County's Poor Farm

By J. A. Sharp
            Sevier County citizens and members of the County Court may be interested to learn that predecessors of our present-day justices of the peace, almost one hundred years ago, considered the sale or exchange of the Poor House Farm on Middle Creek – perhaps proving the adage, “there is nothing new under the Sun.” It should be pointed out, however, that this action of the earlier court was not for the purpose of attracting an industry to Sevier County, but to obtain a more fertile farm and relieve the county from the expense of supporting the unfortunate paupers.
            The oldest minute books in the office of Mr. Ray Miller, County Court Clerk, reveals that the Sevier County Court, the 5th July 1858, voted the B.M. Chandler, clerk of this court to sell to the highest bidder the farm owned county lying on Middle Creek in Sevier County known as the poorhouse farm for not less than thirteen hundred and fifty dollars, “and the vote as recorded was as follows, affirmative: R.M Creswell, J.B Seaton, J.M. Evans, M. Davis, S.W. Randles, J.W. Chamders, Joseph Gaut, Curtis Mills, R.W. Crowson, and C. Johnson; negative; J.H Cate, John T. Havis, P.S Shults, W.H. Trotter, E. Ogle, Lemuel Bogart, T. Maples, D.B. McMahan, and Thomas Matthews.”
            Thus by the close vote of ten to nine this county court of 1858 voted to sell for less than one-tenth of the amount that our court recently voted to sell the same Poor House Farm to the Cherokee Textile Mills for – the court of 1953 will receive fifteen thousand dollars plus several thousand dollars for the reserved timber.
The above action of our forefathers did not stand for long, however, because the same court, 4th October 1858, voted “upon motion of L. Bogart Esq.,” to rescind the former the former action of the court and to postpone the sale until the “next quarterly term of this court.”  And on the same day John Mullendore, A. Lawson, and James C. Murphy were appointed to “ascertain whether a suitable farm for a poor house farm can be purchased and for what price the same can be had and that they report to the next quarterly term of this court.” If this committee made a report it was not recorded by the clerk in the old minute book.
            That the Poor House Farm was not sold and still remained in the possession of the county was shown by the court, 4th January 1857, when it ordered that the “contract made by Poorhouse commissioners with John Kear to keep paupers for the year 1859 be adopted and confirmed by the court, also that the contract of the rent of the poor house farm by said commissioners to Jo Terry be adopted and confirmed by the court.” And on this same date William H. Trotter, H.W. Thomas, and Samuel Chance were appointed commissioners for the year 1859.
            The question of disposing of the Poor House Farm did not down easily, and on 4th July 1859, one year after the original action cited above, the court-appointed Calvin Johnson, Joshua Nichols, and J.M. Evans to “examine and ascertain if a more suitable farm could be procured… and at what price and that they report to the next term…” Again the clerk failed to record any report, but the next term, 3rd October 1859, voted that the commissioners named above, with the assistance of John Mullendore and A. Lawson, be authorized to exchange the “poor farm for another if they think it to the interest of the county and that they report to the next January term of this court.”
            The controversial nature of the Poor Farm issue indicated the very next day, 4th October 1859, when the court voted to rescind its action regarding the exchange of the farm. They now decided to keep it, and on the 2nd January 1860, the contract with the superintendent, John Kear, was renewed and the farm was rented to Robert Montgomery and George Montgomery for the year, 1860. But on the 3rd July 1860, it was again proposed by Samuel Pickens that new commissioners be appointed to “Examine and report at the next quarterly term of this court the propriety of exchanging or procuring a new Site for the poor house.”
            The next session of the court, 2nd October 1060, decided to rent the farm for “cash” for the next year, 1861 and at the same time continued a policy that social welfare workers of today would not approve. The “Squires” voted that the commissioners of the poor proceed to let out the paupers to the lowest bidders responsible after giving notice of the same.”  This vote was as follows, affirmative: John T Havis, D.B. McMahan, P.S. Shults, H.B. Baker, George Rimal, John Bird, W.O. Whaley, Jesse Stafford, Josh Nichols, Samuel Mount, Curtis Mills, and Jesse Davis; negative: N. Patterson, R.M. Creswell, Thomas Matthews, D. Kenner, Joseph Gaut, James A. Pickens, S.W. Randles, James Clark, and Aaron Ownby. But the negative votes of the latter did not indicate their disapproval of the already established practice of selling the paupers to the lowest bidder – they merely voted to postpone the sale until the current terms of the paupers expired.
            Apparently, the intervention of the Civil War in 1861 temporally side-tracked the Poor Farm problem, and a called session of the Sevier County Court, 22nd May 1862, undertook to solve the more urgent matter of obtaining salt for the citizens by appointing William H. Thomas “agent to procure salt from the Virginia Saltworks.” Later Thomas C. Brabson, P.H. Toomy and John Caldwell were named for the same purpose.
            Most Sevier Countians were happy when the Union Army regained control of Tennessee in 1863, and our court demonstrated its strong Union preference by ordering all justices of the peace to take the oath of loyalty to the United States by January 1864 or vacate their offices. At lease on court member, Joshua Nichols of the fifth district proved forthwith his Confederate sympathies by tendering his resignation.
            Not even the salt shortages and the many other disruptions of the Civil War prevented the Poor Farm from raising its ugly head again before the end of the war. On the 3rd of October 1864, the court instructed its clerk to sell the “Poor House farm” to the highest bidder for “not less than eighteen hundred dollars,” but as in the past, it was not sold.
            A complete search of later court minutes probably would disclose that Sevier County’s Poor Farm remained a liability until the year of our Lord, 1953. Now the grandsons and great-grandsons of the men worried with the problem almost one hundred years ago have found a way out of the dilemma by selling the farm to an industry, which should in the future furnish employment at home to many hundreds of Sevier County’s son and daughters.