The Town Poor

The problem of providing a suitable town farm or almshouse for the poor arose shortly after Ashland was incorporated. For its first few years the town followed the common practice of “letting out” the paupers to the lowest bidders. However, in December, 1855 there appeared in the warrant for the town meeting an article relative to the purchase of a town farm, on which the voters took affirmative action. The following spring the matter was brought up for reconsideration, and the earlier vote in favor of a town-owned almshouse was rescinded.

At the annual meeting held March 1, 1858, the town gave the overseers of the poor “discretionary powers to hire a farm for the paupers, and employ a man to take charge of them on the first of April, or let them out in the usual way, as they may think best.”

On March 7, 1859, an article was inserted in the town warrant “To see if the town will chose a committee to purchase a Pauper Establishment,” which was passed over by the voters without any action. But on adjournment of this meeting the selectmen were delegated to receive proposals from the persons having farms to sell, and late in 1859 a suitable farm was purchased.

In April, 1869, the town adopted “rules and regulations” governing the treatment and conduct of the poor at the new town farm. These “Almshouse Rules” are not without interest:

Article 1. The inmates shall be provided with good suitable meats and drink, lodging and clothing, and have their meals at proper hours and all eat together in an orderly decent manner and no one shall be allowed to be absent from said meals without leave of the Superintendent.

Article 2. Any inmate who shall bring or cause to be brought into said Establishment any intoxicating liquor without leave of the Superintendent shall be immediately confined in the Room of Correction for a term not exceeding seven days.

Article 3. Any inmate who shall leave said Establishment without permission of the Superintendent, or shall stay way longer than he or she have permission, shall be prohibited from leaving said Establishment for a term not exceeding ninety days, and for the second offense, a term not exceeding six months, and shall be subject to the Room of Correction not exceeding fourteen days.

Article 4. Any inmate found drunk or using profane or indecent language, or who shall be indecent in behavior or shall be guilty of theft shall be immediately confined in the Room of Correction and it shall be the duty of the Superintendent forthwith to notify the overseers of the Poor, who shall fix the time of his or her confinement not exceeding fourteen days for the first offense, and not exceeding thirty days for the second offense.

Article 5. Any inmate who shall be mutinous, quarrelsome, or disobedient to the Superintendent shall be subject to the Room of Correction not exceeding seven days for the first offense and not exceeding fourteen days for the second offense.

Article 6. All persons who shall be confined in the Room of Correction as aforesaid shall subsist on bread and water during their confinement.

Harsh as these rules may appear, they were lenient indeed as compared with the regulations adopted and enforced by many other Massachusetts towns at the time. Additional land was purchased for the town farm in 1893. In 1905, because of the cost of maintaining the farm, which had become greater than that spent on the care of its inmates, a committee was set up to study the proposal to sell the property, and make other arrangements for the care of the poor of the town. Three different committees worked on this problem, but no definite action was taken until 1914. In that year it was voted to close the farm, sell the fittings, and make arrangements for the maintenance of the poor elsewhere.

Ashland Directions – May 1976