Ionia County "Poor Farm"

       Transcribed by Theresa Sweet 

Burial Records

Shepard Cemetery (old Infirmary) Images

New Infirmary Cemetery Images



     As long ago as June, 1970 I included a paragraph in THE RECOLLECTOR about Ionia County's Potters Field, or a cemetery for indigents, particularly those who had died in the Poor House and had no relative or friend to claim them.  Burials were made simply with a wooden cross for a marker.  Time has eliminated all such markers.
     Two years ago, while picnicking at the roadside park at the site of the old County Poor Farm that is now part of the State
park system, some of us deplored the neglect of the little cemetery plot there.  Harold Lillie, who lives on Riverside Drive a mile or so west, approached the caretaker the following spring and asked that the cemetery be kept mowed.  As a result, the cemetery has had a neat appearance the past year.
    Knowing that without any permanent marker, this cemetery might well become lost and forgotten as has happened with most of the Indian Mounds in the Lyons area, the situation has bothered me.  Then I realized there had been a previous County Farm in Ronald Township and if there had been one, there must also have been another Potters Field.  A call to Stanley Powell confirmed my guess--a quarter acre in the southeast corner of what had been the County Farm, a quarter mile from any road was the almost forgotten cemetery.       
     With Marge Smith's help we found that the title to that quarter acre was not clear.  It had not been on the assessment roll for well over a century.  Again, with help from Wm. B. Davis, we got the title cleared by securing quitclaim deeds in favor of Ionia County from the adjoining property owners.  The Ionia County Board of Commissioners reaffirmed ownership and the deeds were recorded.  Again there was no marker in the cemetery.  Plans are being worked on to get a permanent stone marker for each cemetery in 1983.
      On a visit to the Parks Department of the Department of Natural Resources in Lansing in a conversation with Mr. Butterfield
about the old County Farm, he brought out a large-brick sized copper box that had been taken from the corner stone of the
poor House when the building was razed in converting the area to a park.  He gave me the box and contents to return to the
area from which it had come.  Besides three hazel nuts and two faded photographs, the box contained two newspapers with
accounts of the building of the 1907 Poor House.  One of the articles is reproduced on the following page.  There is also a
list of signatures of the 24 construction workers who had worked on the building. Mr. Butterfield has agreed that a stone
marker at the cemetery will be appropriate and the D.N.R. will maintain post markers at the boundaries of the cemetery.  We plan to add some more information to the copper box and plant it again inside the marker to be placed at that cemetery.
     It was l855 when the Ionia County Board of Supervisors decided to establish a poor Farm as other counties were doing then. In 1871 the Board of Supervisors replaced the original farm buildings in Ronald Township with a $7,OOO brick building.  Its foundation can still be seen on the farm of George Wittenbach on Cooper Road.  From 30 to 5O people at a time were cared for at the Poor House.  You can look back to the December 1977 RECOLLECTOR to find the reasons for admittance to the Eaton County Poor House.  Ionia's records seem to be missing.  Residents were referred to as inmates.  There were some residents able to work and work they did on the County Farm to produce farm products to make the place partly self sustaining.
      In 1907 fire destroyed the Poor House.  The residents were farmed out to available housing while the new $37,OOO Poor House was being constructed at the new site closer to Ionia on West Riverside Drive.  The new poor House went from "magnificent" to a state of neglect over the next 5O years.  Changed attitudes in caring for the indigent saw the closing of Poor Houses in county after county and Ionia was no exception.  The remaining residents were moved to other forms of care and the farm was sold to the  D.N.R. to become part of the Ionia State park.          

                                                   Robert W. Gierman
From the Sebewa Recollector - printed with permission by Graydon Slowins, Editor.


