The Jackson County Poor House: A Brief History

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Call it the Jackson County Poor Farm or the Jackson County Infirmary… either way, that’s long gone. On County Farm Road, west of Airport Road, is the Jackson County Cemetery where the poor farm inmates were buried. There are no markers there except for a lone cross which signifies the unnamed bodies buried there. Some of them are Civil War veterans and some graves are three bodies deep.

According to a Live article, in 1839, the land was purchased for approximately $3,000 for the purpose of building a place to house the poor, blind, deaf, homeless, and insane. In 1881, there were 33 residents of the infirmary. Men had to do outdoor chores like chopping wood and farming while women took care of household chores.

In 1886 the house burned down and a new one arose the following year. Over the decades, the total number of inhabitants has been lost to time as well as the number of bodies in the cemetery. In 1933, DAR members were able to unearth at least 25 names.

Over time, no new residents were allowed, and by 1950 the current ones were too old to do chores. In 1960, the house was falling apart and the board members thought it would be a waste of money to renovate, so a new facility was built: the Jackson County Medical Care Facility on Lansing Avenue. 90 poor former residents of the house moved into the new building in February 1963.

But the old poor house wasn’t quite finished yet…in May 1963, four convicts who escaped from the Southern Michigan prison locked themselves in the house, which made headlines. It lasted five days.

The house was sold in 1964.

By April 1967, a deal had been made that would see the former poorhouse farmhouse demolished. The contractors tasked with razing the place began burning trash and garbage; however, sparks settled in the eaves, which ignited a fire and burned the building.

One last interesting tidbit that was included in the Live article: The 1881 History of Jackson County took it upon himself to unflatteringly describe one of the poor residents of the farm. Whether the following description is factual or not, it just doesn’t seem fair that the author was so callous with words. The description says, in part: “Sitting on the steps of a rear enclosure is a woman (who) has a prejudice against clothes…..she is bareheaded…she is mad, not violently so as a rule, but seems to have lost all sense of human nature…. .She is extremely dirty, and her habits are decidedly more natural from an animal point of view than humanly decent, and none of the other inmates will associate with her.

The former poor farmhouse received its own historical marker in May 2022.

Jackson County Poor Farm/Infirmary

MORE ABOUT THE JACKSON AREA:

Downtown Jackson store signs, close-up: early 1900s

Stagecoach stop: a closer look

Desert Lone Star Steakhouse, Jackson

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