Typically, responsibility for the care of indigents, the insane, orphans, and abandoned children were held by the individual towns of Westchester County. But in the early 1800s, several towns recognized the need for something better and found that by sharing resources, they may be able to care for more people and offer better services.
1815 – Harmon and Susannah Yerks Sell Their Farm to the Town of Mount Pleasant For the Benefit of the Poor
Harmon Yerks is the son of Catherine See and William Yerks. William Yerks is a Patriot of the American Revolution. For his service and support of providing supplies to the Colonial Army during the revolution, his wife was awarded (after his death) the family farm in Mount Pleasant. The family farm was located on prime farmland along the Saw Mill River and covered 300 acres.
In 1815, Harmen and his wife sold a large farm in Mount Pleasant to the Overseer of the Poor from Mount Pleasant. It is not clear where this was, but is assumed to be somewhere in front of Buttermilk Hill in Hawthorne (formally Unionville). The land was deed to be used ONLY FOR THE POOR of the area.
This indenture made the fourth day of February in the year of our Lord 1815, between Hermanus Yerks of the town of Mount Pleasant in the county of Westchester and Susannah, his wife of the first part and ARCHER REED and DANIEL AKINS, overseas of the poor in and for the said town of Mount Pleasant of the second part, and to their successors in their said Office of Overseers of the Poor in and for the Town of Mount Pleasant, WITNESSETH that the said parties of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of EIGHTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS of good and lawful money of the United States of America to them in hand paid at or before the end ensealing and delivery of these presents by the side parties of the second part the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged…
… eight and one quater acres…
… thirty eight and one quarter acres…
… eight acres.. more or less…
… That said farm and premise shall from time to time and at all times forever hereafter to be held and occupied as and for the use of the Poor of the said Town of Mount Pleasant in for the use of the Poor of such other towns in the said county of Westchester, and may be hereafter associated with them for the purpose of a poor house under such regulations and restrictions as said Overseers of the Poor of the said Town of Mount Pleasant and the Overseers of the Poor of the towns associated with them and their successors in office shall hereafter make for the purposes aforesaid…
Westchester CountyLand deed dated 4 February 1815
The Westchester County Almshouse was established in Eastview, New York (known as Knapps Corner by some) in 1828 by the Board of Supervisors, at the direction of the State of New York.
In 1824, New York State legislated that each county had to establish an institution for the care of the poor. So Westchester County purchased 110 acres of farmland in today’s Knapp’s Corners. The Almshouse was built and opened in 1828. Isaac Coutant was installed as its first keeper.
The Almshouse was charged with the responsibility for the care of indigents, the insane, orphans and abandoned children as was currently held by the individual towns of the county.
The property covered 100 or so acres. With a farm of that size, they were able to generate food and supplies that helped offset the cost of operations.
With the opening of the new Almshouse, the Yerks farm in Mount Pleasant was no longer needed. But it required an act of the State legislature to allow the Town of Mount pleasant to sell the property to private hands.
This indenture, made 23rd day of January in the year of our Lord 1830, between Henry Romer, Supervisor and Benjamin Brewster, and Jon Foster, Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Mount Pleasant in the county of Westchester and the State of New York of the first part part and Sarah Taylor Richard M Taylor of the city, county and state aforesaid of the second part, witness, whereas the premise hearing after particularly mentioned and described belonging to the said Town of Mount Pleasant was lightly used and occupied as the poor House and farm by the said town, and whereas by an act of the legislature of the said State of New York, (passed April 3, 1829, entitled “An Act Authorizing the Supervisor of theOverseers of the Poor of the Town of Mount Pleasant in the county of Westchester to sell the poor house and farm belonging to the side town”) it was made lawful for the said Supervisor and Overseers of the Poor of said town to sell and convey the poor House and the farm belonging to said town at such time and in such manner and for such sum either in cash or upon credit as then shall appear most proper. And whereas the said parties of the first part having duly advertised said property for sale at a public auction, the same was sold by them to the said parties of the second part for the sum of $1100, that being the highest sum bidden for the same…
Westchester County Land Deed, dated January 23, 1830
A detailed description and status of the current state of the Almshouse appeared in the documents of the State of New York in 1865.