     Learning about the County Poor house system from what have been obscure records has been an interesting experience.  You might think that to find out about the County Poor House, inquiry at the Court House from county officials would open the records. But what records? Nobody had ever heard of any!
     One clue did develop. Somebody remembered that Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Gibson of Ionia had been the last custodians at the Poor Farm.  I made a call at the Gibsons, now in their 80's. From them I learned that under administrations previous to theirs, the Poor House had been far from an ideal place for homeless and often near helpless people. With the advent of the convalescent home care in the 1930's, minimal though many times it was, the burden for admission to the Poor Farm lessened.   Better standards for Poor House care had brought State Fire Marshall condemnation of upper floor use of Ionia's Poor House.  The Poor Farm idea was on the decline.
     After more visits with the Gibsons I learned that there was a Poor House book - a ledger of entries, deaths and discharges.
Mrs. Gibson had tried to give the book to Ionia County officials and/or the library. She found nobody interested in such records.
The book was left at the building at the time the property was transferred to the Department of Natural Resources.  D.N.R. had no notion of maintaining a poor house or anything like it.  To get on with their plans for a new state park, the building was razed and when the bulldozers left, no trace of the poor house remained.
     So, back to D.N.R. where I had gotten the copper box with its corner stone contents on a previous visit.  "Yes, there had been a poor house record book."  If I would be patient they would try to locate it. Next day the phone call came saying that the book had been sent to the State Archives on North Michigan Street in Lansing.
     At the Archives I found the book in its permanent home--nobody can remove it-- with a wealth of information in its many pages. The record began in l884 some 28 years after the establishment of the first poor farm in Ronald Township in l856.
     Here were entered the names of the "inmates", their ages and dates of birth, nationalities and reasons for commitment and what township or political unit was responsible.  If there was a death, date was given with a notation of "burial on farm", or "friends or family took the body" or "sent to Ann Arbor."  Apparently the medical school at the University did not lack for cadavers for student training.
     Thumbing through the pages was enough for one afternoon.  In a day or two, Marge Smith went with me to make a record of
burials. We found the names of 44 people who had been "buried on farm" in the almost forgotten quarter acre cemetery in
Ronald Township. No doubt the graves had been marked with simple wooden crosses as those on the Riverside Drive
location had been later. None of those crosses survive.  That little cemetery has been left to itself enough so that little rows
of depressions clearly show where there were graves.  This is the cemetery that is now in County ownership and is scheduled
for fencing in the coming summer season.
     After the 1907 fire that destroyed the Poor House at the Ronald Township location, the records move to the Berlin Township
site on Riverside Drive.  Somebody saved the record book from the fire.  There we find the first burial in the "new cemetery"
as that of John Grinels, who died July 4, 1908.  Records of 55 other burials follow with the last notation being that of William
Peplar, who died February 15, 1934.
     Perhaps that was the last burial there, but considering that those were depression years, it seems more likely that careless
record keeping might be the better explanation.  From l934 on, there was a change in the way the records were entered.
     Another visit to the Gibson home disclosed that some of the later records had been kept at their home.  Mrs. Gibson
made a search and found several entry pads and index cards from which I got a list of 500 names of entrants from 1928 to 1967. There was some duplication of names but allowing for that, the number for the period was well over 400.  This covered the
time when the people of our big wave of immigration of the 1890's were nearing the end of their lives.  There were many
entries of foreign born people.  These records, too, I took to the State Archives for safe-keeping.
     We have a sort of promise that these records of the Ionia County Commissioners of the Poor will one day be microfilmed
so that they can again become available locally.  Perhaps in these days of tight state budgets it is too much to hope that
the microfilming will be soon.  My impression is that there at least 200 pages in the book.
     As a result of all this stir, another development has shed some light on the history of that quarter acre burial plot in Ronald. 
The first settler in Ronald Township was Joshua Shepard.  This is noted in the Schenek History of Ionia and Montcalm Counties. 
Shepard took up land from the U. S. Government.  Perhaps pioneering in that forested wilderness was too much for him. 
From a descendant of his we now learn that he died and was buried on his farm in 1837.  Court House records show that
title to the farm went from Shepard to David Baldie.  In 1856 Baldie sold the farm to the County of Ionia for its first poor farm. 
Baldie, however, made a reservation of that little quarter  acre for cemetery purposes and that is the last entry in the
Register of Deeds office for the cemetery.
     In 1907 the County sold the farm the cemetery excepted, to Normington, Normington to Welch and Welch to Wittenbach. 
With no other claimants, the three adjoining property owners have now quit claimed it in favor of Ionia County.
     Somehow we have to raise some money to set up a marker on each of these cemeteries-- perhaps even list the names of the
known burials-to protect then from other use by unknowing persons in the future.  Wish us luck and a financial boost if you
feel inclined.

