The presentation, at the Westport Public Library, 408 County Road, will be by historian Martha Guy, and Heli Meltsner, author of The Poorhouses of Massachusetts: A Cultural & Architectural History. After the talk, they will lead a visit to Westport Town Farm, 830 Drift Road, home for over a century to Westport’s poor farm.
“For most contemporary Americans, ‘poorhouse’ is simply a word, a metaphor for the specter of abject poverty,” writes Ms. Meltsner in her 2012 book. ” Few are aware, however, that for much of the history of this country, the poorhouse represented a critical social safety net, mainly sheltering those too broke to homeless to live elsewhere… The story of how Massachusetts responded to this persistent social problem illuminates how Americans have dealt with a tenaciously held and deeply felt duty to care for the poorest among them.”
The Town of Westport provided this social safety net starting in 1824 with the establishment of a poor farm on the banks of the Westport River.
The Town Farm, as it came to be called, continued to shelter the aged and infirm, orphans and vagabonds, for more than a century. A deaf and blind woman, Lurana Manchester, was 39 when she arrived. She remained on the farm until her death in 1894, at age 92. The farm operated well into the 20th-century, but by the time of FDR and the New Deal, federal and state human services programs were expanding. Known in final years as the “town infirmary,” it closed in 1956.
Today, the Westport Town Farm is one of the few Massachusetts poorhouses that is still a working farm. Under the management of The Trustees of Reservations, the farmhouse is newly restored and community gardens grow vegetables that are donated to local food pantries, continuing the tradition of caring for the needy that was started nearly 200 years ago.
To register or get more information call The Trustees of Reservations at (508) 636-4693 x103 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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