Historical Images of Porter County

Porter County Infirmary
Valparaiso, Indiana

Date: 1907 or 1908
Source Type: Postcard
Publisher, Printer, Photographer: Elmer E. Starr (#61394)
Postmark: August 18, 1908, Valparaiso, Indiana
Collection: Steven R. Shook
Remark: During the mid-nineteenth century, a movement was taking place in the United States and Western Europe recognizing the plight of the poor, indigent, and mentally unstable citizens. In the United States, many counties established what were often referred to as poor houses, poor farms, infirmaries, and asylums. Generally, mentally unstable individuals were also housed at these county-established residences, though most states also erected state mental institutions to house those citizens of the state that were deemed to be more problematic for the counties to handle and maintain in an adequate state of care.

The genesis of Porter County’s “Poor Farm” took place on June 7, 1855, when the Porter County Commissioners approved the purchase of 80 acres from William C. Pennock for the sum of $3,000. This land comprised the east one-half of the southwest quarter of Section 26 in Center Township. Pennock became the first superintendent of the Porter County Poor Farm, accommodating the poor in the home already located on the newly purchased property.

On September 1, 1856, a new dwelling constructed by George C. Buel was opened on the poor farm property to house the poor. This structure was had a footprint of 32 x 45 feet and cost the county $2,482, being paid with a combination of cash and county-issued bond revenue. Residents were, for the most part, self-sufficient. Shelter and meals were provided to the residents in exchange for labor in farming and upkeep of the property.

An adjacent 80 acres directly east of the Porter County Poor Farm was purchased by the county for $3,200 in March 1866 to expand the farm to 160 acres. The farm was expanded again on June 16, 1875, when the county purchased all that part of the northeast quarter of Section 35 in Center Township which was lying north and east of Salt Creek and south of a line drawn parallel with the north line of the quarter for $1,200. On June 9, 1876, yet another purchase took place to expand the farm when the county purchased southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 27 in Center Township for $1,200.

The home seen in this image was the third and final home to be located on the Porter County Poor Farm. Designed by local architect Charles F. Lembke, ground was broken for this $25,000 structure soon after the sale of county-issued bonds on August 7, 1905; construction was completed in 1906. Shortly after this building was completed, a barn was erected on the property at a cost of $4,000.

At some point in time before the construction of this building, the Porter County Poor Farm was being more often referred to as the Porter County Asylum. This suggests that the county was transitioning from housing the poor and indigent to include individuals with real and perceived mental deficiencies and what were considered, at that time, socially undesirable characteristics. As reported in early twentieth century county newspapers, the institutionalized included the truly insane, such sociopaths, psychopaths, and the delusional, as well as the poor and indigent, unemployed (bums and hobos), epileptics, adulterers, prostitutes and loose women, homosexuals, alcoholics, and drug addicts. Oftentimes, the Porter County Asylum served as a temporary housing solution before an individual was committed to the Porter County Jail, Indiana State Prison, or one of the state-operated mental institutions. As evident by the writing on this postcard, the name of institution had evolved into the Porter County Infirmary by 1907. On November 11, 2005, this structure was heavily damaged by an arsonist using kerosene as an accelerant. The extent of the damage was so severe that it was decided to raze the building, which took place during late February and early March of 2006.

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Image and related text prepared by Steven R. Shook


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