The Almshouse at the turn of the century
The Montgomery County Almshouse originally began serving the poor of the county in 1808. It had been built on 265 acres that the county purchased from Abraham Gotwalt in Upper Providence Township (the county would later add an additional 31 acres to the property).
A view of the river
The first steward was Jacob Barr and his wife served as matron. They earned $400 per year. Over the 19th century, fire struck the almshouse three times, destroying most of the records of the early decades. We do know that the number of people coming to the almshouse was increasing because the county approved the building of a new facility in 1870. That building was completed just before the original building was completely destroyed by fire in 1872.
Undated inmate register
The Historical Society records for the almshouse begin in 1873. Our archives has 3 registers that end in 1913 and three inmate record books that cover the years 1913 to the 1930’s.
People who came to the almshouse were not simply housed. They were expected to work either on the farm or in the residence. Male and female inmates were separated, though Edward Hocker tells of a love triangle between a female inmate and a gardener employed by the home. The steward tried to split them up, but the inmate climbed out the window one night, met up with the gardener and ran off to be married in Norristown (Times-Herald, Oct. 2, 1942).
List of purchases from a 1902 cash book
Children who were born at the almshouse were only allowed to stay until they were old enough to be indentured to local families. By 1882, however, the state passed a law, allowing children between 2 and 16 only 60 days in the almshouse. This was to save the expense of running a school. The Children’s Aid Society of Montgomery County soon took responsibility for the children.
In the late 19th century, the position of steward was used as a political reward, and easy going stewards allowed tramps to wander over from Chester county for a hot meal and good night’s sleep. The county comptroller put an end to that practice. One of those tramps later became famous as a folk artist. He repaid the almshouse with a painting.
The almhouse painted by inmate Charles Hoffman in the 1870's.
Over the years, many changes came to the almshouse. The small infirmary was replaced by a hospital building in 1900, that in turn was replaced in 1941. In 1952, the “County Home” as it was then called, was renamed The Charles Johnson Home, and then it became the Montgomery County Geriatric and Rehabilitation Center in 1972, reflecting a change in the institution’s focus.
Source: Lichtenwalner, Muriel N., 175th anniversary of Montgomery County Geriatric and Rehabilitation Center; progress through caring (1983)