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This page like all others is copy write by Foxie & Tom. Thanks for your support.

 

These newspaper articles were submitted to Foxie from Tom Lundeen who also had an interest in the Alms House History.  He has also submitted the 1900 census report in excel spreadsheet form; I have to make into frontpage so if it doesn't look quite the same my pardon's thanks so much Todd; any contributions are truly welcome and this has helped me very much to understand a few things here.

County finds old cemetery; belated marker erected to dead

By Dan Rozek, Staff Writer, Galesburg Register Mail, 7/1/1983.................

 

Knoxville – A new gray and white marble monument was placed in a small cemetery here Thursday, even though no one has been buried there for 61 years.

 

The stone marks a cemetery where more than 100 paupers, elderly or insane residents of the county poor farm, also called the alms house, were buried between 1870 and 1922.  The alms house was the predecessor of the Knox County Nursing Home and was located near where the home is now.

 

The exact location of the cemetery, just northeast of the nursing home, was unknown until less than a year ago.  That’s when a woman came to the nursing home looking for the grave of a relative who had died in the alms house and had been buried in the cemetery there.

 

“I had heard of one, but I didn’t know where it was,” Mary Peterson, administrator of the home, said.  The woman was from another state and Peterson said she doesn’t remember her name, but the woman’s visit sparked Peterson, Maxine Clark, Galesburg, and George Hurd, Knoxville, into looking for the cemetery and determining who was buried there.

 

Peterson, Clark, who is on the county nursing home committee, and Hurd, a funeral director, said an interest in local history got them involved in the search.

 

It also bothered some people in Knoxville, including Peterson, that the cemetery had been farmed over and left unmarked, because the people buried there deserved a monument to mark their resting place, she said.  “Several people in town remembered there was a cemetery and they didn’t like the idea that it wasn’t there any more,” she said.  “They shouldn’t have disturbed a cemetery.”

 

Because the graveyard was on county farmland, there was no reason not to try to find it, she said.

 

“We decided to check into it on the county level to try to find the exact location,” Hurd said.  “From talking to different people in the community, they kind of remembered where it was.”

 

The recollections of residents narrowed down the area where the cemetery could have been.  An old aerial photograph also helped, showing an area near the home that could have been a cemetery.

 

“It showed a kind of area where the cemetery was supposed to be,” he said.  “It fit the description.”

 

This spring, Hurd and several other searchers began poking around in the suspected area and found signs they were on the right track.  A fence post embedded in concrete was found just below ground level and Hurd said he believes that was a cornerpost marking the old site.  A little more digging turned up conclusive proof.

 

“When we skimmed off the sod we found a couple of casket handles,” he said.  “Then we figured we were in the right place.”

 

Two old steel handles were found and although they are rusted almost completely through, the hinges on them still work.  After clearing a 96 by 150-foot area, the triumphant searchers drove steel posts into the ground to mark the corners of the burial ground.  The monument, donated by Lacky & Sons, 150 W. Main St., Galesburg was erected in the center of the lot.

 

Inscribed in the stone are the words “In Memory Of The Former Residence Of The Knox County Nursing Home Buried Here.”  Although the marker misspelled the word, “residents,” Mary Peterson, nursing home administrator, said Lacky & Sons will be contacted and asked to correct the error.

 

Finding who was buried in the forgotten graveyard was perhaps more difficult than finding the actual site.

 

“There aren’t any (county) records on where they’re buried.  The records were lost when they tore down the home.  The only way we can tell is on the death certificates,” Clark said.

 

The place of death and place of burial were listed on each certificate, allowing Clark to compile a list of those buried in the cemetery.  She spent about three months in the county courthouse this spring digging through county death certificates from about 1870 until the burials stopped in 1922.  Clark found 101 people listed as being buried in the cemetery.

 

The certificates list the dead person’s name, age and cause of death.  Some tell a poignant story in just a few words.

 

The youngest person buried in the cemetery was a month-old child – the sex was not indicated on the certificate – who was found abandoned and taken to the alms house.  The name, parents and home town were unknown.  The child died of an intestinal inflammation on Nov. 7, 1887, after a three-day illness.  The oldest person buried there was a 94-year-old Irishman who died in 1917.

 

The poor farm was started as a place to care for the elderly, insane, poor and those with infectious diseases.  The insane were generally locked up away from the others.  Those who were able worked the farmland around the alms house or worked at other jobs there.  Some were hired out to county residents as household servants.

 

“They were poor people who would have been on the street otherwise.  Most people put there stayed there ‘til they died,” Clark said.  “It seems kind of crude now, but they did the best they could with what they had.”

 

The first county poor farm opened near Knoxville in 1856.  A new one was started in 1866 near the site of the present nursing home.  Additions were made through the years, and as the 20th century progressed it eventually became the county nursing home.  It remained open until 1966, when the present home was opened next to it.  The old building then was torn down.

 

The death certificates found showed the cemetery at the house was referred to by many names.

 

“A couple of the certificates say paupers yard, some say paupers cemetery,” Peterson said.  “Others said Knox County Cemetery or Knox County Alms House Cemetery,” Clark said.

 

But whatever the name, Clark and Peterson said they believe the certificates all refer to the cemetery at the alms house.  And they agree the 101 people listed as buried in the cemetery could not have fit in the small area of land cleared this spring.

 

There are two explanations.  One is that there is another, smaller cemetery away from the main cemetery and the alms house, where people who died of infectious diseases were buried for sanitation reasons.

