Jefferson County Poor Farm

                            By Lisa K. Gendron & Sondra Butler














                                                      Drawing by Sondra Butler


 In December of 1851, the county court appointed three men, Philip Pipkin, William S. Howe and B. Johnson as commissioners "to select a suitable site for a poor farm." The site they chose consisted of 160 acres, a portion of which was purchased from the heirs of William Lemmons. A second portion of land was purchased from Philip Pipkin and others. The Lemmons deed was dated August 27, 1852, and the Pipkin deed on December 21, 1853. In the 1876 and 1898 Jefferson County atlases, the county poor farm is shown to be in Township 40 North, Range 4 East. About 120 acres lay in Section 5 and the other forty were in Section 8.  This property is now about two and a half miles southwest of Hillsboro, off of Butcher Branch Road and Highway B.

The buildings consisted of a comfortable frame house for the dwelling of the superintendent and his family, and a large two-story hand hewed log asylum, chinked with mud and grass, for the paupers. There were few windows and there was no floor, although later, wood floors were installed.  There were also several outbuildings on the property, including a barn, springhouse, chicken house, pigsties, and a shed. A separate house for indigent women was built later so that the men and women could have more privacy. In the winter, a wood stove provided heat, but the houses were drafty and cold.











  Old Men’s House, Jefferson County Poor Farm circa 1922-23   


Hygiene had a very low priority. Water was carried from a nearby spring, and there was no indoor plumbing. The residents and the superintendent’s family used privies. There were no facilities for taking a full bath, unless the superintendent provided a washtub or tin bathtub filled with water heated on the stove. If and when residents washed, they used a metal pan filled with water, and lye soap made by the superintendent’s wife after the hogs were slaughtered.  There was no type of entertainment or diversion. The residents sat outdoors on the porch when the weather was fair, on the steps or occasionally in the yard on a stump. The blind, feeble, and insane were housed with healthy but indigent residents. 

County doctors checked the inmates every week or so, and administered whatever treatment was deemed necessary. When an inmate died, a plain wooden coffin was made, and the inmate was laid to rest in the County Farm Cemetery, located at the edge of a field on a hill southeast of the house. Plain wooden crosses marked the graves in the first years.  In the final years of the County Farm’s operation, graves were marked with temporary metal markers installed on all graves by the funeral home.

The bills incurred by the farm, such as the doctors fees, bills submitted by those who did sewing for the paupers, constructed coffins, or persons transporting inmates to the farm, etc. were paid by the County Court when it met each month to conduct business. Records of these bills were published in the county newspapers, mainly The Jefferson Democrat. Not everyone was always happy with the way things were handled though. In a letter to the editor of the Jefferson Democrat, dated February 16, 1877, a county resident questioned the amount of some of the bills presented to the court for payment. “In your "list of accounts allowed the county," in your last issue, occur some items that to outsiders who help foot the bills, look exorbitant. $9.20 for a plain pine coffin for a pauper is more than twice its value.”

Candidates for the position of Superintendent were required to submit bids for the position. A contract was awarded to the man who presented the lowest bid.  He was responsible for taking care of the residents in a reasonably comfortable manner, keeping the farm buildings in good operating order, clearing some land, planting crops, and taking care of the animals. The residents were to assist in raising crops and animals that would provide food, thus helping to make the farm self-sustainable. 

The superintendent’s wife prepared or directed the preparation of all the meals, using vegetables raised in the garden, fruit from the trees in the orchard, eggs collected from the chickens, and meat from the animals which were slaughtered on the farm.  She also made butter, buttermilk, and cheese, which were stored in the springhouse. Sometimes the superintendent supplemented their diet with wild game.

The farm had a capacity for the care of thirty paupers or mentally ill patients, although the average was usually about twenty. The first Superintendent of the Jefferson County Poor Farm was Louis Partney.


