Winnebago County Asylum, County Home and Poor Farm Records, 1867-1969

Summary Information
Title: Winnebago County Asylum, County Home and Poor Farm Records
Inclusive Dates: 1867-1969

  • Winnebago County Asylum, County Home and Poor Farm (Wis.)
Call Number: Winnebago Series 61

Quantity: 20.4 c.f. (13 archives boxes and 31 volumes)

Archival Locations:
UW-Oshkosh Polk Library / Oshkosh Area Research Ctr. (Map)

Records of Winnebago County's asylum, county home and poor farm which opened in 1871. This series only contains records of the institution from 1867 to 1969 by which time the asylum operations were known as the Winnebago County Hospital and the county home was known as Pleasant Acres. The records document the administration of the institution(s) as an asylum, county home and poor farm, and information about the population of the institution(s) in general. Administrative records include minutes of the Board of Trustees meetings (1889-1956) and financial records (1913-1951). Patient records (1867-1969) contain biographical data on residents and some information on individual patient care.


There is a restriction on access to this material; see the Administrative/Restriction Information portion of this finding aid for details.

Language: English

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Winnebago County's asylum, county home and poor farm cared for the mentally ill and indigent. The institution was known by different names at various times as Winnebago County asylum, County Home and Poor farm (circa 1873); the County Asylum and Winnebago County Poor Farm (1893); Winnebago County Asylum Farm, Winnebago County Asylum for the Chronically Insane, County Home (1913); Winnebago County Hospital (1957), Pleasant Acres (1961); and the Park View Health Center (1973). County homes had their origin in the poorhouses which were created by the Wisconsin poorhouse law enacted in 1849. Poorhouses were managed by a Superintendent of the Poor who was subject to the direction and control of the County Board of Supervisors. Early poorhouses were often repositories for social outcasts and indigents where little effort was made to segregate criminals, the insane, orphans, the aged, and the physically disabled. The recognition of the deplorable conditions in poorhouses by the State Board of Charities and Reform and the gradual movement throughout the United States to establish more sophisticated public relief programs, changed the role of poorhouses to providing care mainly for aged indigents and seriously ill persons unable to live alone and lacking relatives willing or able to provide a home for them.

In March of 1865, the Board of Trustees of Winnebago County created a county-based program to care for the poor. At the time this care was often extended to those deemed to be insane, feebleminded, epileptic, blind, or deaf, as well as unwed expectant mothers. Disadvantaged elderly and children were also considered eligible for help. The program was administered by three supervisors initially known as the Poor Commissioners of Winnebago County. The County Board first rented a house on Pearl Street in Oshkosh that had previously been used as a poor house by the city. Later that same year, the Poor Commissioners purchased farm land to construct a new facility in the unincorporated community of Winnebago.

By 1871, the county completed construction of the Winnebago County Poor Farm. While there is some uncertainty, it appears that only one main building was constructed and that it served as both a poor house and an insane asylum. In addition, the Poor Farm site also included barns and sheds for livestock and farm machinery. Physically capable patients of the asylum provided labor for the farm, producing crops and dairy products that were either consumed by the residents or sold to offset the operating costs of the institutions. In 1882/1883, another wing was added to the brick building to further separate the poor from the mentally insane. At this point, following 1881 legislation establishing a new system for the care of the chronically insane by counties, the institutions began to become more distinctly separate.

In 1893, a separate building for the County Asylum, designed by local architect William Waters, was constructed at the cost of $60,000. Subsequently, “Poor Farm” referred to the farm itself, the new building was referred to as the “County Asylum” and the old building the “County Poor House.” In 1900, the Trustees of the Asylum requested funds from the County Board to enlarge the Asylum dining room, increase storage, establish a hospital operating room, and construct a large barn for stock and hay. The newly constructed barn burned down the following year. Two more barns were built and then burned in succession.

Until 1902, when a disagreement occurred between the county board and Trustees of the Asylum, one superintendent oversaw the operations at all institutions. A separation of roles occurred when the County Board elected one man to assume the role of superintendent of the Poor House only, and the former joint supervisor became the superintendent of the County Asylum. The threat of smallpox prompted the creation of an isolation ward at the Poor Farm in 1909 where all new inmates were screened by the County Physician prior to acceptance for residency. In 1912, the County Board began using an unoccupied portion of the County Poor House as a tuberculosis sanatorium. This practice continued until 1915, when the construction of Sunny View Tuberculosis Sanatorium (built on the same property of the Poor House and County Asylum) was completed.

