8 Jul 2019
When one thinks of an asylum, many horror stories pop up. Some of the most infamous that comes to mind are the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. These facilities were medical facilities that tried to treat mental illness before they were fully understood, and their methods were nothing short of barbaric, but this asylum is a different type of asylum.
Back before the modern welfare system came into act, all ninety-two counties had facilities that were called county homes, poor farms or poor asylums. These places were self-sustaining communities in which the downtrodden in the community could live in return for work on the land and farms. Many raised livestock and grew their own food. These places also housed those who were not physically or physiologically able to take care of themselves in “modest, yet respectable” accommodations.
A little over a half-century ago when our modern welfare system was enacted, the poor homes died off. People were able to go back out on their own or be transferred to other, more appropriate facilities. Some were converted into other uses such as nursing homes, apartments and government offices, but the majority were demolished.
Today, only forty-seven of the original ninety-two poor homes are still standing, and out of those still in existence, around a dozen are abandoned. I had the opportunity to photograph one of these abandoned poor homes. It opened in the 1800s and was rebuilt in the 1930s. It shut its doors for good around a decade ago after the nursing home that occupied the building closed. It has been ravished by vandals and nothing original seems to be salvageable. The building looks quite stately (no exterior shots to protect it from potential vandals) but it is very close to being beyond saving. There is not an intact window or door there.
Furniture still fills the hallways and rooms, and moans and groans of a decaying building fill the air, along with a horribly musty smell. Sadly, these grand pieces of Indiana’s history are dying and soon they will be nothing but memories. This is why I am thankful I had the chance to photograph this place, It has a story to tell. Like people, buildings die, but through photographs, the facility will always live on.