Exploring The History Of Knoxville, Tennessee’s Poor House/Farm


Most residents of Knoxville, Tennessee are familiar with Maloneyville Road. The road is infamous, because it is home to Knox County’s Detention Facility. Of course, this wasn’t always the case. In the past, the land around 5001 Maloneyville Road was used for many other purposes.

In the early days, Maloneyville was used for a very similar purpose. It was originally used as a poor farm or poor house. For those that do not know, a poorhouse or workhouse was a government-run facility designed to provide support and housing for the needy and dependent.

knoxville poor farm escape

Many years ago, poorhouses were incredibly common. In most cases, each county was responsible for operating its own workhouse. Poorhouses were often looked at as houses of correction in the early days. In May of 1874, the Knoxville Chronicle began advocating for the establishment of a county work-house for Knox County.

Much like asylums and sanatoriums, poorhouses gained a bad reputation over the years. Some poorhouse workers were mistreated and others attempted desperate escapes. Nevertheless, the workers served a vital purpose for their respective communities. In Knox county, the work house inmates aided with the overhauling and rebuilding of old Rutledge Pike in 1882.

At that time, the workhouse had a force of more than sixty convicts. So, why were inmates sent to a workhouse? The reasons were plentiful. Common criminals, such as thieves and fraudsters, often received poorhouse sentences. Those deemed insane may also be sent to a workhouse. Drunks arrested for misbehaving in public could as well.

And of course, poor people were frequently sent to the poorhouse. Poor people incapable of putting in a hard day’s work received assistance and care at the almshouse. Able-bodied poor were required to work. Pauper children were taken on as apprentices. By all accounts, poor houses were surprisingly efficient. Workers often grew enough food and worked enough to cover the cost of their own upkeep.

While poor farms received a lot of support, they began to decline in 1935 with the passage of the Social Security Act. Most disappeared completely by 1950. Knox County’s Poor House eventually had its name changed to the George Maloney Home. The poor house had a chapel and its very own pauper’s cemetery.

Eventually, the property once used by the George Maloney Home was taken over by the Beverly Hills Sanatorium. That healthcare facility was best known as a tuberculosis sanatorium. Then, Knox County decided to build a penal institution on the property. Today, the property is home to the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility.

The pauper’s cemetery still remains. Knox County’s Poor Farm possesses a wealth of interesting history. In future episodes, Quicker Liquor Finder will delve deeper into the poor farm, its operation, its inhabitants, and some of its most notable events. Please subscribe for future updates!

December 4, 2017 |

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