                                                                       Robert W. Gierman
From the Sebewa Recollector - printed with permission by Graydon Slowins, Editor.


     At last, the marker for the Ionia County Infirmary Cemetery at the former Poor House site, but now cornering the new State
Park picnic area on Riverside Drive, some three miles west of Ionia, is in place and will be dedicated Sunday, October 7 at 4 P.M.  Everybody is invited to the dedication, especially the contributors to the $l200 fund that was raised for the marker.
     Especial thanks goes to the Ionia County Road Commission for moving the 10 ton boulder from a location a mile west. 
Steve Yenchar of the Lowell Granite Company has given freely of his time and it was under his direction that his boy
scout troop undertook the cleaning of the area and doing landscape work there.
     The plaque is 20" x 30" with 55 names of people buried at the site with a listing of their death dates and their ages as was
obtained from the Poor House record book that is now at the State Archives at Lansing.  Microfilm copies of this record
are at the Sunfield, Portland and Belding libraries.  Practically every section of Ionia County used the Poor House to care for
the indigent.
     We are told that at the time of burials there the graves were marked with wooden crosses, crosses that have rotted and
long since disappeared.  The cemetery area is merely marked with a post at each corner and now with the rather permanent
huge marker at the front.  The Department of Natural Resources has agreed to keep the area mowed.
     The cemetery was started there in 1907 when the Poor House was built to replace the building the County lost by fire in
Ronald Township.  That left a small cemetery abandoned at the back corners of three farms in Ronald.  The book indicates there were 45 burials in that cemetery.  That, too, never had a stone marker and is yet to receive one. 
     There is no known plat of this cemetery nor any indication of any burial spot. Good Luck Department of Natural Resources
in keeping this cemetery trim  The Ionia County Board of Supervisors gave you the plot with no strings attached.
  From the Sebewa Recollector Vol. 18 #4 Feb 1983 copied by permission by Graydon Slowins, Editor        


Progress at the New Institution--Brick Work to be Finished in Six

Weeks--Work Going on Rapidly and Smoothly.

     By the courtesy of Dr. Ogden, a representative of the SENTINEL was enabled to enjoy an automobile trip to the new
County Farm on Monday and to view the foundations of Ionia's magnificent infirmary. When the buildings are completed,
they promise so much comfort and ease that it will soon seem almost impossible for anyone to wish to be other than poor.
     The corner stone of the building was laid Friday, and is a handsome block of gray granite furnished by Anderson Bros.
It is placed in the foundation at the southeast corner and bears the inscription, 1907. A history of Ionia county, from its first settlement, and the history of the old poor house and the proceedings which led to the change of site and the purchase of the new is being prepared by E. M. Davis, to be placed in the small hollow reserved for it in the heart of the stone. This record will bear the names of the board of supervisors, the commissioners of the poor and an the committees that have had the supervision at the plans in charge. The paper will be placed in the stone as soon as it is ready and there have been no preparations made for any ceremony at that time. The laying of the corner stone will be of no more importance than that of any brick in the walls.
     Contractor Wright has been busy and the little rise of ground on the historic Sessions farm where still stands the house of cobblestone and mortar erected in 1845, is being rapidly crowned by the rising walls of the new county house. And as a coincidence it my be mentioned that Mr. Wright's father was one of the men who worked on the Sessions house when it was built sixty-two years ago.
     The cellars have been finished except the floors and the walls have all risen above the first floor. The brick work will be finished in about six weeks. The Rikard Lumber Company, of Lansing, has the contract for all lumber, and the slate, tin, are furnished by the Valley City Cornice and Slate Co. of Saginaw. F. H. VanderHeyden is furnishing the brick and about
100,000 still remain to be drawn.  The heating contract has been let to the Tuinstra Hardware Company, of Belding, and
all radiators have been delivered and are stored in the barn, also the most of the pipe.
     A sixty-five foot, drive well has been put down through blue clay, and a flow of water obtained, which rises 28 feet and is sufficient for all the work which is being done there now. And more water is used now than will ever be when the home is finished, so that this well will provide plenty of water for the future.
     Mr. Wright has twenty-four men employed. Their sleeping quarters are in the stone house, where they are boarded by
Mrs. Prall, wife of Contractor Prall. Near the front data is a tent used by the men who are having brick and which is familiarly
known as Camp 10.
     The 720 feet of six-inch sawer, which runs from the house to the creek is practically all laid and ready for connection.
     A hoisting engine has just been purchased by the contractors through Hubbell & Son at a cost of $250. This will be run by a gasoline engine, which also runs the cement mixer. The hoist arrived and was delivered this morning.
     Everything is progressing smoothly and while the work will be carried on during the cold months, the progress is well described in the words of one of the men. "We'll be all heated up and ready to cook before the roof is on", he said.

