Knox County Poorhouse

by Kaylah Stroup
2016, after the fire

If you’ve been reading a while, you might recall how after I got my license I took a lot of little day trips to silly places as often as possible.  After moving to Cleveland I kind of fell out of the habit. I’ve been missing it a lot lately. For 2016 I made two goals that would be accomplished by getting back into the habit of taking these trips; to explore Ohio, and be brave and be alone.

I spent last Sunday night researching places I might want to stop at. While browsing all my regular sites, hoping something would spark my interest, I thought of the Knox County Poorhouse. It’s one of those buildings I had known about for a while but never made it a point to go and check out. On June 26, 2015 the poorhouse caught fire. I thought that I had missed my opportunity and that was a huge bummer. It was an insanely gorgeous building. I did a little research, and found some recent photos. It didn’t burn down completely, it had caught fire. While the building was obviously in very rough shape, from what I could find online it still looked like it might be worth a visit. I decided I was going to make the drive, what was there to lose?

Built in 1875, The Knox County Poorhouse was a place for the poor, and indigent. The mentally ill were sometimes left there by families who could not afford the proper treatment. Many other residents were elderly who had no other place to go. It didn’t take too long before rumors that something wasn’t right began to swirl. Horrible conditions led to more than a few deaths over the years. Supposedly remains were even found in shallow unmarked graves in more recent years. Eventually, 1953, the building was found structurally unstable by a county engineer and subsequently closed but not for too long… The Knox County Poorhouse reopened as a bible college in 1957. It was open for 31 years before closing yet again in 1988. Finally, in it’s last incarnation the poorhouse was used as a haunted house. In 2006 four of the floors collapsed. Since then it’s sat completely abandoned.

abandoned, poorhouse, mt vernon

Monday morning I hopped in the car, equipped with multiple cameras, and headed off with a few spots mapped out. The drive was beautiful. The further I got from home the foggier it got. I absolutely LOVE shooting photos in fog so I nixed my other stops and headed straight to the poorhouse. Much to my dismay around ten minutes before arriving the fog had lifted, I was disappointed to say the least. I turned down the road and there she was. After a long drive, the feeling of seeing what you came for off in the distance is incredibly satisfying. It no longer mattered that it wasn’t foggy, I was just happy to be there. Even in the state the building was in, she was beautiful!! I couldn’t wait to get out of my car and take pictures.

Then I spotted a truck… Seeing that the property is clearly marked “NO TRESPASSING!” there’s no playing dumb and really the property isn’t that large so sneaking around wasn’t an option. Did I really just drive two hours only to see the building and leave with no photos?! I parked across the street, contemplated my options, did a bit of pouting then decided to put on my big girl pants and just go feel out whoever was parked over there. In case y’all need a reminder, I am insanely shy. Things like this, while no big deal to most people, are a huge deal to me. I rehearsed it a few times, “Hey, do you own this place? Would you mind if I took some photos?”, before actually working up the nerve.

I drove over, rolled down my window, and took a deep breath. “Hey!” I blurted out. “Hey!” the man mimicked back in the same tone. I stuttered out my rehearsed speech and to my surprise, he said yes! We traded introductions, and spoke briefly about the building. His name was Larry, he and his wife purchased the poorhouse in September of 2015, shortly after it caught fire. They had plans to turn it into a banquet hall but soon realized it would cost a lot more money than they had anticipated. The city was pressuring them to do something with the building immediately due to the dangerous conditions. The day I showed up to photograph it? Demolition day! What are the chances?! I gathered all my equipment and started off to photograph what was left of this incredible building before it was gone forever.

I don’t know about you but there are just some people I instantly feel at ease with and Larry was definitely one of those people. He joined me after my first lap of the property and together we walked around discussing the building’s history and how sad we both were to see it go. Larry grabbed a flashlight from his vehicle and we both explored inside for the first time. “My wife wouldn’t let me come inside” he joked. It was really special to be able to experience that with a stranger, especially one who is from a totally different generation. To be able to find common ground like that is really awesome. We poked around inside where it was possible, and peeked in all the windows to see the spots we couldn’t otherwise access. My plans for the day were just to get some exterior photos so I definitely got more than I ever expected.

abandoned building, ohio, knox countyLarry searching for the perfect souvenir brick for me to keep.

I’m bummed I never got to see the poorhouse in all it’s glory before it burnt down but I guess it’s pretty darn cool to be able to say I was one of the very, very last people to explore and photograph it before it was torn down. I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a success I consider that little day trip to be. I conquered a fear of mine and was repaid enormously with a personal tour of an incredible piece of history.

A million thanks to Larry for being so kind as to let me photograph his building and giving me a tour. Words cannot express how thankful I am! Part of me couldn’t imagine that it was actually being torn down that same day but a news report along with photos confirm the sad news, the poorhouse is gone forever.

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