Monday, September 10, 2018

The Wicomico County Pest House and the Alms House

Institutions of Mercy in Wicomico County followed the usual concept of “out of sight out of mind” and doing it with the least amount of burden on the tax payer. 

The two that stand out are the Pest House and the Poor House or Alms house.  There are others from orphanages to insane asylums but this post is only going to briefly talk about the afore mentioned.

The Wicomico County Pest House was where today’s civic center stand. It was about seven acres and was surrounded by fencing and had an armed guard at the gate.  The land was purchased in 1902 and sold in 1946 when the county stopped having a Pest House and farm.  People who went there had communicable diseases and were isolated from the rest of the community.  Visitors were not allowed.  Not pleasant, but it made the general populous safe, unlike today in which they are allowed to roam freely. Eventually Pine Bluff Sanitarium would be built and some of those inmates would be moved there.

The other alternative, if you were incapable of financially taking care of yourself but did not have a communicable disease, was the County Alms House-farm.  Alms House, an old English word, is the nicer sounding version of Poor House.  The 197 acres were bought in 1871 shortly after Wicomico County formed by cutting it out from Somerset and Worcester County.  It was the old Bounds Colonial Home, slave quarters and outbuildings out on Athol Road in the Cherrywalk section of Wicomico County.  A new house was built about 1910 for the caretaker and his wife.  When it was closed in 1925 it had eight inmates.  The inmates were segregated between black and white.  It would cost about $4,000 a year to keep the place up. When it was closed most white residents went to the crazy house in Cambridge.  The Black residents were placed with Black families.  There was a cemetery on the farm for those who died there.

In 1920 Samuel Straughn Mills (1871-1944) and his wife Della(Ardellia Frances Hurley 1865-1962) were the Alms House Keepers. Living with them were their children; Arrie Blanche Mills (1900-1997), Harvey Reginald Mills (1902-1986), Gillis Aubrey Mills (1907-1979) and Arianna White Hurley (1843-1930) who was Della’s mother.  The family acted as farmers and laborers for the farm and they kept the buildings up.

The White inmates were Peter Cox, Clara Cox, Eben Parsons, George Adkins, James Miner Charlotte Hopkins and Edward Pusey.  The Black inmates were Purnel Newman, George Gale, Williamana Evans and Noah Fooks.

All of those people from the family that managed the farm to the inmates have a story to tell and perhaps one day a more in depth post will be made about them.

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