The only building left of the historic Buchanan County Poor Farm is over 100 years old

CJ Coombs
Buchanan County Infirmary.LManning, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Buchanan County Infirmary built in 1919 has also been known as Buchanan County Poor Farm and Green Acres. This building is historic and it's located in St. Joseph, Missouri. It consists of two stories and there are four Doric order columns on the porch made of concrete. This building is what's left of the Buchanan County Poor Farm. In 2009, this building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The infirmary now known as Green Acres is located at 3500 North Village Drive. It was originally on 200 acres of land. When the county stopped operating the poor farm in 1953, the infirmary ceased to operate. The "F" shaped building accommodated both men and women in separate wings.

Lehr Construction Company which was founded by James Wesley Wehr in 1890, built the Buchanan County Infirmary. It's interesting to know this construction company is still in operation today and still family-owned. Not only did this company build the infirmary, but it also constructed the St. Joseph City Hall, schools, and the Goetz Brewery.

The architects of the building were Walter Boschen, Rudolph Meier, and Ray Arnhold. Boschen and Meier were well-known architects in St. Joseph.

Poor houses and poor farms

It used to be that a poor house was where a city or town would send people who lacked the means of financial support. A poor farm, or a self-sustaining farm, was used for that purpose.

This notion came from England which passed a law in the 1600s that local villages had to care for their poor. That law carried over into our country as people arrived here. Sometimes a municipality would contract with people to provide a home for those who were homeless and the cost for that was taken care of by the city or town.

According to Family History Daily, the 1880 federal census was the first to indicate information about the residents of our country. Data was collected about illness and disability. Next to the names were columns that had headings labeled "blind, deaf and dumb, insane, idiotic, maimed, crippled, bedridden or otherwise disabled" which you could mark accordingly.

Throughout the United States, many counties established poor farms in rural areas to house those who had nowhere else to go. (Source.)

In 1875, the states became responsible for poor house regulations. Laws were established to have children who had special needs or who were mentally ill to be in facilities other than the poor house so they could have the care they needed. The poorhouse eventually evolved into a type of nursing home or hospital (infirmary) where those who specialized in providing care such as doctors and associated staff could go.

In 1953, the facility was renamed Green Acres which represented a retirement home. The facility grew its own produce and raised its own livestock. Green Acres operated until 2003. Most of the land that was behind the infirmary has been sold and much of the land houses parking lots, a movie theatre, or retail stores.

Buchanan County Poor Farm Cemetery

This cemetery doesn't exist any longer. There are five memorials listed on the Find-a-Grave website. There's also a notation indicating that the cemetery included graves that were unmarked.

This cemetery has a lot of other people buried in it, possibly close to 100 graves. All graves were unmarked. This cemetery was destroyed by Buchanan Co. and St. Joseph, Missouri. officials after 2003 by covering it with dirt and paving it to make room for a large retail shopping site. It is now under 20-30 feet of dirt behind a department store and a movie theater. (Source.)

Fast Forward

Today the building is referred to as the Green Acres Building. After undergoing renovation and restoration, the interior of the building has been converted into office and retail space. There are also three indoor and two outdoor venues for occasions such as weddings.

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Multi-genre writer and author/publisher with a BA in Eng Journalism/Creative Writing. I worked in law firms for 30+ years and retired early to pursue writing. I was born into the Air Force, so you could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, research, history, true crime, reading, art, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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