Wood County Infirmary

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The Wood County Infirmary: Its Philosophy and Purpose

In the 19th century, long before any federal government social welfare system was in place, the poor, the handicapped, the orphans, the unwed mothers, the homeless, the infirm, and the insane needed to be taken care of on a level way beyond the abilities of their families, local area churches and charities. Many states came up with the idea of a humane and merciful solution; creating “poor houses.”

While the term, “poor house”, has a rather infamous reputation as being a place of disease, slave labor, death and corruption during the industrial revolution and other time periods in some places, The Wood County Infirmary was firm but humane, practical and caring, offering a great service for the unfortunate, from 1868 until 1971! Part of the reason why this poor farm had so much success was because it was blessed with two long term Superintendents, Edwin Farmer and his wife Charlotte as Matron, and Frank Brandeberry, and wife Lottie. They were dedicated to their work and made good use with what they had, providing leadership for the people who lived there as a last resort to starving, giving them a sense of team work and community, as the inmates worked together to run the 200 acre farm and grounds. They also strove to take care of the physically and mentally handicapped, children who were orphaned and the elderly to the best of their ability.


In the beginning of The Wood County Infirmary, useful work was thought of as being therapeutic, and a positive form of rehabilitation. It was reasoned during this time period that many people who were in these dire straits were lazy, lacked common sense and discipline, and didn’t practice industry and thrift. There was a sense of shame and stigma in having to live here. In the early years, residents were called inmates, and lost some every day freedoms that the normal American enjoys. Couples and families were separated by sex, with men and boys living in the east wing and women, girls and babies living in the central wing. Couples were separated, seeing each other only in passing. There were separate dining halls as well.

The promising goal of this poor house work farm, for the able bodied and able minded, was to instill and develop qualities and skills needed to survive, including self-esteem and confidence, as well as to have the opportunity to practice industry and thrift, without the distractions of dysfunctional relationships or just regular stresses of family life. In exchange for room and board, clothes, health care and other necessities of life, everyone who was able was required to participate in having some sort of job on this working farm, which made this institution nearly self-sufficient. Raising the dairy cattle, chickens, sheep, hogs and horses, crop production, tending the gardens, canning fruits and vegetables, taking care of the old and handicapped, and other chores kept everyone involved.

Located just outside the city of Bowling Green, The Wood County Infirmary was home to 70 to 80 residents on the average. During the depression, twice as many people lived here; around 140 residents willing to sleep anywhere there was a bed, as no one was turned away. The New Deal gave people options, and relieved the crowded conditions.

Our Tour of The Wood County Infirmary

Tom and I visited this museum and were impressed on how lovely and tranquil this place is during the day time, very much like a home on the outside and inside, not having an institutional feeling to the property, perhaps because the historical society renovated and restored the original woodwork, Victorian decor, making the place look very good.

Main Building

On both the first and second floors of the main building, there are 30 rooms of exhibits. The attics and basements were shut to the public.

On the first floor, in all three wings, the rooms were used for showing the history of Wood County as well as the history and what life was like as a resident of this place. All the furniture and items making up the exhibits and decor, were brought in from homes and from people who live in Wood County. Very little is left of the original furniture.

We saw the areas in the west wing, which housed the living quarters of the staff and the Superintendent and his family, the family and staff dining room, their parlor and sitting room which were all furnished with nice antiques of the period which would’ve been here. The central wing had separate simple and basic dining rooms for men and women, and a kitchen on the first floor. Pictures of the original rooms showed a very plain, simple decor. The nurses station was located in an area between the women’s dining room and the east wing.

The three hospital rooms were next in the central wing. There were exhibits on display in here but there was on one wall the original tile of the 1950s, and a picture of patients sitting in beds in front of it.

The east wing had a men’s dormitory room, where beds were set up. In the 1950s, the management in charge wanted it to look more like an institution, so linoleum was laid and the woodwork was painted white.

The Lunatic House

The building is a solid, rectangular two story brick Victorian structure, made up of two hallways, one on each floor, with rooms off the hallways. Men who wound up here were deemed insane by a court of law in a trial. The patient’s stark room was small, with bars on the windows, furnished only with a bed and eating utensils. It was plainly furnished. There was a shower room where the staff hosed them down. Still, it was a lot more humane than locking them up with criminals in the jails.

