Volume 2, Issue 33
This image taken in 1905 shows a gathering of local officials and community members at the opening of the hospital wing at the Orleans County Alms House. The estimated $20,000 extension of the Poor House was designed by architect Fred Harvey Loverin of Buffalo and completed with much anticipation from local officials.
The main building, pictured right, consisted of an administration building, a men’s ward, and a women’s ward all constructed in 1878 by Frank Downing. The building replaced the badly deteriorated County House, which was deemed obsolete by a committee consisting of John Hull White, Burton Keys, and Julius Harris. The committee reported that “…the roof leaks badly…” and that “…the walls appear to be infested with vermin, and there is no way to exterminate them except by building the walls anew.” It is shown in the papers of Frederick Law Olmstead that he was consulted in the planning of the new Alms House building.
In 1903, prior to starting construction of the hospital wing, inmate John Hurley committed suicide by cutting his throat. Varnum Ludington remarked that Hurley’s death was the second of its kind in two weeks; the need for a hospital to treat the “mentally ill and deranged” was growing significantly. Construction on the 40x60ft. wing built from fire-spot Buffalo brick was started that same year. The building was finished with white sandstone trimmings quarried from Orleans County and consisted of a basement, two stories, and an attic. A veranda was added on the south side for patients to sit outside and “take their sun baths.”
Over the next few years, the Alms House was met with several unfortunate occurrences. During construction of the hospital wing in 1904, George Dibble of Byron fell 15 feet from the scaffolding he was working on. The accident resulted in a serious spinal injury that left Dibble paralyzed; he died shortly after.
The following year there was a dangerous diphtheria outbreak that left Frank Seifert, an employee of the Alms House, bedridden. His fiancée Violet Rowley visited the home to care for him but contracted the illness herself. Her death after four short days left Seifert in a distraught state of mind and after accusations of falsifying audited records the following year, Frank committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid at his father’s home in Kendall.
It was during this time that a scathing criticism of Varnum Ludington’s administration appeared in the local papers. Reports showed that the cost of caring for the inmates at the Orleans County Alms House was nearly double that of Niagara County’s institution. The average cost for providing clothing for inmates in Albion was recorded as $21.07, while Niagara County recorded a modest $3.49 per inmate and $4.00 per inmate in Genesee County. Records showed that expenses grew from $10,914.25 under the administration of George Mathes in 1896 to $18,846.19 in 1903 under Ludington.
These buildings remained in operation until 1960 when the new nursing home was constructed on Route 31. The farm land was sold in 1955 to John Wilkins, Jr. of County House Road for $20,600 and the buildings razed in 1962.
The Department of History is hosting FREE tours of the cemetery on Sundays in August starting at 6pm (no reservations needed). Tours will be led by Matthew Ballard and Bill Lattin and the group will depart from the cemetery chapel. Wear comfortable shoes, dress for the weather, and be sure to arrive early to find a parking spot – this week’s tour is a little easier on the legs and features the murder of Alice Wilson!
Interesting Inmates/Occurrences at the Alms House
1870s – Area newspapers reported the story of a 28 year old man who was born at the Alms House. Badly crippled, the man’s legs forced him to hop on all-fours almost like a frog. The man never left the confines of the House during his lifetime and was often referred to as “The Frog Man.”
1876 – An African-American man known colloquially as “Black Sam” claimed to be 121 years old, having been born in 1754 or 1755. His wife, also an inmate at the Alms House, claimed to be over 100 years old.
1883 – A local “tramp” applied for relief at the Alms House carrying a nice-looking satchel. Upon examination of the satchel, employees found several nice sets of clothing, new shirts, and new pants as well as $60 sewn into his ragged vest.
1908 – Albert Godfrey, a trained nurse, was found dead in his bed at the Alms House. He had overdosed on Chloral, a sedative drug, which was believed to have been taken by accident.
1909 – A man was brought to the Alms House from Medina with an unknown illness. Found in a stupor, the Sheriff assumed the man was drunk at the time. It was determined that the young man of about 25 years was suffering from some sort of sleeping sickness. Unable to remain awake for more than a few moments at a time, the man refused to speak and preferred writing as his main form of communication. He was believed to be Harry Burke of the Buffalo area who was attempting to visit his grandmother in Rochester.