Suffolk County Alms- House (poorhouse)

Beecher Homan

Suffolk County Alms- House (poorhouse)
alms barns
alms barns
alms barns

alms rear
Picture taken from rear of Alms House, showing horse stalls.
alms barns
alms hospital
Alms House Hospital.
alms barns



When the project of centering the pauperism of our county in one institution was first presented, the thinking ones were doubtful about the economy and practicability of the proposed system, and questioned whether the abolishment of the Town-houses would not establish a disgraceful and poorly-managed hot-bed of county corruption, poverty and expense. What fears existed, soon vanished, and the people voted for, and soon began the erection of,


The Suffolk County Alms-House, at Yaphank, is publicly and universally regarded " as probably the best for the purpose for which it is intended, of any in New York State."

Very few people on the Island, comparatively speaking, are aware that such a systematical, economical, and well--regulated institution exists so near them.

Everywhere about the place there hovers an air of stern, yet pleasing discipline and exactness and the rules of the house are rigid, but reasonable.


The farm was purchased in 1870, of William Phillips, Esq., a Yaphank man, for twelve thousand seven hundred dollars, for which amount the county pays him interest.

It contains about eighty acres of highly-cultivated land, and ninety of growing woodland. Nearly one-half is cultivated, and the paupers are constantly employed breaking up new land. The farm is convenient, and easily tilled. It lies in a square, level body, and is very fertile. The recent owner made a, snug fortune on the same farm, before it was cultivated to its present highly productive state, and our county should roll up another, in its present condition.

A certain class here are never weary in extolling the managers of this self-supporting affair, and praising the well-oiled system in the House and on the Farm. None can deny that all concerned deserve medals for the remarkable order they instituted over the chaos; but the county pays for this system, and supplies implements, manures, and every necessary article for properly conducting one of the finest estates in the county. The affair should be "self-supporting." Those of the paupers that are able, are re-quired to work eight hours each day-Sundays excepted -and when the weather is unpleasant, they do the in-door work of the House and Farm. Not only is basket- making, coopering, and other trades represented, but finely finished wagons have been manufactured on the premises.

If the one hundred and seventy acres of land, properly managed, cannot support an average of one hundred and twenty-five paupers, who can be clothed and fed for "about ninety-five cents a week, for each one," this model home for unfortunates had better be evacuated. The many articles manufactured on the premises, are sold, of course, to the interest of the county, and must assist in defraying minor expenses.

To the original cost of the establishment was appended over five thousand dollars in repairing the building, and making improvements about the grounds. Much of the land has been recently fenced, the barns have been reno-vated, and surprising improvements made everywhere.


The engraving of the house is a correct one. The grounds are tastily arranged, and all the surroundings present a neat and cheering appearance. So many elaborate descriptions of the building are before the public, that any attempt to give further details might be termed decided plagiarism. Of the many representations, Richard M. Bayles's is considered the most reliable and authentic.

The entire building contains about fifty rooms. The first floor contains eighteen large rooms, the second twenty -seven, and the third but four. The superintendent, over-seers', and assistants' private apartments, are on the first and second floors of the main building; and the engineer's and medical room are included in the number.


Is three-story high, the wings two-stories, -and the entire southern front is one hundred and ninety feet. A brick basement extends under the whole building. Trenches two feet deep, filled with stone and mortar, form the foundation. Three large water tanks in the garrets, with a capacity of three thousand gallons each, supply the house with the indispensable fluid, which is replenished from the roof, or pumped from a well in the basement. A hallway runs east and west through the centre of the building, which connects with every room on the main floor by doors. A similar hall on the story above communicates with the rooms on the second floor. The north and south passage, which opens north from the long hall in the centre building, is accessible by stairs from the rear. This passageway connects with the rooms where are confined the milder class of lunatic paupers. Partitions separate the inmates of either end of the house. The propriety of


Is here forcibly illustrated. The females occupy the eastern portion of the house, and the males the western. Separate stairways lead to their respective precincts, and exit doors to the separate yards in the rear. The kitchen and laundry are in the rear of the main building, and the dining rooms in the rear of the wings.

The workshop, storage-rooms, drying-room, coal and engine rooms are in the basement, which also contains cells for the raving lunatics.

A powerful engine in the basement supplies the boilers, which have pipes attached that pass through every room.

The heating apparatus is excellent-the entire cost of which was eleven thousand dollars.