 

“Out in the fields, some (people) have said there was a cemetery,” Peterson said. 

 

The other explanation is that only part of the original cemetery was uncovered and the rest has been farmed over or plowed over when Interstate 74 was constructed or when another road in the area was built.  Clark believes the cemetery once covered more land than the newly cleared area indicates.

 

“I think there must have been (more land),” she said.  “Other areas (of the cemetery) weren’t cleared.  I can definitely prove 101 were buried here.”

 

Both Clark and Peterson said they and others who worked on the project were surprised to find more than 100 people buried in the cemetery.

 

“I didn’t believe there would be that many,” Clark said.  “I think they were shocked at the amount of people buried there.”  She said she expected to find only 20 to 30 people buried there.

 

The names of others buried there may be found this fall when Clark resumes cataloging miscellaneous records stored in the courthouse.  She said she also might come across some of the missing county records about the home.

 

She already has replaced some of those records during her three-month search through the courthouse, which she said she undertook because of an interest in local history.

 

“My relatives are from Knox County.  I had a grandfather in the Civil War from Knox County.  I’ve always loved history,” she said.

 

And although the search for the cemetery is about over, Clark said it has only whet her interest in the past.

 

“I got so interested in this, I went down and joined the genealogy society,” Clark said.  “It’s fascinating.  Once I got started on it, I couldn’t put it down.”

 

Photocopies of all the death certificates Clark found of people buried in the cemetery and people who died at the alms house will be kept at the nursing home.

 

The certificates will be open to public inspection; Peterson said she expects genealogists probably to be most interested.

 

“Time has taken care of that,” she said.

 

From now on, the cemetery that was the last resting place for many of the residents again will be taken care of.  The grass will be kept mowed and eventually some type of fence may be erected.  And that probably would please the unknown woman who, by inquiring about an ancestor, started the search for the cemetery.

 

This article says there are poles marking where the cemetery once was but I, myself, who go by there quite a bit have yet to see them.

Second Article

Early alms house considered one of the best in the state

By Beth Cedarholm, Staff Writer, Galesburg Register Mail, Sept. 10, 1987

 

Galesburg – In January 1865, the Knox County alms house committee – composed of R.W. Miles, John S. Winter and Cephas Arms – reported to the Board of Supervisors (precursor to the county board) on the seriousness of conditions at the poor farm and of the urgent need to replace the structure.

 

According to the committee, the old six-room alms house was inhabited by the poor-master’s family as well as a number of paupers.

 

Two of the rooms and a small storeroom were occupied by the family.  The two larger rooms were day rooms for the ‘idiodic or insane’ paupers, who were locked up in the two small chambers during the night.

 

The committee wrote that the poor-house was completely unable to meet the needs of its residents, especially those who were ill.  They cited the example of the man with the frozen feet.

 

“…as in the case of the man with the frozen feet, it becomes as a loathsome pesthouse, not only to the paupers, but to the poor-master and his family; the stench from the gangrened foot filling every part of the building, and sickening the guests.”

 

One of the smaller rooms had been transformed into a cell for “Crazy Hannah,” a woman confined to her chamber until her death.

 

According to the committee report, Crazy Hannah was not allowed to go near the stove fire on even the coldest days because it was feared that she might start a fire.

 

After giving the details of Hannah’s condition, committee members asked, “With all the modern improvements for heating buildings suitable to persons in her condition, are we, as citizens of Knox County, doing our duty to the unfortunate of our county?”

 

After several years of reporting the problems of the alms house, the committee finally convinced the board that the building of new county poor farm was imperative.

 

On March 5, 1856, the Board of Supervisors purchased land located five miles east of Galesburg (where the present Knox County Nursing Home is located), and in 1866, the new Knox County alms house was finally constructed.

 

Only one wing and the main portion of the building were erected at this time at a cost of $26,000, but after the east wing and heating apparatus were added, the total cost was $39,000.

 

It was said to be not only one of the best alms houses in Illinois, but also one of the “finest pieces of architecture” in the state.  The new structure was of Gothic style, made from red brick and limestone.

 

The building was made up of 97 rooms, 27 of them sleeping rooms for inmates under medical treatment and 23 of sleeping rooms for insane residents.  In addition, there as a chapel, sitting room, dining hall and working department, where all articles of clothing were made.

 

According to the “Eads’ Illustrated History of Galesburg,” there as in the house, “in addition to the aged, orphans, idiotic, incurable insane, etc., a hospital for the reception of strangers, temporarily in the county who may be suffering from acute disorders.”

 

In 1855, when the history was written, 118 people were living in the alms house, but from 1872 to 1878, 539 paupers were received.  The inmates represented 15 nationalities.

 

Although written histories of Knox County boast of the alms house, the poor farm was not without problems.  Albert J. Perry’s 1912 “History of Knox County” tells of an investigation of cruelty at the alms house in 1894.

 

According to Perry, a petition was presented to the alms house board in July 1894 requesting an investigation into charges of cruelty to a boy living in the alms house.

 

The charges involved “snipping or cutting off strips of skin for the purpose of grafting upon the arm of another inmate.”  The petition was signed by 86 temporary inmates of the alms house.

 

It was learned that permission from the boy had not been granted because he was “not capable of giving consent or of being made to comprehend,” but that aside from pain, “he suffered no inconvenience because he had nothing to do.”

 

The special alms house committee investigating the affair failed to find any good foundation for charges of cruelty or of willful and unnecessary injury to the young alms house resident, and, in their concluding report, insisted that care at the alms house was up to par.

 

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