. Their examinations, unfortunately, are of little good to the people, as everything is generally reported lovely, big bills are paid, and the people suppose all is right. Now we feel that the times are ripe for the most searching investigations. The burden of taxes on an overtaxed people make them cry out for relief. Humanity asks for the best treatment of poor unfortunates who are forced to go to that last place of earthly refuge, the poor house. God knows it is enough for the infirm, the cripple, the maim, the halt and the blind, to feel, as weary, hopeless days drag by, that they must die in a poor house and fill a pauper’s grave, without having that embittered feeling that they are not cared for as they should be.”
“The heart is chilled to find little children sleeping in a cold dark cell, on a pallet of straw, with only a single cover over them. It is done just at the threshold of this wealthy and populous city, as our revelations will show.”
How the Farm Was Managed Last Year
“The Directors rented the farm last year to one Craig, brother-in-law to the present superintendent, giving him the best chance we have heard of a renter getting for many a day. The Infirmary was to receive half the corn in the crib, only one-third of the wheat in the bushel, only one-half the hay in the stack, besides paying Craig $1.75 per ton for all he delivered in the city. Even this was not so bad, if any care had been exercised by the Directors to see that he did his duty and justly divided the crop. It is a notorious fact that in the first case he grossly neglected to do what he should have done. No one saw his division of the corn. The Infirmary Directors suppose they got about eight hundred and twenty-five bushels for their share. Last year was a good corn year, and the lowest estimate we can get is that the yield of corn was forty bushels to the acre, an under estimate. Fifty would not be an over estimate, we think. It is believed there was from forty-five to fifty acres in corn, say forty-five acres at 40 bushels to the acre, eighteen hundred bushels, share of the Infirmary, nine hundred; but Directors do not know today whether they were given over seven hundred bushels. It should have been received by one or more of the Directors, in some satisfactory manner. It is reported that Craig paid some of his hands in corn in the field; do the Directors know whose corn he paid? The corn was not gathered as soon as it should have been, and only very recently was it all gathered. By the delay some of it was damaged by the high water, and none of it has been made good. It is the opinion of the farmer who ought to know, that the Directors should have received over one thousand bushels of corn.”
“It will no doubt surprise the Directors when we tell them all the potatoes have not yet been dug, but lie frozen in the ground. Only Thursday morning last we dug several hills in two rows, that are many hundred yards in length. The Infirmary sold no potatoes, and only has about forty-five or fifty bushels on hand, which are expected to last four months.”
“When Mr. Rodgers, the outgoing superintendent, left, he took away, so he told us last Wednesday, three barrels of potatoes, one-half barrel of kraut and one-half barrel of pickles. He says Mr. Vaughters, one of the Directors, told him to take them. Since then, Mr. Rogers has left on our table the following note:”
Infirmary-Mr. Cooper: I was mistaken in regard to the number of barrels of potatoes. There were but two, instead of three. Joseph Rogers.
“What right had a Director to give away the property of the farm is a question the tax payers will demand of him. Under Mr. Craig’s care of the farm, fences were neglected, and from forty to seventy-five panels of fencing has been hauled away from that part of the farm lying on the north side of the pike, below the new church. A cow belonging to Craig’s brother-in-law was pastured on the farm, while others who applied for pasture were told that there was no more than would supply the stock belonging to the county. Craig’s brother-in-law says his family sewed for the Infirmary, and that he worked for the superintendent, and that the pasturage was paid in this manner. This should have a careful investigation.”
Has Possession For Another Year
“One would think, after reading the above, that someone else would have been selected for the second year, but strange to say, Craig has rented the farm on the same terms, if we are correctly informed, and we know we are. Besides, he has a house and lot for no consideration, when he does not occupy it, but lives on his place further down the pike. One of the Directors wanted to rent the house, but was notified that Mr. Craig had rented it. Who will get the money from the tenant? What assurances have the Directors that Craig will do any better than he did the last year? What arrangements have the Directors to receive the incoming crops? Who will keep the fences in repair? The Directors have been too liberal to ask it of Craig. They have been too liberal to ask him to make good corn lost by his neglect. They have been too generous to ask him to make good the potatoes he allowed to remain in the field all winter, that are not utterly worthless. Director Vaughters has not seen fit to charge himself with the goods he gave Mr. Rogers.”
