Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County 

Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office


Poor Farms Revisited – Part 1 of 2

By Lilliemae Brightwell

In Texas, days before Social Security, a husband said to an extravagant wife in a joking way, “You’re going to put us in the poor house!” Such places did exist.

An excerpt from a U S Government report summarized the various state poor laws in 1904 – “TEXAS: The county commissioners have the duty to provide for the support of paupers, residents of their counties, who are unable to take care of themselves, to send indigent sick to county hospitals where such are established, and to bury the pauper dead. The commissioners may, by contract, bind a county in any reasonable sum for pauper support, and are authorized to employ physicians to the poor, etc. The almshouses are under the management of the county commissioners. Except for these general provisions, there are no special statutes governing in detail poor relief and the management of almshouses.” An almshouse was an institution operated by a town or city. A poor house was a county institution.

Donna Green researched and wrote an interesting article in 2003 for “Footprints of Fayette” entitled “Fayette County Poor House.” In 1881, the “house” was surrounded by 2½ acres, and John Rankin won the contract to take care of the farm. The smaller building was the superintendent’s home. The barracks and dining hall, pest house for contagious diseases (small pox), and cells for prison labor were possibly added later.

In 1920, the farm was known as the Fayette County Poor House Hospital and Asylum. Arnold Prause was the manager. He lived there with his wife, Annie, and three children. At the time of the census in January, there were 22 inmates, which is the name they called them: 11 white men; 6 white women; 2 black men and 3 black women. In 1930, the manager was Alvy T. Bardin; his wife Lenora was the matron; a 23 year old son, who was a truck driver for the highway dept., and 10 year old son were living there also. At the time of the census in April, there were 12 white inmates and 4 blacks. One white male inmate had committed suicide the month before. At that time, it was listed as the County Hospital and Poor Farm. In 1940, there were only five inmates, and Albert T. Bardin (Alvy) was still the manager for the County Hospital and Poor Farm. 

In actuality, it was more like a nursing home/assistive living facility than a hospital for the elderly and feeble, and a boarding house for those who were able-bodied and homeless. There were no skilled medical workers taking care of the sick. More than likely, if they needed medical care, the county medical officer (physician) was asked to tend to them.

Near the city limits of La Grange on Mode Lane just before the entrance to White Rock Park, is “The Fayette County Pauper’s Cemetery”, also known as the “La Grange Pauper’s Cemetery.” The county poor farm was situated nearby. The cemetery reminds us of the lonely ones of our past, the ones who never “quite made it” on the frontier or elsewhere. Five graves were surveyed in 1987. More names were added from a ledger entitled “Record of Inmates in Fayette County Poor-House, Hospital & Asylum, La Grange, Texas 1902-1924.” The book was kept up to date for a while with names etc. Some reasons for discharge were: moved to Terrell, Austin, and San Antonio asylums; sick; cured; sent to father; lunatic; infant; discharged for misbehaving; turned over to husband; died; buried in the cemetery, etc.

One entry for a burial stated, “Found in river –dead - buried in cemetery.” Today the cemetery covers 1.18 acres of land and is owned by the city. Undoubtedly, there are numerous unmarked graves with unrecorded burials, because there are no records for the period prior to 1902. 

 The original poor farm inmate buildings burned in a fire in 1940.  A new building was constructed with large yellow bricks and is located off S. Reynolds St. This property now belongs to the La Grange Economic Development Corporation.

There was no standard practice about poor house record keeping; therefore, it is difficult to find many records in Texas. To get a better idea of what happened at the time, it helps to see what went on in other counties.      

In 1939, a lawyer at the age of 82, a resident of the Colorado County poor farm was buried at the Columbus City Cemetery. He had lived in Columbus for 80 years. Colorado County records of 1912 show twenty-seven at its poor farm, and for economic reasons the farm was rented out, and the county convicts, who had been housed at the poor farm, were moved to work on roads.

(to be continued)

Party Like It’s 1894

By Gary E. McKee

La Grange has never been shy about throwing a city-wide party. Here is an account of one thrown in the late 1800s during the period that was known as the “Gay 90s” which was offset by the fact that the U.S. and Texas were in the middle of a serious economic depression. The La Grange Journal was very vocal against federal financial policies. However, since Fayette County was an agriculturally based economy, the effect wasn’t as disheartening as in the cities. So, let’s get to the fun and frivolity.

Italics indicate editorial comment by the writer. The bold headline of the La Grange Journal screamed Grand Mayfest! Under the Auspices of the LaGrange Fire Company No. 1, Thursday, May 24, 1894 at LaGrange (at the time it was one word). 

Programme: 5 a.m., Anvil shooting. Two anvils are stacked with gunpowder betwixt them and ignited, blowing the top anvil sky high; this was to ensure no one was late for the parade, deafen the shooters, and disturb the local livestock. Music from the courthouse balcony at 8 a.m. Forming of the procession at 10 o’clock under the management of the marshal of the day, Mr. Fritz Presun and assistants. Parade through principal streets to grounds. At this time, the grounds were where the high school is now. 

