In the years between 1880 and 1959 if you were homeless, orphaned or had no family and were mentally ill with no place to go, there was a place that became known as the Grayson County Poor Farm that might have been a haven for you.

In the years between 1880 and 1959 if you were homeless, orphaned or had no family and were mentally ill with no place to go, there was a place that became known as the Grayson County Poor Farm that might have been a haven for you.

The farm was west of Sherman on what then was called Shady Oaks Road. You could live out your life there and be buried in the Vaden Cemetery on the property where members of the James Harding and Elizabeth Jackson Vaden family were buried between 1858 and 1892.

The Vadens sold the farm on Pecan Grove Road west of Sherman to the county when the Poor Farm was founded between 1875 and 1880, the year the farm showed up on the population census. The farm would be compared today to be something of a nursing home with children.

Joseph D. Dagby was the first superintendent who was listed on the census in 1880. At first there were a lot of orphans with no one to care for them. Dagby was hired at a salary of $460 a year, plus food for his family. They also had a comfortable home to live in, and their boys could go to school all year.

Dusty Williams, a noted local author and cemetery preservationist, had brought the story of the Poor Farm to two county groups in recent days, first the Genealogy Group in Tom Bean, then the Grayson County Historical Society. Williams, who lives in Howe where he was born and raised, began writing at an early age and has never seemed to quit.

He has been researching the Poor Farm for several years and has written a book, "The Grayson County Poor Farm." In addition to the Poor Farm history, Williams has compiled lists of known residents there and a list of those buried in the Vaden Cemetery the site on about four acres of fenced property at the end of Shady Oaks Circle. A few of the marked graves are of Vaden family members and others, but most of those buried there were pauper graves and unmarked.

Williams had formed an "Adopt a Pauper" group to try to replace files that were lost when the County Farm buildings burned on Aug. 12, 1946. Anyone who would like to adopt one of the persons buried in Vaden Cemetery and try to compile information about him or her, would be welcomed, Williams said. All the information was destroyed when the county farm building burned in 1946. Williams’ lists and other information appear on the Grayson County TxGenWeb as Vaden Cemetery and County Farm Cemetery. Some of the residents lived at the farm for 20 years or more.

By the winter of 1880, James Weems became superintendent, and, by 1900, Thomas Freeman was superintendent and the farm had 39 residents. Two more superintendents, Bruce Whitaker and J.B. Searcy took over in 1910 when the list of inhabitants reached 28. Adolphus R. Vaughn became superintendent in 1920 with 36 residents, and Thomas J. Farr was the super in 1930. Supervisors lived in a house across the street from the residents’ home that was a little like a nursing home.

In 1910, a new two-story brick building was built to house the residents. There were several years when times were not so good for residents of the farm. It was during this time that Edna Gladney took it upon herself to improve the conditions for the residents. She came across the farm that at that time was called little more than a dumping ground for the unwanted poor, insane, handicapped and children. She brought members of the Civil League into the project to help clean up the place and wrote a contemptuous article for the local newspaper.

The Civic League met with the Grayson County Commissioners

Court, the local governing body, the owners of the Poor Farm. It was declared that the farm was everyone’s responsibility to care for the children there. Led by Gladney, the Civic League Ladies went to the farm and personally cleaned and white washed the rooms. Edna then arranged for the children to be transferred to the Rev. I.Z.T. Morris Children’s Home and Aid Society in Fort Worth. in 1930.

In 1913 Edna Gladney and husband Sam, moved to Sherman so that he could open his own milling company, Gladney Milling. She joined the Sherman Civic League and started inspecting local meat markets and public restrooms for cleanliness. Conditions for other residents also improved.

The farm was not a prison, but some prisoners, if they were homeless, went to the farm that was funded by tax dollars. The residents grew a garden and had cattle to help feed the resident. Residents were able to follow some of their interests and church groups came out at Christmas to sing for the residents.

George Hestand was superintendent during the 1930s, the Depression Years, when residency reached as high as 68 people.

Dusty’s interest in the farm was tweeked by the fact that his great-grandparents, Herman and Lois Goldston, took over operation of the farm around 1940 and were there when the county farm building burned on Aug. 12, 1946. The alarm sounded at 4 p.m. for residents to evacuate. They helped each other out of the burning structure and all made it out safely. The building burned to the ground and the 26 residents saved only the clothes they had on their back. They had no shelter, food or clothing. Goldston and firemen guarded the group to keep them from going back in to try and rescue their meager belongings. A newspaper article said, "They were like lost children."

Insurance of $15,000 was carried on the building, but wouldn’t cover the entire loss, according to Judge J.N. Dickson in the article, who was called to the fire by the farm manager. "Dazed by what had happened to them, most of the home residents were wandering about the grounds on Monday after the early morning fire, sitting disconsolate under the trees and grouped together recounting their experiences in the fire."

By Tuesday, beds were promised by several churches and civic organizations who were assisting in providing bedding and clothes. A week’s laundry was at the wash house and was saved.

After the excitement quieted down one man remembered that he had helped carry out several of the more residents, but had forgotten to bring his own false teeth and his $15 savings. A women who spent most of her time in a wheel chair lamented her failure to save her snuff.

Almost immediately the commissioners found $28,000 available. Four tracts of surplus land were sold at auction, raising another $17,725 toward replacing the burned building. Temporary housing was provided for the residents.

Then, a few years later in 1947, a new, smaller building was built on the same foundation. At that time small cabins were built to provide lodging for couples. There is no history of the farm prior to 1947, because the fire destroyed all the records.

Two of the Goldston’s grandchildren, Sherry Jeffers, Dusty’s grandmother, and Debbie Perkins, both cousins, attended the program at Frontier Village when the Historical Society held its meeting. They told of some of the exciting times they experienced when they visited their grandparents and stayed in the superintendent’s house.

During the period between 1960 and 1970, the Poor Farm ceased to exist and the Shady Oaks Nursing Home was created on the property.

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at