Maine Poorhouse
the Poorhouse Story


An excellent article from the Sun-Journal (June 14, 1997) titled:
Norlands Seminar:  19th century poverty full of indignities
[This is a "Must Read!" for anyone interest in Maine history.  PHL ] This will take a while to load because we used scans to retain the style of the original newspaper article.

of the Legal Settlement (or Residence) of an Individual
          from the Overseers of the Poor of Canton
          to the Overseers of the Poor 
                    of the Town of Mexico, Oxford County

1852 -- 1898

the Poorhouse Story

"I am interested in finding out any info about a poor farm in St. Albans, [Somerset County] Maine. My sister owns a house that was said to be a poor farm at one time. The house is located on Ross Hill Rd. I am sure that wasn't the name of the road in the 1800 hundreds. Any info would be appreciated. Thank you."  
Debbie Butterfass

"I was raised in Old Town, Maine, and went to school my first 6 years in Stillwater [Penobscot County]. There was a poor farm not too many miles from our school. Sometimes the school bus would stop there to pick up children. There were always old men there. I remember one in particular, his name was Frans Thurstan, and he used to come to the school and set on the board fence and play his harmonica for us children. I would be about 1940. Don't remember when it was closed."
     Charlotte [      

"If it is of any help, my ggrandfather, Robert M. Wylie kept diaries. Only a few have survived. They go from 1897-1933. There is mentioned through out, a 'town farm' in Boothbay/Boothbay Harbor [LINCOLN County]. A lot of the elderly would eventually end up there, as well as those who fell on hard times. Hope this is of some help. You could contact the Boothbay Regional Historical Society. I'm sure they have lots of info on the farm and those who were there."
     Robert Wylie [ ]

     "I  remember that there was once a "poor farm" just outside the town of Presque Isle, [AROOSTOOK County] Maine on the Easton Road. The main house is still there (or was, the last time I was by there). I don't know how it was administered, but I suspect someone in the town was elected or appointed to supervise it while the residents provided the necessary labor. If so any records that might survive would probably have been kept with other town records, and might even have received mention in the town reports that were published annually.
      I've encountered another arrangement for care of the indigent in at least one rural New Brunswick settlement (the one where my father was brought up). A farmer (a great-uncle of mine) who had the reputation of being God-fearing and scrupulously honest was appointed (by whom I'm not sure) to be the "Overseer-of-the-Poor. He kept records of all his business transactions in a little notebook that I was fortunate enough to be able to copy, and among them were listed the chits or credit vouchers that he had issued to various persons. He made them very specific, too, specifying that they were for so many pounds of butter, or flour, quarts of molasses, etc.
     C B Knox [ ]

"The Winslow Town Farm [Kennebec County] is still standing (now private home) on outer Clinton Avenue, about 3/4 of a mile north of the intersection of Halifax St. and Clinton Ave. on the west side of the road.  Today it is a neatly kept, white building consisting of a traditional "Cape" house facing the road and a two storey ell behind the "Cape" running  east-west.  The ell looks as though its west end  had been sliced off (it just looks "odd", not a typically Maine).  In truth there were two large barns once attached to the ell and they gave the original buildings a symmetry that doesn't exist today. The barns (one ran north-south and connected to the other which ran east-west) making sort of a courtyard. The barns, milk room and a garage were torn down in the late 60's or early 70's.  The farm was last run (to the best of my knowledge) as a farm by a family named Glidden.  The son of the family and I were good friends and along with other "kids" from the area used to play in the hay mows and help with the milking and mucking-out.  I remember that one had to go down a couple of steps to get from the ell into the front part of the house.  There was (and probably still is) a large, brick cistern in the basement of the ell.  I remember it as being at least twenty feet across and five deep. I have no idea when the place Town Farm was closed."
     Buzz Taylor [

the Poorhouse Story

"My Mom was town treasurer for the Town of Waterford in OXFORD County in the late 1940s, then selectman (sometimes called selectwoman) until 1960s .Then my Dad was in late 1970s & early 1980s. "Selectmen" were called : Selectmen, Assessors & OVERSEERS OF THE POOR."
     Sylvia Sebelist  [
[Note: Sylvia was kind enough to scan and share with us pages from the 1892 Annual Town Report (which reported on expenses for the poor during 1891) which we have been able to use in a very helpful presentation about how genealogical researchers can use such reports to locate information about people who were residing on the Town Farm -- a form of poorhouse. (See below under Records.) PHL ]

We are privileged to have had historian Jean F. Hankins allow us to present her previously unpublished article -- "Over the Hill to the Poorhouse": The Otisfield Town Farm, 1865 - 1924. [CUMBERLAND County]  This article gives perspective on historic poorhouse trends throughout the state, and it will be of interest to residents of other counties as well. 

We twisted Clayton Spencer's arm and got his permission to take his e-mail comments and present them as another article which we have titled: Historical Survey of  Methods of Poor Relief in Maine  (This article has reference to the town of Machias in WASHINGTON County.) He explains more about the use of Annual Town Meeting Reports when doing poorhouse research.

the Poorhouse Story
The following is an excerpt from a U.S. Government REPORT 
summarizing various state poor laws in 1904. .
Click on the link above for more information.

the Poorhouse Story


Waterford (OXFORD County) 1892 Annual Town Report -- giving detailed report of Town (Poor) Farm 
 [Note: This is used as part of a lesson on what genealogical information can be obtained from poorhouse reports found in town reports.   PHL ]

List of Poorhouse Residents in the 1850 Census for Eliot, York County, Maine
[Note: This is used as part of a lesson on how to locate poorhouses in census records.  PHL ]

List of Poorhouse Residents in the Town Farm of Albion, Kennebec County Maine  
  from the 1800 Census

the Poorhouse Story

the Poorhouse Story

We are hoping to build this base of information about poorhouses in MAINE through the helpful participation of  readers. All are requested to submit items of interest by sending e-mail to The Poorhouse Lady.

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