A Farm for the Poor, A Community for the Outcasts

On the outskirts of the city of Butler lies a cemetery amidst rolling hills. Today a nursing home facility also inhabits the area in South Butler, where once, there was a farm filled with people in need. This farm was the “poor farm” of Butler County.

During the late 1800s, counties were responsible for the care of these individuals considered “paupers” - those who could not provide for themselves due to disability, indebtedness, or without family to take them in. Poor farms were considered the most efficient way to sustain the the poor because the people could help support themselves through their labor while the land itself was considered a good investment for the future of the county. The poor farm was officially established on October 25, 1900 after much debate surrounding the “poor farm question” dotted the headlines of the Butler Citizen, the local newspaper.

While many believed the poor farm to be a highly economical model, citing the experiences of already established farms in Mercer, Venango, McKean, Crawford, and Bedford Counties, others were and angered over potential tax increases to support the facility, and detested the idea of housing so many “disgraced” people so close to home . Others, still, believed that the poor farm would end up a breeding ground for abuse and neglect, and as they found out later, these fears became truths.

The poor farm in Butler County often announced their production details and earnings in the newspaper to show their investments to the public. Their products included wheat and other grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as meat.

In August 1934, investigations of abuse and “brutality” were underway because the superintendent, Fred C. Herold, was accused of abusive treatment toward the facility's residents. This event also dotted the newspapers and speculations were made about the depth of the abuse and if there was a long-lasting problem of wrong-doing throughout the poor farm’s existence. While frustrations of staff may have arisen during the Great Depression, a time of immense struggle, the allegations of abuse could have further stimulated earlier concerns that a poor farm could foster mistreatment of the inmates.

Today, the poor farm has evolved into a nursing home facility that still cares for those in need, including the elderly and those with developmental disabilities who cannot live on their own. While the ideals of the original poor farm still exist, so do the records that were kept about the poor farm and its inhabitants. It is possible today for people to view the records of those who lived on the farm, and people could possibly find a long-lost relative who called the Butler County poor farm their home.