Genealogical Society hears history of ‘Poor Farm’

John Sipos, historian for the village of Cassadaga, recently spoke to the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society at the Barker Library in Fredonia on the history of the Dewittville Poor Farm.

Sipos presented to the group the history of the Dewittville Poor Farm from its beginning in 1832 until it moved to the Chautauqua County Home in November 1962. In the early 1800s when the population of the county was increasing, it was noted that there were elderly people who could not care for themselves, ill people, and people just down on their luck.

At first, the individual towns took care of these people, having families in the community take care of them for a fee. When it was realized that a building was needed to house these people, a 90-acre farm in Dewittville was purchased and outfitted to house about 150 people. In 30 years, a new building was constructed and was “the most beautiful building in Chautauqua County.” It was known as a poor farm, because the people living there were self-sufficient, growing their own vegetables, raising their own cattle and having access to two reservoirs of water. The oven, located in the basement, could bake 200 loaves of bread. The farm grew to 444 acres, and the food raised was for use by the people. The residents entered their cattle and vegetables in the county fair. Record books were kept of all those who lived there, sometimes for only a few weeks, sometimes for years. The sexton wrote in the ledgers daily, keeping accurate records.

In 1992, Norris and Lois Barris and Virginia Barden were able to use the ledger records to create a journal of the names and dates of those who were a part of the poor farm for genealogical use. Their efforts were very much appreciated for recording well over 100 years of records.

Sipos ended the program with a short story describing some of the people who were a part of the Poor Farm and their work duties. People at the farm always had food, a place to live and something to do.

The Genealogical Society meets on a monthly basis on the third Tuesday of each month from March through November. New members and guests are always welcome.