Essex County Home
The Essex County Home and Farm is an former county home for the poor and mentally disabled located in New York.
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.
Toward the establishment of a Poorhouse in the county, the Essex County Board of Supervisors voted to appoint a five-person committee to determine the location of such a facility. 1 The board appropriated $1,600 for the purchase of land and the construction of a building on a 45-acre farm south of Whallonsburg in 1832.
A committee was appointed in 1858 to inspect the county home to determine its condition and to make recommendations for any improvements. 1 The committee reported that the building was “so dilapidated and decayed” that it should be torn down. It was replaced with the Home Building, a 38×72-foot structure, constructed by Dowling & Prescott of Keeseville between 1859 and March 1860 at the cost of $3,000.
The one-story Milk House / Dry Store Building and a 1½-story Dining and Kitchen Building were built by Prescott & Weston of Keeseville at the cost of $10,000 in 1873, followed by the erection of an east wing for the Home Building that faced the roadway in 1874. 1
The services of the Almshouse were expanded in 1892 to include the care of the aged and infirmed, and a 2½-story Infirmary was built in 1899. 1 Other supporting structures that made up the county home and farm complex included a four-bay equipment shed that was built in the late-19th century or early-20th century, a dairy barn that was erected circa 1890, a hog and chicken house that contained hog enclosures and chicken roosts, a laundry building that was built in the mid-20th century, and a cemetery. 1
The Essex County Home featured a working farm and some domestic industries to make the facility as self-reliant as possible. 1 A report produced in 1884 noted that the farm produced enough grains, hay, silage, straw, vegetables, dairy, candles, and soap to support 100 residents. Surplus produce in local markets and operated at a profit until the 1950s, at which point the farming operations were discontinued.
By 1962, the County Home was operating at a loss of $3,000 per month because much of the federal assistance it had been receiving had been revoked because the complex was not up to federal standards. 5 In an attempt to modernize the complex, the county selected Parker-Soper of Watertown to design a new county infirmary on the grounds of the existing County Home in 1963. 6 The overall cost of $674,000 to $778,000 for an 80-bed facility was less than the projected $10,000 per bed cost. Adding urgency to the matter, the Infirmary Building was condemned by the state Department of Social Welfare in 1964 because of its fire hazard construction. 4 An infirmary committee was established to determine whether to continue to pursue plans to construct a new Infirmary building on-site and contract services out to a local provider or outsource the clinic to an existing facility elsewhere.
In June, the county voted to build a new 60-bed county infirmary adjacent to the existing county home and infirmary at the cost of $600,000. 3 The county had been negotiating for two contract proposals for the care of infirmary patients with Moses-Ludington Hospital at Ticonderoga and the Sisters of Mercy, operators of a sanatorium at Gabriels, notwithstanding Moses-Ludington’s proposed construction of its own 60-bed infirmary. Because of the potential for duplication of services, a citizens’ advisory group and a taxpayer’s advisory group were opposed to the county project.
The Essex County Home remained in use until 1980. 1 The property and adjoining cemetery were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The dormant property was later acquired by the Daytop Village Foundation. In 2002, the Leaveners Community Foundation, founded to provide assistance to individuals who are materially disadvantaged, disabled, or wounded in the body or spirit, acquired the former Essex County Home property with the goal to restore the site into a holistic respite center for humanitarian workers and caregivers. The center would have a focus on environmental and agrarian ecology.