“Will the County Commissioners, when they make their grand rounds next week, please make a note of these things? We think we have shown a dereliction of duty on the part of the Directors and the man who manages the farm. Will the Commissioners take the pains to inquire into these matters and see whether we are correct? If we are, Mr. Vaughters has no business to hold the office, and Mr. Craig should be given a quick furlough, and a practical farmer put in his place on better terms for the county. But we leave this subject to speak of the infirmary, which we visited, conversing with the inmates, examining the cell rooms and grounds, in order to let our readers know something of the inmates and of the management; to tell them what is needed, and if in our feeble way we can bring about a reform in the poor house, our aim shall have been attained.”
The Death Trap
“First, we will pay our attention to the death trap, the only appropriate name we can give the new building erected for lunatics by the Directors, last year, at a cost of $847.95; add to this, $350 for the furnace, and putting it in place, and the amount paid Kaps brothers for the brick work, and we have a building containing six cells, with low ceilings, only one story high, costing over twelve hundred dollars.1 This building was constructed by authority of the Commissioners, under supervision of Mr. McDowell, one of the late Infirmary Directors. The heating apparatus stands in a room in the center, within a few inches of the ceiling. A cold air flue enters from below, from the side of the building. Of course the hot air, already at the top of the cells, gives no heat below, and to add to the coldness of the cells, the cold air from below makes the present plan of heating a worthless and inexcusable humbug. The superintendent, Mr. Jeffords, says he was compelled to remove the patients from the building, during the winter, to keep them from freezing to death. But it was not done until two patients died therein.
James A Shively, of Rush township, was found dead in this trap on the morning of the 22nd of October last. On the morning of the 17th of January, 1874, Sarah Piles was found chilled to the death, and died in a few minutes after.
To the shame of the management, be it said, the superintendent says this poor unfortunate woman had her lower limbs frozen, in a cell in the basement of the Infirmary, before she was removed to the death trap to die. We have no word of censure for the brickwork, but we are informed that the agent of Breed, Crain & Company, who furnished the furnace and plans, explicitly told Director McDowell that he would not warrant it, as it was their own experiment. Let our readers picture a maniacal woman on her hard pile of hay in one of those dungeons, the heat that should have warmed, passing above her, the cold freezing air numbing her, in the darkness and delirium, who no shred of clothing to protect her chilled body, perishing beneath the scorched wooden ceiling, scarcely seven feet above her. In the name of outraged humanity, shall these things be repeated next winter? Is this the way the lunatics in our poor house are to fare, under the very eyes of the people?”
In the Main Building
“We first visited the basement. Mr. Jeffords, the superintendent, was informed by us that we desired to visit every room and cell from top to bottom, and so he very cheerfully started with us on the tour. The first place visited was the basement hall, in which are two hot air furnaces, only one of which is now in use. To the left, as we entered from the north side of the building, is the kitchen. Here they were preparing supper, women inmates and the superintendent’s daughters being engaged. The next room is the dining room. In this room a long table was set, at which thirty-five persons could eat. Some have their meals served in their rooms. We paid this room a second visit later in the evening, to see the inmates at supper. There was no system for sitting them. Men and women were all commingled with an occasional pale-faced child, between the gray-haired pauper and an imbecile. It was the last lead and the budding leaf together. The fare was apparently good, being hot biscuit, (a rarity), loaf bread, potatoes, meat, beans, and hot coffee. The plates were tin or pewter platters, and the cups were tin or pewter cups. This was the third meal of the day. Much feeling was manifested by the inmates, because they had only been fed two meals per day, during the winter, and until very recently have three meals been served.”
