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The Poor House

also known as

The Pauper Farm

1600 Feazel Street
Harrisburg , Illinois 62946

National Register of Historic Places.

The Poor House, built in 1877 with an addition in 1904 was the effort of the culture of that era to take care of the poor. As early as 1819, the Illinois General Assembly enacted a Pauper Bill requiring County Commissioners to appoint overseers of the poor for each township. Usually, a paupers family received aid for the care of those of the house who could not care for themselves. By 1839 the Almshouse method of public welfare was introduced in which a building would be built on county land and pauper labor would farm it. One person could then oversee the operation. This farm originally containing 175 acres was built under the Almshouse Law using log buildings for many years until the brick building was constructed. The idealistic notion, that people would gladly work for their subsistence, soon met reality. The Poor Farm became an orphanage, a jail, an insane asylum, and a place for refugees, i.e. a social dumping ground for the outcast and deplored.

There have been at least two occasions in it’s history when the county considered demolition because of the poor condition of the building. The Poor Farm and this house is an artifact of the first attempts of our country to deal with the poor and represents a method of dealing with social problems during a time when there was very little public investment in social welfare.. What started as an effort to help the county poor became another good idea that didn’t work. The farm ceased operation sometime after 1950. It now serves as the Saline County Museum and contains such things as Robert Ingersolls desk, a letter from William Jenning Bryan, an 1853 newspaper telling of the Trail of Tears and much more. Worth a day, just looking. Tours at 2:00 PM each day except Monday $3. for adults. Personal Tours are $5 any other time.

The Pauper Cemetery

This Cemetery, called the Pauper Cemetery has burials going as far back as 1849 contains stone markers with records of 263 burials at least 60 of which were children. These records indicate that not only people from the Poor Farm were buried here but was the county burial site for unknown vagrants, murder victims, people killed in the nearby coal mine, abandoned and deceased children. “Colored” and Caucasian were buried side by side from the very beginning, death being the only criteria for a place. The custom of the time was for those not having a funeral were buried the same day which brought about the following justifications in the burial notes: “run over by train at Wasson” “gun shot wound” “unknown baby girl found in sewer” “gunshot wound administered by chief of police” “Shot by Charlie Birger at Ledford” “Daddy” “Lithuania-wife still in Europe” “found dead in ditch” “carnival worker” “murdered” “left leg of Charlie Yates-O’Gara #3 coal mine accident.”

Saline Creek Pioneer Village

Located next to the Pauper House

The village represents a pioneer settlement of the era 1800 to 1840. It contains a Blockhouse, a saddle bag cabin, a barn with a threashing floor (one of the few remaining in the United States ), a post office, a school, a Quaker Church , a jail, and a regular cabin. The Ford-Wilson (pirates ) cabin from Elizabethtown will be redone and open later this year. Using authentic cabins, of the era, the village was re-created by John Allen the noted author of the book “Legends and Lore of Southern Illinois.”

Saline County was organized in 1847 with Abraham Lincoln as the attorney, the 99th of 102 Illinois Counties

Historical Tidbits: Tobacco was a principal crop in the region and then during the Civil War and for a time after, cotton was grown. Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, lived in Raleigh , at that time the County Seat, but then moved to Peoria and into national prominence as an orator. It is said that in 1896, his speaking price was $5,000. His home in Raleigh is intact and his desk and other artifacts at the Saline County Museum . Saline County must have had more blockhouses than most places, certainly along the migration routes. Coleman Brown, Joseph Boone (Daniel’s Brother), Hankerson Rude, the Karnes, Battleford, are among the names that people still recall.

Lakeview is a generalized area of about two square miles that was settled about 1820 by Freed Blacks from North Carolina . During the 1930’s Local Citizens heavily lobbied Washington DC to establish the Shawnee National Forest which is the bassis for the term “Home of the Shawnee Forest .” Migration trails from the east entered Illinois at Shawneetown and led to the French settlements at Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher and Cahokia . The crossroads of the Goshen and the Kaskaskia Trails was just east of Eldorado. The impressions from these historic trails are evident at Wolf Creek Church and other places. Somerset was the first settlement in Saline County . At one time it had a procelin factory, a silver mine, a distillery, and a salt pork operation. It is now a virtual ghost town.


Migration into Illinois began with the French from 1690 and reached its’ peak about 1750 mostly along the Mississippi. English settlement began in earnest in 1790 but these settlements had important differences in the way they were begun. The French looked upon their efforts as merchants, and missionaries with farming supplementing the need for trade, mostly along a river - not inland. The result had a mutual benefit for both.

The American migration followed treaty settlements which resulted in large parcels being distributed through English Law ignoring previous rights. Encroachment thus ensued and a great deal of hard feelings between Indians and settlers who seemed to lay out their settlements on the interior (where the game was) and along migration routes. Many Indians allied with the British to resist the settlements although it must be said that trade with the Americans was an important reason why peace was made with tribes. The War of 1812, and the Blackhawk War was largely conflicts brought on by the American Immigration and conflict between the British and American ideas. Because of the brutality of this type of warfare, fear of attack upon isolated farmsteads became a part of the thinking of the settlers strategy. Indian populations were never very large, and it wasn’t long before settlers outnumbered indigenous people, so Blockhouses never lasted long and were only used for a short period of time. However, it is in correct to picture a pioneer village without a blockhouse, because it was a very important element in their settlement.

Settlement strategy seemed to be to move across the Ohio River and follow a route to a place they liked and make a claim, or a grant based on service in the Revolutionary War. A Church, with several families could locate in an area and build a block house. It could then be used as a church and a fort in the event that hostilities were imminent. The fort, could be built with palisades or it could be a stand alone building, Usually, the Blockhouse was two stories, with either squared off or rounded logs, and reinforced doors and windows. The reason for the overhang was to discourage the attackers from climbing onto the roof which was very vulnerable.

Blockhouses in Saline County were very numerous, particularly along the Kaskaskia and the Goshen Trails and other migration routes. Hankerson Rudes Blockhouse near Rudement still has the old cemetery, with other location being, Raleigh, Raleigh/Galatia, Battleford, and near to the Wolf Creek Church in Eldorado.

Blockhouse design by Charles Blackman. Dedicated April 10, 2004

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