Retro Charlotte

Iredell County Poorhouse

“Former residence cottage at the County Home.” 1987
“Former residence cottage at the County Home.” 1987 The Charlotte Observer

The site at Barium Springs was a “poorhouse” in the late 1800s, giving support to those in need of basic food and shelter. A new facility (with a much kinder moniker) replaced the poorhouse in 1913 when the the Iredell County Home opened. The home served the sick, insane and those with tuberculosis until it closed in 1963. The optimistic article below was written even after many of the buildings burned in a suspicious fire in 1980. As far as I can tell the facility was never renovated -- but I can’t figure out where the property was/what is on the site now. Was it near the current Barium Springs campus?

Update: reader says “As memory serves, the Poorhouse was located behind the Iredell County Fairgrounds, bordering Murdock Road.” (You guys are a wealth of information, thank you!)

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The author was president of the Historic Iredell Foundation and was a frequent contributor of historic articles.



February 17, 1988

By Mac Lackey Jr.

As early as 1896, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners had been admonished by the courts for failing to properly maintain the county's "poor house," which would later become known as the County Home. Eventually, the board's members were indicted by a grand jury and the County Home was condemned. The commissioners responded by building a new county home to replace the old log-and-frame buildings that were declared unsafe.

On Jan. 10, 1913, the announcement of a new county home was made on the front page of the local newspaper: "The county commissioners in special session yesterday afternoon decided to build a modern county home on the present county home property at Barium, in accordance with plans and specifications to be prepared by Messrs. Wheeler & Stern, Charlotte architects. Mr. Wheeler met with commissioners at Barium yesterday morning and a location for the new home was decided on, after which the party came to Statesville and agreed on the kind of plant to be erected, contracting with the architect for the plans and specifications. The new home will be built on a knoll about 350 yards south of the Barium railway station and will face the railroad. The plant will include several buildings, will be equipped with water and lights and will have a central heating plant. The main building will contain living apartments for the superintendent and about 12 rooms for white inmates. There will be another building for colored inmates, an infirmary for the sick, and separate apartments for the insane. It is estimated that the plant will cost from $25,000 to $30,000."

At their February meeting, the commissioners took formal action toward building the county home by voting to issue bonds in the amount of $30,000 for its construction and furnishings. The plans called for an eventual total of nine buildings "situated on a shady knoll facing the railroad, giving a splendid view of the surrounding country." The plans called for three large buildings and a few smaller cottages, the infirmary, and a building for the insane. The buildings would all be modern brick construction, up-to-date, and convenient. At the center would be the dining hall. The basement of this building would be equipped with the central heating plant, pump and artesian well, as well as the laundry and storage rooms. Directly in front of the dining hall was a building for the superintendent and white inmates. Most of the inmate rooms were built to accommodate up to four persons per room. All of the residence buildings were to be equipped with lockers, bathrooms and spacious porches. Directly behind the dining hall was another large building exactly like the one just described, this one for black inmates. Both of the buildings were two stories high while the dining hall was one story with the basement as described. The infirmary and the insane asylum faced the dining hall on the north and south. The plans also called for the addition of other cottages that would be set diagonally between the above described buildings, giving the whole layout a wheellike effect with the dining hall being the hub. Other buildings were added as time passed and the operation grew. The farm operation required numerous buildings such as barns and tool sheds.

In 1829, the N.C. legislature passed an act enabling the county to acquire property for the construction of the original poorhouse. Until taxation was in place, there was no action taken to build a poorhouse. After the taxes had been established and 200 acres of land acquired in 1841, the construction began. Four log buildings were built for the poor as well as a smokehouse and a caretakers house. All of this construction cost the county $1,200. All of the log buildings had fallen into disrepair and the county, due to their age, had done nothing other than patch work to keep them in use.

After the commissioners made their decision to replace the old facilities, work began immediately. The artesian well had been completed at a depth of 200 feet by March 1913. The home provided much of the material for the new buildings. Logs were cut into building timber at a sawmill set up on the property. Firewood was cut, to be used by the brickyard to kiln-dry the bricks used for the buildings.

Vacant since 1963, the old county home sits deteriorating and deserted. The brick buildings have suffered much at the hands of vandals, and neglect, but to the surprise of many, those buildings could still be placed back into service. The cost to do that would be much more than the original cost of construction. There is a problem in Iredell County and in many surrounding counties of what to do with the homeless. There is also the need for a permanent winter shelter. Maybe the county commissioners should consider repairing the old county home to serve those people who need shelter and cannot afford it. After all, that is why the county home was built to begin with, way back in 1841.

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