From THE IONIA SENTINEL November 21, 1907 by permission

This electronic text copy contributed for use in the USGenWeb Archives by Roger Thomas and Judie Noffke . The Ionia County Infirmary burial site is located on Riverside Drive, between Ionia and Saranac. There are no headstones, but a plaque provides the following names and dates.   Additional records from the old Ronald Twp. poorhouse and additional details added 6/2012 by Sharon Wood.
Name Arrival Age Ethnicity Reason for Entering Infirmary Burial Date Last Residence Cem
Aldrich, Manley 10/1/1930 68 American Sick 10/10/1930 Ionia Co. #9 New
Allen, Elizabeth 10/1/1920 73 Irish Weak Minded 4/15/1921 Ionia Co. NC#22 New
Anible, Charles 3/28/1908 76 American Homeless 4/15/1908 Ionia 1st Ward New
Austin, J. 5/5/1914 65 American Paralyzed 5/13/1915 Ionia City NC#9 New
Baby 2/7/1931 still born American Homeless 2/7/1931 Ionia Co. #10 New
Bagley, Alonzo 2/11/1886 62 American Intemperance 3/17/1886 Ionia Old
Barnard, Jury 2/25/1884 12 American Orphan; Diptheria 3/9/1885 Otisco Old
Bidgon, Horace 10/1/1899 58 American Cripple; Dropsy 6/23/1900 Lyons Old
Bigfield, James 10/1/1897 89 American Old Age 3/7/1898 Berlin Old
Brooks, Thomas 10/1/1923 68 American Sick 11/26/1923 Campbell NC#30 New
Brownell, Lake 10/1/1884 72 American Old Age 9/7/1885 Berlin Old
Burgdoff, Frank 10/1/1926 84 American Old Age 8/19/1927 Ionia City NC#37 New
Burke, Cynthia 10/1/1918 47 German Weak Mind 2/20/1919 Ionia Co. NC#18 New
Burley, William 4/28/1909 37 American Sick 8/4/1909 Ionia 3rd Ward New
Care, Mary 10/1/1885 87 American Old Age 2/5/1886 Ionia  
Chase, Oscar 10/21/1920 70 American Old Age Paralytic 3/29/1921 Ionia City NC#24 New
Clark, Mary 10/1/1913 70 American Cripple 2-16/1914 Orange NC#6 New
Clark, Milton 10/1/1922 88 American Cripple 6/15/1922 Orange NC#28 New
Coleman, Nathan 10/1/1884 58 American Insane 8/27/1885 Ionia  
Comer, Michael 10/1/1928 76 American Weak Mind 6/11/1929 Ionia Co. #7 New
Conner, John 10/1/1998 60 Irish Dissipated 8/11/1899 Ionia City  
Custon, Nelson 10/1/1917 75 Dane Palsy 12/26/1917 Orleans NC#26 New
Davis, Daniel 10/1/1894 79 American Cripple 11/10/1894 Lyons  
Davis, Emery Allen 1/1/1921 86 American Old Age 5/12/1922 Odessa NC#26 New
Davis, Margaret 10/1/1898 56 American Rheumatism Dropsy 10/24/1898 Sebewa Old
Duffy, John 101/1905 83 Irish Old Age 10/25/1905 Orleans Old
Erickson, Andrew 10/1/1903 76 Swede Old Age 10/30/1903 Belding Old
Evans, Bruce 10/1/1933 76 American Old Age 9/9/1934 Sebewa New