In 1913, the Poor Farm was renamed the Winnebago County Asylum Farm, the Asylum was renamed the Winnebago County Asylum for the Chronically Insane, and the Poor House was renamed the County Home. During the 1930s, several expansion projects were completed on the campus: a heat plant and creamery were added, bathrooms were remodeled, and two detention wings were added within the County Asylum. On June 18, 1944, the County Home was struck by lightning and caught fire resulting in a complete loss of the structure. After the fire, residents of the County Home were housed in the County Asylum. In 1945, a new asylum building was proposed by the County Board with plans to renovate the existing building into the County Home for the Aged/Retired. Due to financial difficulties and conflicting visions for the new building, construction for the new asylum did not begin until 1950. The new asylum, renamed the Winnebago County Hospital, was completed in 1957 and included a guidance center.

The old asylum building, now used solely by the County Home, was renovated and included a beauty parlor, barber shop, and bowling alley. In 1961, the County Home was renamed Pleasant Acres. Even though the County Home had undergone extensive renovations, problems with termites, a cracked foundation, and antiquated plumbing caused the State Department of Public Welfare to declare the facility in violation of safety standards. With repair costs soaring, the County Board decided to construct a new building. Construction began in 1966 and was completed in 1967. In 1968, the old County Home burned down during demolition.

In 1965, the County Board decided that the farm was not financially viable and auctioned off the livestock and equipment. The buildings were demolished in 1968, and the County Board voted to transfer the Poor Farm land to the jurisdiction of the Conservation, Park and Recreation Committee. A new park (Winnebago County Community Park) was created on the land.

In 1973 the Winnebago County Hospital (originally the County Asylum), Pleasant Acres (formally the County Home), and the Guidance Center (part of the Winnebago County Hospital), were renamed the Park View Health Center. Today Park View consists of the Rehabilitation Pavilion and Pleasant Acres and serves as the County Nursing Home for individuals with short-term rehabilitation and long-term needs including dementia, Alzheimer's disease, psychiatric diagnoses, and developmentally disabled individuals who required nursing home care. In 2006/2007, a new building was constructed to replace the aging facilities.


Wisconsin Historical Records Survey Division of Community Service Programs Work Projects Administration. County Government in Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Historical Records Survey, 1942, volume III.

Koppelberger, G. A History of the Winnebago County Poor Farm. [Oshkosh, Wisconsin: s.n., 1985?]

Goff, Charles D., and Martin Gruberg. A History of Winnebago County Government. Oshkosh, Wisconsin: Martin Gruber, 1998.

Scope and Content Note

The records document the administration of the institution through most of its existence, information about the population of the institution in general, and limited information about individual patients. This series can be used for research on medical history, the history of public assistance agencies, and medical, legal, and social practices related to the treatment of the insane, the aged, and the poor. Researchers seeking information on individual patients should begin with the various inmate records (Archives Volumes 27-38). When requesting a volume, use the “Archives Volume” number.

The collection is arranged into two main series: ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS and PATIENT RECORDS.

The ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS deal with the management of the institution and consist of two subseries: administrative minutes and financial records. The minutes, 1889-1956, contain proceedings of meetings of the Board of Trustees as well as statements of funds and letters to the board. Topics include the hiring of doctors and superintendents of buildings and also repairs and costs to run buildings. Despite using the Asylum letterhead for correspondence, during the period documented in these records, the Board appeared to oversee both the asylum and the poor house/county home.

The financial records date mainly 1913-1951 and contain various volumes that record accounts payable and receivable. The Journals, 1894-1911, contain mainly payroll expenditures. The Payroll records, 1944-1946, include payroll date, name of employee, board, wages, tax and net wages earned. The volumes also include job descriptions for full time employees as well as their addresses. County Asylum/farm employees are listed on pages 1-46 and County Home employees are listed on pages 47-51. Expenditures, 1904-1951, cover the costs of products and services and appear to be for the Asylum only, but they could also cover the County Home. The voucher registers, 1913-1951, include payroll, expenditures, transfers (includes transfers/credits to County Home). The ledgers, 1913-1951, sometimes called “Transfer General Ledgers,” include accounts for land improvements, sewage disposal, machinery and equipment repair/funds, livestock, utilities, and more. Information includes date, description, debits, credits, and balances. Entries are arranged by account number and thereunder by date. Some information is duplicated throughout these books. The Cash receipts, 1913-1951, list payments made to Asylum for care of inmates, agricultural items, overaged bills, interest from accounts, and more.

