The Allegan County Poor Farm occupied what is now the site of Brownell Cemetery which is bounded by 33rd Street on the west side and 122nd Ave on the south, in Allegan Township, Michigan. The photograph to the right is circa 1910, when the site was known as the Allegan County Infirmary.
On 6 April 1833, the newly organized Township of Allegan elected Giles Scott and H C White as its first “overseers of the poor,” though this office is described in A Twentieth Century History of Allegan County, Michigan (1907) as being “a sinecure, being both without duty and without pay” (p. 14). Allegan Township, at that time, comprised the entire territory of present-day Allegan County. A fund endowed with the sum of $100 per year was established in 1837 as a provision for the poor of the Township/County (ibid., 15). This fund was endowed by means of a “poor tax” charged to the citizenry, and provided fr disbursement of $5/week for up to one month to be paid to persons taking a pauper into their home, per the History of Allegan & Barry Counties, Michigan (1880, p. 58). In 1849, the County authorized itself to purchase a farm for a maximum of $1200 for the purpose of housing the County’s poor, but no such action was undertaken in that year nor in the next several.
ESTABLISHMENT & EXPANSION
On 14 January 1866, the Allegan County superintendents of the poor recommended the purchase of the J. P. Pope farm for this purpose, at a cost of $7000. This recommendation was accepted and the purchase was made the following day. A second poorhouse was erected on the farm in January 1869 at a cost of $2090.07 (1907, p. 15). In 1870, the original house was found to be in need of razing, and it was replaced with what came to be called “the main building” completed in October of that year. The insane asylum was the next addition to the complex. The 20-room hospital-style building received its first inmates on 1 January 1876. On 20 Oct 1898, a juvenile home was added to the Poor Farm to house “insane children” separate from the adult asylum. Next, a hospital “for the isolation of contagious persons” was appended to the main building, completed on 10 January 1899 and a telephone was installed in the main building as part of that same project.
CLOSING OF THE POOR FARM
The facility served as the county’s “debtor’s prison” and asylum, i.e. an encampment for “undesirables,” from 1866 to 1914. At that time, the poor housing was demolished. Debtor’s prisons are no longer legal under the present Michigan Constitution. The site is presently home to the Cheever juvenile treatment facility (est. 1965), the Medical Care Community (est. 1970), Animal Control/Shelter (est. 1975) and the Allegan County Service Complex (including 911 dispatch and the County wastewater treatment facility).
Per Betty Snow, the niece of former inmate Ben Meijer, most of the records were destroyed when the building was demolished, salvaging of records being discouraged. The site is now marked with an anonymous memorial marker (shown at left, courtesy of Teresa O’Riley), the inscription reading:
In Memory of our Departed Friends
Inmate listings courtesy of poorhousestory.com:
Interments of inmates as of July 1939 were recorded by Ruth Robbins Montieth and preserved online at migenweb.org. At that time, the place was known as Fairfield Cemetery. It is supposed that more had been buried there prior to this, but had been re-interred at Oakland Cemetery at some point.