St. Lawrence County Poorhouse
The St. Lawrence County Poorhouse, Almshouse, or County Home, as it was referred to, was built in 1869 two miles downstream from Canton, NY. The home was a place where the less fortunate could seek refuge, even if only for a night. Built to accommodate up to 300 residents, or what were then called ‘inmates’, the home was heated, clean, well aerated, and had an infirmary as well as a separate area for the insane. Those seeking refuge were either ‘indigent’, ‘poor’, ‘sick’, ‘feeble minded’, or insane. Men, women, and children from the local area as well as immigrants from places like Canada, Mexico, Ireland, and Austria found their way to the home. For over 100 years more than 2000 residents made use of the home, over 600 of which found their final resting place within the home’s cemetery. In 1978 the home was destroyed and with it the voices of many of St. Lawrence County’s most vulnerable residents.
The St. Lawrence County Poorhouse and its cemetery are being studied by members of DSLC. Currently at the cemetery site more than 500 graves are unmarked, several of which are in danger by the Grasse River. Through an examination of inmate records and other textual sources and the application of geophysical techniques (ground penetrating radar and geographic information systems), DSLC will document and conserve this long-forgotten part of St. Lawrence County’s past and offer a glimpse at what life was like in early 19th–20th century poorhouses in upstate New York.