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Prairie View Nursing Home-History

Lewis County Poor Farm
Lewistown, Missouri
The following is the result of research in the records of the county,
as well as through documents found in the Lewis County Historical Society.
     On January 10, 1927, the County Of Lewis purchased from Cora E. Porter, and George and Inez Humphrey 160 acres of land for the purpose of constructing a County Infirmary. In 1940, Lucius D. Paterson died, and in his estate, he left $27,126.39 in a fund under the custody of the county court, for the use of the county home, for the support of poor and dependent and for no other purpose whatever. This money could be used towards land, materials, or upkeep of the property. With this money, an additional 160 acres, at a cost of $6400, was purchased by Lewis County from William Z. Conner, and attached to the existing property. And additional $4000 was used to build a new barn on the property. In 1991, 10 acres was sold for $15,000, this was the site for the current County Aire Estates. But the history of Prairie View and the Lewis County Poor Farm goes a lot further back than this purchase.
     The Missouri Statues of 1889 addressed the care of the poor. The statute states that poor persons shall be "relieved, maintained, and supported by the county of which they are inhabitants." It also gave the county the right to "purchase and lease land, any quantity in the respective county, not exceeding three hundred and twenty acres, and receive a conveyance to their county for the same." The county was to hire a superintendent, who must keep records of expenses, and can cause persons kept at such poorhouses, who are able to do useful labor, to perform the same by reasonable and humane coercion." Lewis County was ahead of its time, as it had already established a way to care for its poor and unfortunate.
    The first Lewis County Poor Farm was at the home of Benjamin and Ann Pittsford, located six miles southwest of Lewistown. A transient person stopped at the home in 1854, and being too sick to travel, stayed with the Pittsfords. So many people stayed there due to illness or being unable to care for themselves, the Pittsfords requested assistance from the state for the care rendered.
     In 1873, Lewis County acquired land east of Canton, Missouri for $5999.53. The land amounted to 173 acres. The facility officially opened April 5, 1873, with the first registered "inmates" admitted on May 1, 1873. In 1885, Lewis County purchased additional land, the final total land size was 268 acres. The Platt Map from 1917 shows the Lewis County Farm at the intersection of what is now Moosewood Street and County Road 526, having a total of 268 acres.
     The facility served a very useful purpose, but violent deaths were not unheard of. In 1886, a 65 year old man, Pleasant Prophet, was attached by another inmate, James Shelton (noted to have had dementia) with a hoe while working in the fields, e died as a result of that attack. In another incident, Lafe Thompson was struck by Frank Milton with a cane, sustaining a fractured skull and eventual death. Earlier, Thompson had raised his cane against Lou Mazingo, and Milton had stopped him. Thompson had gone to an orchard to cut a cane, apparently t complete the earlier attack when he was struck by Milton. There is also a listing for the death of a 6 year old boy in 1899, notation was that the boy did not have any lower extremities (cause unknown.) The Lewis County Platt Map of 1878 lists this area as the "Infirmary," while later Platt Maps lists the facility as the Lewis County Farm, or Lewis County Home.
     When the property was reported to no longer be safe, it was decided that something had to be done about establishing a new facility. As early as April, 1912, steps were taken towards establishing a building to house the poor farm. Lewis County had previously established additional taxes to be levied on property, with the additional going towards the building fund. Additional taxes were at 7 cents on $100 in 1912, 3 cents in a following year, 4 cents in 1926, and 11 cents in 1927, for a total of 15 cents per $100 assessed value. This resulted in the building being paid for when it was completed. The cost of the facility was $50,527. The County purchased the 160 acres from George Humphrey for $13,000 while selling him the site of the previous Poor Farm for $10,000. The corner stone of the building was laid on July 4, 1927, with a ceremony that was attended by 2000 persons. The three-story building, measuring 50 feet by 100 feet, was completed and formally opened December 10, 1927. The first superintendent was William E. Underbrink and his wife Kittie. They had been listed as the superintendent of the previous facility starting in 1920. They continued to be the superintendent until 1954.
     The first floor, or the basement, was the location of the Negro dormitory. Also on this level was located the laundry, the butter-making room, the furnace and boiler room. There was also a dining room on this level to be used by the Negro "inmates."
