Before post-Depression legislation, poor people in the United States, especially those who had neither family nor friends with the means to help them, were dealt with primarily through a system that evolved from seventeenth-century English “poor laws.” An institution operated by a town or city was known as an “almshouse,” while a “poorhouse” was a county institution of a similar nature. In Texas, as in many agricultural states, the “poor farm” became the county’s version of the poorhouse, providing a means of care for the destitute in a remote, agrarian-based setting.
On some occasions, persons committing petty offenses were sent to the Poor Farm to find work. From 1893 to 1913, our ranch was the host for the Poor Farm in Clay County, Texas. The Poor Farm provided shelter and basic needs for its inhabitants. They were expected to find employment in return for this care. This structure on the ranch was the jail portion of the Poor Farm. Poor Farm inhabitants that had broken the law worked on the ranch and stayed here at night.
This small basic wood structure, located at the ranch's headquarters, served as the county's "Poor Farm" for those that had committed criminal offenses. The jail bars are eviden in the narrow window on the building. They engraved "Clay Co - 1893 - Poor Farm - 1923" in the wood.