THAT REMINDS ME: Remembering an institution: Grand Forks County’s ‘poor farm’

If you were to ask any member of the Grand Forks Board of County Commissioners about the most important public service 75 years ago, the response would have been, "the farm and hospital at Arvilla." Or so the Herald reported. The institution now ...

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If you were to ask any member of the Grand Forks Board of County Commissioners about the most important public service 75 years ago, the response would have been, “the farm and hospital at Arvilla.”

Or so the Herald reported.

The institution now is only a memory. But 75 years ago, it was described as self-supporting, and it represented an investment of close to $80,000.


The county board believed the Arvilla, N.D., home compared favorably with any similar setup in the state.

Back then, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Aaker were given credit for their work as superintendent and matron. They were appointed in February 1936. And at the time the farm and hospital were featured in the Herald, the couple had increased care for destitute, ill and needy residents by 50 percent.

In 1939, there were 67 farm residents. They were housed in a huge three-story building with more than 30 rooms. In addition to living and sleeping quarters, there was an operating room, nursery, kitchen, dining room and two lobbies. They were used for meetings, religious services and dining rooms when guests were present.

The hospital section on the third floor was equipped to handle 25 patients and had 14 in 1939. It had been only in the recent years that the country had built up its hospital and improved care for ill and needy people.

The staff at what was commonly called the “county poor farm” was made up of 15. A hired man was kept year round to supervise work on the farm. During warm weather, many home inmates assisted with agriculture. There also were three nurses, maids and a cook.

Usually there were 60 or more living at the farm. The purchase of an adjoining farm the previous year helped ease the crowded conditions and provided more land to work. Many of the buildings in the addition were in first-class condition and could be used at once, the Herald reported. The house was to be used as a detention hospital.

In all, the farm had 378 acres of good land -- most of which was used to raise livestock feed.

The farm owned 50 head of cattle, 39 hogs, 11 horses and 350 chickens. The chickens supplied all of the egg and poultry needs at the farm, and the cattle provided beef and milk, the Herald reported.


The horses were used for all the heavy work because the farm had no tractors.

Buildings on the farm included a 100-foot barn, a hog house, a chicken house, two granaries, a root cellar, two wells, a morgue, several machine sheds and an ice house. Electric pumps were installed for each well.

Many of the so called inmates at the farm had lived there for years. Joe, described as “an ancient negro now blind,” was the oldest man. Nobody knew just how old Joe was.

He said he was born more than 100 years ago in Florida. Before going to the farm, he worked for many years at Larimore, N.D. His sole recollection was that he once was employed as a cook for Abraham Lincoln.

The farm had another resident more than 90 years old. The youngest was a boy, 6 years old.

Assisting the superintendent and matron in running the establishment was a board including county commissioners. In 1938, Nicolai Eddie was chairman of the board. The work was handled by E.O. Bry in 1939. The entire property was appraised at $77,256.89 at the beginning of 1939. And there was a careful accounting of every penny spent back then.

The appraisal money was divided into farm and buildings, plus equity in the new farm, $64,337.69; livestock, $3,369.60; fuel, $64; hay, feed and grain, $1,165; groceries and meats, $405; towels, curtains and so on, $42; women’s clothing, $80; men’s clothing, $225; furniture and miscellaneous equipment, $2,381.50; operating room equipment and supplies, $636.10; medicine room, drugs and supplies, $167.50; heating plant, $1,700; burial supplies, $20; machinery and farm equipment, $2,663.50.

The greatest needs in the spring of 1939 were reported as a new chicken house to replace the small structure and more adequate laundering equipment. The home had only two family-sized washers.


The closing of the “county poor farm” apparently came after a fire in 1941, according to long-time residents in the area. At that time, the residents moved in to Larimore. The land was purchased by Alois Petsinger in 1955, and his grandson, Terry Petsinger, now lives on that land.

The hospital apparently was all that was left of the Grand Forks County “poor farm” after the move into Larimore following the fire. And local historians say that was closed in the 1970s.

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