A voice from an earlier troubled past — I’m George Barney, County Superintend of the Poor.

Best wishes for answers to your dangerous epidemic.

I had recently taken over after my Civil War service. Then in 1869 we experienced our tragic fire. There is always hope.

Last year we gave thanks when a good will gift came our way. Mr. William Letchworth donated a large cistern fronting the first Poor House building with plenty of water on hand for fires.

The Livingston supervisors have approved a second building for those called “the crazies” but should be known as the insane.

Good will our orphan children are often sent to foster farm families where some become part of a new loving family. Others are accepted at the Western House of Refuge in Rochester where they can learn a trade. For other children there is a basic elementary school here where my daughter teaches.

We set an excellent table, fresh fruit and vegetables from our farm. Down and out men only are allowed to stay for three months. We soon will have more semi private rooms, no 20 persons of all ages and sexes sleeping in one large room as they have in Genesee County. (Livingston Supervisors Proceedings.)

William Prior Letchworth can be credited for much positive influence, listened to in Albany as an influential industrialist.

Now an other story of hope - I was diagnosed with a strange condition called epilepsy. At my home in Avon I was kept in the attic. Neighbors all gossiped about the poor girl who shook her bones loose every few days.

Then I was brought to the Craig Colony for Epileptics in Sonyea 1897. My life became worthwhile. I have never been chained to my bed as at home. Now we sleep in pine scented dormitories and eat in pleasant dining halls.

When we watch a friend with a stick between their teeth during a seizure, we know they are being cared for. During good weather we even visit Mount Morris to enjoy village life.

Now a message from Bobby. When I was 12 years old, instead of running with the other kids, my legs were scissor locked at my knees. In those years I had to push myself across the floor. They called me the snake.

Mr. Letchworth recognized my problem and sent me to an orthopedic hospital in Utica, after a year my legs were straight. Years later in Rochester we met again. I told him that I was 12 years old at our first meeting. Now an adult with a good job and a family. Did he smile?

There always is hope for the future. After Letchworth’s death December 1, 1905 his sister Sarah wrote:

“God wrought for this scene

Beyond compare

But ones long hand protects it,

And gives it to his fellow

men to share.”

(From “Life of William Letchworth”)

David W. Parish is historian for the town and village of Geneseo. He writes the columns “Around Geneseo” and “Glancing Backwards” for The Livingston County News. He is a Chancellor Award retiree from Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo and author of 12 reference and history books.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1