“On the right, as we enter, we find the cell where Sarah Piles had her limbs frozen. This cell has its only window boarded up, has no means of being heated, is dark, and the ceiling window is low. In this little cell two little boys room. The poor little fellows have only a straw bed beneath them, no sheet on it, and only one cover. We appeal to the kind-hearted people of Portsmouth if this may be called charity to the helpless orphans. The cellar comes next. Here the milk is kept, and packed loosely in a tub was some of the hardest looking beef we have seen for many a day. The superintendent told us he had just bought a hind quarter of beef at five cents per pound. We don’t know much about the quality of beef that generally sells for five cents, but if the beef here is a sample, we prefer pork. The next room is only twelve by twenty-four feet.2 How many inmates do our readers think are crowded in it?
“It, like the cell, has a low ceiling, and is forbidding enough. A grate supplies heat. There is no way of ventilating this room save by raising two sash, the sash only allowing twenty-three inches of opening. In this room are crowded eight old men3, five of whom smoke, at which time our readers can have an idea of how much pure air is inhaled by them. The bedsteads have the wooden slats, with only a single mattress of straw, no sheets, and only a blanket or comfort to each. One old man brought his comfort with him five months ago, and if it has been washed since that time it has no such appearance. The room is kept as clean as could be expected, under the circumstances, but the Commissioners should visit it and judge whether it should be crowded like it is nor not.”
The Second Story
“We begin on this floor, at the first room on the right, commencing at the north end of the hall. We were surprised to find a poor little girl lying on a cot asleep. She was evidently about nine years of age. This room had been used for keeping a lunatic in, and the plastering was off in places, allowing the cold air to come in. It is heated by the hot-air register at the other end of the hall. The offensive smell from an unemptied and uncovered vessel was seating. None of them about the building are supplied with covers, and in many of the rooms they are suffered to remain for hours, to the detriment of the health of the inmates.”
“Two women sleep in one bed, and on that cot where Jane Rice, the little orphan, was sleeping, a woman sleeps with her. Only a mattress of straw and a cover. This cot is only twenty-seven inches wide, and a woman and girl must occupy it. The superintendent’s apology was that it was ‘only a little woman.’ Think of it, readers! A bed not as wide as this paper is long, measuring down this column. We sat down on the cot, and, waking up Jane, asked her some questions. She laid her little hand on our shoulder so artlessly, and in answer to our question if she would like to have a home, she said, ‘Yes,’ so anxiously, and she wept when she spoke of her dead mother. We asked her if she would be willing to work and earn her living in a home, if we could find her one, and as she answered in the affirmative her great beaming eyes betrayed a truthfulness more powerful than language can express. As we bade her goodbye and promised to ask some of our many readers if they had no home to give this poor little girl that is beginning life in a poor house for no fault of hers, that hacking cough told too well the effects of the cold room on her little frame, that would be strong if she had the kind care of someone. Here is a willing heart. She has willing hands. Who will find a home for poor little Jane and give her a trial? We think some of the ladies of this city might find her a home in a Christian family. Will they do it?”
Who Said Beans?
“The next room is the storeroom. We examined the sugar, which is a wet mass, and stands in a large uncovered tin can. There are beans in barrels, and beans in kegs, and beans in boxes, in fact, the storeroom looks like a beanery. Two barrels of dried apples, a very poor quality, are stored here. A barrel of hominy and a sack of coffee and other minor supplies are stored here. The sugar and the dried apples were the only articles we would pass if handed around at the table when we were there. The next room is occupied by seven persons. There are three beds and one cat in this room. On this cot, that is only twenty-four inches wide, a woman and child manage to sleep some way. In the hall stood Mary Kittle, a harmless lunatic, about twenty-four years of age, and a German. She talks incessantly to some imaginary person. Only a short time ago she was a happy bride, but it is said that her husband drank, and today she stands there a loose wrapper for her only clothing, and is the poor unfortunate whose dethroned reason has let her the piteous wreck that she is, a monument to man’s folly. The visitor would take her to be forty or forty-five, but in her visitation the years have crowded themselves into a smaller compass than we can tell, and age has followed swift upon the gust that extinguished the light of her reason.”
