Poor farms were county or town-run residences where paupers (mainly elderly and disabled people) were supported through town and county government expense. Poor farms were common in the United States from about the middle of the nineteenth century and provided social services for the needy. The need for poor farms declined after the Social Security Act took effect in 1935, with most disappearing completely by about 1950.
Most poor farms were self-sufficient working farms that produced at least some of the produce, grain and livestock consumed by their inhabitants. Healthy residents were expected to work in the fields and provide housekeeping and care for other residents. The rules were strict and the accommodations were minimal.
According to The History of the Town of Mason, from the First Grant in 1749, to the Year 1858, the residents of Mason voted at town meeting in March of 1832, “to purchase a farm, on which to support the poor, and chose a committee for that purpose, consisting of Timothy Wheeler, Jonathan Bachelder Jr., Elisha Barrett, James Taft, and John Stevens.” The committee was authorized to purchase livestock, farming equipment and hire someone to manage the farm.
The committee settled on purchasing a farm on Valley Road once owned by Zaccheus Barrett, and then owned by his son, Capt. James Barrett (Zaccheus Barrett lived on the farm from 1771 to 1775). According to Hill, the cost of the poor farm, including repairs and additions to the buildings, was $2,500. The cost of the livestock, equipment, furniture and improvements was an additional $863. Hill wrote, “the farm has been used for the purposes intended to the present time, and has furnished a comfortable home for many of the aged and destitute, who had outlived their friends and means of support, as well as for many others, dependent, from various causes, on public charity.”
Zaccheus Barrett’s house is still standing on Valley Road. A view of what the Poor Farm looked like can be seen in a photograph on page 123 of Elizabeth Orton Jones’ book, Mason Bicentennial. The photograph also offers a fine example of how much of Mason has changed from rolling farmland to forested landscape.
Mason Historical Society