Remembering those less fortunate

County Commissioner Bill Archer speaks to the several people who came together over the Memorial Day weekend to honor those buried at the Mercer County Poor Farm. 

PRINCETON — Guests gathered at the Mercer County Poor Farm to honor those entombed and forgotten to history, at the second annual Remembrance Service on Sunday.

The farm, which is an acre and a half of land according to Mercer County Commissioner, Bill Archer, is the final resting place of many men and women. Of those buried here some identities are known while others are still a mystery.

Of those buried on the farm, Archer said the total graves are, “Estimated at 300 because of the indents in the ground.”

In American history, Poor Farms were the locations for those less fortunate to live and earn a living. Residents of these farms include those diagnosed with tuberculosis, abandoned children, vagrants, those without family, elderly people, women pregnant out of wedlock, and others, according to Craig Hammond, executive director of the Bluefield Union Mission.

“Poor farms of yesteryear were a place no one wanted to end up,” Hammond said. People of, “all ages and description,” can be found buried within the Poor Farm Cemetery, Hammond said.

In the past, gaining residency to the farm was a bit of a process, according to Hammond. Men and women in need had to visit the County Court and await the court system to declare them as a pauper. Those in need could then move to the farm which was land set aside by the county, Hammond said.

Do to the farm resident’s social status of the time, their identities were unfortunately lost to time. Now, with the help of historical records and slight restoration to the few grave markers, the men and women’s identities are being brought to light.

“Unknown people are humans and all people are created in God’s image,” Hammond said, “At one time they meant something to someone.”

So far 25 people have been identified. Of those identified, the cause of death includes auto accidents, illness, homicides, vagrants, and others. The most recent date of death found, thus far, is Victoria Harris, 4-1-1957, with the earliest found beginning Roxie Bailey, 12-17-1845. Harris’ death is recorded as heart failure at the age of 54, and Bailey’s death is recorded as tuberculosis at 67.

Work on discovering more identities is ongoing and plans to restore the farm are being made. According to Archer, the farm is going to be labeled as a national historic site. Renovations currently being done include planting grass, removing trees, and removing stumps.

At the service, Lois Miller, the president of the Mercer County Historical Society, dedicated a wreath to honor all buried in the historic cemetery. “This is a very special place. These people lost their land and their jobs,” Miller said.

According to Miller, many of those buried were immigrants that came to work in Mercer County. Some of these immigrants, Italian stone masons, worked day and night to build structures such as the stone wall on Princeton Avenue in Bluefield.

“We feel compelled to honor these people for their service,” Miller said, “We want to honor their sacrifice that they’ve done for Mercer County.”

In honoring those buried, guests joined in respectfully singing the hymns, “In the Garden” and “Amazing Grace.”

Contact Emily D. Coppola at ecoppola@bdtonline.com