“To a population of two hundred and twenty-five in the poor-house of Westchester County, twenty-two are lunatics. Seven are males, and fifteen are females. Three-quarters are of foreign birth. Seventeen of these cases are of mild form of insanity. One was admitted in 1829. It is not known that any of the whole number have been ever treated in an asylum. Several have been admitted to the poorhouse for the second or third time. Four males and eight females are capable of labor. Those who do not labor have no amusement or employment. The manner of restraint and coercion is by straight jacket, handcuffs and confinement. The house has a full supply of water and two bathing tubs, in which, however, the insane are washed and bathed at no particular times. The building is of stone, two and a half stories high, with eight feet ceilings, and rooms 8 x 5 feet. The cells are in the centre of the building, with corridors, after the style of a prison and penitentiary, and receive their light only through the doors. They are, of course, dark and ill ventilated, and there is a total and studied absence of all that contributes to cheerfulness or mental elasticity. The building is heated by furnaces, and a comfortable temperature is maintained in winter, but there is no provision for the various grades of the insane. The sexes are separated, the males in one ward and the females in another, with pauper attendants, and one male assistant in the care of the female insane. The general appearance of the rooms is clean and tidy. Provision is made to confine twenty-five insane, but thirty-nine have at times been forced into the space designed for twenty-five. All have shoes, and their under garments are changed weekly. Whenever they are sick, the physician of the alms-house visits them, but they never receive treatment with reference to their convalescence, yet the county does not, in view of such a startling fact, hesitate to receive recent cases for confinement, not for cure.”
The area known as Knapp’s Corners became known as ‘East View’, the name of a 350-acre estate purchased by James Butler in 1893.
In the Manual of Westchester County Past and Present, published in 1896, another detailed report is found describing the conditions in the facility.
During the year ending April 1, 1896, the Almshouse contained 417 inmates, of whom 321 were men, 78 were women and 18 were babes. During the year ending April 1, 1897, there were 403 inmates, of which number 297 were men, 83 were women and 23 were children under two years of age. During the year ending April 1, 1898, there were 447 inmates, of which number 352 were men, 79 were women and 16 were children under two years of age. During the year just ended the hospital accommodated 105 persons, 70 of whom were men and 35 were women, which number is about ten percent increase over previous year. Under present poor laws each town in the county is entitled to one Overseer of the Poor. An Overseer of the Poor is permitted by law to expend not over $10 not oftener than three times a year in assisting and relieving the immediate wants of a destitute family; if further assistance is necessary for some family, the said Overseer of the Poor shall apply to the County Superintendent of the Poor for authority to render further financial aid, and if said Superintendent finds, on investigation, that the family for whom assistance is asked can be removed to the Almshouse, such removal will have to be accomplished; in case removal is impossible, the Superintendent may grant further financial assistance by issuing over his signature a certificate to the County Treasurer, or by endorsing his approval on an order for money made by Overseer of the Poor. The poor orders issued by Overseers of the Poor are paid by the County Treasurer on presentation of the order, together with a bill, verified by oath, showing goods delivered under said order. The number of orders that can be issued in a town or city is not limited.
The present County Superintendent of the Poor, Henry Esser, when he first assumed charge of the Almshouse, in 1890, inaugurated the custom of providing the inmates with three regular meals a day, displacing the rule of only giving them two meals a day, omitting supper. Instead of every person, men as well as women, washing their own clothing, as formerly, Mr. Esser introduced a system by which the clothing of all the inmates is washed by most improved steam machinery. A three-story concrete building was erected in 1890 for the express purpose of the laundry. Work in the laundry, as well as at road and wall building, farming, carpentering, etc., is done by able-bodied inmates, without other payment than their support. The renovation of the furniture in the house, the erection of a bath-house, stables and other outhouses, done during Mr. Esser’s administration, were effected principally by pauper labor, saving much expense to the county. The buildings are heated by the hot water system. The institution has a fire department system of its own. Kerosene oil is now being used for illuminating purposes, but it is expected that electric lights will soon be introduced to lessen expense and the chance of a conflagration and great loss.
