Start My Family Tree Welcome to Geni, home of the world's largest family tree.
Join Geni to explore your genealogy and family history in the World's Largest Family Tree.

County Farm Cemetery, Bloomington, Illinois

« Back to Projects Dashboard

Located behind the Old McLean County Home at 8996 U.S. 51 Highway, in Bloomington Township, Section 29, McLean County, Illinois.

Cemetery is landlocked and not accessible.

Stones are only numbered, no names.

Find a Grave

Beginning around 1879 and into the early 1930s, those buried included the penniless, the neglected, the mentally ill and physically disabled, as well as vagrants struck and killed by freight trains, unidentified murder victims and abandoned newborns.

The Pantagraph article from 2015

For more than 90 years, the McLean County Poor Farm, located south of Bloomington, housed some of the area’s poorest and most unfortunate residents. In 1859, three local men were appointed to identify a suitable location to establish the county poor farm. In September of that year, the county purchased 230 acres in Bloomington Township. The farm eventually encompassed acreage in parts of sections 28, 29, 32, and 33 of Bloomington Township, several miles south of Bloomington and west of present-day U.S. Route 51.

The McLean County Poor Farm collection consists of 1 box and 13 folders containing material from 1859 to 1980, 2004 and 2007. Items in the collection include newspaper clippings, death and burial records, court documents, research papers, articles in Gleanings, the quarterly publication of the McLean County Genealogical Society, death certificates and U.S. Census data.

McLean County Museum of History

The McLean County Poor Farm, or County Farm, had its start in 1859 when a committee chose the ground for the poor farm. It was located several miles south of Bloomington and west of Highway 51. Because it was literally a farm with many acres of land that supported the inmates, it encompassed many acres over about four sections of Bloomington Township. The farm operated for over 90 years and eventually became the Maple Grove Nursing Home in 1954.

The county physician's report in March of 1893 revealed that there were 68 men and 31 women in the poor farm. Of those, only 37 men and 6 females were considered sane. The remainder were either insane, idiotic, feeble-minded or epileptic. The population of the poor farm changed with escapes, deaths and discharges. 

How did one become an inmate of the poor farm? The elderly, the mentally deranged and the developmentally challenged were the inmates. The disabled were also housed there. People who had worked their entire lives and had their own businesses could end up in the poor farm, if they lacked funds to care for themselves or family to care for them. Families who lost a breadwinner (the father) could also be sent to the poor farm. People with infectious diseases would be temporarily housed at the poor farm (alongside the elderly, who would especially susceptible to contagion.)

A St. Louis man named either Frederick or Ferdinand Dietert or Deibert came to Hudson in September of 1893 to work on the Arnold farm and in the course of driving a horse drawn corn cutter, lost his foot to the knives of that machine. We can only imagine the horror of such an accident happening in a field, far from any road. The field may have been treated with manure or other compost, which would have been dangerous with such a large wound. He would have been carried by wagon to the hospital in Bloomington, a distance of many miles over rough roads. He was treated at the hospital for some time, but then he was transferred to the County Poor Farm for further care and nursing. His stump had healed by December and he was due to be discharged from the farm.

Many poor farm deaths were noted in the Pantagraph in 1893. On January 25, 1893 Margaret Hunt died at the farm. She was 73 years old and had lived at the farm for about 13 years. She and her husband had been prosperous farmers, but after they moved to Kansas, the news of their wealth came to the attention of a band of robbers. Mr. Hunt was murdered by the robbers, but Mrs. Hunt survived the crushed skull they inflicted on her. She was brought back to McLean County for treatment (probably because she still had family here) and had a silver plate inserted in her skull. She was an inmate of the poor farm however and spent the rest of her years there. Her brother had her buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

The Poor Farm was often seen as the proper place for people who were adjudged mentally deficient. One such couple was Guinea Young and Ann Winningham, an African American couple who were living under the Main Street sidewalk in a coal vault. The only entrance or exit to the vault was a circular hole in the pavement, and they had a few rags on the floor for a bed. More than once the Pantagraph suggested that a home should be made for them at the farm. No record could be found that the Young's were ever interred in the poor farm but two articles mentioning this couple contained statements that they should be sent to the poor farm. Guinea Young died in April 1894 of massive hemorrhaging of his lungs, allegedly due to abuse of alcohol. He was buried in a paupers grave in an unspecified location.

When Mrs. Jacob Myer "went insane" in January of 1893, she was sent to the poor farm and her infant was sent to the Girls' Industrial Home. In May of 1893 Mrs. Tappe died at the poor farm as a result of general debility. She was just 60 years old and left a son in Danville. Young Charles Stevens also died in May. He was just 37 years old and had lived at the poor farm since he was 7 years old. It was thought that his parents had abandoned him, as no one knew anything of his family. Albert Dunham, age 53, died at the poor farm on March 20. He was a veteran of the Civil War and had been kept at the poor farm for about ten years, due to insanity. He had a brother and sister in Bloomington. Susan Perry also had relatives in Bloomington, but she died at the poor farm at the age of 50. She had lived at the poor farm since 1862, where she was sent because of deformities. Mr. Hardie Gulley of Leroy, age 84, lived at the poor farm for 6 years before dying of dropsy there. John Courtile died of typhoid at the county farm. He was a stranger, but requested that his family back east not be notified of his illness until after his death.

Another man died in 1893, who had lived at the farm for 30 years. But no one could remember his name so he was buried with a number, not a name. This incident says a great deal about the level of "care" and caring at the poor farm. IN an 1881 article the superintendent of the poor farm noted that there were several able bodied children laying about the poor farm. He suggested publicly that the children should be found homes and work (not homes and an education, that was only for those who could afford to raise their children). He gleefully noted that the mothers of those children quickly took them out of the poor farm. As if a mother would choose to send her children to the poor farm under any but the most extreme impoverished circumstances.

Sometimes other disabilities could result in confinement in the poor farm. Edmund Albee was a shoemaker who had lived and worked in McLean County for thirty years. He gradually began to lose his eyesight over a two year period. After that, he was unable to see at all. As a result of his blindness he was forced into the poor farm. Luckily for him, Dr. Godfrey was the County Physician in charge of the inmates. Dr. Godfrey was an expert oculist and after examining Mr. Albee, he determined that a surgery could restore his sight. Dr. Godfrey obtained permission to perform the surgery at one of the local hospitals and Mr. Albee's sight was restored so that he could read large print and even read the clock on the courthouse. After hearing that his father could see again, his son in the state of Wyoming wrote to say his father could come make his home there.

Even the very old and debilitated seemed to live a long life in the poor farm. What is shocking is that a small child would be placed there and kept for 30 years. The most probably reason for his abandonment there is developmental disabilities that became evident as he grew older.

So many reasons for being shut up in the poor farm would not have the same result today. We think that we provide better care for the 'other abled" today. Unless of course we consider the closing of the Baby Fold residential treatment center, which provided a safe home for so many children. Or the closing of state hospitals and mental illness facilities in the 1980s. Perhaps we haven't progressed so much after all.