The Past

The Johnson County Historic Poor Farm is one of the few remaining relatively intact examples of the county farm model established in the 19th Century. 

First opened in 1855 to care for the indigent, the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill, the concept of the Poor Farm reflected the prevailing attitude that fresh air and work would be good for the “poor unfortunates.” The farm was to be self-supporting and residents were expected to do farm chores to the extent of their abilities.


Recognizing Our History

“The 1855 Johnson County Historic Poor Farm is a window on nineteenth century definitions and policy dealing with perceived social problems. The need to care for the poor or mentally ill had been established in the United States in the 1820’s as a duty of the state and local governments. This duty was recognized early in Johnson county history.


The County chose first to contract care usually from local physicians. In 1855, the Johnson County supervisors decided to procure 160 acres on the edge of Iowa City for a “poor farm” to provide systematic care with economy.


The Johnson County Historic Poor Farm site is important to Iowa’s history, telling the story of the county’s care for its citizens from the earliest days until today.”

-The Johnson County Historical Society


Recording Our History

The history of the Johnson County Historic Poor Farm was captured in the listing of the site on the National Register of Historic Places on September of 2014. This report, conducted by Leah Rogers, Director of Tallgrass Historians, outlines a very detailed account of the genesis of Poor Farms in America, the historic building structures, and the day-to-day life of residents.

All historic documentation is on the Johnson County Website.

  • 2002 National Register of Historic Places

  • 2003 Farm Planning Study Final Report

  • 2012 Poor Farm Update

  • 2013 Steinmetz Report of Site Visit for RFP

  • 2014 Ground Penetrating Radar Results (GPR) 

  • 2015 Public Forum Summary

  • 2016-17 Master Plan Phases 1&2