“The next room is the sitting room of the superintendent’s family. As we came back to the north end of the hall to visit the rooms on the left, little children, all with a hoarse, harsh, hacking cough, tell of the irregularity and inefficiency of the ventilation. One moment sweltering with heat, the next shivering with cold. No one who will visit the infirmary and see the colorless faces of the little children, but will say God speed the ladies in their effort to establish a Children’s Home. There are children in the poor house who need the charity of such an institution and need it now. There are no bath rooms to team them cleanliness here. They must herd with men and women diseased.”
It is no wonder that their young lives are shattered, or that there are so many little mounds of earth in the neglected burying ground hard by the building.
“Ladies of Portsmouth! visit the infirmary yourselves, that your hands and your hearts may be strengthened; that the sad look of the little innocents may nerve you to push forward with vigor and save these helpless infants from a pauper’s grave.”
“The first room on the left contains six women and four children. Anyone who will see these poor little pale-faced children, will know at a glance this is no place for them. The room is clean and the beds comfortable. The bedding consists of one small straw mattress, one sheet, and the dirt absorbing blanket.”
“The next room is the dining room of the superintendent. Here Mrs. Foster, a good looking old Irish lady, rooms. She has been a pauper for many years, and is a kind of family domestic. The next room is one of the sleeping apartments of the superintendent.”
On the Third Floor
“The first room on the right, coming south, is a dark and loathsome cell, in which Betty Flanigan, an Irish woman, a lunatic, is confined. The heat in this hall was oppressive, and we were compelled to have the hall window raised to keep from suffocating. We asked the superintendent to open the cell door and bring Betty out. He thought it was no use, as she would not talk. But he unlocked the cell, and the crazed woman got up from her bed of hay and came to the door. The cell behind her was dark as a dungeon; her clothing was filthy with dirt. We asked her name, and seeing our memorandum book, she asked for a piece of paper. Tearing out a blank page, we handed it to her. What a strange freak that she took it, and folding it, carefully concealed it in her bosom.”
“There may have been days when the poor Irish girl has hidden there the treasured writings of her early love. One of the inmates standing by us, with great beads of perspiration on her face, was singing a lullaby to an infant in her arms. It had a hacking cough. There was no sign of color in its face. Calling the mother to us with her child, we said to Betty, ‘Did you ever see this little baby before?’ She seemed to think, then, it looked as if she were trying to let the light into her darkened brain. She said slowly, ‘Did-I-ever-see-this-little-baby-before?’ It was vain. The dark dungeon behind her, the death-trap she occupied during some of the coldest weather last winter, effectually prevented one ray of returning reason. Is there no better place for this unfortunate woman? We had better support our lunatics in a proper asylum than to waste money in building places to shorten their lives. If our legislators do nothing else, they should do something for the lunatics confined in the poor houses of Ohio. They are freezing to death in the winter, and perishing for pure air in the summer. Will our Representative and Senator give this their attention? The inspection of State asylums is not enough! let them visit the county asylums and provide a remedy.”
“The second room is occupied by three old men. In this room is Joseph Martin, who says he was a boiler for Gaylord’s rolling mill for fifteen years. He is a Welshman. He says he can earn his living as a watchman, and asked us to speak to the mill owners for him. We feat that nothing we can say will help him there, but we will say to the mill owners that he says he would be sober and faithful, if a chance is given him. He wants to work a few years longer for his own support.”
“The third rooms contains three beds. One of the inmates has a disease that should disbar him from admittance. He is a great, stout, overgrown ‘river character,’ and ought to be kicked out of the infirmary. Let the Commissioners pay their attention to this man.”
“In the fourth room are two inmates. One Mr. Faverty, says he could make his living as stitcher in a shoe shop, if somebody would give him a situation. He is a cripple, but an intelligent man, and has an industrious look about him. This is another case where the county can have one less to support, besides giving a man a chance to make his own living, as he desires to.”
