By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
GLEN -- Tim and Dawn McMurray of Glen Drive got a little history lesson about their property Friday.
Across the street from their home, the Heritage and Genealogical Society of Montgomery County on unveiled its newest historical marker, which recognizes the site of the county's 19th century poorhouse.
Glen Historian and society Secretary Steve Helmin said the poorhouse was an attempt to "balance public good with moral obligation to help those -- who for lack of ability or talent, disease or disability, orphanhood, or for whatever reason -- were unable to successfully navigate their life without assistance, [with] the effective and fiscally-responsible management of the public's initiatives."
"This marker recalls that attempt, and reminds us of one such attempt, and the past and continued striving of our community to deal with one of society's most ancient issues," Helmin said.
The poorhouse was established in 1828 under state Legislation passed four years prior, said county Historian Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar.
The law mandated the state's counties to purchase land and build a poorhouse for the county's beggars. Farquhar said the county's first move toward erecting a poorhouse was the passage of an 1826 resolution. A year later, the county Board of Supervisors authorized the purchase of 150 acres of land and its buildings from Abraham Van Horne for $4,500, or $30 per acre.
"By 1828, the farm was turned over to the county, ready for accepting residents, or inmates, as they were then called," Farquhar said. "The buildings to house the inmates consisted of a two-story main house, 90 by 30 feet."
The site's residents were required to perform the farm's daily functions.
"The garden area proved the self-sufficiency of the farm," Farquhar said. "Those able-bodied residents were required to perform duties necessary to the functioning of the farm that helped to offset any expenses."
The garden was located on the grounds of what's now the county jail, Farquhar said.
Farquhar said residents also included new immigrants, the mentally challenged and/or disabled, elderly, and single parents with children.
"'Insane' residents occupied quarters near the rear of the main house," Farquhar said.
Parts of the farm, once owned by several generations of the Wemple family, still stand on the McMurrays' property. Society Vice President Ryan Weitz said that includes a four-cedar outhouse, part of a hog house, and foundations from an ice house, corn crib, chicken house and cattle barn.
"We knew that the site was a poorhouse, but we didn't know that the barn was a hog house," said Tim McMurray.
Weitz added when the new home's foundations were dug, foundations of a former brick cell block were found.
"It was used for the insane and the idiots -- those were the medical terms of the time," Weitz said.
In 1857, the poorhouse was investigated, revealing what Yacobucci described as a "less-than-satisfactory image of living conditions there."
The living quarters were described as "dilapidated," and though the courtyard's water fountain was fully-functional, "the idea of a bath is foreign to the establishment," the report said.
The quarters weren't adequately warmed in the winter months, and with only 12 rooms, there was sometimes as many as 18 people living in one room. There were also complaints of punishment such as confinement to a dark cell, whipping, and attaching a ball and chain to their legs.
Three years after the investigation, the county board petitioned the state, and was granted permission to sell the farm. In 1866, the property was sold to Hiram Sammons for $8,000, who was contracted to care for the poor.
Two years later, Robert Wemple purchased the farm, and was contracted to care for the poor for the next 30 years.
While the farm was no longer in use as a poorhouse during his residence there, Wemple's great-grandson, Henry Wemple, was able to help draw a map of the grounds.
"Wemple, from his memory 60 years later, drew a map of the property as it would have looked when it was used as a poorhouse farm," Farquhar said.
The layout remained in tact until the 1922 repositioning of the Auriesville Road, known as Route 5S, Farquhar said.
By 1898, the county board transferred the contract from Wemple's farm to the farm of Snell and Heath in Randall.
"This venture did not last very long, however, because a year later, the county purchased the former Schenck farm in Yosts due to its proximity to the New York Central Railroad," Farquhar said.
That farm was across 200 acres. It was situated upon a spring that once powered a grist mill. A cemetery, still maintained by Montgomery County, continues to be the final resting place for a number of residents who passed away while living there, Farquhar said.
It was sold in the early 1990s to a community of Mohawks, and the Kanatsiohareke community operates the farm and hosts a number of festivals along with running a bed and breakfast.