The Town Farm

Today town farms are just a memory. But at one time they played an important role. Many Vermont towns had a town farm, or what was previously known as a “Poor Farm.”

poor farm
1949 Town Farm auction poster. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding.

Town farms were an early form of welfare. They took in homeless people of all ages and those living in poverty. The men worked in the fields and barns, taking care of crops and farm animals. The women worked in the house cooking, cleaning, and taking care of invalid members.

Recently, Ted Spaulding donated to Chester Historical Society a town farm ledger kept by his father, Ed. Ted’s parents ran the town farm on Route 10 in Gassetts. Ted also donated the 1949 auction poster from the auction of the town farm.

Currently, the 1949 town farm auction poster is at The Framery of Vermont on Elm Street in Chester where it’s being flattened. It will then be framed and matted using conservation materials and archival methods. When complete, it will be on display at the historical society.

Ted’s parents first ran the town farm in the spring of 1935. This was for one year only. However in 1941 Ted’s parents returned to run the town farm again. This was an arrangement where the town farm was leased from the Town of Chester. Under this lease, the town would send poor people to the town farm for care.

Ted gave me a little history on the town farm. The town farm was built as a private residence about 1861 by Fred Marshall. It was in 1924 when the town farm first opened on Route 10 in Gassetts. Prior to this location there was a town farm located on what today is known as the Kingsbury Farm. The Kingsbury Farm is west on Route 11 on the left and up the hill, just before the road to Andover and Weston.

 

poor farm
Chester Town Farm circa 1940s. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding.

On April 15, 1949, the Town of Chester sold the town farm at auction along with contents and equipment. There were 174 acres of land, tillable fields, pastures, and timber. A two-story house with slate roof, two furnaces, and electric lights. John Deere manure spreader, Yankee horse rake, mowing machines, and more. Household contents were sold, including a General Electric refrigerator that Ted’s parents bought that day.

Ted’s parents bought other items that day, but most importantly, they bought the town farm for $9,000. Under the new ownership, it continued operating as a town farm until 1965 when it was sold to Joseph ‘J.W.’ Booth.

Ted told me when the Springfield Town Farm closed, some of the people living there came to Chester Town Farm. When the Chester Town Farm closed in 1965, people living there were sent to the Chester Rest Home. Chester Rest Home was run by Ray Bonnets and located where Stone Hearth Inn is today.

Also from Ted Spaulding is a 1943 ledger his father kept for expenses at the town farm. The title page reads:

“‘Town of Chester In account with E.W. Spaulding. Overseer of the Poor 1943.’

  March 12 Sale of two cows $125.

  March 12 E.P. Warner barber inmates $4.40

  March 12 P.W. Adams Funeral Expenses. M.A. Piper $100 March 20 P.W. Adams Funeral expenses Hattie Smith $100.

  Bellows Falls Co-op Creamery March milk $177.35

  Hubbard parker Small eggs $10.76”

This is a detailed ledger that documents how poor were cared for years ago. They were given chores they could manage, giving those living on the farm a sense of value and pride.

They raised chickens for eggs, pigs for pork and pigs to sell, and cows for milk. This income helped fund the farm. Ted told me they produced enough milk so they fed the pigs extra milk. This would have fattened them up nicely. Today, the town farm appears to be empty.

Danny Clemons remembered a man from the town farm that dressed up every year for parades as Uncle Sam. I didn’t remember him so I asked Ted. He was Fred Smith who claimed to be 5’22.” Ted’s mother Lulu “Lou” was the first female auctioneer in Vermont.

 

It’s ‘prit nere’ show time for the Chester Fall Craft Festival this Sept. 15 and 16. We desperately need antiques for our antiques sale that weekend. Call me at 802-374-0119 and I’ll come pick them up; chew the fat, maybe jaw a while and say, “Thank you very much.”

Instead of an old saying, I’ll use an expression my mother used to describe the poor in Chester. “They’re on the town.”

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