Henry County Infirmary
|Henry County Infirmary|
Henry County located its Poor Farm north of Cambridge, the county seat, on Illinois Route 82. Today that county owned facility is known as Hillcrest Home. In the mid 1800’s the Henry County Board created the Poor House. It served as a home for the poor and the homeless. It often served as a home for those who had no where else to turn. Many of the residents were newly arrived immigrants from European countries. Many were ill, injured or crippled. Some stayed for a short time; others stayed for years. Babies were born there. It took on the aspects of a small village.
In 1871 the need for additional space resulted in the construction of a new building at a cost of $50,000. It was said to be the best building in the State of Illinois. Approximately 320 acres of farm grounds was purchased. While it was a farm, the able residents were responsible for raising the crops, caring for the livestock and raising garden produce. The rooms were described as light and airy. On the grounds there was a large infirmary as well as a kitchen, bakery, fruit room, milk room, cold storage place and laundry. Separate private dining quarters were provided for the men and for the women.
The personnel who operated the Poor House and Poor Farm were hired by a Committee appointed by the County Board. While compiling the Index, the volunteers found two January 19, 1907 advertisements in one of the ledger books. The two legal notices were printed in the Henry County Chronicle. The first ad sought a proposal from “a warden and wife to take charge of the Poor House and the inmates and the Poor Farm of Henry County.” Note that the ad indicates there were two separate entities to be attended by the warden and the matron. The second ad was for a physician for the “Inmates of the Poor House at Henry County.” In both instances the proposals were to be submitted to the County Clerk by the end of January with a one year contract starting on March 1st.
At this time each township helped with the cost of room and board for the people from their township. It was often stated that the Henry County Infirmary provided some of the older Henry County residents with a “home away from home.” With the purchase of the 320 acres and the establishment of the Poor Farm, two employees were hired to help farm the land which consisted of 75 acres of corn, 50 acres of oats and balance in hay or pasture. The farm housed 25 cows, 30 head of young stock, 300 laying hens and 6 horses. Some of the farm work was done with a tractor. Two cooks and two cook helpers served meals to the residents at 7 a.m., noon, and 5:30 p.m. The people who lived at the Poor House and Poor Farm helped with the chores as well as growing the food and vegetables for their use.
On Sunday, July 28, 1912 at 4 p.m., the Infirmary accidentally burned to the ground. The fire originated as a result of an attempt to smoke out chimney swallows that were nesting in a ventilator. The fire in the duct spread quickly to the tinder dry attic. Concerned citizens of Henry County arrived by horse and buggy to view the damage, but only the brick shell remained. Fifty-eight residents were living in the Infirmary at the time. Some were taken to the Geneseo Hospital. Others were temporarily sent to neighboring counties. And, some slept on cots in the machine shed.
A decision was made to construct a new building. On September 24, 1912 plans began for a new “fire proof” structure at a cost of $110,000. The home was divided into three sections, much like the former home, to house the men on one side and the women on the other. The middle section was for the dining and recreation common space. A spacious lawn was place in the front of the building with trees, shrubs and flowers. There were long rows of peonies, irises and roses along the flower-bordered walks.
With the advent of the welfare program in 1949, fewer residents of Henry County needed admission to the Alms House. Henry County took the initiative to become the first county in Illinois to convert its Infirmary/Poor Farm into a convalescent home. At that time the name was changed from the Henry County Infirmary to the Henry County Convalescent Center. All 120 rooms were redecorated. The hospital and the hospital quarters were completely redone. The individuals living at the Center were referred to as “patients.” They were paying customers. As to the farming operations, in 1957 Henry County decided to quit operating the farm itself and began leasing out the land. The Center continued to be under the supervision of a Committee of County Board supervisors.
As evidenced by Superintendent Wilson’s response the institution has been known under a number of names. In 1970 Henry County Convalescent Home was renamed Hillcrest Home. A skilled care addition was added to the home in 1976. It included a physical therapy room, an activity area, a beauty shop, and an employee classroom. It continues to be owned and operated by the people of Henry County. Day to day operations is coordinated by a licensed nursing home administrator. The Health and Human Services Committee, which is comprised of four Henry County Board members, meets monthly to discuss and review the activities at Hillcrest. Their findings are reported to the Henry County Board each month.
There is a small cemetery on the property. Between 1899 & 1937 it was used to bury those that either had no family or funds to be buried elsewhere. List of those buried on the property