I had met Steve earlier in the week. Steve had explained to me his home is or was the Wabaunsee County Poor Farm. He had invited Anna and me over to take pictures and to share the history of the Poor Farm. Right off the bat he handed us three books. One was a dissertation written by an Emporia State University student back in 1993 about the Wabaunsee County Poor Farm. Another a leather bound limited edition from author/photographer Jim Keen whom took photos of 30 ranches within the United States, with Anderson’s ranch being one of them. Lastly was a poem book, “Clouds Across The Stars” where a poem of Anderson’s was published.
On this day Steve allowed Anna and I full access to his property to photo as we pleased. He told us many stories. As this week goes on we will share with you some of Steve’s stories, the photos we took, and history of what it was like to live at the Wabaunsee County Poor Farm.
“Last year we had a good crop of apples. Man we cranked bushel after bushel of apples. There were kids that could drink a quart of it every morning,” said Steve Anderson.
Earlier Steve related a story to me of a resident of the Wabaunsee County Poor Farm by the name of Mr. Fox.
“I can remember Mr. Fox and he would walk up to the pasture, about a mile every day and turn the windmill on. Then he would sit there and smoke or chew until it had pumped the tanks full. Then he would shut the windmill off and walk back home. His sister came by train from New York to Alma. Then she hired someone to bring her out here and he was in there , pointing towards the little house, and he just turned his rocking chair around against the wall and wouldn’t talk to her. We never found out what or why. She pleaded with him. She would take him with her. My dad always said, “I think he was so humiliated, he didn’t think she would find him in this position.”
Steve Anderson explained more about the Poor Farm as he related the following:
“All the buildings are still here except for the one on the hill where the hill was fenced in chicken tight. My dad would tie cases of eggs to the running boards along with a couple of cans of cream and go to town and that would buy everything you needed. Lastly before coming home, dad would take us to the pharmacy, the drug store, where we would get a banana split or something.”
The need for the Wabaunsee County Poor Farm came about in the 1870’s to 1880’s according to Donna Logan whom wrote a dissertation about the farms history. In her dissertation she wrote:
Wabaunsee County now had a senior population (ages 45 to 60), some of whom were dependent upon assistance in their remaining years. Also, according to the newpaper reports of the time, the death rate of adult males was high in the county, primarily due to shootings, accidents (particularly involving horses), and harsh climatic conditions. As a result, this left a significant number of fatherless families in need of monetary assistance.
Although not word for word, the following information was collected from a speech given by Carrie Egert in 1992. Her father owned the farm in 1901.
Actually it was more polite to pronounce this place the Wabaunsee County Farm. At one time George with a bum leg injured on a boxcar, lived here. There was Bill, a very outspoken type of fellow, whom spend some time here. Ed was a bit slow and enjoyed his toasties. Sam spent time here after burning his leg at a campfire. Oscar was a workhorse and enjoyed doing many tasks on the farm. Frank broke his shoulder during a shuffle at the pool hall and had to spend time at the farm to heal. Folks all the time had to search for Danny because he somehow always wound up down the road or at some neighbors house. There was an old woman who lived in the room next to the kitchen, was easy to keep an eye on her. A younger woman with a two year old son lived in another room. Somehow the two year old caught the curtain on fire once, but the fire was put out and no harm was done. A woman with a mental disability stayed here for just a little while until she was committed to the institution.
Everyone’s birthdays and holidays were celebrated.
This was a time before Welfare and Social Security. This is a piece of American history I never knew about until I met Stephen Anderson, the present owner of what is now the Anderson Ranch.
As Preston related in his introduction of Mr Anderson at the Wabaunsee County Poor Farm, we were graciously given a tour of the place filled with history from Poor Farm days to the Anderson family days. We were impressed with Mr. Anderson’s incredible historical knowledge of the Poor Farm and surrounding Wabaunsee county. He was very kind in showing us around and telling us some wonderful stories. I photographed details of what I had seen at the Poor Farm including old things and chains.
Mr. Stephen Anderson at the Swede Cemetery read his poem “Farm Profit Tips” published in the book, “Clouds Across The Stars.”
The Swede Cemetery, off of Boothill Road, sits atop a hill overlooking miles of prairies and the rolling Flint Hills. The breeze, Mr. Anderson states, never stops blowing. In the small cemetery are Anderson family and relatives from the late 1800s until recent 2000s buried in the graceful resting place surrounded by a beautiful stone fence.
The Kansas landscape has changed from all the different varieties of greens to the yellow-green, ocher, reds and some browns. These colors will deepen in the autumn time. September and October are my favorite months of the year in Kansas land because of the colorful landscapes and ever changing skies.
When we stepped out of the trees from the creek, we entered a field that gradually rose to the house. Certainly, if there ever had been floods in this area long ago, the house survived. There were many outbuildings scattered throughout the homestead and numerous dead trees—standing and littering the fields. What had me puzzled was there were no new trees growing. Native grasses, wildflowers and plants were growing on the land and in the buildings and houses. It was very quiet there and eerie that so much of a once productive farm and homestead had been left nearly 60 years ago. There was power poles to the place, and an old light from the late 1940s still intact on one pole. I have never seen so much stone in one place… the stone house with an indoor stone cellar cave, stone outbuildings and stone fences. There was a fire about three years ago that had gutted the house and most likely burned a lot of the trees. That had been a huge fire. The ruins of the house in crumbling thick stones and outbuildings still stand yet a testament of what it is like when a place is abandoned and without people.
Mr. Anderson had said that a controlled burn got out of hand, and the prairie fire consumed the house. The fire must had been extremely hot because window glass was melted to globs. Mr. Anderson was sorry to lose a fine and stately house. He has some old photos of the house before the fire. There once had been 11 people who lived in the house, and 9 being the children.
I had thoroughly enjoyed driving across the prairie field and up a hill while Preston videoed the truck. I stopped at the edge, and we shot photos taking in the panoramic view of it all. Then we trekked down the rocky sloping hill into a small wooded area following the path where cows had traveled. After crossing the creek and out of the thick trees into a field, we orientated ourselves. Preston used tall sticks he pushed into the ground to mark our way so we could return the way we had come. Breadcrumbs, no. We were kind of like in a fairy tale. Before us, the old prairie stone house loomed on the hill. We shot photos in the early morning. Later in the day, clouds built as a cold front blew in. In these photos, there were endless, light blue skies; however, I layered in clouds from shots that was taken later in the day.
At the old prairie stone homestead, there were many outbuildings made of stone and timber that surrounded the the front of the house. Barbwire and nails jutted out of the crumbling buildings. Even though there were many dead trees standing, the buildings looked as if they had not been burned from the large house fire. Only a few stumps and deadwood revealed a burning in the past.
A special thanks to Stephen Anderson for giving Preston and I permission to drive across his field and go at free will throughout the property and homestead.
August 24-September 11, 2009
Copyright © 2009-2010 Surface and Surface Photography. All Rights Reserved.
(former Surface and Surface Photography Gallery)