|FEATURE -- Poor Farm|
WEBSTER _ "The poor farm: What was it? Where was it?
The multiple choice question was advanced by a young visitor to Town Clerk Robert T. Craver's Town Hall office a few weeks ago.
Mr. Craver, 51, was only 3-years-old when the Webster Board of Public Welfare closed the town infirmary, or poor farm, in August 1957. However, he's been around town government long enough to absorb a lot of municipal history.
Mr. Craver knew that the "poor farm" provided care and work for indigents and the buildings were on Cudworth and Sutton Roads. That's a pretty good response, allowing that it was given nearly 48 years after the fact.
Outlines to the poor farm can be roughly drawn by driving over Cudworth and Sutton Roads. All of the office and industrial buildings in the general vicinity are located on the one-time poor farm.
First called an "Almshouse," the Webster facility took on farm style characteristics early on, starting around 1869, when Dwight Vinton sold a horse to the town.
Care of paupers was also outsourced over many decades. A few examples from 1877 include: "Oscar Shumway, aid to Mrs. Casey, three weeks, $15; (hotel owner) H.I. Joslin, food and lodging for sundry paupers, $250; Oxford Overseers of the Poor, aid for Frank Goodness, $18; Worcester Lunatic Hospital, support of five insane paupers, $192.44.
The "poor farm account" was nearly depleted in the same year because it cost $263 to assist "527 tramps." The town appropriated $6,500 for schools and about half that amount, $3,300, for the care of the poor, with $956.49 to run the poor farm.
There's nothing in town reports to suggest the 1877 spike in third party expenditures for the poor prompted expansion of the poor farm. Still, appropriations for the farm increased along with the pauper count, with expenditures measured in weeks per person housed.
Eight persons were at the almshouse "the whole year" in 1880 and an unspecified number of others were maintained a total of 283 weeks. The average weekly cost was $3.43 per inmate.
There was little concern for the sensibilities of town farm residents. They were classified as "inmates," meaning living together with others in the same building; even while perception of the word grew to mean "jail."
Their identity was published in annual town reports. Taking 1909 from a random sampling, people that spent the whole year in the Webster farm were identified as: Edward Wood, Patsey Murphy, Valentine Farrell, Julia Brunhall, Sarah Mott, Edward Wakefield, Dwight Blackman, Daniel Morissey, and Margaret Ryan.
Dudley inmates boarded at the Webster facility through 1909 were, James Hogan, Thomas Kennedy, Kit Farrell, Joseph Duval and Michael Farley.
Inmates part of the year were, Rufus and George Lamb, Henry Sebber, Patrick Casey, Hattie Cady, Charlotte Mixer, Frank Coteux, William Hart, August Bean, Emily Howland. Matilda Bessette, and Michael Dwyer of Dudley. Sadly, six from this group--Miss or Mrs. Howland, Miss or Mrs. Bassett, Mr. Hart, Miss or Mrs. Mixer, Mr. Coteux, and Mr. Dwyer--were seperated from the facility by death.
Poor farm inmates were reclassified to "persons registered" before 1940, and their names were not bandied about in town reports. The census for that year was given simply as 53 persons.
While essentially a welfare service, the poor farm was also a business of sorts. This shows in warden Hector Patenaude's 1940 report. Keeping expenditures in tow, turning profits into the town treasury, helping other departments was the game plan.
Besides animals--3 horses, 15 cows, 1 bull, 85 chickens--the farm has various wagons, sleighs, harnesses, blankets, farm grown livestock feed, 40 cords of wood, assorted tools, two trucks and funishings. The inventory listed 650 jars of preserves, 77 pints of relish, and 188 jars of jams and jellies, all canned in the poor farm kitchen.
While town farm gardens helped to sustain "persons registered," nuch of the produce was
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