In the 1860 Jefferson County, Missouri census, Central Township, the poor farm, with George Fry as superintendent, listed these residents:

Geo M. Fry, Superintendent 57 SC

Theodocia Fry 52 KY

Geo. W Fry 17 MO

Caroline John 30 MO

Frances John 7 F MO

Major Omar 21 MO

William Omar 8/12 MO

James Runnels 90 Pauper KY

Sophia Parnell 55 Pauper MO

Nancy Eastpp 60 Pauper MO

Minerva Livingston 65 Insane Pauper NK

Wm. Weasey 65 Insane Pauper Prussia

Ann Toy 20 Idiotic Pauper MO

Nancy A. Sullivan 21 Pauper IL

Francis M. Sullivan 6/12 F Pauper MO


By 1870, Louis Partney was once again superintendent, and the following inmates were listed in the census:

Louis Partney  45 MO

Taressa Partney 26 MO

John Partney 14 MO

Augustus Partney 14 MO

Kate Partney 5 MO

Naaman Partney  3 MO

Eugene Partney 1 MO

And’w Renshaw Blind KY

Sophia Tonelle FRA

Nancy Estepp 73 IL

Minerva Livingston 72 VA

Jane Billings 76 KY

Maria Porter 45 KY

Ann Toy 30 Insane MO

Ellen Godt 50 Blind MO

John Godt 14 Blind MO

Mary Cunningham 34 Insane MO

Mary Smith 7 MO

Lucinda 3 MO

John 7/12 MO  Born Oct.

Mary Mallory 20 MO

Edgar Mallory 1/12 born April MO

Arch’d Johnson 32 Insane MO

Moses Martin 52 (Black) Insane KY

Betty Hale 50 Blind TN


In the February 3, 1871 issue of the Jefferson Democrat newspaper, published in Hillsboro, the following items were noted in the County Court Proceedings.  

“January Term - Mr. Thos. Howe was appointed the Superintendent of the County Farm for one year Mr. Partney's time expires in March.”

In the December 29, 1871 issue of the newspaper, the County court ordered Lavina Reed to be admitted to the County Farm, as a pauper.  And the February 9, 1872 issue stated that Sophia Holdinghauser was admitted as an inmate.  

In February, 1872, the County Court Proceedings reported that upon examination of the bids for renting the County Farm and taking care of the County paupers, Louis Partney was declared to be the best bidder. He was therefore appointed Superintendent for the next four years, beginning in March. The Court agreed to pay him for his services “the sum of forty dollars for each pauper per annum.”

Jefferson Democrat, Friday, June 7, 1872 – PROCEEDINGS OF COUNTY COURT  May Term, 1872 - Peter Felster, a pauper, inmate of the County Farm, presented a bill against the county for $17.00, for waiting on another pauper, but his bill was rejected and he ordered to be discharged from the County Farm.

In the same issue, appeared this item:

Friday, June 7, 1872 - PROCEEDINGS OF COUNTY COURT - May Term, 1872

A man had been taken to the County Farm last winter, with one side badly burned and his feet frozen, one of them so badly frozen that it became necessary this spring to have his leg amputated. Dr. Pipkin, the attending physician, was at the time waiting on Mr. Williams, who had the smallpox, and it would have been imprudent for him to visit anywhere else, he requested Dr. Brewster to attend to the patients at the Farm for him. Brewster, finding that it was necessary to amputate the man's leg, took Dr. Stegman, with him to assist in the operation. The operation was performed and the man got well. At this term of the Court the two doctors brought in their bills for services; Dr. Stegman claiming that he had done the work, and having made a few other visits, and having performed a few other operations, charged the modest sum of $231.00. Brewster claimed that he was the regular physician, and had really done as much as Stegman, and had permitted Stegman to do the cutting and sawing through courtesy. He had made several other visits and done some other work, and his charge was $121.00. The Court, after a hearing of the evidence, allowed Stegman $95.00, and Brewster $31.00. Stegman took his county warrant, feeling no doubt that he had received big pay, but Brewster thought he had not been dealt with fairly and refused to take his, and will probably appeal the case to the Circuit Court.


Jefferson Democrat Hillsboro, Jefferson, Missouri, November 14, 1873

THE COUNTY FARM - There is an institution of the county known as the poor house, in which we are all interested in one way or another, and thinking that our readers, would like to know something about it, we here present a statement of the number and character of the present inmates.


Nancy Estep, 80 years of age, is a native of Jefferson county, and has been in the poor house for many years. She was badly crippled when an infant and was never able to do anything.


Anna Toy aged 30, a native of Jefferson county is an idiot, has been in the poor house a long time and bids fair to spend many more years there.


Ellen Gott, aged 55 years, a native of Tennessee is blind, and has been there several years.