Fields, Mary 10/1/1905 71 American Weak Mind 10/25/1905 North Plains Old
Fisher, George 10/1/1932 95 American Old Age 9/14/1933 Ionia Co. New
Fisher, William 10/1/1899 69 German Old Age 9/17/1900 1 & 2 Ward Old
Foster, Caroline 10/1/1903 50 American Idiotic 8/7/1904 Ionia Co. Old
Foy, Michael 10/1/1892 68 Irish Old Age Cancer 3/24/1892 Ionia Old
Godley, William 10/1/1917 91 American Old Age 6/2/1918 Danby NC#14 New
Grinels, John 10/1/1907 32 American Idiotic 7/4/1908 Ionia Co. NC#1 Old
Hanks, Phoebe 10/1/1908 60 American Homeless 5/24/1909 Otisco NC#2 New
Hefferon, Michael 10/1/1896 76 Irish Intemperance 12/7/1896 Ionia Old
Herrington, Emma 10/1/1893 31 American Weak Mind 12/30or26/1893 Ionia Old
Hewitt, Lewis 10/1/1898 59 American Sick 3/30/1899 Odessa Old
Henderson, George 10/1/1930 82 American Old Age 8/1/1931 Ionia Co. #14 New
Hiar, Ethel 10/1/1896 20 American Typhoid 8/22/1897 Danby Old
Hicks, Clarence 7/6/1931 69 American Old Age 8/20/1931 Ionia Co. #15 New
Hinds, Byron 1/26/1895 66 American Rheumatism 6/14/1895 Odessa Old
High, John 10/1/1928 74 American Old Age 8/8/1929 Danby #8 New
Hitchcock, Anson 10/1/1905 81 American Old Age 10/28/1905 Sebewa Old
Holcomb, Luther 10/1/1927 62 American Sick 4/13/1928 Ionia Co. New
Holderider, Frank 10/1/1912 89 German Old Age 6/11/1913 Odessa NC#5 New
Holiday, Frank 10/1/1891 27 American Fits 2/6/1892 Portland Old
Hubbard, Emily 1/2/1888 77 American Old Age 9/15/1888 Ionia Co. Old
Hutchinson, Danford 10/1/1923 66 American Blind 5/15/1924 Ionia Co. NC#31 New
Johnson, Jacob 1/14/1909 66 American Homeless 8/4/1909 Otisco NC#2 New
Keistner, Fred 1/19/1917 84 German Old Age 2/19/1917 Ionia City #12 New
Lake, Rebecca 10/1/1892 78 American Blind Old Age 11/6/1892 Berlin Old
Lumbert, John 10/1/1925 64 American Cripple 11/17/1925 Ionia Co. NC#36 New
Marshall, James 10/1/1932 60 American Sick 10/31/1932 Ionia New
Matthews, James 10/1/1917 58 American Deaf, Dumb, Blind 9/6/1918 Ionia NC#16 New
McMullen, Daniel 10/1/1896 83 American Old Age 5/4/1897 Ionia Old
McNeal, Hattie 10/1/1932 55 American Homeless 11/9/1932 Ionia City New
Mickle, Henry 3/17/1895 75 American Old Age 6/22/1895 Ionia Old
Miller, Frank 10/1/1930 75 American Old Age 2/28/1931 Portland #12 New
Miller, Morris 10/1/1928 80 American Old Age 10/19/1928 Ionia Co. #4 New
Mills, Ora 10/1/1919 39 American Weak Mind 2/6/1920 Ionia Co. NC#21 New
Monroe, William 10/1/1921 92 American Old Age 1/21/1922 Ionia Co. NC#27 New
Morral, Joseph 10/5/1885 82 American Old Age 11/9/1885 Orleans Old
