Wood County Historical Museum13660 County Home RD
Bowling Green, OH 43402-9281
419-352-0967 | http://www.woodcountyhistory.org/index.html
Wood County Historical Museum
Originally the Wood County Infirmary, the buildings and grounds of the Wood County Historical Museum preserve the history of public aid in Ohio. The two-story museum recreates daily life for some of the men, women, and children who lived in the infirmary from 1869-1971.
The Wood County Historical Museum occupies the former Wood County Infirmary, which housed ill and destitute residents of the area. Visitors can tour the two-floor restored Infirmary House, which contained separate living quarters, parlors, and dining areas for its male and female patients. The artifacts on display demonstrate the daily care of the patients and show how the residents would have spent their free time with music, reading, and socializing. Certificates of Admission from the museum’s archives are hung in each room to detail the personal stories of many people who stayed in the Infirmary because of short-term hardship or long-term need. Reading even a small selection of these documents shows the wide variety of situations that brought Wood County residents to the infirmary. This unique museum documents the changing perceptions of health and long-term care in Ohio and the United States through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The infirmary is the best-preserved historic example of the county homes established across Ohio in the 1850s. Originally called “poor farms,” these institutions were often expected to be self-sustaining. The name change to “infirmary” in 1853 reflected the realization that many of the residents were too ill or elderly to perform farm labor. The Wood County Infirmary was a functioning farm through the early twentieth century, sustained by the superintendent’s multigenerational family. Visitors can tour the many farm buildings on the campus, such as the ice house, blacksmith shop, the wash house, and several barns. The herb garden on the property is maintained by the Black Swamp Herb Society and contains many culinary and healing plants that were in common household use in the 1800s. Most of these spaces also host educational events coordinated by the Wood County Historical Society.
Two additional buildings on the museum campus detail the care of special-case patients. The Pestilence (or Pest) House was built to house contagious patients who could not stay in the main infirmary home. The Pest House now details the history of infectious illnesses and their treatment in the United States, including an iron lung used to treat polio in the 1950s on display there. Isolation and quarantine were common in Ohio medical practice from the 1780s through the late twentieth century. The Lunatic Asylum was constructed in 1885 and housed mentally ill men from the area until 1900. This building now contains a history of mental illness and treatment in the United States from the first mental institution in Williamsburg, Virginia, to the modern day.
Notes for Travelers
The main building of the Wood County Historical Museum is handicap accessible. The grounds and outbuildings are well worth the short walk and some are only accessible by steps. Large groups may want to schedule a guided tour in advance to take full advantage of the museum’s collections. Major events at the museum include Living History Days, Demonstration Days which show how daily tasks were performed at the Infirmary, and an annual German-American Day.
Additional ResourcesChapman, Roger. It Started with Doctors on Horseback: A History of Medicine, Marking the 50th Anniversary of Wood County Hospital. Bowling Green, OH: Wood County Historical Society, 2001.
Arpad, Joseph J. Southern Wood County Oral History Project. Fresno, CA: Archival Books, 1994.