Displaying items by tag: Almshouse

Wednesday, 27 September 2023 21:08

Montgomery County Almshouse Journal Excerpts

Today I thought I would share a unique resource we have here at HSMC. If you have been following our blog and social media posts for a while, you likely have seen several references to the Montgomery County Almshouse. Click here to see a past blog post about the history of that site.


In our library, we have a binder titled "Montgomery County Alms House Journal Excerpts 1884-1907". For those of you looking to research the Almshouse or are doing genealogy research, this binder has a wealth of information. It includes births, names of children, deaths, and people with mental health conditions.

One part of the binder in particular caught my eye. Next to the names of the people who died at the Almshouse is a note of where they were buried. Some lines say they were buried at A.H., which I believe was short for "Alms House". Other lines say "taken away for burial". However, there are some lines that say something like "sent to Phila". 


We know it was not an uncommon practice to send bodies to medical schools around this time. When the Pennsylvania Anatomy Act was passed in 1883 it allowed teachers and students to study bodies without buying them. The goal of this act was to prevent grave robbing. So when we see phrases like "sent to Phila", it is possible this means these people either did not have a next of kin or were too poor to afford burial and thus may have been sent to a medical school in Philadelphia.

We have seen other instances where such practices took place. For example, while hunting for a different Ann Moore, we uncovered this person who died at the State Hospital in Norristown in 1901.

medical college study

When you see "Anatomical" in the Cemetery line on, it is likely in reference to a person's body being sent to a medical school for study. Today, there are more rules involving consent for donating bodies to medical schools.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 07 December 2017 21:07

The Montgomery County Almshouse

Upper Providence029

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).

Upper Providence030

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).

cash book

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)

Published in Found in Collection