Monday, 9 June 2008

Halifax County Poor’s Farm – Bissett Road

Established in 1887, the Halifax County Poor’s Farm was the home for the Poor and “Harmless Insane”. Five deaths occurred at the Poor’s Farm the year following its establishment. Between the time it opened and the time of its closure in 1929 due to fire which destroyed most of the dormitory structures, nearly 300 people died there. Some remains were claimed by family and friends; those not claimed were interred at the farm. These were the lost souls – those for whom no one came either because there was no family, or family didn’t know they were here, or they had abandoned them there. The cemetery, recorded by Powell in 1990, is located near the water’s edge of the Park. Powell identified six sites associated with the Poor’s Farm, consisting of four probable building foundations, a reservoir and the cemetery. The couple of dormitory structures that remained standing after the February 28th, 1929 fire were demolished in the mid-twentieth century.

The dormitories had been described as “a rambling affair”, being an agglomeration of old, re-used structures moved to the site, and newly constructed buildings. They were connected by a series of breezeways thought by some to have been the reason the fire spread so quickly. Part of the burned portion of the structure had been constructed just two years prior. When the residents were removed from the facility the morning after the fire, there were 140 individuals accounted for and sent to the Halifax City Home; the fire caused no casualties. One individual had “escaped” in the confusion caused by the fire. There had been a fenced yard for the “harmless insane” to gain some fresh air and sunshine without wandering away.

Controversy cast a shadow over the Poor’s Farm at the turn of the century, when vigilant citizens noted discrepancies in the costs of food and supplies necessary for the function of the farm. Though costs had apparently decreased, questions remained about prior superintendence of the Farm and its resources meant to provide for its charges. Deaths at the Poor’s Farm were regular occurrences. Several individuals were noted as having been “buried by the county”, but these documentary instances are far outnumbered by the number of visible depressions in the graveyard and the anomalies noted in the ground penetrating radar data. The residents, known then as inmates, included men and women, children and the elderly. Births also occurred at the Farm, but the presence of children appears to have waned considerably after the first decade of the twentieth century.

In this other age, such a place for the socio-historically voiceless and powerless must have been home to people with some truly amazing and tragic stories. One such individual who died and was buried here, briefly disinterred during last year’s archaeological project, was just a young teenager at her death. She continues her rest back in her grave today, having been reburied only weeks after her disinterment. We have seen her place of death, let’s go do some archaeology at the dormitories and find out what her life was like.