Procession will form in following order: Marshal of the Day, Weimar Brass Band, Committee of Arrangement of Speakers. Visiting and Home Fire Companies. Uniform Rank Knights of Pythias fraternal group. Visiting and Home Societies. Decorated Bicycles. Brass Band. Decorated wagons and buggies. On arrival at the grounds, address of welcome by Hon. L.W. Moore county judge. Awarding of prizes for decorated wagons and bicycles, poultry and dogs. Dinner from 12 to 2 p.m. During the afternoon Concert and plays and games for children. Choir singing by Cedar Maenerchor and LaGrange Froesche (frogs) at 3 p.m. Address by the Hon. Robt. Schmerbeck in German at 4 p.m. Clay Bird and Glass Ball shooting all day under the management of the LaGrange Gun Club.

Another bold headline proclaimed: Grand Ball at Night. Music furnished by the Weimar Brass Band. In finer print was: A special feature of the day will be the awarding of the following prizes by different committees appointed on the grounds. Under that headline, the humorous attitude of the “Gay 90s” prevailed. Please note the generosity of the donors during these hard economic times.

A silk cap for the heaviest baby under 6 months. A handsome lady’s companion for the oldest lady, by Speckels & Shaw.

A fine long pipe for the oldest gentleman. A Western Electric washer to the family attending with the largest number of daughters, by H.C. Heilig & Co. 

A Chinese picnic umbrella (10 ft. diameter) to the best decorated wagon in procession by C.J. v Rosenberg.

A pink skirt to the greenest man ??? to be awarded by the ladies, by M. Schlesinger & Company.

A savings bank to the stingiest man, by A. Warnken.

A sack of flour to the farmer with the largest number of children between 1 and 5 years, by J. Schumacher.

A bridle or whip for the best single horse in harness, by L. Walter.

A cask of bottle beer to the attending singing societies, by New Orleans Brewing Association.

A fine pocket-knife to the smallest man over 21 years, by B. White.

A silk cap to the smallest baby under 6 months, by Mrs. S.C. Robertson.

An agate coffee pot grey speckled enamel to the farmer bringing in the largest turkey, by Aug Streithoff.

A ham to the oldest lady resident of Fayette County, by R.S. Homuth.

A pint bottle of perfume to the oldest lady resident of Fayette County, by J. Meyenberg.

A diamond ring to the prettiest baby girl between one and two years old, by R. F. Day.

A half-dozen bottles of beer to the oldest bachelor fireman, by L Knippel.

A lady’s hat for the tallest young lady, by Rosenthal Bros.

A calico dress to the heaviest girl under 14 years, by Balzar Bros.

A twenty-four pack of bottles of beer to the farmer bringing a bucket of best grown Irish potatoes, by Fritz Presun.

A bathing tub to the prettiest baby under 12 months, by M.J. Connell.

A bottle of cherry brandy to the man with the largest foot, by F. v Rosenberg.

A pair of red slippers to the best looking red-headed girl under 12 years, by L Fichtenbaum.

A half-dozen standing collars to the grandest dude on the grounds, by Hy. Lange.

A bottle of wine to the best-looking bachelor under 50 years, by F. Mosig.

A fine necktie to the ugliest man, by S. Alexander.

A bottle of wine to the man with the smallest foot, by Wm. Hermes.

A straw hat to the baldest man, by S. Simon.

A pound of crackers and 5 pounds of sausage to the hungriest looking man, by B. Otto.

A half-dozen bottles of imported Augustiner beer to the best scat player, by O. Moellenberndt. Scat was a card game favored by Germans.

A 40-pound stick of candy!!! to the most graceful lady walker on platform, by Hy. Alexander.

There are at least two dozen more prizes of which these stand-out as the most fun and unique.

Two dozen bottles of beer to the farmer driving the finest pair of mules, by Geo. Siebrecht.

Ten pounds of roast to the largest family, by C.J. Neese.

Bundle of shingles to the best-looking widow with the largest number of children, by Harwell and Hall.

One year’s subscription and map of Texas to attendant from greatest distance, by LaGrange Deutsche Zeitung. German newspaper.

Long-handled broom to the smallest married lady, by Alfred Zapp.

One cord of wood to the owner of the finest span of buggy horses or mares, by the LaGrange Woodyard.

These prizes give a view to what life was like in the La Grange area just prior to the introduction of the automobile as there were other horse-related prizes and that firewood was a valuable commodity. The focus on families should also be noted, as there were more prizes designed to assist the large families that were necessary in harvesting of crops for survival. The prominence of the volunteer fire department is noted as it was the organizer and the protector of the community as it is now.