Travis County Poor Farm Ledger
An Inventory of the Collection
County poor farms were a part of a limited support system for the poor and homeless created as a part of the 1869 constitution of the state of Texas. These institutions were meant to be a last resort for people who were seen as either too feeble or disabled to care for themselves. Individuals living in poor farms were considered inferior and at times culpable for their situations and as such, the system was not set up to provide for a comfortable existence. In addition to coping with the spartan conditions, citizens who checked themselves in to the poor farm also had to give up their right to vote. The harsh nature of this experience was to ensure that unless one was disabled or elderly, the stay at a poor farm at the county’s expense was temporary. To add to the meager budget allotted to the farms by county government, the farms sold the surplus goods that were not used to feed the inmates of the farm. To assist in this enterprise, non-violent prisoners would be brought in to help the poor farm inmates with farm labor.
In addition to their complicated legacy as a limited public assistance to poor and destitute people, poor farms also stood out among other public services of the time in that they were environments where white people and African American people lived side by side. However, due to Jim Crow and other racist policies, many counties did not want to spend financial resources on African American poor people or convicts. Due to this, in most poor farms across the state, there would often only be one or two African American inmates at a time. Travis County appears to be unusual in this case for the relatively high number of African Americans that were inmates over the life of the farm. There were as many as 12 reported multiple times from 1890-1901.
Superintendents and their spouses, appointed by the Travis County Commissioner's Court, managed the farm and its resources in Travis County. The first superintendent covered in the ledger is Dempsey Council Pace II and his wife Alice Josephine Moore Pace. Dempsey Council Pace II was the son of Dempsey Council Pace I who was a soldier for the Republic of Texas at the Battle of San Jacinto. Dempsey Council Pace II served as a deputy U.S Marshall, an elected county commissioner and the superintendent of the Poor Farm. He served in this capacity until shortly before his death in 1895.
After Pace left the position, a man named Jim C. (or J.C.) Giles was appointed with his wife Emma A. Giles in December of 1894 and was superintendent until about 1901. After leaving the farm, he later went on to serve as a County Commissioner and was eventually appointed chairman of the Commissioner's Court. Giles' successer, a man named L.J. Williams whose name is written at the beginnning of the ledger, was superintendent for a year from 1902-1903.
The Travis County Poor Farm moved several times in its history. Reports and maps list it at Guadalupe and 51st Street near Hyde Park, then near Foster Lane in the Allandale area (which is the probable location when the ledger was in use), before finally moving to just north of Windsor Road in the Tarrytown neighborhood in 1908. This site proved to be its last as, due to the growth of the Tarrytown area, the farm's land appreciated in value. In addition to the desirability of the neighborhood, by the time the poor farm was closed in 1937, systems of social welfare changed considerably and the farm itself had three remaining elderly inmates who were relocated.
The Travis County Poor Farm Ledger covers the activities, population, and expenses for the Travis County Poor Farm from a period of 1890 to roughly 1901. The ledger itself is covered in brown leather and was produced by printer, binder, and stationer Eugene Von Boeckman sometime around December of 1890. The ledger is divided into seven sections:
Space in each of these sections often ran out with later superintendents scrawling information for dates after 1899 in any available blank space they could find. This is especially prominent in Section Four where the last pages of the county convicts lists were commandeered to list supplies purchased for the farm in 1900.
The ledger can be viewed in its entirety on The Portal of Texas History courtesy of the Travis County Archives.
Open to all users
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
This ledger has no donation or transfer documentation on file. Precisely how and when it came to be at the Austin History Center remains unknown.
Travis County Poor Farm Ledger (AR.1991.079) Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Acquisition Date: 1991
Final Processing and Finding Aid By: LaToya Devezin and Johnny Rovell, March, 2017.
Detailed Description of the Collection