Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about the people and events that have shaped the 200-year history of New Albany. Read all installments by clicking on the bicentennial link under the “seasonal content” header at newsandtribune.com
Towering on a hill near Sam Peden Community Park, the old Poor Farm remains standing, a testament to both the charity and, at times, the malice of the local people. For more than 100 years, the structure has housed those children, elderly and mentally challenged citizens of New Albany and all of Floyd County who could not provide for themselves.
Despite a 2008 vote by the county to tear it down and construct a new youth shelter in its place, no definitive plans have been made on the Poor Farm’s fate. In 2012, the shelter was moved to a different facility and, ironically, a poor economy has delayed the razing of the decrepit historic building.
Few early records can be found that detail the beginnings of the community “poor house.” But almost since its inception, the county, through its residents, had set aside money to be used to help the indigent. According to Rich Green, a researcher that studied the building for a local company and released his findings in the “Review of Literature and Historical Documentation of the Floyd County Infirmary, New Albany, Indiana,” the farm began in 1838 as a lone log cabin. In 1875, a bigger structure was constructed with additions added in 1878. Fire caused by an ignited flue during a storm destroyed a significant portion of the complex in 1916, with the current standing building being built shortly thereafter.
Called many names through the ages, including the County Poor Asylum and the Floyd County Home for Aged, the building has housed some interesting New Albany citizens. Former slave turned Union Army nurse Lucy Higgs Nichols died there in 1915. While Nichols would be interred in West Haven Cemetery, the grounds around the home have served as a burial ground for many of these poor inhabitants. Green found evidence based on ground contour that at least two separate graveyards may have existed specifically for the institution, including that of the marked Potter’s Field.