Upon approach, the old Wood County Infirmary is very inviting. But the stories from within the walls of this “Poor House” are much glummer.
“The Home” as it was called is one of the last county poor houses still standing in Ohio. The main building was constructed in 1868 and housed Wood County’s poor, elderly, orphaned, sick, and mentally ill. Additional buildings were added several years later such as the Pest House and Lunatic House. The Lunatic House was used for the violently insane. The Pestilence House was used to quarantine residents inflicted with infectious diseases.
The former farm’s compound of buildings and structures appear more mansionesque featuring an Italianate influence.
At its center is a brick Victorian Era building, now a museum with over thirty exhibit rooms dedicated to showcasing the history of the Home and of Wood County. Adjacent brick buildings for former residences add an air of warmth along with its two-story sprawling wood porches. The scene is inspirational. And maybe that was the objective.
The elaborate and massive stone fence around the perimeter and its arching stone gateway lead to parklike grounds, including an arboretum. The outdoor park, maintained by the Wood County Park District, offers an herb garden, nature trails, and numerous outdoor points of interest including a working oil derrick and an extensive collection of farm implements.
The Infirmary averaged 80 residents but during The Great Depression, it packed in 140. It operated for over 100 years before finally closing in 1971. Several years later, it opened its doors again as the Wood County Historical Center and Museum. And the Wood County Museum has been providing tours ever since.
For those who enjoy “true crime” podcasts and television exposes, there’s a room at the Wood County Museum dedicated to a story that will not disappoint. And in it is a jar of human remains from a murder victim dating to the 1880s. In short, Carl and Mary Bachman and their three children were having financial stress causing Carl to mortgage their Wood County farm. Turmoil in the marriage resulted in an assault, file for divorce, and custody battle before Carl struck Mary 18 forceful blows with a corn-cutter. She was seven months pregnant.
The tragic story including trial transcripts is meticulously kept.
The severed fingers preserved and kept as evidence by Sheriff George Murray Brown along with curious other “mementos” are telling of the peculiar relationship he and Carl Bach formed during Bach’s incarceration at the jailhouse for two years before being executed by hanging at the county courthouse.
The museum is full of nooks and crannies, each with a fascinating story to tell. Exhibits will explain the history of Ohio’s county poor houses. Inside the Lunatic Asylum, mental illness misconceptions and treatments are explained. Another exhibit explores global disease and social programs pioneering sanitation, bath culture, urban planning, and more. Displayed is a full-body iron lung metal coffin-like contraction used in the treatment of polio and other ailments affecting the breathing of patients. There’s also an original Icehouse on the property. It was built before electric refrigeration and was used to preserve the food for the Infirmary residents.
The permanent and temporary exhibits at the Wood County Museum are described at https://woodcountyhistory.org/exhibits/. Upcoming events are posted to https://woodcountyhistory.org/events/.
Who knew a visit to the poor house could be so rich … in history?
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun