The Columbiana County Infirmary, for the aged and disabled indigent, is located in Columbiana County, Ohio. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 1979.
In 1816, the state of Ohio passed a law that required counties to take care of the indigent and mentally ill. In response, county commissioners across the state began planning for a county home, including Columbiana County. The indigent were to be admitted based on the recommendations of various trustees and commissioners of surrounding towns, doctors, and psychiatrists.
Two-hundred acres of farmland was acquired near New Lisbon in 1829 for $3,100.3 The land contained a house which was ordered to be repaired: a new sill to be installed under the sleeping room; the corners of the house be cut and new floors laid above and below; a partition to be erected; a chimney of brick be constructed; an enclosed staircase be put in; new windows and doors; and that the exterior of the house be chinked and daubed with lime mortar. A contract was awarded to Andrew Scott in the sum of $92 for the work. An inspection on March 23, 1830, noted the repairs were not conducted according to the contract.
An additional 133 acres of farmland adjacent to the original tract was acquired in 1861 at a cost of $3,600.3 A three-story infirmary, meant for the “infirm and well-disposed inmates,” was erected at a cost of $12,570. Another three-story building was built in 1872-73 for the mentally ill at a cost of $8,000.1 3 Other large brick buildings and a frame barn, painted red, were also constructed.
By 1879, the infirmary complex consisted of two three-story brick buildings, a powerhouse, heating plant, meat storage house, and a dairy and frame barn.
The number of inmates at the infirmary totaled 176 in September 1880 and 125 in February 1905.3 A 1908 account of the infirmary notes that there were 65 head of cattle, four horses, four mules, 50 hogs and an untold number of chickens on the farm.4 Improvements and remodeling, costing between $4,000 and $5,000, were completed on the building housing the mentally ill in late-1908.10
A small hospital, with three wards, each with ten beds, was completed in 1936 by the Public Works Administration.1 Prior to the completion of the hospital, patients were sent to Salem City Hospital in Salem.
By the 1950’s, the role of the county home for the poor, infirmed, and mentally ill had become that of an mental ward and nursing home. To that end, it was proposed on May 12, 1959,5 that a $989,000 bond issue be listed on the November ballot to provide funds for a new county infirmary.7 In October 1959, a scathing report by the county sanitarian and a consultant noted the county infirmary was a “firetrap”, “unsanitary”, “foul-smelling”, “poorly equipped”, and a “violation.” It specifically criticized the water supply and sewage disposal system, food preparation equipment, and dairy operation.11 Additionally, the buildings were deemed unsafe for the elderly due to the presence of steep staircases. It was also not likely that if a major fire occurred that the elderly could escape in time.
The public soundly defeated the bond issue by nearly 3,000 votes.11
On December 12, 1960, the Ohio Department of Industrial Relations ordered the county to discontinue occupancy of the county infirmary due to violations found during a state inspection on November 28. The administration building, main residence, hospital building, and laundry and boiler building were all found to be deficient. The inspection also noted inadequate sanitary facilities and a severe negligence of maintenance in the complex. The order gave the county 120 days to evacuate the residents. Two extensions to delay the county home’s closure were filed and granted.14
In November 1961, a proposed .7-mill levy for improvements to the county infirmary was turned down by voters.14 The State Fire Marshal met with county commissioners on April 30, 1962, to see what the county was doing about eliminating the poor conditions of the county infirmary but left disappointed. The county had done little to nothing due to the rejection of the improvement levies.
On May 8, 1962, the county’s proposed .8-mill operating levy for the county infirmary did not pass, along with a .7-mill levy for improvements to the county infirmary.13 15 A letter sent out immediately after to the State Fire Marshal asked for another extension on condemnation of the infirmary complex and to delay the evacuation of its residents.12 A 60-day extension was granted and again in August for another 60-days.
In November, the county passed a .7-mill levy for three years or $147,700 per year for operation and construction of the nursing home at the county infirmary.9
The first of many repair projects began in January 1963 when work began on painting the walls and correcting deficiencies in the men’s section of the county infirmary.16 Construction began on a new sewage plant in June.17
In April, county commissioners sought $200,000 in federal Auxiliary Works Program funds for which the county would pay a matching amount of money for a new county infirmary. Ground was broken on April 17, 1964, on a one-story, 40-unit nursing facility by Riley Construction of Alliance.6 8 9 It was financed with an even split of federal (PVA) and county funds. The new facility was completed adjacent to the old county infirmary in mid-January 1965 at a cost of $430,000.8 The new building did not admit its first 20 residents until August 17 due to a lack of equipment. An open house was held in September.
The new nursing home unit rose the number of residents in the county infirmary complex to 118 scattered between a men and women dormitory and two nursing buildings.6
Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, the original infirmary was used as storage for the county. The nursing home was renovated and expanded into a county-wide jail in 1994.
In June 2010, the county abandoned efforts to use federal funds to demolish the infirmary.2 The decision was made after the county learned that the state would have required a variance from the State of Ohio Office of Historic Preservation, as the complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The county would have then needed to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the state requiring that the county complete a number of steps, including how the county could preserve the infirmary’s memory and significance. Additionally, $40,000 in federal funds that were secured for the demolition needed to be spent by June 30, leaving little time to request contracting bids for the work.
Funding was also an issue for the county in its decision to not demolish the infirmary.2 While three buildings were later removed, the remainder could not be torn down due to the discovery of asbestos. A consultant projected it would cost $220,000 to remove asbestos from one building.