The Adams County Almshouse, or poorhouse, was established in 1818 along the Harrisburg Road, just northeast of Gettysburg. By the time of the Civil War, it had grown into a complex of buildings, and the “Poorhouse Farm” included several hundred acres.
Around noon on July 1, 1863, the Union XI Army Corps, under Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, began to arrive on the field, extending to the north the line already established by Generals John F. Reynolds and Abner Doubleday west of town. Without knowledge of the close proximity of advancing Southern forces, Howard’s orders to his subordinates were unclear. Instead of forming his men in a tight arc across the critical road network at the edge of the town, Brig. Gen. Francis C. Barlow chose to advance his division through the Almshouse complex to a rise of ground on the Blocher Farm near the Harrisburg Road.
This questionable movement opened the Union right flank to a massive attack by elements of Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederate division.
“They were harder to drive than we had ever known them before,” said George Washington Nichols of the 61st Georgia. “Men were being mown down in great numbers on both sides…. We advanced and drove them into and out of a deep road cut and on to the Almshouse, where the Yankees stopped and made a desperate stand.”
Despite that stiff resistance and final foothold around the Almshouse buildings, Union forces were overwhelmed and driven back through the streets of Gettysburg, leaving the fields strewn with dead and wounded. During the afternoon, the XI Corps suffered approximately 3,000 casualties, while inflicting about 800 on the enemy. It was a devastating loss for a corps marred by similar defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville only two months earlier.
After the Civil War, the Almshouse complex remained in possession of Adams County, and the site was further developed. In 1949, the Adams County Prison was relocated from East High Street in Gettysburg (where it had been in operation since 1804) to part of the Almshouse property along the Biglerville Road. Additionally, a new facility for the elderly (eventually renamed Green Acres) was built just south of the prison. The original buildings of the Almshouse were later removed, and an agricultural center now occupies the site.
When a new and improved county prison was built east of Gettysburg in 2003, the Adams County Historical Society (ACHS) acquired the property from the county. As part of the agreement, ACHS was asked to remove the old prison and replace the dilapidated structure with a more historically appropriate building. At long last, these plans are coming to fruition, and a new museum and history center will soon open at this site. The museum will focus on the story of the people who lived in Gettysburg and Adams County at the time of the Civil War and how they were affected by the battle, as well as the history of the community before and after 1863.