A brief history of the town poor farm

The history of how poor people were dealt with in St. George has varied over time. The early records of the town following incorporation in 1803 mention the practice of auctioning off the poor to the lowest bidder. The auction price was what the town would have to pay the bidder for caring for the poor. Therefore, a lower amount was paid for the able bodied (this might include a widow and her children) because they could work, and a higher amount was paid for the elderly and infirm who couldn’t contribute to household income. This auction took place at the annual town meeting and was good for one year. This was felt to be a good practice by the poor because if you ended up with someone who did not treat you well, there was a light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the year.

Another practice that preceded the auction, and dated back to the 1700s, was the “warning out of town.” If it was felt that any newcomer to town may become a charge to the town, the town fathers would issue a notice to the constable to order the people to leave town. They may or may not have left town, but this put them on notice that they could not come to the town for assistance.

At a town meeting in 1830, St. George voters created a committee to look into the creation of a poor farm. Like true New Englanders, this option was looked at as saving money. Then, in 1837 the Town of St. George purchased from Benjamin Linnekin for $1,600 a piece of land containing 100 acres. The town owned this property, which was located just north of Wiley’s Corner, until 1945 when it was sold to August and Joanna Johnson. During this period those needing assistance from the town would be admitted to the poor farm. Town records report those individuals who were admitted during the year and those in residence as of the end of the year.

In the early years of the poor farm the residents not only included the able-bodied poor and the elderly and infirm, but was the place where you would find orphans, criminals and those suffering from mental illness. Those who were able were expected to work the fields and care for the animals. There was usually a superintendent of the farm and his wife, the matron of the poor farm, who was very important as success of the farm depended upon her overseeing the gardens and livestock, plus being the caregiver to the elderly and infirm.

The old poor farm property is currently owned by Alan and Kitzi Benner, but the old buildings are gone. —John Falla

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3 thoughts on “A brief history of the town poor farm

  1. Richard Kahn

    Very interesting. Were almshouses the urban version of poor farms and did they take in people who were ill as there were no general hospitals in Maine until Maine General Hospital (now Maine Medical Center) in 1874?

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  2. Dorothy Rouse

    Thank you John, I knew and spent lots of time with Aunt Joanna at the poor farm but never knew the history. Dorothy Baum Rouse

    Reply

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