Betsy Hale, (colored) formerly from Kentucky, is 56 years old and blind and has been on the county for several years.


Thomas Gott aged 16 is a native of Arkansas. He is blind, and is a son of Ellen Gott above mentioned.


Minerva Livingston, aged 60 is decrepid and crazy, and has been an inmate for several years.


Harrison Smith aged 5 was born at the poor house. His mother died there. He is a bright looking little boy, and ought to be adopted by some one.


Archie Johnson of Jefferson county is a hopeless cripple, and has been at the poor house ten years or more.


John Rushkopf, a German aged 67 years has lately been admitted. He is crippled and infirm.


Frank Blun, a German aged 49 has been but a few weeks in this county. He came here sick and helpless and was taken to the poor house, where he will probably spend the remainder of his days.


John Spery from Switzerland aged 60 sick and infirm has lately become an inmate.


Henry Love from Ireland aged 57 is afflicted with ulcers. He is a victim of intemperance, he has been nearly cured a time or two but on being discharged, he would work until he got money and then spend it for whiskey which would aggravate and inflame his old sores.


Caroline Cramer aged 40 years is insane and has not been long at the county farm.


As fast as the inmates become able to make a living for themselves they are discharged, three being discharged last quarter. The county pays Mr. Partney, the Superintendent, for feeding the paupers at the rate of $40.00 per annum for each pauper kept. He also gets the use of the farm and dwelling house. The clothing for the papers is paid for by the county, as is also their medical bills.


Jefferson Democrat April 9, 1875
On last Friday there was a lively row among the paupers at the county farm. Among the inmates are an invalid named Clark, a crazy woman called Catharine and the man Riley who was found last winter in the woods living on acorns. Clark likes for his associates to keep clean and neat and insists on them washing and combing regularly. Catharine had neglected her hair for over a week, and Clark, after repeated warnings, undertook to comb it for her. Riley saw the tussle, and went for Clark with an ax. His movements were observed by Mr. Couch and John Partney, two attendants, who started for the scene of action, but before they arrived Riley had struck Clark two blows with the back of the ax, first on the back which knocked him down, and then on the head. Couch finding that he could not get to him in time to prevent another blow, threw a rock which struck Riley on the head and felled him. He jumped up and made at Couch with his ax, but by that time Partney had arrived and Riley was secured and confined. Clark is badly hurt; Dr. Pipkin thinks two of his ribs are broken. Our informant did not state whether Catharine got her hair combed, or not.



1880 Federal Census, Jefferson County Missouri, Central Township

Jefferson County Farm

James Williams 61 Farmer and Superintendent of County Farm 

Harriet Williams 48 wife

Iva Cook 16 step-daughter

Edward Cook 19 step-son

Rudolph Cook 13 step-son

Eugene Williams 6 son


Aggie Couch  White Female Blind 50 MO

Rebecca O’Brien W F 84 Blind IRE IRE IRE

Betsy Hale W F 55 Blind MO

Ellen Gant W F 50 Blind MO

Fannie Rousen W F 47 MO

Caroline Cramer W F 40 MO

Ellen Cramer W F 48 Blind MO

Fritz Miller W M 35 Idiotic MO

Alexander McKenzie W F 50 Insane MO

John Vail W M 30 Insane NY Scotland Scotland

Caroline Gasche W F 41 Insane MO

Hugh Craigen W M 30 Insane MO

Shannon Toy W M 18 Idiotic MO

Jack Waters W M 55 Insane MO

Emanuel Fage W M 60 Insane MO

Silas Nulls W M 36 MO

Nicholas Felton W M 44 MO


Many types of people found homes at the county farm; blind, feeble, insane, and people just down on their luck. The above Caroline Gasche was placed at the county farm following her trial for the murder of her husband, where she was found insane. In 1882, a young man named Richard Feeney, aged about 20 years, died at the county farm from consumption.  He was an orphan, and had been brought to the county by Frank Boughton, In 1887, a Mrs. Bairett and her four children were brought to the county farm from DeSoto. Her husband had deserted her, and she was destitute of means and supposed to be insane. Also in 1887, Philip Zipp, an old gentleman from near House's Spring, died at the county farm. He had been an inmate of the poor farm for only two or three months. He was a member of the Baptist church for many years; but evidently could no longer take care of himself. In 1888, the newspaper reported that “Mr. Hicks, an old man who used to teach school in this county, came back here this week to be taken care of at our county poor farm. He is a total wreck.”

