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McHistory: Inhumane Conditions At The McLean County Poor Farm

poor farm april 27 1937.jpg
McLean County Museum of History
Residents of the McLean County Poor Farm are seen in April 1937.

Most people think the barbaric scenes of institutional deprivation found in the London of Charles Dickens happened only in big cities of the Victorian era. However, the McLean County Poor Farm was a horror show.

The McLean County Poor Farm was founded in the 1860s and lasted until the 1950s. The Poor Farm would take in those who could not care for themselves, including the aged, the sick, the idiotic, and the insane, as well those who may be thrown upon common charity.

The residents (who were called “inmates” until the 1940s) were subject to horrible living conditions, and by the end of World War II county poor farms grew out of favor. The public would realize there had to be a better way to care for those who could not care for themselves — something more humane.

In 1953 the McLean County Poor Farm was converted into the Maple Grove Nursing Home, now known as the McLean County Nursing Home, which has been relocated to Fairview Park in North Normal.

Those who were housed at the Poor Farm would also work and care for the grounds, including the Pauper Cemetery, which is currently cared for by the county, with no public access.

McHistory is a co-production of WGLT and the McLean County Museum of History.

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Ariele Jones is currently the host of Morning Edition; Center Stage, a show focusing on the music of Broadway and Hollywood; and Highway 309.