PATIENT RECORDS consist of two subseries: financial and population records. Patient financial records include records relating to patients personal finances and property. The inmates Cash Ledger, 1914-1948, includes a record of charges made against inmates' accounts for clothing, postage, food, burial costs and other goods and services. Also included are deposits made to their accounts and credits for work done as well as lists of property confiscated from inmates. Entries are arranged in segments by account number. Clothing Transfers, 1900-1910 & 1930-1942, record clothing given to residents and its value and lists the home community of the resident, possibly for billing purposes. Entries in Archives Volume 25 appear to have no discernable order while entries in Archives Volume 26 are alphabetical by the inmate’s last name. After some investigation, the first volume (Archives Volume 25), at least, is believed to be from the County Home.

Patient population records provide mostly biographical information and to a lesser extent document the care and treatment of the inmates. The Reference Book (Asylum), 1871, 1880s–1914, appears to function as an index. Entries are arranged by the first letter of the surname and list name, date of admission, nationality, age, county of residence, remarks on transfer or parole, returns, from who admitted or returned to. Many individuals have multiple entries distinguished only by a change in age. These entries are NOT necessarily the only record of time spent in the asylum, however, as evidence shows some inmates were there longer than the multiple entries suggest.

Record of Inmates (Asylum), 1880s-1900, record patient name, age, nationality, admission date, cause of invalidity, when discharged, county to which care is charged, and death date or comments on the individual. Archives Volume 28 contains inmates from other counties with entries grouped in sections by county of origin, thereunder at times by gender and thereunder alphabetically by name. Archives Volume 29 contains inmates from Winnebago County and are divided into two main sections by gender and thereunder alphabetically by name. Inmate Record Books (Asylum), 1895-1935, include similar information including name, personal history, relatives, short family history, nationality, aliment, criminal history and medical history. One of these volumes includes individuals who were not discharged; the other includes those who died, were discharged, paroled, or transferred, and include the date of those events.

Entries in the Inmate Record Books (Poor Home/County Home), 1867-1939, are arranged by home community and thereunder by year. Entries include name, age, nationality, when received, cause of invalidity, discharge date, death date, remarks, last residence and expenses, 1867-1939. The Charges for Care of Inmates/Transfers (Poor Home/County Home), 1939-1953, book consists of two sections. The first section, “Care of Inmates/Monthly Time Records,” lists inmates by community, dates of admission, date of departure, how many weeks/days in residence and if died or released, 1943-1953. The second section primarily records transfers and/or deaths, listing inmates' religion, age, marital status, trade/profession, remarks and nearest relation when transferred, 1939-1945.

The Doctor's Call Book (Asylum), 1914-1955 records doctor visits to sick inmates and includes patients name, date, diagnosis, and treatment including any medicine prescribed. This volume documents the extent of the 1918 influenza pandemic at the Asylum.

The Movement of Population (Asylum and County Home) volumes, 1914-1969, records individuals moving in and out of the two institutions. Entries include date of movement, patient name, actual number of inmates in institution on that date, inmate's county of residence, from where they were received and how discharged; if death, the record includes date and time of death. The Asylum's Day and Night Watch Log Books, 1951-1964, list general activities of a ward during day and night shifts and, at times, specific patient status often by the hour. Log books are organized by gender, ward and by time of day. Day books tend to be for hours 7AM – 7PM, night from 7PM to 7AM. Earlier years (before October of 1960) are more detailed. A volume of “outside” watch book includes observations of the grounds at night. The Visitors' Log (Asylum), 1953-1961 includes visitor's name, address, and the name of the patient visited.

Related Material

Wisconsin. County Court (Winnebago County): Records of Cases of Insanity, 1881-1937 (Winnebago Series 105) may contain the commitment papers for residents.

Administrative/Restriction Information
Access Restrictions

Records that identify individuals receiving care or aid are confidential under s. 51.30 and 49.001, 2005-06 Wis. Stat. Researchers wishing to use these records should consult the reference archivist.