No person afflicted with contagious disease is admitted to the hospital. Should a case unexpectedly appear, a place for it will be found in an isolated house on the farm attached to the Almshouse.
The men and women are ever well clad; the clothing and shoes worn are made in the State prisons of the State, excepting the men’s shirts and women’s skirts, which are made by women inmates of the institution. Men are given tobacco, a quarter of a pound package to every week; women are given something extra each week to equal the consideration given the men. Invalids are specially fed, as necessity requires. Provisions and goods of all kinds purchased for the institution are bought in large quantities at wholesale, and under the present system of bookkeeping at the institution it can readily be seen when and where every article was purchased — the cost, when received and by whom received. The business management is most excellent.
The expenditure for the maintenance of dependent children outside of the Elms house has always been a large item in the county budget. As the law will not permit of keeping of a child over two years of age in the almshouse, arrangement for their care has to be made with institutions outside. Children ranging in age between two and 16 years, a county charge, or sent to these institutions; the Westchester temporary home for destitute children at White Plains, the Catholic protector he at Westchester, the home of the missionary sisters at peak skill, the orphan home in Albany, and the home of the sisters divine compassion at White Plains. At present there are about 500 such children in these homes for the support of which the county pays, as board, $2.11 each, per week….
The county farm, on which the ounce house stance, contains 110 acres in Fruces a great part of the needed supplies. The main building, about 200 x 70, will accommodate 510 inmates; the concrete building, used as a wash house, is in size 40 x 60; the tramp house is a wooden building, 25 x 80; another frame building, 20 x 40 is used as a lodging house. The new hospital building, for the direction of which the board of supervisors recently appropriated $10,000, is being built of concrete, three stories high with the basement, 50 x 80; the excavating, the dressing of stone, the building a foundation walls and much of the laboring work on the proposed building, is being performed by able-bodied inmates of the Elms house. When complete the building will provide all the modern hospital improvements. The structure will be located online with the main building, on the west end, the roadway separating the two buildings.
Manual of Westchester County Past and Present. Civil list, 1896
Westchester County leased the now 150 acres of farmland, part of which was ready for cultivation, and all the buildings, including the Almshouse, the Westchester County Penitentiary, and the power plant, including the laundry, cold-storage plant, bakery, and storage facilities to the Federal Government. It became known as General Hospital No. 38.
The Hospital served those in the military returning from the battlefields of World War I.
The Almshouse inmates have presumably been moved to newer facilities up in the Grasslands area about two miles away. After 1920, a new cemetery was built for the poor of Westchester County. This cemetery was called ‘Potter’s Field’ and it was built on the ‘Grasslands’ complex in Valhalla, NY. The burials for this cemetery can be found on the Find-A-Grave website.
A 1925 aerial photograph of the Eastview area still clearly shows the Almshouse building and other buildings along the Saw Mill River Road. Across the old Lower Cross Road and across the railroad tracks you can see the area of the County’s first Potter’s Field known as the County Almshouse Cemetery.
By 1930, the federal government was done with the property. The Army had made some significant improvements to the buildings, so the County decided to turn it into an “Old Folks’ Home”.
1935-1940 – The Almshouse Cemetery Was Paved Over
With the creation of the Saw Mill River Parkway running from Elmsford to Chappaqua, the landscape of the Eastview area changed significantly. In 1935, the land where the County Almshouse Cemetery was located was turned over for the construction of the Parkway. Instead of disturbing any of the existing graves, the cemetery in Eastview was covered over with 20 feet of dirt and the Parkway was then built over it.
This location of the cemetery can be determined using this map overlay covering the vicinity of Exit 23 off of the Saw Mill River Parkway.