In March of 2012, Kaufman County’s Poor Farm joined eight other Texas historical sites on Preservation Texas’ ninth annual list of Texas’ Most Endangered Historic Places.
The Preservation Texas website quotes its president, Jim Ray:
The 2012 list highlights historic places that were once commonly found around Texas and that are almost gone or that represent rare construction types. In each instance these places are integral to the communities where are they located, yet they are in immediate danger of disappearing from the landscape. By calling attention to theses sites now, we want to encourage local action while there’s still time. It is our hope that inclusion on our list will provide those who care for these sites with the support, expertise and momentum to take their preservation efforts to the next level.
On Monday, April 2, 2012, Jamie Laywell, KCHC Secretary, announced the selection during the Kaufman County Commissioners Court’s regular meeting. The previous week, Jamie and other members of the KCHC traveled to Austin for Preservation Texas’ announcement of the 2012 Most Endangered Places list, which also included Lakehills (Bandera County), Panhandle (Carson County), Seguin (Guadalupe County), San Marcos (Hays County), Jefferson (Marion County), Corpus Christi (Nueces County), San Augustine (San Augustine County) and Pflugerville (Travis County). Read the full article from the Kaufman Herald.
The Kaufman County “Poor Farm” is the only such site in Texas, and believed to be the only one in the United States, that is still owned by the county. The history of the Kaufman County Poor Farm begins after the Civil War ended and the number of indigent persons within the entire state became so high that, by 1869 an addendum to the Texas Constitution, Article XII, Section 26, made the care for the poor the responsibility of each county. Under the new law, in1874, Kaufman County Commissioners began scouting for land to establish a “poor house”, or in this case a “poor farm”. In 1881 the county purchased 408+ acres of land, which was located only 1 1/4 miles from the courthouse square. By November, 1883, buildings were erected to house the residents and farm animals, and the operation of the County Poor Farm was underway. From the beginning the purpose of the poor farm was to offer a place where persons designated as paupers could remain there and support themselves by their own labor until they were either financially able to leave or until they died.
The poor farm was also used as an Epidemic Camp in 1900 when smallpox hit
the county. There existed a “place of burial” for transients and persons who died in jail, and where “quarantined” persons were buried away from the populace. In 1871, victims of a typhoid fever epidemic were ordered buried on “Dr. Snow’s place”, now known as the county’s indigent cemetery located on the north side of Hwy. 34, once part of the poor farm property, and still used today by the county as a burial site for indigent dead.
In 1931 acreage on the property was used in the Farm Demonstration Program Project of the County Agent. The use of the farm as such continued until the 1960s. From 1954 until 1973, the property was the site of the County Jail and a working prison farm. The jail building still stands and is part of the KCHC historical site. In 1998, a Texas State Historical Site Marker was dedicated by KCHC, and is now located on the eastern fence line of the KCHC “Poor Farm” property. KCHC holds a 99-year, renewable lease on 27 acres of the original poor farm property that includes a stock pond, 19th-century buildings, other outbuildings, and vintage farm equipment.
KCHC offers “Poor Farm” tours, classroom and service club programs, and student field trips on request. Contact the KCHC office for information.
For a more detailed discussion of the history of the Poor Farm and its cemetery, see The Poor House Story website, specifically Kaufman County Poor Farm by Kathy Kelley Hunt, former member of the KCHC.