For the next few years, the job of superintendent seemed to bound back and forth between J.O. Williams and Alexander Huskey. In 1882, Williams was in charge and was allowed $179.52 by the county court during that session. In August of the following year, Alex Huskey placed a bid which was accepted by the county to keep the paupers for the sum of $39 per year each, and the insane patients at $49, and also to repair the fences and fix up the farm. The editor of the paper made the following statement about the appointment. “This is less than 11 cents per day for ordinary paupers, and less than 14 cents per day for the insane. If there is a taxpayer in the county who wants it done cheaper, we don't want to know him.” J.O. Williams was back as superintendent in February 1884, and was allowed $165.85 by the court for expenses. By 1888, Alexander Huskey had the job again. The following article appeared in the January 11 issue of the Jefferson Democrat. 

“Our attention has been called to an error in our report of the County court proceedings at the last term.  It was stated that Alexander Huskey, superintendent of the poor farm, had been paid $31 for sewing for paupers.  The bill for sewing was only $15, the other $16 being for burial expenses of two paupers who had died.  Mr. Huskey has been very conscientious in the discharge of his duties as superintendent, and it seems he has been subjected to unfavorable criticism based upon the misstatement above referred to, hence we make this correction of what may seem to some a trifling matter.”



Alexander Huskey was the son of John Huskey and Nancy Williams, pioneer settlers of Jefferson County.

He married Sarah Partney, daughter of Louis Partney, who was the first superintendent of the county farm.

He was also the GGG Uncle of Lisa K. Gendron, one of the authors of this article.


Statement of County Warrants Issued by the County, Court of Jefferson County, Missouri, and of Jury and Witness Scrip, Issued by the Circuit Clerk for the year ending February 1, 1889

Joseph Pfeil pauper

Peter Meng pauper

Jacob Tyrey pauper

S. J. Burgess pauper

T. Taylor and wife paupers

Mary Wright pauper

Mary Wideman pauper

William Boly pauper

Alfred Graham pauper

Louis Deguis pauper

Elizabeth Behr pauper

Don McCulloch pauper

Kitty A. McMullin pauper

Meredith Rogers pauper

Elizabeth Logan pauper


The following articles sparked a debate between some citizens and the courts. Because of the lack of census data, it is not known who was in charge of the poor farm during this time.

Jefferson Democrat, Jan. 30, 1890

Grand Jury Report: We the undersigned committee of grand jurymen beg leave to report: That we visited the County Poor Farm and Insane Asylum, and we found that the inmates of the insane department were not provided with fire to heat the rooms sufficient to enable the inmates to live in any manner comfortable, or keep themselves from suffering from the cold. We found the bed clothing insufficient and filthy. We found that the insane were not sufficiently clothed. We found the building in need of repairs; the walls of the insane department were open in many places, thereby causing much distress to the unfortunate insane. We found the stoves in the several houses were much worn, and we suggest that the stoves be replaced and more precaution taken against fire. And we call special attention to the stove pipes that they are in reach of the unfortunate insane paupers, and should be made more secure. We found that the fence around the insane building is in dilapidated condition, and we suggest that it be repaired. We had no means of ascertaining the quality or quantity of the food provided for the inmates. The paupers did not complain very seriously when questioned on the subject.

   John W. Ritcher

   Cornelius Dillon

   John Shelton


Jefferson Democrat, Feb. 6, 1890

The grand juries report as published last week, is an unusually severe arraignment of the County court, whether as intended or not. If the clothing and building for the insane pauper is insufficient, the stoves old and worn out, the stove pipes where they are likely to injure the patients, the building full of holes, etc., it is the duty of the County court to see that such things are remedied and provide against their being in such bad condition again. We know that in such matters as this different people have different opinions. What would seem a palace to some people, would not be considered fit for a stable for horses by others. The clothing which some people constantly wear and think good enough, would hardly be touched by others with a ten foot pole. It all depends on the circumstances, conditions, etc., of the particular individual who expresses the opinion. But the court is not expected to be governed by the whines or opinions of any extreme class. What the general public expects in regard to the unfortunate who inmates of any department of the poor house, is that they should be comfortably provided for; that they should not be made to suffer from either hunger or cold. This much the court should see to at once, and the judges should oftener visit and inspect the poor house and learn what is needed, and not wait for suggestions from grand jury, committee, or anybody else.


