Adams County: What is an Almshouse?

Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 12:07 am

What is an almshouse? Simple translation: Poor House. Yes, Adams County had its own Poor House and most people called it the Almshouse. The correct government terminology for the facility, which was established in 1817, was the Poor District. A county poor tax funded the operation which was governed by an appointed three-man board called Directors of the Poor. In 1818, Adams County's first Directors of the Poor authorized the purchase of two properties northeast of Gettysburg totaling about 156 acres to support our first Poor District. Farms were developed as part of the Poor District in many Pennsylvania counties in the hope that work on the farm would teach paupers the value of hard work in sustaining their livelihood and they would learn a skill that would help them gain employment. It was hoped that the District would be self-sustaining by farming and raising livestock, fruits and vegetables.

The first building, a dormitory, was completed in 1819 and the Adams County Almshouse opened its doors and began its farming operation using an existing barn from one of the farms purchased for the facility. Not just anyone who asked could be admitted to the Almshouse. Examinations by two Justices of the Peace and one Director of the Poor had to be administered before a pauper (poor person) was allowed admittance. Officially, the residents were called inmates. While the Poor District was governed by the Directors of the Poor, the day-to-day operation was run by stewards who were usually a husband and wife who lived at the facility.

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