In the early 1890’s Mrs. Ella J. Reeder of Edinboro, Pennsylvania, who had spent time working with homeless women in New York City, urged her sister Mrs. Almira P. Martin, of #267 Butler Avenue in New Castle, Pennsylvania, to start a residence for elderly woman in her hometown. Martin pushed the idea and before too long several women, led by Mrs. Henrietta E. Butler and Mrs. Samuel Gibson, were campaigning door to door in 1892-1893 and seeking donations to start such a facility.
The first official meeting of those helping establish the home took place on April 11, 1893, at the YMCA chapel in New Castle. On August 18, 1893, the official charter was drawn up and Mrs. Henrietta E. Butler was named the first president of the non-profit Almira Home Association – named in honor of Almira Martin. The Association’s officers, supported by a Board of Trustees, was composed of members from the counties of Lawrence, Beaver, Butler, Mercer, and Venango and would take in destitute old women from those counties. Beaver and Mercer Counties later discontinued their association with the home. The bylaws called for incoming residents to be at least fifty years old and pay $300, which provided for lifetime residence and a proper burial when the time came. Many years later these bylaws were changed to reflect a minimum age of seventy and a cost of $7,500.
Wealthy businessman Captain M. S. Marquis donated an old blacksmith shop on Butler Avenue, but the building was never fitted up for use. The group continued to solicit state grants and public donations and before long the association was able to acquire a home owned by Colonel Dallas C. Irish, a Civil War veteran and wealthy property owner, which was located at #325 Pittsburg Street (later East Washington Street). The large mansion was renamed as the Almira Home and after renovations was opened for business in mid-1896. The first matron was Mrs. Jemima Foster, who was soon succeeded by Miss Lou Hamilton but remained active with the home for many decades until she passed away in December 1944.
By 1901 the small home, supervised by new matron Mrs. E. C. Gaston, was filled to capacity with about eighteen “inmates” and the association looked to build a new annex to the facility. It took a while but in late June 1907 a large 48-room “annex” building was dedicated right next door to the old Almira Home. The older home was used as a janitor’s quarters and also for general storage. It was later abandoned and torn down in early 1946.
Beginning in December 1961 the home underwent an $85,000 two-story addition, which added a dining room and modern infirmary over the former Irish site. In early 1975 the home underwent a series of upgrades, designed by the Eckles architectural firm, required to bring it into compliance with state fire codes. State regulations forbid nursing homes from housing residents above the second floor, but the Almira Home was soon given a waiver to use its up-to-date third floor. The $80,000 upgrades, funded by public donations, allowed the home to add another dozen residents. Twenty-four staff members would now oversee about seventy elderly women. In 1977 experienced nursing home administrator Erwin L. Nesbitt was hired as the first male director in the history of what became known as the Almira Personal Care Home. The home underwent another substantial interior renovation in 1995 to keep it in topflight shape.
The Almira Home, after 107 years of valuable service to the community, sadly shut down in November 1999 and began phasing out its operations. It was a sad time for its remaining elderly residents and the many long-tenured employees. In early 2000 the building became home to the Lawrence County Children and Youth Services (Social Services), which had been working out of an old county warehouse. Several other county agencies subsequently moved into the building as well. The board of trustees that oversaw the home was reorganized as the Almira Foundation and remains a major financial contributor to various social causes throughout Lawrence County.
To read a short article from 1895 about a committee going to Harrisburg to seek funds for the establishment of the facility click on: APPROPRIATION ARTICLE. To read a typical mention in the newspaper about an elderly woman entering the home in 1898 click on: ENTERED HOME ARTICLE. To read about the resignation of Lou Hamilton as matron in early 1900 click on: NEW MATRON ARTICLE. In late 1900 architect W. G. Eckles designed plans for the new annex building. To learn more about it click on: ALMIRA HOME PLANS ARTICLE. To read about how the First Methodist Church donated an organ to the home in 1902 click on: NEW ORGAN ARTICLE. To read an obituary of Almira Home resident Maria McElheny in 1903 click on: MCELHENY OBITUARY. In early 1907 the new Almira Home annex was almost completed. To learn more that work click on: READY NEXT MONTH ARTICLE. To read the planned opening of the new annex in June 1907 click on: OPENING ARTICLE.
The original home of the Almira Home for Elderly Ladies. This house was acquired in about 1895 from Col. Dallas C. Irish, a former Civil War veteran, and opened soon after renovations were completed.
The new “annex” of the Almira Home for Elderly Ladies was dedicated in June 1907. The old Almira Home is visible on left. (1919)
The back of this card identifies it as the “Almira Home – Home for Aged Woman.” (c1959) Full Size