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In One Ear: Down on the farm

Clatsop County’s poor farm was a long time coming
By Elleda Wilson

The Daily Astorian

Published on February 23, 2018 12:01AM

The Dec. 16, 1885 issue of The Daily Morning Astorian asked for bids “for the support of the county poor for one year” and a “poor farm.” In February 1886, George Flavel and others were tasked to consider “providing the county with a poor farm.” What happened to this project?

Robert Strickland recalled talking to a woman who spoke about a poor farm being in Clatsop County. Liisa Penner of the Clatsop County Historical Society, says it’s true, but it was not built until around 1914. A CCHS photo of the Clatsop County Hospital & Home, which was torn down in the 1940s or 1950s, is shown.

“Every time I used to mention the ‘Poor Farm’ to Sylvia Mattson,” Liisa noted, “she would correct me and say the proper name was the ‘County Home.’ That did not sound as bad.

“It was located near the fairgrounds. … The people who lived there were generally elderly people who could not survive on their own, or those who had mental impairments. I’m not sure if there were any children. But all who could work were expected to work, taking care of cows and chickens, the garden, etc.

“There are a number of stories about the place … (such as) Nick Johnson, an old chicken farmer, who agreed to give his farm to his neighbor in exchange for taking care of him for the rest of his life. His neighbor died, and the neighbor’s wife immediately put Nick into the Poor Farm and sold his property to her son for a dollar, and moved to Portland. Nick spent the rest of his life at the Poor Farm.”

“Before (1914), the county’s indigents were placed in individual homes where someone received money from the county to take care of them,” Liisa noted, meaning Flavel et al must have failed in their mission. “In one case, an elderly man had been placed with a family (and) he did not realize that the family had no intention of paying him for his work, and that the agreement with the county was that his pay was a place to sleep and some clothes to wear.” Seems right out of the pages of a Charles Dickens story, doesn’t it?


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