While the first floor was renovated, with exhibits about the history of caring for the mentally ill on display, the second floor was still stripped down, and was closed.

YIKES! Tom and I visited this building as well. It was really creepy, even during the day, especially the stair area. The house has an uneasy, tense feeling of a haunted place with disturbed presences. (Even I, the un-psychic one, got an uneasy feeling standing too close to the stairs which led up to the second floor.)

Sunset Acres Cemetery

When people died here, they were put in a simple, pine box and buried in the infirmary’s graveyard, Sunset Acres. Each plot was supposed to get its own number, but no name was put on the marker. There was a master list with linked the numbers to the people’s names.



In 1869, this then two story Victorian style infirmary was opened for use when it received its first six residents or “inmates.” The numbers increased to 65 during the 1870s. As the population of the Wood County Infirmary grew, so did the buildings. A third floor was added to the main infirmary building. A chicken coop, and the power house were also built.

The 1880s brought a lot of building improvements and construction. The west wing attic was added, and the center and east wing of the main infirmary building were constructed as well, but needed to be rebuilt in 1898 because of shoddy workmanship the first time around! The shape of The Wood County Infirmary with the added wings was shaped like a giant horseshoe.

In 1885, it became necessary to build a two story, Lunatic House to house the violent male mental patients, because the old one next to the main building was in bad shape. For non-violent yet unsound folks, the attics and basements of the men’s and women’s wings were at one time used to house these people with mental issues. There wasn’t much that they could do for them, as treatment in the 19th century was in its infancy. By 1900, Ohio did pass a law which had all mentally ill patients going to a special hospital. After 1900, the Lunatic House building became a place of honor, becoming “dormitory space for trustworthy male residents.”

A pauper’s cemetery was also created, for those who had no money or no relatives willing to claim the body. Though each grave was simply marked with a number, there was no mass burial, and an earnest effort was made to not desecrate the bodies, or graves, by building on top of them over the years. This intentionally happened in other cemeteries which other cities in America had designated for its poor, criminals and victims of disease, with unintended consequences.

From 1890-1920s, other buildings were constructed: A cow barn, a hog barn, an ice house and ice ponds, a pest house, a horse barn. In 1903, a lovely front porch was added to the west wing, for the enjoyment of all.

During the first half of the 20th century, this infirmary became a refuge for many problematic people. However, by 1949, the mentally ill, the homeless, the handicapped and orphans were being sent to/getting help from other programs, leaving The Wood County Infirmary to become an old age home in its final years.

By 1970, The Wood County Infirmary, which was in shoddy physical shape, was also having a lot of trouble in meeting the new standards set for Ohio nursing homes. There were no elevators in the place, and it was difficult getting the residents up and down the stairs. Concerned citizens formed a committee and were able to get a new home built for its infirm seniors about 1/2 mile away. What to do with the old one? In the short-sighted spirit of the 1970s, when many old treasures were torn down all over America, The County Commissioners proposed that the old building be given a date with the wrecking ball.

However, Lyle Fletcher, Secretary of the Park Commission and editor and archivist of the Wood County Historical Society, got busy and led a movement to save The Wood County Infirmary, which was in woeful condition. It stood vacant for a few years while its future was being fought over. This property, which had shrunk to 50 acres over time, was finally turned over to the Wood County Park Commission to be used as a park facility. Buildings not used were made part of a historical museum of not only this infirmary but also local history as well. In 1975, it finally opened to the public.



Nothing stirs up spirits like renovation, renewal and restoration of historical buildings.

The Lunatic House — Was used as a storage area for many years, until just a few years ago, when money was raised to renovate it. Everything was cleared out and stripped down to the cement on the inside as a first step.

The Main Infirmary Building — Inside and outside of the main institution was renovated and restored to a condition not seen in a long time. Brickwork was repaired, rotting wood removed and replaced, woodwork, floors and Victorian deco were restored, etc., transforming the dilapidated building into a place of beauty.

People and children did die here, because of dumb accidents, disease, infections and natural causes, and even as a result of murder. The Sunset Cemetery was created to hold their remains.

