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GOD & TEXAS: The Poor Farm Ditch

Have you seen the Poor Farm Ditch in Houston? This waterway mainly parallels Edloe Street from the Southwest Freeway through West University Place, on to Brays Bayou.

Known as “The Neighborhood City,” reports maintain that West University Place has the fifth highest concentration of households in Texas with incomes greater than $150,000. The 2021 median sales price of a home in “West U” was $1,408,713, with houses currently selling for 8% above the listed price.

So, why would something named “Poor Farm Ditch,” bisect this wealthy neighborhood? In 1894, Harris County Commissioners bought 200 acres of this same property and built several buildings to house the impoverished residents of Houston.

The property functioned as a farm for the poor, with the residents that were physically able, tending the crops and managing the livestock. A cemetery was opened for paupers of the surrounding community, and local churches provided occasional meal functions, worship services, and funerals. The Poor Farm Ditch served as the eastern boundary of the farm while also providing drainage for frequent flooding.

By 1920, the growth of Houston westward caused the Poor Farm property to increase in value. Charles A. Wood offered the county $500 per acre with the stipulation that “the county remove all bodies, monuments, etc. connected with the old cemetery.” That cemetery was located where Drake and Auden streets now intersect.

At the direction of the Harris County Commissioners in 1923, approximately 1,000 bodies were exhumed and reinterred in an unmarked mass grave in the new County Cemetery on Oates Road and Beaumont Highway. Residents were transferred to the county Home for the Aged that was built next to the new cemetery. Administration for the Home for the Aged was assigned to the county Juvenile Probation Department.

Wood quickly sold the Poor Farm property to developers, and West University Place was created. Though the county Poor Farm has vanished, the Poor Farm Ditch remains.

Judging the actions of past leaders without knowing all of the facts, is unfair. But it was our 35th US president John F. Kennedy who said, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” Treating the impoverished with dignity and respect is the expectation of a Christian society.

Jesus always loved the poor and was the greatest humanitarian the world has ever known. In Luke 14:13, Jesus instructed his followers to invite “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” into their homes for dinner.

In Matthew 26:11, when He was anointed for death with costly perfume, Jesus reminded His disciples of Deuteronomy 15:11 NLT, “There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.”

May the Poor Farm Ditch remain a constant memorial to those discarded souls who deserve their dignity and our respect. We can do better.

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