In the Indiana Constitution of 1816, stated in Article IX, Section 4 that “it shall be the duty of the General Assembly, as soon as circumstances permit, … to provide one or more farms to be asylum for those persons, who by age, infirmity, or other misfortunes, may have claim upon the aid and beneficence of society; on such principles, that such persons may therein, find employment, and every reasonable comfort ad lose, by their usefulness, the degrading sense of dependence.”
The establishment of asylums for the poor was required of each county by law in 1821. County commissioners were required to buy land and erect buildings to support the poor and county taxes were used to fund the institutions. During the pioneer era, the county poor farm was the only public welfare institution. County commissioners sought to “employ some humane and responsible person or persons” to take charge upon terms the commissioners found “most advantageous for the interest of the county.” County governments sought to create self-sufficient environments for those in poverty who were elderly, chronically ill, convalescent, mentally ill, disabled, injured, unwed mothers or homeless. Such was the case of the Scott County Home and Poor Farm.
The first Scott County Home was located three miles north of Lexington, the first county seat and was built in 1861, 41 years after the establishment of Scott County by the Indiana Legislature, on 110 acres by James Hallenbeck. This home was used until 1879 when the Courthouse was moved to Scottsburg, the new county seat. Located approximately one mile south of downtown Scottsburg, the home was located on 180 acres allowing for the inhabitants to work the farm and contribute to its upkeep. Residents were housed together and cared for each other. Some managed to leave the home and become productive members of society, but the majority remained their entire lives and knew no other home.
The two-story brick structure was built around 1890 to replace an earlier frame building on the same site. The Indiana Board of State Charities and Corrections was established in 1899 and was required by Indiana law to examine the condition and management of the county homes and make an annual report to the Governor for the use of the Legislature. Under the reporting system by the board, county asylums greatly improved. Records from the Report of the Committee on County Institutions indicates a visit to Scott County’s facility in August of 1889.
While the acreage surrounding the home was reduced greatly over the years, the building continued to function as a poor house until 1973. At this time offices for Scott County public services and government moved in and a few remaining residents were relocated. The building continued to function in this capacity until 19995 when an addition to the Scott County Courthouse fulfilled the need for extra space.
Of the 92 county homes, only 31 remain standing. The Scott County Home remains unaltered in regard to architecture, location, and interior layout. Those changes that have been made throughout the years are largely superficial and could easily be restored to their original.
When the county commissioners were approached by the Scott County Preservation Alliance to pursue the possibility of finding a viable use for the vacant building, a Department of Commerce funded feasibility study provided the necessary assurance that the building would be a good site for a cultural heritage museum. The commissioners donated the property to the local community foundation, which in turn agreed to a 99-year lease with the Scott County Preservation Alliance. A Community Focus Grant was awarded in December of 2000 and work was started to create and adaptive reuse for this piece of Scott County history enabling the stories of Scott County would be shared and told to future generations of our Counties past.
On May 26, 2000, the Scott County Home was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.