Historical county farm once housed the indigent

The Poor Farm Cemetery, located off of Tin Top Road. The land one housed the county's indigent residents until 1935.

Not unlike other counties in the U.S., a “poor farm” was once implemented in Parker County to house indigent residents before the enactment of Social Security in 1935 and the land to this day still sits off Tin Top Road as a part of history. 

“The Poor Farm was initiated because the county government is responsible for the welfare of paupers — [a very poor person] — and that’s state mandate, so therefore, the paupers were coming to the county and getting so much stipend per month and we were supporting them with these monthly stipends,” former Parker County commissioner Jim Webster said. “Along with many other Texas counties, [Parker County] decided a cheaper way to go about this was the formation of a poor farm. They would buy this land and have the paupers go to work on the poor farm and support themselves and the county wouldn’t have to pay their monthly stipend, so that’s what happened.”

Local historian Donna McCauley said the land is beautiful, but has a sad past. 

“It’s a beautiful place, but also a sad place with the people that lived here on the poor farm raising their families and working to grow crops and raise livestock for their entire families. These people were living off the streets in Weatherford. My guess is that people in Weatherford were scared of getting sick from them,” McCauley said. “They couldn’t afford to see doctors. All who were able were required to do some type of labor as deemed fit by the supervisor. If people were healthy enough, they were expected to provide labor — both in fields and the house itself, providing housekeeping and cooking help as well as caring for other residents.

“In the summer, common jobs were planting, hoeing and harvesting a large vegetable garden. Men cared for the farm’s animals — cattle, horses, chickens and pigs. Perhaps today’s homeless shelters are the closest thing now resembling the poor farms of yesteryear. Just so much sadness on this land.”

Once the Social Security Act of 1935 was established, Webster said the farm was closed. 

“They stayed out there until the enactment of Social Security where they could get welfare. So whenever the government enacted welfare for the paupers, or the poor people, then the poor farm was no longer necessary and it was closed,” Webster said. “There’s a huge amount of history out there that I was into very deeply. There’s so much history and a lot of it has been lost over the years.”

What remains on the now 260-acres of land are dilapidated buildings and a cemetery maintained by the Abandoned Cemetery Association. 

Webster said the cemetery was first discovered by V.E. Kemp Jr. — husband of historian and founder of the Abandoned Cemetery Association Mary Kemp. 

“He was coon hunting out there and he sat down on a stone to rest and as he got up, he looked around and it was a gravestone. He told Mary and they went out, cleaned it up and found the cemetery where all the paupers had been buried,” Webster said. “Some of them have names, some of them have dates, but most of them are blank.”

Webster said he used to give tours of the poor farm with the daughter of the farm’s superintendent and was able to give those on the tour first-hand stories about people on the poor farm.

“[R.B.] Godley — who was the founder of the town Godley — ended up on the poor farm. He was a very respected man in Godley — obviously, they named the town after him — and then he got into drinking and womanizing and got in trouble, and lost everything he had,” Webster said. “So somehow he wound up on the poor farm and he would tell [the superintendent] that he didn’t want to be buried with the paupers because he wasn’t a pauper.”

Local historian Jonelle Bartoli also discussed Godley’s arrival to the poor farm.

“Mr. Godley, he was a rather rich gentleman that lost his fortune and he was very unhappy here and he kind of stayed off to himself and committed suicide in the outhouse,” Bartoli said. 

Webster said per Godley’s wishes, they did not bury him with the indigent and the location of his grave is still a mystery to this day.

McCauley said she would like to see the farm preserved for history. 

“This land has beautiful, limestone bluffs and I would love to see it as a wildlife place. This land should be preserved for history,” McCauley said. “The poor farm should stay as a natural and historical land.”

Webster said to his knowledge, the poor farm was leased out several times to run cows on the land and for oil and gas, and would like to see it turned into a park for residents.

“It is a beautiful piece of property. I believe with the explosive growth of Parker County and the growth of the tax base, that the county can surely afford a park,” Webster said. “This is a way, I believe, the county could give back to the people — a beautiful park.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Larry Walden said when he attended Weatherford College, the poor farm land was leased for agriculture.

“When I went to Weatherford College from 1976 through 1978, the Weatherford College agriculture department had the poor farm leased from the county,” Walden said. “So we had the ag science labs actually here on the property.”

Parker County Attorney John Forrest said there is an oil and gas lease on the property as well as a county 4-H facility on a corner lot.

“We do have 4-H that utilizes it and they have a nice facility out there,” Forrest said. “They practice and have that corner lot that is part of the county farm. That was leased to them and they were allowed to utilize it for that purpose, and I believe they keep horses, steer and cows out there. We have an oil and gas lease on it, so that generates revenue.”

As for the future, Forrest said the land could be developed, but looking at the cost has halted that in the past.

“The way the land is situated we could work and possibly get a road cut from [State] 171 South to Tin Top [Road] and I think that’s been discussed a few times, but it’s never materialized,” Forrest said. “I think as long as you see growth going that direction, at some point they will look at developing. I know in the past they looked at the cost of developing it because you’d have to bring water and sewer down there and I think that was about $1 million to bring the services out there. So it kind of stopped any further development.”

The Parker County Poor Farm and cemetery received a historical marker from the Texas Historical Commission in 1986. 

“Farm residents and some county convicts worked to grow crops and raise livestock. Although entire families were once housed at the farm, by the 1930s the residents were mostly elderly,” according to the historical marker text. “Their barracks-style house was moved to Weatherford in the 1940s after the farm was closed. A small cemetery was created [there], and contains one legible marker. Additional grave sites have been marked with bricks. The earliest documented burial is from 1904, and the last was in 1937.”