The Columbiana County Infirmary, for the aged and disabled indigent, was located in Columbiana County, Ohio.
In 1816, the state of Ohio passed a law that required counties to take care of the indigent and mentally ill within their borders. In Columbiana County, commissioners began planning for a county home, with the indigent to be admitted based on the recommendations of various trustees and commissioners of surrounding towns, doctors, and psychiatrists.
Two-hundred acres of farmland was purchased near New Lisbon in 1829 for $3,100. 3 The land contained a house which was ordered to be repaired, and a contract was awarded to Andrew Scott for $92. Work included the chinking of the exterior brick with lime mortar, the construction of a new sill under the sleeping room, a new brick chimney, the installation of an enclosed staircase, the placement of new windows and doors. An inspection on March 23, 1830, noted the repairs were not conducted according to the contract.
An additional 133 acres of farmland was purchased in 1861 at the cost of $3,600. 3 A three-story infirmary for the “infirm and well-disposed inmates” was soon built at the cost of $12,570. It was followed by a three-story building for the mentally ill in 1872-73 at the cost of $8,000. 1 3 Other large brick buildings and a frame barn, painted red, were also added.
By 1879, the infirmary complex consisted of two three-story brick buildings, powerhouse, heating plant, meat storage house, and a dairy and frame barn.
In September 1880, the number of inmates at the infirmary totalled 176 and 125 in February 1905. 3 A 1908 account of the complex noted 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 remodelling, costing between $4,000 and $5,000, was completed on the building housing the mentally ill in late-1908. 10
A small hospital, with three wards, each with ten beds, was added in 1936 by the Public Works Administration. 1 Before the completion of the hospital, patients were sent to the 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 a 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 A scathing report by the county sanitarian and a consultant in October 1959 noted the county infirmary was a “firetrap”, “unsanitary”, “foul-smelling”, “poorly equipped”, and a “violation.” It was specific in criticising the water supply and sewage disposal system, food preparation equipment, and dairy operation. 11 The buildings were deemed unsafe for the elderly due to the presence of steep staircases and a lack of adequate egress in the event of a fire.
The public defeated the bond issue by 3,000 votes. 11
On December 12, 1960, the state 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, primary residence, hospital building, and laundry and boiler building were all found to be deficient. The review also noted inadequate sanitary facilities and 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 practically nothing.
On May 8, 1962, the county’s proposed .8-mill operating levy and .7-mill levy for improvements for the county infirmary did not pass. 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 in August.
In November, the county passed a .7-mill levy for three years or $147,700 per year for operation of the nursing home at the county infirmary. 9
The first of many repair projects began in January 1963 when work started on painting the walls and correcting deficiencies in the men’s section of the county infirmary. 16 Construction progressed 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 an equal amount of money for a new county infirmary. It was approved, financed with an even split of federal (PVA) and county funds. The ground was broken on April 17, 1964, for a one-story, 40-unit nursing home. 6 8 9 The new facility, completed by Riley Construction of Alliance for $430,000 in mid-January 1965, was adjacent to the old county infirmary. 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 male and female 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.
The county abandoned efforts to use federal funds to demolish the infirmary in June 2010. 2 The decision was made after the county learned that the state would have required a variance from the state Office of Historic Preservation, as the complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The county would have needed to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the state requiring that the county complete some 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.
The Columbiana County Infirmary complex was demolished in 2016. The local Amish community saved materials that were deemed salvageable.