     The second floor was accessed from the entrance into the lobby. From there, one side was the main dining room, used by the white inmates, with the superintendent's dining room and kitchen to one side, while the resident's kitchen was to the other side. From the lobby the other direction was the men's quarters.
     The third floor housed the superintendent's apartment, which consisted of 6 rooms, and a reception room for visitors. The women's quarters were located on this level, with 12 small room with a bed, 5 wards containing 8-10 beds, and 5 bathrooms for residents use. Also on this floor could be found the porch, sewing room, and a guest room with private bath, closets, and electrical refrigeration. This area was separated from the rest of the building.
     Each bed was made of steel, with springs, two mattresses, plenty of blankets, and a bedspread. All beds were to be made regularly in the morning.
     The building was very unique for its time. Self closing fire doors separated the coal room from the boiler room and adjacent corridors. There were chemical fire extinguishers throughout the building. The only wood used in the building was the roof, around the doors and windows, and the door and windows themselves. The building was wired for radio with loud speakers in the corridors, the control in the superintendent's apartment. Private rooms were available for married or related persons, the infirmed, the diseased, and the spasmodically demented.
     After the grand opening, visiting days were limited to Thursdays, to allow people to tour the building, but to not interfere with the date to date operations of the facility.
     The Lewis County Home, as it was called in those days, was designed to be self-sustaining. All able-bodied inmates were requested to work to help out, and many took great pride in doing this. Those that were sick or unable to do these tasks were not punished. In an article from December, 1936, it was shown that the facility had a vegetable garden and a potato field. The farm also contained hogs, 4 head of fine horses, 14 dairy cows, a bull and heifers, and approximately 300 chickens. A big lake at one end of the property provided the water for the facility use.
      An article from 1932 shows the facility had 43 residents, had planted 34 bushels of potatoes, and 1½ bushels of onion sets. They had also killed 30 hogs the previous fall. Reports where that the residents ate very well, with full meals three times a day. 
     In an article dated January, 1933, reference is made to Mr. Underbrink having plotted the cemetery. Previous to this, the cemetery in the back of the property held unmarked graves. Mr. Underbrink made coffins for the inmates that died, as well as pouring cement forms to fashion tombstones.
    Christmas was always celebrated in style. A tree graced the facility, and local merchants donated fruits, candies, wearing apparel, and tobacco. Santa Claus visited to celebrate the season. A full meal was enjoyed by all.
     In 1953, the new water plant building was erected in the now Prairie View Rest Home. The land had now been expanded to 320 acres, and was leased to Mrs. Underbrink and her son Clyde. They show having 30 dairy cows, 250 hens, a few shoats, and the previous fall had canned 100 gallons of  tomatoes and 150 gallons of green beans, all done in glass jars.
     In 1955, Prairie View Rest Home was leased to private individuals, and our of the control of the county. On January 30, 1957, the facility became incorporated. Prairie View was listed as a 69-bed facility, back in the control of the county. In 1957, the county leased Prairie View to a non-profit organization, on a 1-year lease at nominal rental fee, to be better able to control the facility. The aim was to have a self-supporting and more comfortable facility. The first superintendents of this facility were Paul and Betty Shuman.
     On October 1, 1959, the Missouri Division of Health issued a Practical Nursing Home License to Prairie View Rest Home.
     In 1975, the proposal was made for a new facility, due to changes in government regulations and the age of the building. In 1991, Country Aire Retirement Estates was completed, and the move of the remaining residents out of Prairie View and into the new facility was completed in November of that year. The old building was considered as a site of a jail, but no additional information could be obtained for that venture.
     Review of the death records from the facility shows at least 173 deaths listed at Prairie View from the time the doors opened in 1927 until 1954. Some additional names are listed, but we have not been able to verify their deaths as being at the facility. No death of a child can be confirmed at Prairie View.
     Through 1947, death certificates list the facility as Lewis County Home. In 1949, the death certificates list the facility as Prairie View Rest Home. We have not been able to acertain the exact date that the name change occurred, but feel it was in 1948.
      The facility is now in the care of the county commissioners of Lewis County.


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