I’m drawn to places where people once congregated. For me, abandoned areas that once bustled with people evoke a sense of solitude and reflection. They also serve as historic artifacts that compel me to learn more about the past! That interest is what forms the majority of my writing, and it’s what drew me to Green Acres in southwestern Blackford County. At first glance, only a small, stone, marker differentiates it from hundreds of other farms in the area.
Although it might not be much to see today, Green Acres was the site of the Blackford County Infirmary for more than a century. Also known as county homes or poorhouses, infirmaries were established during the 19th and early 20th centuries to provide housing, food, and medical care to the poor. In many cases, the facilities also served as asylums for the mentally ill and housed the elderly and disabled. Many county homes were shut down as social welfare programs became established. As of 2014, only about a dozen counties in Indiana still operate one1.
Blackford County’s first infirmary was located on an eighty-acre site two and a half miles northeast of Hartford City that officials purchased from Jacob Stallsmith2 in 1864 near the modern Blackford County Highway Department and Animal Shelter3. A farmhouse served as the first county home for seven years before officials paid a former county commissioner, John Beath, $10,000 for 240 acres southwest of Hartford City in rural Licking Township4.
Officials first erected a frame home on the new site. An average of seventeen “inmates,” as residents were called at the time, called Green Acres home by 1887. The place was a working farm, the proceeds of which were transferred to the county treasury5.
Putting down roots at a self-sustaining farm might sound like an appealing concept. It certainly attracted Oliver Wendell Douglas, who traded fast-paced, big-city life for a tract near rural Hooterville in the old CBS sitcom Green Acres! Unfortunately, county homes were often anything but idyllic: their budgets were usually inadequate; their residents were stigmatized; and their buildings tended to be overcrowded, unsanitary, and in some cases, inhumane. Blackford County’s Green Acres was no different- remember, its residents were known as inmates. In 1892, a grand jury concluded that a previous superintendent had been responsible for two illegitimate births5! Eleven years later, James Felton of the County Board of Charities labeled the building “a disgrace to civilization and to Blackford County.”
“You would not put hogs in such a place, let alone human beings,” Felton railed after the board inspected the thirty-two-year-old facility. “The air was so foul we could not stand it to thoroughly inspect the place. How human beings live there at all is beyond me…It is not the fault of the superintendent, Mr. Mills, for no one could keep the old building in good shape. It is unsanitary and in every way a disgrace and a shame.” Shortly afterward, the county council appropriated $7,500 to build a new home6.
Unfortunately, housing the indigent was never a priority for many counties. Despite wealth due to its status near the epicenter of the Indiana gas boom, it took thirteen years for Blackford County to erect a new, two-story brick infirmary19167. The new county home followed the pattern of an inverted T with wood porches on each wing.
The building’s primary entrance faced south and featured the superintendent’s home, while the men’s ward jutted off to the left and the women’s ward extended to the right. A dining room was just behind the superintendent’s quarters, which led into a kitchen, a laundry room, and a “jail” with sixteen-foot ceilings. Yes, a jail!
Wooden outbuildings on the farm property included a meat house, a milk house, a shed, a water tower, and several other utility buildings8. The main home stood on a rise behind a long driveway sheltered by enormous trees9.
In 1916, Amanda Murphy made sensational charges against the county home, where she’d worked for four days as a cook. She alleged that she’d been fired from the infirmary for refusing to serve spoiled foods to residents there. Reporters communicated with her family doctor -a character witness she referenced while making her claims to The Muncie Star- but the doctor advised that Murphy was insane. Green Acres’ superintendent, William McGriff, denied her statements, saying he’d fired her because he didn’t believe she was sane or safe to have at the facility10.
Unfortunately, McGriff was in hot water himself: nine months after Murphy’s allegations, he resigned after facing frequent political opposition during the two-and-a-half years he’d run Green Acres. At the time, he was embroiled in a second round of embezzlement charges in county court. The first trial accused him of stealing the county home’s chickens! Tired of what he perceived as harassment, McGriff quit and was replaced by David Townsend, a prominent farmer, and father of M.C. Townsend, who later became Indiana’s thirty-fifth governor11.
The utility of the taxpayer-funded county home began to wane in the 1930s, when federal aid programs that helped care for the indigent came into effect. Nevertheless, Green Acres still sheltered fourteen elderly people who lived on social security and other forms of assistance in 1974. By then, the reputations of many county homes had improved and the Green Acres’ seventy-five acres of pasture and 138 acres of crops produced all the meat, poultry, and vegetables its residents consumed under the stewardship of Walt and Lunette Elliott12. In fact, a crop surplus brought in $25,000 that year! Nevertheless, the aging facility needed substantial work to comply with new federal regulations. The roof needed to be replaced, stairways had to be enclosed, and an adequate sprinkler system was necessary to draw water from a new water tower13.
By 1988, a scant five residents lived at Green Acres’ fifty-bed facility14. The following year, four people -tended to by three employees- each paid $300 per month to live in the enormous building,. Although its farmland and outbuildings were rented by third parties15, the county home still operated at a loss of $38,000 a year! Officials theorized that restoring the building to state standards would cost $50,000- a lot of money to demand from a small, rural county like Blackford.
The county believed it could save money by sending its residents to infirmaries that still operated in Grant and Wells Counties for less than it would cost to maintain the home. Green Acres was closed on December 1, 198916. Green Acres’ furniture was auctioned off a month after it closed17, and the infirmary was demolished shortly afterwards. The site is still owned by the Blackford County Board of Commissioners, which continues to lease the 216-acre site to a farmer.
Today, the only prominent building that remains from Green Acres’ history as the Blackford County Infirmary is its massive, 4400-square-foot barn18. Thankfully, a simple clue to the site’s heritage remains in the form of a simple stone, placed by Cecil Beeson, the former Blackford County Historian.
