In a historic context, the care of the indigent and mentally ill was tasked to the church and Almshouses of which the quality of care varied greatly. With few regulations for the treatment of the residents, the Almshouses were rife with physical and mental abuse. In 1824, New York passed a law that established Poorhouses in each county. Each county was to purchase and designate land suitable for such a facility, with local and county taxes to cover operational costs.
Allegany County appointed superintendents to the poor and acquired a farm to build a poorhouse. 1 2 A two-story stone building, constructed in 1831 on a 180-acre farm, was located approximately two miles east of the county courthouse.
The poorhouse was not opulent. It contained 17 rooms for 70 inmates, none with beds and lined only with straw, warmed by stoves with no ventilation. 3 Two keepers were on-site and a physician was made available once per week.
By 1860, the county poorhouse housed an average of 57 inmates with the farm yielding about $1,000 per year in revenue. 1 2 The weekly average cost to maintain a resident at the poorhouse was $1.03, exclusive of the revenue from the farm. 3 There was one resident that was declared insane and kept in a cell, secured by an iron ball and chain.
The poorhouse caught fire in February 1923, 4 killing eight inmates and destroying the building. 3 The complex was rebuilt in 1924 and operated until the early 1960s. 4
- French, J. H. Gazetteer of the State of New York. Syracuse, R. Pearsall Smith, 1860.
- Minard, J.S. Allegany County and Its People: A Centennial Memorial History of Allegany County. 1898.
- “Allegheny County Poorhouse.” Art of Abandonment, 24 Jun. 2014, article.
- “Allegany.” Poorhouse History by County, article.