Ellis County Museum

The annual Gingerbread Trail tour of homes benefits the Ellis County Museum.

For many years, citizens of Ellis County have heard of the county farm. It has served the county as a type of prison and as a home for the poor.

The county farm, or poor farm as it was also known, wasn’t thought about seriously until February of 1882. The county commissioners appointed a committee to locate a suitable site for a farm. Those serving on the committee were Sheriff W.D. Ryburn; M.B. Templeton, who served as county judge and county attorney during the 1880s; and J.R. Farrar. The committee started its investigation, and several farms were considered for purchase.

The farm finally selected was located east of Waxahachie. It contained 370 acres, of which 200 were under cultivation. The farm was purchased from John Dunlap and his wife for $5,865. The county paid approximately $16 per acre for it: $4,000 cash and a note for $1,865. O.E. Dunlap executed the note. So, by October of 1883, the county had a farm. Commissioners Dunn and Higginbotham were instructed to buy supplies for the setting up of the poor farm. John Evans was named the first supervisor. William Ralston and E.J. Garrett also served as supervisors in the 1880s. During the early years, the farm housed as many as 18 paupers. It was then used as a convict farm as well as a poor farm.

Through the years a concrete poor house and a jail were added. Also added were cattle barns and a house for the mentally ill. For those people with dreaded diseases, a house called a “pest house” was built in the middle of a pasture. Two cemeteries were started. One was a potter’s field where paupers were buried and the other was for use by those who died at the “pest house.”

In recent times, the farm has been leased out to farmers; the houses have been torn down and the cemeteries have become grown over. An old poor house and jail building are still standing.

This work by Brenda Carrington originally appeared in the Ellis County Junior Historians’ anthology, a project led by Waxahachie ISD educator Billy Hancock during the years 1977-1981. The works, which have been lightly edited for use in the Sun, are reproduced in their original form in a single anthology, “This Was Ellis County: An Historical Perspective,” available at the Ellis County Museum, 201 S. College St., in historic downtown Waxahachie. All proceeds from the book’s sales benefit the museum’s program of work.

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