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Western Michigan University Collections

When Michigan became a territory in 1805, one of the early laws was taking care of the poor. A lot of counties in the United States adopted the practices in Great Britain, which was creating what they referred to as alm houses or poorhouses or, in local instance, poor farms.

Kalamazoo founded its poor farm around 1849, on land in Comstock Township near the Kalamazoo River. Some of the reasons for why people were institutionalized included alcoholism, hearing impairment and simply old age. A number of residents had intellectual disabilities. Orphans lived at the poor farm, and children whose parents could not support them. The poor farm eventually became more like an early nursing home, a place for the elderly and infirm, until it closed in the early 1970s. The ledgers in this collection offer clues about those who lived there and how they lived.