Jefferson Democrat, March 3, 1892

Thomas CAGE took charge of the county poor farm on the 1st last.  He will keep things in good shape.


Whether or not the conditions were improved upon after this set of letters was published is not known. But a similar letter was published in the Jefferson Democrat newspaper a few years later. 

A CRYING SHAME:  An Open Letter to the People of Jefferson County

On Friday, Nov. 6th, [1896] a delegation from the Woman's Christian Union, and  a few other citizens of DeSoto interested in the cause of practical Christianity, paid a visit to the Jefferson County Poor Farm. The day was beautiful overhead. The roads, however, were not in very good condition. Nevertheless the ten mile drive was made in about two hours and every one was in good spirits. As we drew up to the farm the building presented a bright cheerful appearance. One of the inmates ran down from the wood pile and politely opened the gate. The ladies then spread the lunch for the party in the orchard. To partake of a luncheon was necessary for two reasons. First, in order to sustain us for the awful sights and smells which awaited us, and, secondly, because no one would have had either appetite or heart to eat after passing through such scenes of shame and misery. Little did we think that such pictures of want and inhumanity was within a stone's throw of our hastily temporized table. After satisfying our hunger we proceeded to visit the inmates, distributing apples, bananas and cake and literature. 

We said that the buildings looked bright and cheerful, but was from the outside. There is no plastering in any of the buildings; hence to keep warm during the winter must be an effort for the unfortunate poor. Yet the inmates spoke well of the treatment which they received and they seemed to be content. They said that the board was good, and plenty of it, and the ladies of the party who dropped into the dining room at dinner time reported that the food was plain but substantial and that there seemed to be a goodly supply. One thing noticeable about the inmates was their appreciation of our visit and their unfeigned unselfishness, no one despairing to get more than another everyone being highly satisfied with what he received. 

Taking our leave of this part of the farm we went to another building entirely separated from the others, and which is used for the mentally deranged. Of all the sights which we have ever witnessed, this is the saddest and most inhuman. It would be hard to find a more ghastly proof of the poet's saying that "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn." In one room is an idiot girl about 19 years old behind bars. Her bed is scant indeed, no pillow, not even a bedstead, but a dirty conglomeration of something spread on the floor in the corner. In the same room is an old lady of about seventy years who within the past six months is showing signs of losing her mind. We do not wonder at this. This room has no stove and yet the idiot and this old lady have had to occupy it during these cold nights. Friends, this is cruelty, is it not? Just across the hall in a room by herself, is a woman about twenty-five years old suffering from a most loathsome disease and the babe on her knee bore in a frightful manner the marks of the same curse.  The atmosphere in this room was simply awful, some of the ladies having to go out immediately, and the poverty of the room was enough to bring tears to the hardest heart. Dirt abounds in every building. But we are not through yet. More awful revelations of shameless cruelty and

unpardonable neglect were yet to be visited in other apartments where these poor demented men, black and white, do not receive as much care or consideration as the cattle of the fields. 

If the accommodations and order in the rooms were a disgrace to humanity, the condition of affairs here I prefer to leave to your imagination. We must drop the word "odor," for here it was an abominable stench. That place today is a veritable "chamber of horrors," a blot upon creation and a stigma of shame upon the whole State of Missouri. If any one thinks that we are exaggerating, we respectfully refer him to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, of DeSoto, of which Mrs. L. Mummert is president, and who was one of the visitors on last Friday. We are not blaming any one in particular. We are simply giving information from personal knowledge. Yet we cannot refrain from thinking that the people who allow their officials to let this farm to the lowest bidder are not guiltless before God and man. Nor can those officials whose duty it is to visit the county poor farm raise their heads and declare their innocence.   

