In late October of 1917, while reports of death on a monstrous scale in World War I dominated the front pages of Lima’s newspapers, a woman who had been under the county’s care since the Civil War passed away almost unnoticed.
“Miss Mollie Sharp, aged 78 years, died at the Allen County Infirmary last night after an illness of 40 years. Miss Sharp went to the infirmary nearly 55 years ago, when a young woman, and helped clear away the woods where the buildings are now located,” The Lima News reported Oct. 26, 1917.
With no living relatives, a brief service was held at the infirmary, and Sharp was “laid to rest at the county cemetery,” the newspaper wrote.
Sharp had been a resident of the Infirmary for nearly as long as the institution existed. Approved by the county in February 1857 as a place for the county’s indigent, the Infirmary opened in 1859 on Ada Road in Bath Township.
“A few days ago we visited the County Infirmary, for the first time since its opening, and … were shown over the premises,” Lima’s Weekly Gazette reported in July 1859. “The farm, with a little management, will, we think, prove a good one. There is this season, under cultivation, 32 acres of corn, 21 acres of wheat, 9 or 10 acres of oats, besides a couple of acres potatoes, and garden stuffs sufficient for the institution.”
Over the years, the Ada Road institution housed the sick and destitute, prisoners, orphans, the physically and mentally disabled and the “insane.” Which category Sharp fit into is not known.
In the early 1960s, the old red brick building Sharp had lived in for so long was razed and replaced by a white, concrete structure. Thirty years later, Allen County leased the site to a private healthcare company. It has been vacant since about 2010 and became a target for thieves and vandals. The roof collapsed years ago. In April of this year, the county announced the 62,000 square-foot building at 3125 Ada Road would be demolished and, along with the 70 acres of surrounding, county-owned farmland and woods, redeveloped.
The original infirmary building itself was part of a working farm, with many of the residents tending the surrounding fields as well as the hogs and cows kept in two large barns. Other residents worked in the gardens or in housekeeping. Two large, red barns, which today are part of the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District, were part of the Infirmary farm.
During Sharp’s more than half a century there, the infirmary was enlarged several times and was at one time the focus of a bitter political feud. The Allen County Republican reported in September 1889 the county had approved building a one-story insane asylum on the grounds.
“This is certainly a good move, as the quarters where the hopeless insane of our county have been kept in the Infirmary building has been entirely too inadequate, and to care for them properly was almost an impossibility,” the newspaper noted.
In the early 1890s, the county decided to build a separate children’s home in Shawnee Township. In early April 1893, the children, described as “the outcasts and the friendless” by the Allen County Republican-Gazette, were moved from the Infirmary to their new home.
“H.B. Core’s big wagon and two others brought them the seven miles,” the newspaper wrote. “It was an interesting sight to see them. The boys were on the tip toe of expectancy standing with hats in hand gazing anxiously around long before the place was reached.”
In January 1913, supervision of the Infirmary as well as the Children’s Home, which had been under the auspices of the state, was placed under the county commissioners. Even with three Democratic commissioners — Beech Graham, Enos Huffer and Arthur Fisher — a political feud developed almost immediately.
Initially, Delbert McBride was handed the infirmary superintendent’s post, but David E. Baxter, a local Democratic Party bigwig, decided he had a better man for the job — his cousin, Jacob C. Baxter. Commissioners Graham and Huffer were convinced by Baxter to support his cousin, while Fisher stuck with McBride and vowed to fight the re-election of Graham and Huffer, who hoped McBride would go quietly. He didn’t.
Alleging McBride’s short tenure was rife with mismanagement, Graham and Huffer voted to dismiss him in December 1913. McBride, however, refused to be dismissed, and the county briefly had two infirmary superintendents. The mess was turned over to the courts, which, after holding several contentious hearings, decided McBride had to go. He finally did in March 1914, although by then the political careers of all involved were well on their way to ruin.
In 1921, the name of the Infirmary was changed to the Allen County Home.
“By that time, residents were predominantly the older people who could not care for themselves either physically or financially,” The Lima News noted.
By 1961, the Allen County Home was showing its age and, despite the yeoman efforts of superintendent Floyd Jett and his wife, Ruth, the home’s matron, the more-than-100-year-old structure was a nightmare to keep clean and safe as the number of residents increased. Walter O. Seiling, chairman of a committee formed to push for passage of a bond issue to finance a new home, wrote in The Lima News that the home “was antiquated, a fire trap and a hazard in the community … it has steep and narrow stairways and not enough fire escapes. If it ever caught fire, we’d never be able to rescue all the people.”
The community agreed a new home was needed, passing the bond issue handily. In late November 1963, with the new white brick home on the verge of opening, Mrs. Jett expressed her relief.
“Within a month, Mrs. Floyd Jett, matron of the Allen County Home, can forget her big fear of the past 15 years,” the Lima Citizen wrote Nov. 26, 1963. “Residents will be moved soon into the bright and tidy new concrete and block fireproof home. ‘And I’ll worry about fires no more,’ says Mrs. Jett.”
The new $875,000 home was ready for occupancy as the new year of 1964 began.
“Now the 55 patients at the County Home will move into a modern, well-heated, well-equipped building complete with hospital wing and medical facilities,” the Toledo Blade wrote Jan. 15, 1964. “With a capacity of 135, the new home should provide for Allen County’s aged for some time, but matron Mrs. Ruth Jett says the building could be filled almost immediately.”
In 1972 the Allen County Home was renamed the Allen Inn, and The Lima News columnist Hope Strong paid a visit.
“Spending a day at the home is an eye-opener … a far, far cry from the stereotype ‘poor house.’ Individual and public rooms are in bright and cheerful colors. Many of the residents have favorite chairs, lamps and treasured accessories decorating their rooms,” Strong wrote Oct. 8, 1972.
The Allen Inn became the Allen County Healthcare Center in 1988. Five years later, the county, concerned about the increasing expense of running the home, leased the building to Plus Management Services. The building would remain a private care facility until 2007. It was subsequently used as housing for nearby OSU-Lima until about 2010.
Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]