The Faulkner County Poor Farm: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Before the implementation of government assistance programs to help those in need, people who could not support themselves might be forced to go to the “poor farm.”

Almost every community had such a place and one was established in what would be Faulkner County shortly after the area became settled. It was located southwest of Conway and at one time, encompassed 160 acres.

In a Log Cabin Democrat interview from 1964, Mrs. Hugh Hamilton relayed what she remembered about the Poor Farm. Her maiden name was Stermer and she had been raised only a half mile away from the Poor Farm. As an adult, she and her husband, Hugh, along with his bachelor brother, Harold, lived on a 40-acre farm a mile west of Arkansas State Teachers College (UCA).

The farm used to be part of the Poor Farm. Her house was a rebuild version of the “boss man’s” house and her barn used to be one of the houses where the paupers lived.

According to Mrs. Hamilton, the “boss men” weren’t always very nice to the people sent to the Poor Farm. Most residents were not able to work much and some not at all, but some of the boss men would have them out in the fields before daylight and keep them there until after dark.

Apparently the boss man was allowed to keep the profits from the crops he raised on the farm so he pushed the residents to work harder.

Mrs. Hamilton recalled that the living quarters at the Poor Farm were not adequate and the clothing and food were barely substantial. At most, there would be six to eight persons living there at a time because there was not room for more.

Many of the residents lived there until they died. They got a pauper’s burial and were buried in the middle of a field.

Long-time residents talk of a pauper cemetery that was on the Poor Farm. Hamilton recalled that the graveyard was about a hundred feet from her house. It had about 20 graves. A few of them were marked with rocks or a piece of ironwork. A barbed wire fence stood in the middle of the graveyard that looked just like another field of sagebrush unless you were standing among the graves.

The identity of the people in those graves was virtually unknown except for a couple she recalled. She remembered playing with a girl named Molly who lived on the Poor Farm with her parents. Molly was six when she died of typhoid fever. She remembered that John Holt, who was the “boss man” at the time, went to town and bought a casket so Molly wouldn’t have to be buried in one of those boxes furnished by the county. All of the children Molly played with went to her funeral.

The passage of Social Security legislation led to the closing of the County Poor Farm in 1938. Insurance for retired workers, unemployment insurance, and state grants to assist the old and handicapped provided an alternative to going to the Poor Farm.

An attempt was made in 2010 to locate any remnants of the Poor Farm—building foundations, old fences or other structures.

All that remains of it today is a narrow strip of land between the entrance driveway to the Marguerite Vann Elementary School and a residential area to the south, which is separated from the school property by a privacy fence.

This small piece of land, scattered with numerous rocks, a dense thicket of small trees and overgrown shrubs, is the only thing remaining to remind us that a county poor farm once existed in this area.

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