Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Place Lost In History: The Marion County Poor Farm

     In 1887, the Marion County Board of Commissioners bought the W. E. Glover farm for $4,500 in hopes of establishing a "poor farm" on it. They had $10,000 to put towards the buying of property and the building. The three-story limestone building was built in 1888 with help from one of the county's well known stone masons, Fred Scheaffler. It was built of limestone from Florence, KS and it's doors opened to the poor and public in 1890. The site it's on was chosen because it's on higher ground and in the middle of three towns - Marion, Hillsboro, and Peabody.

     In 1893, W.K. Palmer took charge as superintendent and it was said that he did an incredible job; while his wife worked alongside him and cooked for the people living there. It took tact, patience, kindness, and good and sound judgment to keep up the farm and care for the residents. During his time as superintendent, he averaged 12 inmates at a time; six men and six women. Back then the people who stayed there were called "inmates" instead of what we would call them today, residents or clients. It was said that most of the inmates were incompetent to a certain degree would require the same treatment that little children would.
     Each person was given tasks that matched his or her abilities and would be required to complete them. The farm had one hired man that helped the men and together they farmed 160 acres, made improvements around the farm, kept a large garden, raised hogs and cattle, and did their own butchering.

     The women spent their time sewing and mending, cooking, and keeping up the with the housework. The men and women were kept separate and never met other than at meal times and they were all required to wake at a certain hour and complete their duties. Not only did it serve as a place for the poorer people and mentally handicapped, but it also housed unwed pregnant mothers until their babies were born and then adopted.

     Not only were there frequent activities going on around the farm, but there was never a Sunday without the wonderful addition of a church service or special program from the surrounding churchs. Visitors were frequent around the home, as were the Boy and Girl Scouts. Christmas was also a special time, there was always a Santa Claus with a sack of nuts and candy for everyone and Christmas carols. Whenever birthdays were happening, you could be sure to find a giant cake for the special person to share with their fellow residents and friends.
     It was also said that the Marion County Poor Farm was better furnished then half of the private United States families, as they were always receiving the latest in modern improvements and machinery. Not only did the Poor Farm sustain itself without help from the county, but it also made enough to pay $200 annually to the county treasury.

     Art Loewen once told the writer of another article on Cedar Rest this: "I wish you would mention the fact that when TV first came out, the patients of the home all saved their nickels and dimes and chipped in to buy a set for their own enjoyment. That set was still there and in use when we retired in 1958."

While under the management of Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey Beisel, the State Department of Kansas notified the county that the building was going to need major renovations and repair. The residents were moved out and the farm was closed for two years. Then in 1950, the Marion County Commissioners of the Welfare Department moved towards reopening the farm and 120 acres of the land was sold to pay for the renovations. The total for enlarging the building, adding new equipment, and installing an elevator was $34,000.
     The then appointed managers were Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Loewen and then name of the home was then changed to "Marion County Rest Home, Cedar Rest" because of the attractive cedars on the property and also to remove the stigma of a "poor farm" or "poor asylum". Cedar Rest was used until the large fifty-bed Marion County Home was built in Peabody, KS.  

     The old house had a large basement which had a dinning room, kitchen, shower, laundry room, 4 bedroom ward, and furnace room. On the next floor, there was another 4 bedroom ward, several single bedrooms, and a sunroom. The next level's layout was quite similar to that of the second's.

     My Grandpa remembers living a mile away from the poor farm and having an elderly lady come over to their place from the farm and climb to the top of their windmill. She then proceeded to stand on the wooden platform at the top and threaten to jump into the stock-tank to kill herself. The caretaker of the poor farm then came over and thankfully managed to talk her down the windmill and take her back to the farm.

     Another story (this one I have no proof of) is that at some point in time, there was a caretaker (or gardener) stealing jewelry and valuables from the residents. An elderly man finally caught onto what was happening and cornered the caretaker on the top of a balcony one day. The elderly man with the wheelchair ended up pushing the thief over the edge of the balcony and down to his demise. Thus their problem was no more.

This picture of Cedar Rest was taken in 1908.

     In November 1964, after the residents had all been moved to the Peabody nursing home, the home and property was sold at auction. Several years later, Art and Virginia Miles bought Cedar Rest and remodeled the first floor into a restaurant called "Cedar Villa", it opened in 1968 and operated several years before being closed. During the remodeling period, several walls were knocked out and an area for diners, two bathrooms, and a new furnace were put in.

     The building then sat empty for several more years until Rev. Bill Cowel, Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Marion, KS, bought it with the hope of turning it into a youth center for girls. Volunteers put a new roof of asphalt shingles over the original wood ones, but that was as far as the remodeling went. That dream of a girl's center was never completed.


     The pastor then sold the home to Nancy Marr and her husband, she's said that when they first bought it, it was falling to pieces; doors and windows were broken and everything was dilapidated. Thankfully, Marr's husband was handy and had several friends to help with the cleaning up. Remodeling included sandblasting the stone walls and installing new plumbing and wiring on the first floor and basement. The ceilings, doors, and windows were also replaced on the second floor and beds were added to the second floor bedrooms. 
     At first, the home was used as a weekend get-away from their lives in Wichita. But then in 1974, their family spent their first winter in the home. "It was real funny," Marr said, "like going back 100 years ago. It doesn't have many closets, because people didn't have possessions back then."

     In 1978, Marr and her husband divorced and she became the sole owner of the former poor farm. Today, you can still drive by and see the giant limestone structure sitting back in the trees. Although it once held it's own thriving little world, it now sits, quiet and lonesome. Just waiting.

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