JCHS HISTORY COLUMN: County Poor House Opening | Regional news

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ROSE CLARK Juneau County Historian

From the time Juneau County was formed from Adams County in 1857, the issue of poverty had to be addressed. Initially, the county could purchase 100 to 200 pounds of flour for a large, impoverished family. If the children were left without parents, the county might have paid to house them with another family. If clothes were needed, a seamstress might have been hired to make clothes for them. Disabled adults without families to support them were often boarded by the county. This special account was referred to as the “poor” financial record in the county’s annual budget. There were no nursing homes or asylums to care for those who had become “county officials” until 1885, when the Juneau County Board authorized a committee to purchase a farm and to erect buildings for this purpose. The committee purchased 140 acres of land in the city of Lisbon, quickly erected buildings, purchased livestock and furniture for a working farm. The facility was completed in 1887, and records indicate that 25 of the 65 people receiving public assistance in the county moved there. Although not self-sufficient, it was a productive venture for the county.

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The good management of this county home became evident, therefore, among the resolutions passed by the Juneau County Board of Supervisors, it was declared: “The matron shall be responsible and in charge of the home and the infirmary . The farm manager should be responsible and in charge of the farm. Both, at all times, respect the wishes and directives of the syndic in charge. In 1921, Claude and Mae Bennet, of rural Mauston, were hired for these positions. In addition to a huge workload on the farm, Claude Bennet kept a daily diary of farm activities, which his family kindly shared with me. It seems that most of the residents’ food was produced on the farm. Planting, weeding, harvesting 200 bushels of potatoes took place annually. The huge vegetable garden was cared for, harvested, then canned to be served for three meals a day to the inhabitants. Churning butter, often 20 pounds at a time, two or three times a week, as well as butchering a pork or beef monthly. The harvest of rhubarb, currants, strawberries and raspberries resulted in more canning. Electricity did not yet exist in most rural Wisconsin, so freezing food was not an option. Chicks were not purchased from hatcheries, but laying hens fulfilled this role. In Claude Bennett’s diary, if a specific chore was not mentioned, he wrote: “I tinkered! I figured that might mean he chopped wood, or unloaded a ton of coal, shoed the horses, or fenced in the back forty. The Bennets held these leadership positions for seven years. During these years they spent most of the time on the farm, but if the weather allowed them to get to their home in Mauston, they took the train back and forth.

In the 1920s, healthcare workers were not on staff, therefore Dr. Townsend and Dr. McIntosh of New Lisbon would be called in to attend to an ailing resident. If a resident died and had no relatives to make arrangements, that too was taken care of by management. There is a cemetery a short distance behind the house, surrounded by agricultural fields on three sides. Robert V. Allen, the county’s first permanent white settler, came here in 1837 and stayed here for the rest of his life. Dying in 1889, destitute, without family, his final resting place is among some 300 graves in the picturesque cemetery now called Pleasant Acres Cemetery.

This house was originally called the County Poor Farm or County Poor House. When the county decided to change the name, it sponsored a contest among area elementary schools, with the winner receiving a $25 deposit. Pleasant Acres was eventually converted into a qualified retirement home, new modern facilities were erected and a good staff to resident ratio was maintained.

In the fall of 2001, Crestview Home in New Lisbon replaced Pleasant Acres as the county’s retreat center.

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