Overley, William 10/18/1932 67 American Old Age 11/2/1932 Belding New
Peplar, William 10/1/1933 63 Canadian Homeless 2/15/1934 Ionia City New
Pepper, Caroline 10/1/1922 - American Sick 10/14/1922 Orange NC#29 New
Robinson, Caleb 10/1/1898 65 German Mild Insanity 7/7/1899 Ionia Old
Rosecrans, Belle 2/17/1905 31 American Sick 5/15/1906 Ionia Co. Old
Saviries, William 10/1/1927 69 American Old Age 10/6/1927 Ionia Co. New
Secord, Clara 10/1/1896 80 American Old Age 5/27/1897 Keene Old
Showers, Byron 1/27/1931 75 American Old Age 6/6/1931 Ionia Co. #13 New
Simmons, Thad 1/31/1918 44 American Feeble Mind 7/6/1918 Boston NC#17 New
Smallman, Joseph 10/1/1891 75 American Intemperance 4/15/1892 Keene Old
Smith, Albert 10/1/1927 55 American Sick 3/24/1928 Ionia Co. #2 New
Sparks, Sophronia 10/1/1893 82 American Old Age 12/12/1893 Keene Old
Spencer, Caroline 10/1/1904 55 American Weak Mind 5/3/1905 Ionia Co. Old
Spencer, Clara 10/1/1920 37 American Sick 3/26/1921 Ionia City NC#25 New
Spencer, Rhoda 10/1/1902 79 American Insane 8/13/1903 Sebewa Old
Sprague, Harriet 10/1/1890 40 American Idiot 2/17/1881 Keene Old
Stevens, David 10/1/1893 71 American Old Age 7/30/1894 Boston Old
Strong, Meeder 10/1/1931 84 American Old Age 11/29/1931 Ionia Co. #16 New
Sutherland, Asa 10/1/1927 72 American Old Age 2/8/1928 Ionia Co. #1 New
Taber, Silas 11/30/1896 64 American Ill Health 12/12/1896 Ionia City Old
Talbot, Frank 10/1/1915 76 Canadian Sick 4/24/1916 Ionia City NC#10 New
Tinney, Jesse 10/1/1928 55 American Sick 1/9/1928 Orleans #5 New
Trask, Willard 10/1/1888 82 American Old Age 7/28/1889 Easton Old
Tupper, W.H. 11/5/1915 85 American Sick 11/28/1915 Ionia Co. NC #11 New
Vermelia, Reuben 10/1/1923 64 Canadian Blind 1/9/1924 Ionia Co. NC#32 New
Welch, Myron 10/1/1928 63 American Cripple 4/17/1929 Ionia Co. #6 New
Whitaker, Rebecca 10/1/1888 73 American Mute 7/28/1889   Old
Wilson, George 1/2/1931 80 American Old Age 4/17/1931 Danby #11 New
Winters, Jane 7/28/1906 72 American Sick 8/10/1906 Ionia City 3rd Ward Old
Witzel, John 10/1/1913 83 Irish Rheumatism 12/8/1913 Ionia Co. NC#7 New
Whiting, H. J. 10/1/1904 56 Irish Sick 6/22/1905 Ionia Co. Old
Wood, George 7/19/1919 55 American Blind 8/11/1919 Orleans NC #20 New
Woodhall, Wilmont 10/1/1905 87 Colored Old Age 5/24/1906 Berlin Old
Youngs, Maude 10/1/1918 52 American Sick 1/10/1919 Ionia City #19 New
Zuke, Lizzie 10/1/1914 73 German Homeless 4/26/1915 Ionia Co. NC#8 New

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Last update June 28, 2012