Acquisition Information

Accession Number: C2008/007

Contents List
Winnebago Series 61
Series: Administrative Records, 1894-1956
Subseries: Board of Trustees minutes, 1889-1956
Box   1
Volume   1
1889 November-1910 December
Box   1
Volume   2
1911 January-1929 December
Box   1
Volume   3
1929 December-1940 December
Box   1
Volume   4
194 January-1951 June
Box   2
Volume   5
1951 June-1956 January
Subseries: Financial records, 1894-1951
Journals, Asylum/Poor Home
Volume   6
, 1894 October-1911 December (Asylum)
Volume   7
1903 February-1904 June (Poor Home, pages 1-17; Asylum [continued from volume 1], page 19)
Payroll Record, Asylum and County Home
Volume   8
1944 January-1946
Expenditures, Asylum and possibly County Home
Volume   9
1904 January-1911 July
Volume   10
1911 July-1919 August
Volume   11
1919 September-1928 April
Volume   12
1928 May-1951 February
Voucher Registers, Asylum/County Hospital
Volume   13
1913 July-1919 August
Volume   14
1919 September-1927 July
Volume   15
1927 July-1933 July
Volume   16
1933 August-1938 November
Volume   17
1938 December-1943 December
Volume   18
1944 January-1948 December
Volume   19
1949 January-1951 June
Ledgers, Asylum
Volume   20
Box   3
Volume   21
circa 1930-1947
Box   3
Volume   22
Cash Receipts, Asylum/County Hospital
Volume   23
1913 July-1951 September
Series: Patient Records, 1867-1969
Access Restrictions: Records that identify individuals receiving care or aid are confidential under s. 51.30 and 49.001, 2005-06 Wis. Stat. Researchers wishing to use these records should consult the reference archivist.
Subseries: Financial records, circa 1900-1948
Inmates Cash Ledger, Asylum
Box   4
Volume   24
Clothing Transfer, County Home
Volume   25
circa 1900-circa 1910
Volume   26
Subseries: Population records, 1867-1969
Reference Book, Asylum
Volume   27
1871, circa 1880-1914
Record of Inmates, Asylum
Box   5
Volume   28
circa 1880-circa 1900, other counties
Box   5
Volume   29
circa 1880-circa 1900, Winnebago County
Inmate Record Books, Asylum
Volume   30
1895-1935, inmates not discharged
Volume   31
1885-1935, inmates discharged, died, paroled, transferred
Inmate Record Books, Poor Home/County Home
Volume   32
Volume   33
Volume   34
Charge for Care/Time Record/Transfers, Poor Home/County Home
Volume   35
Movement of Population, Asylum and County Home
Volume   36
1914-1969, Asylum pages 1-159; , 1943-1968, Poor Home, pages 160-195
Doctors Call Book, Asylum
Volume   37
1914 July-1955 May
Day and Night Watch Log Books, Asylum
Women's Wards E100 and F100
Box   6
Volume   38
, 1955 December-1957 May AM
Box   6
Volume   39
, 1957 May-1957 September AM/PM
Box   6
Volume   40
, 1957 September-1957 December AM/PM
Box   6
Volume   41
, 1957 December-1958 June AM/PM
Box   7
Volume   42
, 1962 January-1963 May AM/PM
Box   7
Volume   43
, 1953 June-1954 July PM
Box   7
Volume   44
, 1954 July-1955 December PM
Box   7
Volume   45
, 1955 December-1957 March PM
Box   8
Volume   46
, 1957 March-1957 December PM
Women's Wards E200 and F200
Box   8
Volume   47
, 1956 November-1957 May AM/PM
Box   8
Volume   48
, 1957 May-1957 November AM/PM
Box   8
Volume   49
, 1957 November-1958 April AM/PM
Box   9
Volume   50
, 1952 November-1954 November PM
Box   9
Volume   51
, 1954 November-1956 January PM
Box   9
Volume   52
, 1956 January-1957 April PM
Box   9
Volume   53
, 1957 April-1958 June PM
Box   10
Volume   54
, 1960 June-1960 June PM
Men's Wards G100 and H100
Box   10
Volume   55
, 1956 December-1958 October AM
Box   10
Volume   56
, 1961 October-1963 February AM
Box   10
Volume   57
, 1963 February-1964 February AM
Box   11
Volume   58
, 1957 May-1958 June PM
Men's Wards G200 and H200
Box   11
Volume   59
, 1956 December-1959 July AM
Box   11
Volume   60
, 1959 July-1961 October AM
Box   12
Volume   61
, 1951 December-1955 March PM (probably men's ward)
Box   12
Volume   62
, 1955 March-1957 January PM (probably men's ward)
Box   12
Volume   63
, 1957 January-1958 January PM
Box   12
Volume   64
1960 October-1962 July
No ward listed. Includes both men and women
Box   13
Volume   65
, 1962-1963 AM/PM
Outside Watch
Box   13
Volume   66
1954 July-1958 April
Visitors' Log, Asylum
Volume   67
1953 March-1955 November
Volume   68
1955 November-1958 September
Volume   69
1958 September-1960 June
Volume   70
1960 June-1961 January