The Main Infirmary Building’s Attics and Basements — Many people with permanent disabilities were never able to leave and died here. Death it seems didn’t make them any saner or give them new mental abilities, and they have stayed here despite being free to go to the other side.

Eight people are known to have died from the turn-of-the-century flu epidemic. Other diseases and infections probably took other lives before the invention of vaccines and antibiotics.

A Murder — A story is told by a pharmacist, Dorsey Sergeant, who worked in the rest home from 1965-1971:

A nursing home resident, an elderly woman who lived in the room across from the top of the stairs, stood up to another female resident, a transfer from a mental institution, who was a bully. The bully threw this elderly woman down the staircase, resulting in this woman’s death. It was deemed to be an accident. Much later, after the residents moved to the new nursing home, it was found out what had really happened through a witness to this dastardly deed, as the bully had died just before the move, and was no longer a threat.

Many furnishings and items which have been given to the museum seem to have entities attached to them.

The Mourning Room Display — Had a child’s coffin, headstone, an adult coffin and headstone, a glass pane from a mausoleum. More came to this display than physical objects.

Nothing upsets and confuses the dead more than having their remains forgotten, disrespected and disturbed by the living who are dolts.

It seems that not all the graves in Sunset Acres were marked, leading to unintended consequences.

Not only did the living lose the list of names that went with the numbers on the grave markers in Sunset Acres, but they also didn’t mark all the graves at some point in time. A few years ago, the utility workmen accidentally unearthed some unmarked graves whose rotting pine caskets just fell apart on contact, mixing the bones of people together. A good effort was made to put the right bones back together and rebury them, but it was impossible to be completely right. OOPS!



Besides the experiences of the museum’s staff, visitors, and psychic Chris Woodyard, some investigations were conducted in 2002, 2003 and 2004 by psychic/medium/author Michelle Colson and husband Michael with a crew made up of University of Bowling Green students. The recordings of these investigations are found on a DVD produced by the Colsons, The Haunted, which is sold in the museum’s store.

Outside Grounds

A mysterious, spooky, black form of a man — Dressed in a cape, this entity has been seen by staff striding up the walkway, disappearing right before reaching the front door.

A gentle entity known as Bert — Who is described as a physically and mentally handicapped man with a goofy smile has been seen going about his business pulling his little red wagon. He has one leg much shorter than the other. This entity also likes to sings hymns. His unseen presence has also brushed past the living.

The Pauper’s Cemetery — Sunset Acres

Orbs and EVPs have been recorded. Michael Colson hit pay dirt when he recorded on his tape recorder an EVP of a disembodied voice and orbs coming out of graves flying around.

Others have seen apparitions in the graveyard.

Main Infirmary Building

The benign, friendly entity of an elderly woman, called Agnes —

Who is dressed in a white nightgown and night cap appears and smiles at the living all over the infirmary building. It is thought that she was the woman thrown down the stairs by the bully.

Agnes started to appear during the nursing home years. A Pharmacist, Dorsey Sergeant, was walking down the hall with a fellow worker, from the west wing to the central hall when a real-looking white-gowned elderly woman suddenly appeared in the hallway, right by the door of the resident’s kitchen. She smiled at them, and then suddenly disappeared.

In the late 1980s, during renovation and restoration efforts, a workman, who was sanding and varnishing the floor on the second floor of the west wing, felt that someone was watching him. He looked up and saw this entity watching him, and she smiled at him too. He finished his work for the day and left. When he came back the next morning, there was one set of small foot prints in the middle of the newly varnished floor.

Women’s Dining Room

During the nursing home years, the nurse’s station on the first floor was located right next to the former women’s dining room.

When no one was in this old dining room, the nurses would hear the dishes and pans rattle by themselves. They avoided going into this room alone because of the uncomfortable feelings which the atmosphere inspired.

When psychic Chris Woodyard walked through the dining room, she was whacked in the back of the neck by a burst of spiritual energy, and saw two women fighting.

In the hallway beyond the Alumni Room, (where pictures of classes of Weston High are found): Psychic Chris Woodyard found it to be ice cold. She saw an old woman appear, who was tied into a wheel chair, right across from where Chris was sitting.

