The farm property was originally included within a Donation Land Claim filed by William Reese Anderson and Sarah Jane Anderson in 1865. The Andersons, and their 13 children, were some of the earliest pioneers in the Hazel Dell area. In 1871, however, the Andersons forfeited the 100-acre property to Clark County due to a bond default.
In 1873 Clark County established a Poor Farm on the property as a component of the social welfare system implemented in the United States. By 1926, 24 Poor Farms existed in Washington State. The properties’ intent was to house and assist low-income or indigent persons who may also be suffering from ill health. The Poor Farm concept was intended to foster an environment of self-sufficiency by growing crops and raising farm animals on the properties. However, the Poor Farm system was fraught with management issues and eventually fell from use by the mid-1930s when the Social Security Administration was established.
The earliest known building on the property was a two-story Colonial Revival House constructed circa 1898, along with a wagon shed. The buildings no longer exist as the residence succumbed to fire in 1923. In 1926, Clark County began construction of a new Poor Farm administration building which was designed by the notable Portland architecture firm of DeYoung & Roald Architects. James W. DeYoung and Knud A. Roald worked as partners from 1919-30 and designed such well known structures in the region as the New Heathman Hotel & Paramount Theater in downtown Portland, the First Christian Church in Olympia, and the Lloyd Erickson Medical Building in Vancouver. The Administration Building, along with a four-bay garage, was designed in the Italian Renaissance style, as was the milk house later constructed in 1936.
Following the main period (1913-1943) of the Poor Farm’s operation, the Southwestern Washington Experimental Station operated as a state agricultural research facility from 1943 to 1966. Washington State College (now Washington State University) originally engaged in a lease with Clark County to manage 28 acres which eventually became a total of 78 acres in 1949 upon the transfer of land ownership. WSU continued to manage the property for a variety of agricultural experiments and educational purposes over the years until 2008 when the property reverted to Clark County.
The 99-acre property was listed as an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, the Clark County Heritage Register, and the Washington State Historic Property Register in 2012-13. In addition to the administration building, garage and milk house, other structures identified in the nomination as resources contributing to the District are a 1962 shop building, a 1925 bunk house, the 1920 hog barn, and a 1930 machine shed. Also included in the District is Hazel Dell Park at the south end of the property and the Clark County Cemetery which was originally platted in 1913 with 312 plots. Perhaps as many as 200 individuals have been interred on site in the southwest portion of the property. Most of the people buried were either transients, individuals without surviving family members, or individuals whose families could not otherwise afford burial. Only a few poor farm residents were buried on-site.
The Historic District achieves significance from the Clark County’s development and operation of the property as a Poor Farm and Washington State University’s use as an experimental and educational facility. These two uses relate significantly to the County’s development as an important agricultural center in the region. The original buildings retain architectural integrity and significance. The Clark County Poor Farm is likely the most intact facility of its type in Washington State. Future plans include construction of a walking trail through the property with extensive interpretation of the Farm’s history.
See more history at http://www.clark.wa.gov/public-works/farm-history