New mural recalls history of Will County Poor Farm
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org July 22, 2012 6:54PM
Kathleen Scarboro from Friends of Community Public Art designed The mural that honors the Eill County Poor Farm and cemetery.
Updated: August 24, 2012 6:02AM
JOLIET — They spent their lives in the fabric, not the fanfare, of history.
A new mural recalls the history of the Will County Poor Farm, which housed orphans, the elderly, the homeless and many others who needed care.
The mural, dedicated Thursday, is at the Joliet Park District soccer fields on Mission Boulevard, south of McDonough Street.
The Poor Farm operated from 1850 to 1955. Only two physical structures are still standing to remind people of its existence: the administrative building of the Illinois Youth Center and the Poor Farm Cemetery, said Gina Wysocki, vice president of the Will County Historical Society.
“Regrettably, many people died alone and unknown to society while residing at this poorhouse,” Wysocki said. “Many of the paupers were pioneers and are buried without any record or documentation of their existence.”
“Despite our lack of records, they existed, and they contributed to society, no matter how miniscule their roles may have been in our society’s circles,” she said.
“The pauper’s names are familiar still to Will County today. True, there are no historians named Woodruff or colonels named Bartleson. Yet they were farmers who fed them, and soldiers who fought for them. They were miners, farmers, canal laborers, carpenters, teachers, and the many orphaned children who played amongst them all,” Wysocki said.
Her references were to local historian George H. Woodruff and Col. Frederick Bartleson, the first Joliet man to volunteer to fight in the Civil War. No history of Joliet would be complete without these two names. Now, however, Joliet history includes many more names — and a new mural that ties their stories together.
Wysocki documents these names in her 2008 book “Digging Up the Dirt: The History and Mysteries of the Will County Poor Farm and Potter’s Fields.”
And the new mosaic mural — by artists Kathleen Farrell, Kathleen Scarboro and Sharka Glet — stands just west of the Poor Farm Cemetery.
On Thursday, presenters read stories of those buried in the cemetery:
Solomon Richards, 1797-1881. During the War of 1812, Richards was a private in Capt. Stacy Banks’ company of detached light infantry, in Lt. Col. Abraham J. Hardenbergh’s regiment for the New York Militia. Solomon and his wife, Rachael, are buried under the numeric markers in the cemetery.
Brian Conroy, dressed in military uniform, presented Richards’ story.
Polly Boon, 1808-1872. Boon was an African-American woman born on a Kentucky plantation. Eventually, she was willed the plantation. She sold it and relocated to Troy Township, where she raised her family.
“Within 10 years, she lost everything, her money, her house and her husband,” said presenter Norma Harris.
Boon was buried under one of the numeric markers in the cemetery.
Albert Munch, died in 1906 at age 41. “Albert was born in Germany and moved to Streator before 1891. That is when he married Louisa Buck,” said Catherine Munch Passas, Albert’s great-granddaughter.
Albert had come from a very wealthy family, but they had lost all of their money in a tunnel accident where his father was a contractor, Passas said. Albert was a piano teacher, and that is how he met Louisa.
Albert and Louisa had four children. One died at 2 years old from pneumonia, Passas said.
The family moved to Joliet before 1895. Albert was working on a farm, loading apples, and his hand was crushed between two barrels of apples, Passas said.
“He could never play the piano again, and he had a very difficult time finding work after that,” she said.
Passas could not find any of Albert’s records documented after 1901. She finally located his name in Wysocki’s book. And thus history was preserved for Albert’s descendants.
Sandy Vasko, president of the historical society, led the dedication ceremony Thursday. Mural sponsors include the historical society, Friends of Community Public Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the Joliet Park District, Lindblad Construction, and Our Lady of Angels Retirement Home.