The Bedford Almshouse or Town Farm

April 8, 2014

By Brian Oulighan & Don Corey

The Bedford Alms House or Town Farm
The Bedford Alms House or Town Farm – Image courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, from a collection of photos taken of older buildings all over Massachusetts by one Harriette Merrifield between 1887 and 1945

The Town of Bedford, for many years had an Almshouse, called the Town Farm or the Poor Farm.  It stood on the east side of Springs Road on land that is today owned by the V.A. Hospital.  It is interesting to note that the VA Hospital is working on construction of a new 70-unit housing project for homeless veterans that will be located very close to, if not on the site of, the former Town Farm.

The Town Farm

The Town Farm, containing 118 acres, was originally conveyed to the Town from Oliver Pollard in 1833.  As far back as 1850, I found records of people living at the Farm.  These were people that were either very old or they had some disability where the family could not take care of them anymore.  In 1855, there were 4 people living there with the Constantine family, David and Abigail.  They were the Superintendent and Matron of the Town Farm.  It was called a farm because it was an actual working farm.  The people at the farm worked there to support themselves, and they sold milk, potatoes, wood, etc. each year to help buy necessities.  The town also put money into the budget each year for support of the farm.  In 1918 the Town put aside $1,594 for assistance and the farm sold $2,554 in products that year.  At the end of the year, the farm had a surplus after all expenses.

The Town Farm in every community was visited each year by the State Inspector of Charities to check on the conditions there.  The visitor in most cases was a woman, who has exercised the experience gained in domestic life for testing the housekeeping of these establishments.  The visit in February 1898 resulted in the following report:

“This almshouse is under the same efficient management as last year, and was found in a neat and clean condition.  Better heating facilities, a bath-room, and some repairs are much needed.  Of the one hundred and eighteen acres of land about twenty-five are under cultivation, the income from the farm last year having been $1,800.  There is no separation of the sexes. The warden and matron receive a salary of $500.”

We also know the names of most of the other Superintendents and Matrons of the Town Farm from Federal and State Censuses.

  • 1860: Robert & Emeline Edwards (Robert enlisted in the Civil War in 1861)
  • 1865: David & Abigail Constantine (1850 & 1855)
  • 1870: Loammi & Sarah Saunders
  • 1880: Jonas & Sarah Melvin
  • 1887: Joseph & Miss C. Robinson
  • 1890 – 1895: James & Alice Spredby (James is a Civil War Veteran)
  • 1895 – 1899: Charles & Nellie Gault
  • 1900 – 1918: William & Sarah Thompson

The population of the Town Farm fluctuated greatly, with the peak reported in 1880 at 15 “inmates”.  The Town Farm also provided lodging for poor travelers, or “tramps”.  The 1875 Annual Report contains the following entry, “Number of paupers at commencement of year, 7; present number, 5; deceased, 3; left, 1.  Number of travelers lodged, 175”.  By the 1884 Annual Report we find the following entry, “Number of inmates at commencement of year, 14; none died; received, 3; present number, 13.  Number of tramps lodged, 64”.

The 1912 Report of the Overseers of the Poor noted the following, “Owing to the unusual expenditure for outside aid and the necessity of purchasing a new horse to replace one which died, our appropriation has been used up.  Our almshouse ranks high for cleanliness.  We wish we might have the building more comfortable in Winter.  This could be done by installing a heating system”(!)

The following year (1913), the Overseers had to make the following report, “Unfortunately on June 17 our barn at the Town Farm was struck by lighting and burned to the ground with harnesses, hay forks and other tools”.

By 1916 things were more or less back to normal, as noted in the Town’s Annual Report.

The Board of Overseers of Poor herewith submits their annual report:

  • The live stock at the Town Farm comprises:  3 horses, 10 cows, 1 bull, 1 heifer, 1 calf and 140 hens.
  • There are 28 tons of hay, 9 cords of cord wood, 6 cords sawed and split, 2,500 ft of pine boards and 1-1/2 tons coal. We have one 2-horse tip cart, one 1- horse tip cart, two wagons, one sled, one democrat mowing machine, horse rake and tedder, one double harness and one single harness.
  • At the time of writing there were 25 bushel potatoes and 10 bushel turnips at the Farm. During this year we placed a bath tub in the Almshouse and hope very soon to have this connected with running water. At the beginning of year there were three inmates at Almshouse. There are now two. For outside aid we have paid for transportation $10.00. For rent, fuel and groceries, $713.73. In addition to this we have sent direct from farm for outside aid, potatoes and wood amounting to $31.20.  It is a pleasure to report that Mr. and Mrs. Thompson are giving such efficient service as Superintendent and Matron at our Town Farm.

By 1917-1918 the Town Farm population had dwindled to two inmates, and the Overseers of the Poor submitted the following in the 1918 Town Report:

“At the Town Meeting in March it was voted to sell the Town Farm.  This was accordingly done, and the new owner took possession Oct. 1st.  At that time we had two inmates.  One has been committed to the State Hospital, leaving but one to support at present.  There has been very little outside aid the last year”. 

The new owner, Dr. Harold D. Cross, planned to use the farm as a summer home.  However, when the Veterans Administration chose Bedford as the site for its hospital to care for brain-injured World War I veterans, the farm was purchased and razed in 1925.

Ina Mansur Reader

The Society is very pleased to announce the publication of a new book on Bedford’s history, The Ina Mansur Reader.  During her service as Bedford’s Town Historian from 1975 until her death in 1988, Ina did an extraordinary amount of research on local history.  She published several books and a series of more than 100 newspaper articles that appeared in the Bedford Mintuteman.  This book, The Ina Mansur Reader, is a compendium of those articles published in their entirety for the first time.  The book is available through the Society for $20.

The Society is also indebted to Alethea “Lee” Yates for her skill and patience in assembling, proofreading, illustrating and preparing the book for publishing.  Without her dedication the book could not have happened.

it is from a collection of photos taken of older buildings all over Massachusetts by a Harriette Merrifield between 1887 and 1945

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Alethea Yates
April 8, 2014 10:01 pm

A well-done article! Quite a wealth of fascinating detail, most of it new to me. Congratulations and thanks to Brian and Don for their excellent work.

April 9, 2014 6:50 pm
Reply to  Alethea Yates

Thanks Lee, I just drove to the area and saw the fencing, on the left side, near the gated entrance of Springs Brook Park. This could be the location of the Poor Farm. From old maps, it seems very close.

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