Hose, which can quickly be connected with the water- tanks in the garrets, are carefully coiled in the halls, ready for instant use in case of fire,


has a medical room on the second floor, with all the necessary drugs and medicines. The physician of the House at the present time is Doctor James I. Baker, and his success entitles him to much credit.

The laws of the Institution are stern but reasonable, and are enforced to the letter. The paupers are obliged to retire at dusk, and to rise as soon as the first gray light of dawn peeps through the windows. The inmates are managed by signals; in fact, everything goes by 11 cracks and snaps."

A flowery penned reporter of a city paper says: "After rising, the pauper makes his bed, sweeps his room, and prepares for the morning meal. The first bell rings out an intimation to be in readiness for breakfast, and at the sound of the second bell, the door of the dining-room is thrown open and he is requested to be seated. At the 'snap' of the third bell, he begins eating. The sane and insane eat separately, and so admirable is the discipline, that not even a lunatic pauper touches his food until he hears the signal from the keeper."

" On the first floor in the wing of the building, cripples are kept in several rooms, but allowed the free use of the halls and ground to hobble in and out at pleasure. A bath-room on the same floor contributes to the cleanliness and comfort of the inmates."

When admitted into the House, the pauper undergoes a thorough examination. In the examining department he is thoroughly questioned, stripped of all clothing, shaved, washed, and clothed in warm, clean clothing. He is then examined as to his physical abilities. If ailing, he is sent to the hospital department; if able to labor, he is required to work eight hours a day, at the labor he is best adapted to.

The " Charities' Aid Society" comprises some of the most wealthy and benevolent people in our County, and has contributed much toward appeasing the minor wants of the poor unfortunates. Many heart-sick paupers have been cheered and made happy by the Heavenly efforts of this Heaven-inspired Society; and should misfortune ever come to any of its noble sustainers, as come it may to all, may kind faces beam upon them, and their hearts laugh for the good works that are not forgotten.

The following named gentlemen are prominently connected with the County House:

Architect :-CHARLES HALLET, Riverhead.
Builders :-RANDALL BROS., Greenpoint.
Wm. R. POST, Southampton.
Building Com. LYMAN B. SMITH, Smithtown
F. H. OVERTON, Southold.

Superintendents: STEPHEN R. WILLIAMS, Amityville.
T. CORWIN, Riverhead.
E. HAMPTON, Mulford, Orient.

Overseer:-JOHN LOUDEN, Amityville.

From the observatory to the basement the house is a model affair, and Old Suffolk may well feel proud of the institution that is considered the best of its class in N. Y. State.


No man that has ever been connected with the County House has been as basely misrepresented as Mr. Weeks. A large portion of the " admirable discipline," "excellent regulations," "unrivaled system," &c., were first instituted by him. Men envious of him abused his best works. He labored for the public good, and I can prove it. Schemers heaped faggots of venom upon the fires of jealousy, and because they could not govern him, endeavored to haul him and his name over the coals. The beautiful pictures drawn by roving reporters and local dabblers sound very nice to indifferent outsiders, but we here in pent up Yaphank know a little more-and but a little, for it requires a wise one to know the whole.
Mr. Weeks is an honorable man, and those who know him best honor him most.


Mr. Gerard's connection with the House was a mutually pleasant one. No one could give more entire satisfaction than he. He is a thorough businessman, and was thoroughly competent to transact every portion that devolved upon him. His recent defeat was much regretted, by those acquainted with his excellent management, and was regarded as one of the cruel reverses of political life.

If there were deception in tranascting the County affairs, Mr. Gerard was no accessory. If there were a "ring" during his term of office, he was a missing link.

Scheming, oily-tongued outsiders, with their own interest in view, may have endeavored to culminate their plans through him, but it never will be credited that Mr. Gerard ever, knowingly, ~ assisted in forwarding their schemes.


This genial and gifted gentleman entered the House as ministering angel," Jan. 1st, 1873. Whether he failed to kill off the paupers as fast as a miserly element wished, is unknown ; but it is enough to know that he had hardly go in his position before his foes clamored to get him out.

No reasonable objection could be produced against him unless it was the death of only one pauper during his whole term of office. He never said that " paupers were better dead than alive," and his acts portrayed his skill, and his tender heart.

In the performance of his duty he might have felt contempt for the daily exposure to the presumption of preposterous pragmatism, but when interference with the duties his office prevented him from protecting the county from the possibility of imposition, his sense of honesty was in compatible with a further continuance under such restrictions. At the expiration of the first quarter, the Superintendents proposing to adopt such measures as would, in Dr Holden's opinion, be the most effective means of favoring imposition, he tendered his resignation.

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