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Bay County Infirmary (aka: Poor Farm, County Farm)
Written July 15, 2000, by Don J. Johnson.
  • Contributed by Brenda Brrzynski, Sep. 2008.
  • Bay County Farm (Poor Farm)

    In 1865, the Bay County Board of Supervisors purchased a large tract of farm land (I believe some 120 acres) bordered by Hampton, Knight and Arms Roads and erected a frame building for the use and care of the aged who had no means of support. We must remember that in those days there were no pensions, no social security, very limited welfare programs, thus many of the elderly when no longer able to work and who had not been able to save money, who had no family, or whose family would not take care of them, had only one place to turn to, and it was this facility. The commonly used term “Poor Farm” was really truly descriptive, although the name “County Farm” was the correct name.

    In 1905, the old frame building burned, and the Board of Supervisors immediately authorized the sum of $25,000.00 for the construction of a large three story red brick building and appropriate farm buildings. This area is now the site of the Bay County Golf Course, the Bay Medical Care facility and the Youth Detention Center. The driveway going into the Golf Course is the original drive leading into the main building. The main building was to the west of where the present present Golf Course Office is , and the farm buildings were to the east.

    The following is based on my many memories of this building. My grandparents, Albert and Ellen Trudell Barber, were appointed as Managers of this facility in about 1912. Grandmother Barber, although she became crippled and confined to a wheel chair after a few years at this job, was always intelligent and alert and she took care of all the inside administration details, ran the kitchen, and kept the records from that wheel chair. Grandfather took care of the overall management and was responsible for the conduct of the large farm operation that was conducted there. There was a hired man who helped with the farm operation. A substantial herd of cattle was maintained for both dairy and beef purposes. This herd furnished all the beef, milk, cream, and butter for the facility. A large number of hogs were raised which provided the pork and lard used by the facility, and a large number of chickens were raised that provided all the eggs used and chickens for easting. The farm land was tilled and planted to provide feed for the animals and produce (potatoes, etc.) for use of the facility. Thus it was truly a farm operation and any surplus was sold. Many of the inmates (the term “inmates” was always used, rather than the term patients). Now we think of inmates as those confined to prison facilities. But to continue, many of the inmates were still able to do some work, so all reasonably able bodied male inmates assisted in the farm operations, taking care of the animals, milking cows, working in the fields. Any able bodied female inmates helped with the housekeeping, kitchen work, etc.

    My grandparents were compassionate and caring people; the inmates were well fed and well clothed, and were kindly treated. Grandmother's door was always open for inmates to come in to visit or complain.

    As custodians, my grandparents seldom left the facility. Thus it was almost a family tradition that their family would visit on Sunday afternoons, weather and road conditions permitting. My mother was the daughter of Albert and Ellen, so we were frequent Sunday visitors. The grandchildren looked forward to these visits. All three of the Detroit Sunday papers would be there; the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, and The Detroit Times. Sunday papers cost 10 cents at that time. The grandchildren eagerly welcomed the opportunity to look at the comics from all three papers. Another item of great interest was the radio. A friend of the family had brought to the facility a huge battery powered Atwater Kent Radio. This box-like instrument must have been nearly 4 feet wide, some 2 feet deep and probably 18 inches high. It had a huge horn shaped speaker that sat on top; the large battery below (it might have been an auto battery, for it had to be frequently recharged). There were four tuning dials on the front of this radio, thus it was not simple to tune in a station. This set required a long outside aerial and the outside aerial must have been at least 100 feet long. This was in the early 20's before there were radios powered by electricity. Reception was intermittent, and as I recall, reception was always stronger in the evening. But to us it was simply wonderful, hearing voices and music from Detroit, Chicago, and sometimes Cincinnati was a great experience. I recall going over there to hear the broadcast description of the Dempsey-Tunney fight that I believed was in 1925. As I recall it was not until about 1927 that radios powered by electricity were available and I believe that the single tuning dial came into being about then. After that radios became the national craze.

    As stated above, there were three floors in the facility. The first floor has a large kitchen; with a huge commercial sized coal fired range for cooking and baking. How hot that kitchen was in the summer! There was a large food storage area and a large inmates dining room on the east end. In the middle of the first floor were the manager's living quarters and a reception area for visitors which also served as the living room for the managers. Further west were rooms for a cook and kitchen assistant, and a housekeeper. These were paid workers. Than at the far west end was a large day room and porch for the male inmates. The male inmates had dormitory type sleeping quarters on the second floor and the female inmates had dormitory type sleeping quarters on the third floor.

    Although many deny it, there was a cemetery for the indigent inmates who had no friends or family to claim the body after death. This cemetery would have been been located some 400 feet north of the Golf Club office on the Golf Course. I believe this cemetery was used until about 1915, when the County contracted the funeral services of the Vallender Funeral Home. Mr. Vallender received $50.00 for the complete funeral and burial. That was later the Vallender-Penzien Funeral Home.

    Albert and Ellen Barber continued their management until the mid-30's when age and infirmities made it impossible for them to continue. They then built a home on property they owned adjacent to the old Jones School on Hampton Road and lived there for the remainder of their lives.

    Related Pages/Notes

    {Click image to enlarge}

    {Bay Co. Poor Farm Map}

    Related Pages:
    [Bay County Poor Farm]
    People Referenced
    Barber, Albert
    Trudell, Ellen
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay Co. Golf Course
    Bay Medical Care
    Chicago, IL
    County Farm
    Demsey-Tunney fight
    Detroit, MI
    Jones School
    Poor Farm
    Vallender Funeral Home
    Vallender-Penzien Funeral
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