Our new Fulton County Alms House pleased the inspector

The success of 19th century poet Will Carlton’s once-famous poem, “Over The Hill To The Poorhouse” saw to it he never had to worry about entering the poor house himself. (Photo courtesy of Peter Betz)

As revealed in a previous article, late 1890s state inspectors were aghast at conditions in the old 19th Century Fulton County poor house, and they literally strong-armed the supervisors into building the new Fulton County Alms House, which functioned from circa 1901 until closing in 1961. Although 100 percent superior to the drafty, cold predecessor, this new facility was also inspected frequently, either via scheduled annual visits or by occasional surprise ones, and in those old times, the state inspector’s report was generally published in a local newspaper for the taxpaying public to read and hopefully approve of.

The supervisors also made an annual inspection after they had the state inspector’s report in hand, and this event always included the added perk of either a good lunch or hearty dinner. An undated spring article in the Fulton County Republican detailed their 1908 visit.

“Our Supervisors yesterday made their annual visit to the county house and were entertained at lunch by Superintendent and Mrs. George Hillman. All Supervisors attended, plus Clerk Reimenshneider, former Supervisor Bradt, County Clerk Gordon and newspaper representatives.”

Everyone who could possibly justify participating made themselves available to ‘inspect’ the facility, and the free lunch.

The Republican printed the May 27 annual report submitted by state Health Inspector James Foster, whose descriptions and recommendations are partly excerpted, and were favorable in general.

Foster began with a compliment.

“The grounds are carefully kept. Neatness and good order are apparent. The buildings are of recent construction and in good condition.”

Under “improvements,” Foster listed “new flues in the boiler, paint, kalsomine (whitewash), and the purchase of a new manure spreader (remember it was also a working farm).

Water, Foster noted, was “of good quality and quantity and comes by gravity from a spring-fed reservoir on the property,”

Nor was there cause to fear fire because, “an electric pump gives sufficient pressure to throw a stream from the ground to any part of the buildings.”

Foster was very thorough: while noting the facility had “sixteen small chemical fire extinguishers” he also observed “they are not recently recharged.”

He also disliked the fact that all the doors opened inward and that “there are no fire drills nor night watchmen” but he was pleased that, “the horse barn is within reach of the hose.”

There was also an issue with bathing: While the home included “one porcelain tub for each sex,” Foster noted “shower baths were removed to give room for these tubs. They should be replaced.”

Foster described the sewage removal system as being very similar to modern country septic systems, but also noted, “this part of the plant does not work perfectly.”

Inspector Foster then turned his attention to the farm.

Total acres he listed as 100, with approximately 50 being cultivated.

“The soil,” he observed, “is light and sandy but responds well to cultivation. The horse barn is a good modern structure of brick; the cow and hay barn are old and inconvenient but serviceable. A suitable morgue is needed.”

Livestock, to either augment the inmate’s diets or do farm work, totaled “six cows, four horses, ten swine, and one hundred hens.”

Butter, Foster noted, “is made or bought: inmates have it twice a day.”

Who resided at the Alms House during the spring of 1908? The population on the occasion of Foster’s inspection totaled 39, although it was built to hold 80.

The inspector enumerated, “Males, 28, females 11, including “one deaf mute, three ‘feeble-minded,’” with 16 of the inmates being over 70 years old.

Regarding personal hygiene, “weekly baths are required, and water is changed after each bath. Roller towels are used. Baths are supervised by the Matron or Superintendent, depending on the bather’s sex. Inmates do not generally have personal combs or brushes. Bed linen is changed — one sheet — weekly. Vermin are practically absent.”

How much did all this care cost the taxpayers?

Superintendent Hillman’s salary was $1,200, Mrs. Hillman, listed as ‘housekeeper’ received $260. One Ethel Hillman, possibly the Hillman’s daughter, listed as ‘assistant housekeeper’ earned a paltry $156, but it was nice keeping it in all the family.

Other salaried employees were Mrs. Elizabeth Roosevelt, matron, $260, Allen Smith, engineer, $264, Charles Forbes, cook and baker, also $264, Frank Ryder, teamster, $384, Dr. Austin Hogan, visiting physician, $250, and last and least, Rev. Robert Cole, visiting minister, $50, obligated to hold services monthly.

It seems surprising that Ryder the teamster earned $130 more than the skilled physician.

Dr. Hogan was required to call weekly, examine all inmates, and furnish his own medicines, but “serious cases often go to the Gloversville hospital.”

As to inmates working on the farm, Foster observed, “about twenty percent are able to do light farm work.

Regarding diet, Foster recorded that on the day he was present, “breakfast consisted of fried pork and gravy, potatoes, bread, butter and coffee.”

Lunch (then called dinner) was corned beef, potatoes, bread, butter and tea, and supper, on the lite side, consisted only of “cornmeal mush and milk.”

Inspector Foster was generally satisfied.

Referring to the Supervisor’s Oversight Committee, he remarked, “The committee in charge has solved successfully a difficult problem.”

When three-term Alms House Superintendent George Hillman of Bridge Street, Broadalbin, died at 65 on Dec. 15, 1925, his prior service was praised in local papers. He and Mrs. Hillman lie together in Union Mills Cemetery.

By Patricia Older

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