The marker memorializes those who died while in the custody of the county home. Eighteen people are known to have been buried along the hill at Green Acres from 1889 to 1902- Perry Barton, Thomas Burchard, Clarissa Clouse, Emma Hess, Lovina and Mathias Holdren, Tippy Lafenwell, George Mazurka, Pat Morgan, Michael Morning, Isaac Peck, Arlie Persinger, John Scully, George Taylor, Henderson J. Tice, Daniel Wayne, Jacob Weisman, and Jacob Willman. Unfortunately, it’s likely that more unknown residents accompany them18.
Real people lived and died at county homes! Unfortunately, burying those “inmates” in unmarked graves was common practice around the turn of the century. Just as residents were stigmatized and sequestered during their lives, their bodies were isolated and forgotten about in death. Their stories, identities, and personal histories are becoming lost to time thanks to the lack of recognition and respect from their contemporaries, but Beeson’s effort to memorialize those who lived and died at Green Acres serves as a way to honor and remember them, even en masse. I’m excited for the day that local historians in nearby counties, such as Delaware where I live, finally do the same.
1 Seeking Aid for Indiana’s County Homes (2016, June 27). Indiana Landmarks [Indianapolis]. Web. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
2 Biographical and Historical Record of Jay and Blackford Counties, Indiana (1887). The Lewis Publishing Company [Chicago]. Book.
3 Hixson, W.W. (1905). Blackford County, Ind. map. Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.
4 The News-Times is taking a step back into time… The Blackford County Infirmary at Green Acres (2018, March 20). The Hartford City News-Times. Web. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
5 (See footnote 4).
6 Disgrace to the County (1903, November 16). The Muncie Star. p. 6.
7 (See footnote 3).
8 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Hartford City, Blackford County, Indiana (1920) Sanborn Map Company. Web. Retrieved from the Library of Congress May 7, 2023.
9 Haas, C. (1974, June 16). Dilemma About Old ‘Home’. The Muncie Star. P. 8.
10 Allege Muncie Woman Is Insane (1916, March 12). The Muncie Star. p. 23.
11 David Townsend Is Given Place (1916, December 5). The Muncie Star. p. 11.
12 Cale, P.C. Remember in Hartford City (2011, August 29). Walt and Luzetta (my Aunt Zettie) Elliott were caretaker there for years also. I remember helping out down there. Perry [Comment]. Facebook. Web. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
13 (See footnote 9).
14 Brown, D. (1988, December 20). Paroled Molester Denied Admission. The Muncie Star. p. 2.
15 Chapman, J. (1989, May 25). Blackford County Home in Danger of Closing. The Muncie Star. p. 26.
16 Arter, K. (1989, October 24). Blackford County Home to Close. The Muncie Star. p. 1.
17 Public Auction (1990, January 11). The Muncie Star. p. 20.
18 Blackford County Assessor. (2023). Parcel ID: 003-30003-00. Blackford County, Indiana Assessor. map, Hartford City, IN.
19 Blackford County Farm Cemetery Memorials (2023). Find a Grave [Ancestry]. Web. Retrieved May 7, 2023.
7 thoughts on “Green Acres in Blackford County”
Great job on the article. You bring back memories to me as I have lived across from the site since birth, 1947.
My father bought a parcel of land locked acreage from the county on the court house steps at auction. There was a Beech tree that had initials on it from years back that us kids played near on that land.
The old wooden jail had been moved from town to the farm and we stored hay in it at one time. The home was used as a polling place many times.
I remember Tubby. He would kiss anyone for a penny. Of course I paid the penny for him t kiss my dad! LOL! And there was Elmer who couldn’t tell you how many cows they milked but could name them all!
On a sad note the home was razed on New Years Eve after the commissioners turned down an offer to sell the home to an investor to use it as a historical site.
The ruins were buried across the road. An unmarked grave of Blackford county history.
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Thank you, and thank you for the insight you provided! What great information. I’d probably have paid a penny too if I had one!
I didn’t realize the home was torn down on New Years’ Eve. Looking at Satellite images, it appears as though most of where the ruins were “buried” are still in plain sight across the road.
I believe the commissioners and Ramseyer Trucking razed the home on New Year’s Eve was because the probability of an environmental inspection for asbestos from the state! Obviously the state offices were closed.
Hmmm…That makes sense!
I also remember the residents always planted a huge garden in front of the home where the marker was placed. They tended it very well til the produce started coming in and it got hot. Then it became a huge weedy garden till frost.
And the next year they would do it all over again. Got to be comical. They had the best weeds, dad would say!
Another interesting point on your plat map in the article. If you notice the double angle north/south road(Atkinson road at the time, now Gadbury) is not on the mile square. The story I got from Wirth Gadbury who was a distant relative of the farm owner. He shared with me that this relative was a county commissioner when the roads were decided for this area. As commissioner he wanted the road to go by his house. Hence the the road was put in and was called Atkinson road till about the 60’s then for some reason was switched to Gadbury. Wirth may have had something to do with that.
I have the abstract for much of the area as it is next to our farm. It tells how the Atkinson farm was split up by will. Some really crooked property lines show up.
Atkinson’s were pioneers in this area.
I wish I had gotten to this bit of history before I finished and published my most recent piece on poverty and what to do about it. I had forgotten about these County Homes that were probably pretty sincere attempts (at first, at least) to help the poor. Unfortunately, that bit of human nature that tempts some to take advantage of others often got in the way. Today we seem to have gone back to full medieval in letting folks fend for themselves (with some governmental “alms” thrown on top to salve everyones’ consciences) – it is hard to decide which method is worse. Or maybe the lesson is that government never shows its failures worse than when it is in control of something nobody wants to do and those affected are the ones nobody will listen to.
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