“The fifth room has two beds in it, and is one of the cleanest rooms in the building; this is on account of the cleanliness of the inmates. Before leaving this room we had to listen to a shark story from old Mr. Putland4. On the left, the first room contains two beds. Here Mr. Goodey5, nearly a centenarian , and his wife6, an octogenarian, room. They have been married over fifty years, their fiftieth anniversary being passed unnoticed by in July 1873. The old lady has been a member of the ME Church for nearly a quarter-century. She is an industrious old lady, Mr. Jeffords telling us that she knits two or three pair of socks per week. The old lady loves to read, but her spectacles do not suit her eyes. Who will get a pair for this good old lady? In this room is Rebecca Mittler with her sick little infant of nine months. She could more than earn her living for herself and child in the Children’s Home. Her baby will die in the poor house if it is not taken away. The mother has had one of her shoulders broken, and could not do very hard work, but she could do light housework.”
“The second room has two beds, and three women sleep in one of them. Rather crowded, as one will say who sees the bed.”
“The third room is clean and tidy, and is occupied by two men, one Mr. Gandy, whose sight has nearly failed him, having been a pauper for four years. The fourth and last room is occupied by two women.”
“Now, our readers will see that there is no system in rooming the inmates. They have seen that children sleep in cold and darksome dungeons; that the bedding is insufficient; that the new building erected is a humbug, and that the county poor house is no place for little children, none of them being confined therein. But there are other things. One of the rules is that no inmate shall be allowed out after night. In violation of duty, a poor deaf and dumb girl has been allowed to remain away each summer for three years, and the result is that the poor unfortunate has became the mother of two children. She was also released last summer, and a third repetition of the sin will be the consequence.”
“Another rule is that ‘the male and female inmates are to be kept separate as much as possible.’ This is not observed. We see them mingling together in halls and rooms, in the grounds, and while we were there we saw a female inmate coming from one of the outhouses as a male inmate was going in.”
As we said at first, there are no bath rooms; there are no covers to the vessels that , as we have said, stand unattended to for hours;”
“the graveyard is neglected, not a sodded grave in it, not a headboard to denote the occupant of the graves. The locality is a bad one, being on a slippery hill, the wash of a gully passing through it.”
Don’t Want Much Preaching
“The members of the YMCA, of this city, have been in the habit of paying this institution visits every Sabbath and holding religious services. A great majority of the inmates look forward to these meetings with pleasure, and members of the association tell us that when the former superintendent was there, he encouraged them. They tell us that Mr. Jeffords is in favor of their coming but once a month. They tell us they have been given the cold shoulder, no attention shown them, and that William Vaughters, one of the directors, has been one of the strongest opposers of the YMCA in their visits. Last Sunday they had no meeting there, and the inmates expressed their regret to us. Mr. Jeffords says he is willing for them to come once every two weeks, that if they come oftener, he can’t get as much work from the paupers after preaching.”
“But we say to the YMCA, make your regular Sunday visits; these poor people want to see you; they like to hear your singing, your exhortations and your prayers. It makes them more contented with their lot, and if Mr. Director Vaughters don’t like it, let him revel. If Mr. Jeffords can’t manage to get work from praying inmates, we can find someone in this populous country who is in sympathy with the benevolence of a Christian work, that can do it. Their lives are soon to be wound up.
An unmarked grave in the neglected orchard is all they can hope for in this world,
And they should not be denied a hope for a better world beyond where the quality of mercy is not strained, and where the time of worship is not limited. We have made our article very lengthy; could have written more. We could have said less and done our duty. Mr. Jeffords treated us well, and we will say that he is not satisfied with his facilities for properly keeping the infirmary. He is doing the best he knows how, but we want more than that, as our article has shown.7
- $27,418.32 in 2021
- 288 square feet
- This gives each man 36 square feet. The 2020 American Correctional Association standards call for a minimum of 70 square feet per person
- Edward Putland is 50 according to the 1870 Federal Census
- John Goody is age 78 according to the 1870 Federal Census
- Nancy Goody is 75 according to the 1870 Federal Census
- Mismanagement of the Infirmary Farm. (1874, March 7). Portsmouth Times, p. 2.