– By Mary Alt

After the Civil War, Ottawa County officials found they had veterans who needed a home. In May, a documentary film on The Ottawa County Poor Farm will have its premiere in Holland and Grand Haven.

When the Ottawa County Poor Farm received its first resident in 1866, no one could have imagined the benefits it would provide to residents of Ottawa County over the decades. The Poor Farm was a haven for indigent people who, due to the happenstance of birth, misfortune, or poverty, were in dire straits and needed a place to call home.

Ottawa County Poor Farm

Residents and staff pose outside the farm’s infirmary house, which was demolished in the 1990s. Courtesy of Coopersville Area Historical Society

Inspired by the success of the Poor Farm Sesquicentennial Celebration in October of 2016, Marjie Viveen, a local historian, worked on a documentary film featuring the facility and will premiere May 2019 in Holland and Grand Haven.

The Poor Farm Documentary, was made in association with the Ottawa County Parks Foundation and Ferris State University. Co-producers Assistant Professor, Joshua Pardon and Marjie Viveen gathered additional research following the October Sesquicentennial celebration event and many of the re-enactors who participated in that event were also interviewed for the film. FSU students edited the film to profile the iconic property in Ottawa County and its amazing people.

“I entrusted the life stories of Poor Farm residents to Ferris State University film-maker Joshua Pardon,” says Viveen. “The resulting documentary is respectful, honest, heartfelt, and masterfully produced, a testimony to the professionalism of Joshua and his dedicated students. Every life is a story and a lesson. These will not be forgotten.”

The Poor Farm: A Documentary
Tickets $10 benefit the Ottawa Co. Parks Foundation
In Holland on May 24, 6-8 pm
Park Theater, 248 River Ave, Holland
In Grand Haven on May 31, 6-8 pm
Grand Haven Community Center, 421 Columbus Ave, Grand Haven

Now that the Poor Farm has closed after so many years, it has become the Eastmanville Farm County Park. It provides hiking and equestrian trails to outdoor enthusiasts.

Eastmanville Farm County Park, at 7851 Leonard St., is open year-round, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. April through October and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. November through April.

Phone: (616) 738-4810


Ottawa County Poor Farm

Courtesy of Coopersville Area Historical Society

The property’s first building, on the left, once was a farmhouse of the Daniel Realy family, built when the land was a wheat farm in the 1830s. The building later was an inn for travelers between Grand Haven and Grand Rapids. It then served Ottawa County’s indigent population until the building on the right was built in 1886. The original building was used as a laundry until 1941. It was torn down in 1951.