Scioto County Infirmary

The Infirmary: the Haven of the Old and the Infirm

“Upon invitation of Mr. Sam Williams, of the board of infirmary directors, a Times scribe had the privilege of spending a portion of Thursday at the county infirmary, and in the beginning, though not desiring to reflect on the management, we have no special desire to become an inmate yet awhile. It always casts a kind of gloom around us for days after visiting institutions in which are collected the poor in purse, the weak in body and mind, or the vicious and degraded. The Scioto county infirmary is situated on a beautiful rise just north of the Buena Vista pike, about two miles below Portsmouth. It is a good, substantial building, with necessary outbuildings. They are all in good repair and are neatly kept and are just not being overhauled by the inmates under the direction of the superintendent and matron, with general cleaning up and whitewashing.”

“The present directors are John P. Merrell, Sam Williams, and William R McDaniel, and from all appearances the management is giving good satisfaction. That Mr. and Mrs. Foster are well-qualified for the positions of superintendent and matron could not well be denied by any person who would visit the institution. There are always more or less disagreeable features attending every institution in which all classes of people, from the old and infirm and the poor, to the lazy, the idiotic and the violently insane are congregated, yet in the Scioto county infirmary, perhaps, you will find them reduced to the minimum. We believe the unfortunates that are gathered together are as humanely cared for as circumstances will permit”

“The system of heating now in use removes a source of anxiety on the part of the superintendent. Before it was introduced, the inmates would get up at night and build fires and make things ‘red hot,’ thus keeping Mr. Foster in constant dread of being burned out and many of the inmates burned up.”

“The present method of heating has proven satisfactory. The wants of the institution are very well supplied, except as to water facilities. A well is badly needed. The cisterns a year ago at this time were full, but by the first of June were exhausted and since that time they have hauled from two to four loads of water daily. The digging of such a well would really be economy in the end.”

“At the present time there are only 53 inmates, with not a single male that can assist much about the work of the farm. With careful watching a few of them do some chores, but the farming is all done by two employees. There is a farm of 230 acres, of which over 140 acres are tillable. This year 48 acres are in meadow, 50 acres in corn, 26 acres in wheat, 20 acres in pasture, 6 acres in oats, 4 acres in potatoes, and 2 acres in truck patches, gardens, etc. The farm is well-tilled and good crops are produced. There is an extensive slough running through the farm, over a rather devious line, that might be drained with great advantage to the men cultivating it, besides adding several acres of very valuable land to the farm. The superintendent is working at the drain whenever there is any spare time at his disposal, yet it seems that it would be economy on the part of the commissioners to authorize the directors to take such steps as would reclaim this valuable land. The expense would be comparatively trifling, Accompanied by Messieurs Williams and McDaniel and the superintendent we made a tour of the farm, and found things in good shape, the crops looking fine, and the ground nearly all ready for corn planting. We noticed some machinery standing out in the weather. No doubt, was worn out, yet it gave a rather careless air to things, which in fact everywhere else it was just the opposite.”

“No doubt our readers will be interested in the expenditures of the institution for last year ending September 1st 1893.”

“The total expenditures at the infirmary were $3437.22, and the receipts from the sale of products $392 and from other counties $312, leaving the expenditures in excess of receipts $2733.20. This together with the products of the farm paid the expenses of the entire institution. For outside relief there was paid out during the year $3819.71 beside about $2500, for doctor bills in the various townships. The entire expenditures including investment will reach well up to $15000 for all purposes. Yet notwithstanding the vicissitudes of the taxpayer, the many deeds of mercy planned and executed by the officials at the infirmary, amply repays them.”

“Although there were no evidences of harsh treatment, but just the opposite, yet there is an air of sadness and suffering pervading the whole institution. Here you find mothers and fathers who, childless and alone, are awaiting the transition to another realm and a possible reunion with loved ones, or bemoaning the fate that has severed those ties of affection that should have bound them to their children while on earth. There is no pleasing side in it to us, beyond the fact that charity and mercy have moved the people to mitigate, in part, the sorrows, and misfortunes of humanity. In one of the men’s apartments was an old man named Samuel Gibson, who had, as he claimed, lived for 95 years in Scioto county. He had been a powerful man in his prime; yet time had told on that vigorous frame until he lay there unconscious of his surroundings, and unable to move a limb. We since learned that his spirit, freed from that wasted form of clay, has winged its flight to other shores. For forty years he had worked as an employee of George Crawford, of Clinton Furnace. He could tell many stories of his past life, and was a great ‘fouter’ in his time.”

“He had been there three years at the infirmary, with the exception of a short time spent with relatives in Gallia county. He returned to the infirmary but a short time ago, sick, and never rallied. He died Thursday evening at 6 o’clock, and his inanimate clay will fill a nameless grave without a tear, as it is consigned to mother earth.”

“Another that misfortune has overtaken is Orvid Folin. His father was one of the original settlers of the French grant. Folin was for many years a resident of Portsmouth. He was a most excellent carpenter and millwright. He had been in the infirmary for five years, and besides doing chores makes canes and other trinkets and puts in much time in reading, for the amusement of himself and the other inmates. We were the recipient of a hickory cane, presented to us by Mr. Folin as a memento of his handicraft.”

“John Ryan is another of the inmates who is familiar, no doubt, to many of the readers of the Times. Some years ago he became insane, and though not violent, has many forebodings of impending evil. He was employed for thirty-five years by the Burgess Iron and Steel works. He had accumulated some money and at the time of the Citizens’ bank trouble, his guardian had $800 of his money on deposit. He has given up all hope for this life and says he is ready to go. He puts in much of his time reading his prayer book, though at times he cheers up and gets quite pleasant.”

“Among the inmates are two that are deaf and dumb. Belle Wilds, from Green township, was educated at Columbus, and has been in the institution for eleven years. The other, Ravel Slack, has been an inmate for twenty-five years, coming to the infirmary July 29, 1869, from Brush Creek.”

“The oldest inmate is Granny Kennedy, from Vernon. She was 93 years old last Christmas, and has been ten years in the infirmary. She is intelligent and very industrious, and until last year must have her little garden to cultivate. She is a great lover of flowers and still tends her beds of flowers the superintendent kindly provides for her.”

“Any cursory mention of the infirmary would not be complete without the mention of its most noted character, Tom McCollister. Tom makes frequent visits to Portsmouth, but of late on account of his weakness for the stuff that cheers inebriates, he has foregone some of his privileges to avoid temptation. He has the promise of the superintendent to come to see John Robinson’s street parade.”

“Tom has much to do in the management of the charitable affairs of the county, in his mind. He was formerly a soldier, a journalist and a statesman. But Tom’s day is past, yet he gets as much enjoyment out of life, no doubt, as he ever did. He is a gentleman of leisure, except as he assumed the care and oversight of the less fortunate.”

“Though there is nothing pleasant to gaze upon, yet the persons who have charge of this public institution are always glad to have the citizens of the county call and see how it is managed. We feel it is as well managed as such an institution can be. Persons who choose to visit the infirmary will, we are satisfied, find Mr. and Mrs. Foster courteous and obliging, not only to the visitors, but to the inmates themselves. They will also find the county property in good condition and well cared for by the persons in charge.”1

  1. The Infirmary. (1894, May 5). Portsmouth Times, p. 9.