The Mourning Practices Display — Old Hospital Room

This temporary display was located in one of the hospital rooms. Paranormal investigators Michelle and Michael Colson led two paranormal investigations in this area with interesting results.

A female entity — Who is attached to the mausoleum glass, was upset that her glass was in the display, away from her grave site.

She made herself known with cold spots, communicating with Michelle, and by making the 6 inch area around the glass itself to have a warm, numbing effect on hands. Her EVPs explained how she felt. She tried to hold the door closed, preventing them from even entering the room.

The entity of a child, (perhaps attached to either the coffin or headstone)

This entity was tugging at this female entity, not very happy. Many orbs were recorded by Michael, flying around this room, perhaps entities of residents who died in this hospital room.

(All of this is recorded and available for viewing on their DVD.)

Upstairs on Second Floor of The Wood County Infirmary

There are moving cold spots.

The living feel that someone is watching them.

Staff members can hear voices of talking women coming from the old sitting room when no one living is there.

Psychic Chris Woodyard saw a woman looking wistfully out the window in the sitting room.

One of the rooms off the sitting room was used as a morgue, and Chris picked up on a disturbing atmosphere, especially strong coming from a bed found there, which was an original infirmary bed.

Attics of Men’s and Women’s Wings

Psychic Chris Woodyard was given a private tour through the attics.

The West Wing Attic — Was at one time a women’s dorm, reserved for noisy, disagreeable women. It is now used for storage. Chris felt mostly positive vibes.

The entity or entities of a woman (women) once considered to be noisy and disagreeable came to the rescue of a curator who was working there, amongst the tall rows of shelves. While coming down a three step ladder, this curator misstepped off the ladder, and lost her balance, falling backwards. She was caught by unseen hands which gently put her back on the step.

A dark KKK robe being stored in a closet there gave off some really negative energy, giving an upsetting vision to Chris. In this closet, she heard a man crying and saying, “Don’t hurt me!”

The Center Attic — It is a huge, ballroom-like area.

Chris saw the entity of a mentally retarded man in a closet.

East Wing Attic

It is also currently being used for storage. Chris reports that this men’s dorm had a tenser feel to its atmosphere.

An unseen presence was tugging at Chris.

She saw another entity, crying in a closet.

The Lunatic House

While standing on the first floor, visitors have heard heavy footsteps walking back and forth across the second floor above them.

Chris Woodyard’s terrifying experiences in the Lunatic House — Psychic Chris became tied into the experiences of the residents here, including a huge man in a psychotic fit, a woman in a confining outfit to keep her from hurting herself, and finally her seeing life through the eyes of a resident.

{Details of all her experiences can be found in her book, Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio, by Chris Woodyard, pg. 167-175, Kestrel Publications, 2000}

Michelle and Michael Colson’s two investigations here uncovered some real evidence of multiple hauntings.

Some Highlights

Many orbs were caught on film flying around both floors.

A face of a man looking rather manic appeared in the window pane at the end of the hall on the second floor in a picture taken by paranormal investigator, psychic/medium; Michelle.

Film of a dark shadowy figure was taken as it slipped out of one of the rooms on the second floor.

A single bolt of lightening in the middle of the second floor was caught on film.

Michelle felt a very strong presence at the end of the second floor hallway.

When Michelle was in contact with this newly-awakened and powerful spirit, Daniel, its yes/no knocks were recorded, as well as its EVPs as it talked to Michelle.

The sound of it throwing something was recorded.


A huge YES is in order.




13660 County Home Road
Bowling Green, OH 43402
(419) 352-0967

The Wood County Historical Center and Museum and its 50 acres of park facilities can be found on the outskirts of Bowling Green, just before the Hwy interchange of 75 and 6, at the corner of Country Home Road and Lindwood Drive.


  • Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio
    by Chris Woodyard
    pg. 184-195
    Kestrel Publications
  • Michelle and Michael Colson’s DVD “Haunted” — digital recording of the 2002, 2003 and 2004 investigations done in the room which displayed the exhibit, Mourning Practices, The Lunatic House and Sunset Acres Cemetery. Truly a riveting DVD to own. Part of the proceeds goes to support the museum.
  • E-Mail to purchase a copy.
  • Lunatic House at the Wood County Infirmary * All photographs © Tom Carr

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in Ohio