Historical Society members continue efforts to research county poor farm
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Laura Huffman from the Pulaski County Historical Society reviews county records of the Pulaski County Poor Farm.
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (Feb. 3, 2010) — Two members of the Pulaski County Historical Society have been working each Wednesday to review old county records of what was once the Pulaski County Poor Farm, but so far haven’t been able to identify any of the unmarked graves in the Poor Farm Cemetery.
As with many rural counties, Pulaski County once had a “poor farm” where indigent residents would live in a central house and work on a county-owned farm whose produce paid for the upkeep of the farm buildings and their residents. Laura Huffman from the historical society requested and received permission from the county commission to review the oldest records of the county to learn more about the Pulaski County Poor Farm, with a special focus on where residents were buried who were too poor to afford grave markers.
The Poor Farm was located on Superior Road near what’s now the Laughlin Farm. An older white farmhouse that’s still standing was the main residence of the Pulaski County Poor Farm; Huffman said she believes the oldest barn in the area and some other buildings were part of the original Pulaski County Poor Farm structures but hasn’t yet been able to verify that.
“We’re finding lots of records of burials, and sometimes (the county commission minute book) has records of names of burials, but when I look up the death certificates there is no record, so we don’t know if they’re buried there,” Huffman told Presiding Commissioner Don McCulloch during Wednesday morning’s special meeting of the county commission.
The commissioners will be attending a mandatory training session in another city on Thursday, so they moved their regularly scheduled Thursday meeting to Wednesday.
Speaking after the commission meeting, Huffman said she and other Pulaski County Historical Society members have been reviewing the record books most Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and so far have made it through about three and a half minute books, each containing about two years of county records. The county’s records date back to 1903 when most records were lost in a fire that destroyed the courthouse; Huffman said she hopes to be able to go through about three decades worth of records to learn more about the Pulaski County Poor Farm and its history.
Huffman said the current project is likely to be valuable for years in the future, and that’s part of why the Pulaski County Historical Society members decided to dedicate the time and effort needed to research years of county records.
“We were looking for another project. The Historical Society does a lot of things behind the scenes that may affect only certain people when someone sends in a request, but we were looking for another project that people can have a visible thing they can see and visit and see that the Historical Society is in fact working for the county,” Huffman said.
While gravesites haven’t yet been located, Huffman said she’s found other items that may interest modern residents of Pulaski County.
“We came across the contract for JW Ichord who was the superintendent of the Poor Farm in the 1930s and I have that whole contract online,” Huffman said. “Probably the most interesting thing we found was Elias Smith, who was found guilty and hung for a murder. We found an entry where Mrs. Smith, his widow after he was executed, the county paid her $10 because she was considered a poor person. Even though the county had to execute him, the county took care of her for three months, which was the practice of $10 for a quarter of the year.”
Huffman said she’s not sure why details of many poor farm burials aren’t recorded in county or state records and cited an example of the records that provide some information but not what she’d hoped to find.
“JB Christiansen, who was a poplar store owner around here, received $12.01 for a coffin for a pauper. That is another instance where the person was not named, and with the death certificate not going back to 1907, I’ll never be able to know who that person was,” Huffman said. “(Missouri Secretary of State) Robin Carnahan on her site has a Missouri death records database for all the records of all the counties from 1910 to 1958 and I am not able to locate the death certificates there. Does that mean a death certificate was not issued for the person? I have no idea. Paperwork may have been shuffled or lost or not sent in; we don’t know.”
Huffman said the results of her Pulaski County Poor Farm research have been posted on the internet at www.pulaskicountypoorfarm.blogsplot.com, a site that includes Ichord’s poor farm superintendent contract.
The Pulaski County Historical Society members meet at noon on the first Thursday of every month at their office and historical library, located at 416 West Historic Route 66. Huffman said those who want further information about the current poor farm project or other issues related to county history are encouraged to attend.