We have faith in the people and believe that all is necessary is information to cause them to wipe out this disgrace upon our county. If more funds are needed a very small tax would cover it, perhaps only the fraction of a cent on the dollar. To have, remained silent would have been cowardly. The subject was presented last Sunday morning in the Presbyterian pulpit of this city, and measures have been taken to relieve the immediate wants of the inmates of the farm, because it is not a time to discuss where the fault lies, while the people are suffering. If permitted to do so the churches no doubt would be glad to furnish a number of these rooms. A very small outlay would do this and make it comfortable for the unfortunate, and the ministers will take turns in preaching there.  We appeal to the commonwealth of Jefferson county, to investigate and redeem themselves from this crying shame. We appeal to the Christian people of this county to not permit this outrage to exist longer. Why the county jail, which we visited the same day, is a paradise compared to the "county farm," and surely the aged and the crippled and the infirm and the insane, are worthy of as much sympathy and care as our criminals. 

Very Sincerely yours,

R.W. Mason

Pastor Presbyterian Church, DeSoto, Mo.


According to the 1900 census, John W. Partney was now the manager of the farm. He was the son of Louis Partney, the first county poor farm superintendent. Louis died on December 27, 1890 at the age of 66 years, 8 months and 18 days.


1900 Poor Farm Jefferson County, Missouri Census

John W. Partney Supt W M Born Jan 1845 Age 55 Mar 21 years MO MO MO

Tom D. Akins W M Dec 1832 67 Dvc. MO IRE IRE

Hayden Rendeford W M Jan 1845 55 WD MO KY TN

Wm. Page W M Aug 1833 66 MD 1 Eng Eng Eng

Andrew Reusch W M Widowed GER GER GER

Jacob Diflemane W M Unk

Mollie Wise W F Mar 1880 20 S MO

Etta Graves W F 1868 32 S MO VA MO

Ann Washburn W F

Lucy Livingston B F 1830 70 Wid. MO

Rudolph Stewart W M

Anton Smithenseek W M May 1835 65 Md. 1 GER GER GER 1883/N (Year Imm.)

Henry Nulty W M

Alex Leutzinger W M MO SWZ SWZ

Christ Bush W M

Jake Water B M

Henry Boice B M Jun 1861 38 Md. 1 MO MO MO

Unknown B M

Tucker Batte W M Apr 1826 74 MO VA VA


(For other census data, click this link poorfarmitems.htm)

(For 1900 Poor Farm County Ward Book, click this link WardBook1900CountyFarm.htm)


The county farm continued to be managed by members of the Partney family. Cora Virginia Partney, along with her husband Francis Marion Pierce, kept the farm for several years, as did her sister Mary Lizzie Partney and her husband, Edgar Marsden. Both women were the daughters of John William Partney.  

Edgar and Mary Lizzie are the grandparents of one of the authors of this article, Sondra Butler. Sondra’s mother spent part of her childhood on the farm, and had many fond memories associated with it. She enjoyed friendships with one of the older women inmates, and one of the old men who carved little dolls and animals to give to her and her siblings.  

There is a mysterious happening associated with the farm. Almost everyone in the area knew and accepted as fact the appearance of strange lights that appeared around the farm. They had been seen by family members as well as neighbors in the area. Some of the superintendents and their families as well as residents of the farm in previous years had also reported seeing the lights. Some people believed there was something supernatural about them. Lizzie Marsden, a sensible, practical woman who eschewed foolishness told of having seen them. As a dedicated Baptist of strong Christian faith, she would not even consider embellishing the truth, much less tell a lie. She said that she had seen the lights several times and described them as being the size of a grapefruit. On the nights when the lights appeared, they would seem to rise over the trees near the cemetery on a hill across Butcher Branch Road. They would float down the hill, cross Butcher Branch Road, go up the hill through the County Farm property, and then disappear behind the farm.


Edgar Marsden Sept. 1. 1923 on his 50th birthday, standing in front of the Superintendent’s House at the Jefferson County, MO Poor Farm & Lizzie Marsden holding her granddaughter June Rose Hensley at the Poor Farm in 1928.


The County Farm remained on this same site until it was finally disbanded in the 1940s. Several of the buildings still stand.



Superintendent's House at Poor Farm 2001

Barn at Poor Farm 2001

Chicken House at Poor Farm 2001



Paupers are now usually buried in the Neely Cemetery, Hillsboro, MO. (see Dave Hallemann’s article for more information on this cemetery)


All photographs in this article are courtesy of Sondra Butler


Copyright Lisa K. Gendron & Sondra Butler