Gardiner Almshouse // 1834

This large brick Federal house was built on the outskirts of Gardiner, Maine, in 1834. Ebenezer Moore, the builder, worked as a carpenter and house-wright in town and showcased his skill on his own brick mansion, selling it to a C.E. Bradstreet. By the late 1840s, the town of Gardiner decided that it would need a new almshouse, city-provided housing for the poor, so they purchased the Bradstreet house and 14-acres of land. In the 1848 town report documents noted, “The establishment is a brick one, of two stories, containing thirty-six fine rooms, including seven fitted for the insane in the most admirable manner, together with a spacious hall. The building is every way a most excellent one for the purpose, and is a monument of the humanity and generosity of the city.” The almshouse served as a working farm where the poor could harvest their own crops and contribute in a small, closed society. The almshouse burned in 1909, and was immediately rebuilt using the outside brick walls. In the Colonial Revival manner, a gambrel roof replaced the former gable roof, which added a third story to the almshouse. The building was eventually sold, as new housing models for low-income residents took off. The former almshouse was converted to an apartment building in 1970, a use that appears to continue to this day.

Tewksbury State Hospital, Male Asylum // 1901

The Male Asylum building at the Tewksbury State Hospital was built in 1901 from plans by architect John A. Fox, who designed the Administration Building and many other buildings in the hospital/asylum campus. The building was eventually renamed after Anne Sullivan, who is best known as the teacher and companion of Helen Keller. Anne Sullivan contracted a bacterial eye disease known as trachoma, which caused many painful infections and, over time, made her nearly blind. When she was eight, her mother died from tuberculosis, and her father abandoned the children two years later for fear he could not raise them on his own. She and her younger brother, James (Jimmie), were sent to the run-down and overcrowded Tewksbury Almshouse (later renamed the Tewksbury Hospital) as a result, where she endured multiple unsuccessful eye operations and poor, cramped conditions. The male asylum building held cramped dormitories with men and boys suffering from various ailments and mental conditions. The building sits atop a stunning rubblestone foundation and features prominent Romanesque arched windows.

Tewksbury State Hospital, Administration Building // 1893

The Tewksbury State Hospital was established in 1852 as one of three Massachusetts State almshouses (along with Bridgewater and Monson). The almshouses were needed due to the unprecedented influx of Irish immigrants at that time, many of which found difficulty locating work. These almshouses represented the state’s first venture into care of the poor, a role previously filled by the cities and towns up to that time. In 1866, when Tewksbury began accepting the “pauper insane”, it became the state’s first facility to accept cases of chronic insanity specifically. Decades later, Massachusetts Governor Benjamin Butler accused the almshouse in Tewksbury in, “trading in bodies of dead paupers and transporting them for a profit to medical schools,” and “tanning human flesh to convert to shoes or other objects”. The facility was later investigated, and no conclusive evidence was found. In the late 19th century, a major rebuilding (and re-branding) campaign to upgrade the old almshouse by replacing its early wood-frame buildings with more durable and fireproof masonry ones was undertaken. One of the earliest “new” buildings was this Queen Anne-style Administration Building, standing at the head of the former entrance drive, which creates a fairly foreboding presence. This building was designed by Boston architect John A. Fox, and showcases the epitome of Queen Anne institutional design. The hospital runs today much like a traditional campus, with some of the older buildings unused, providing a strange composition. The former Administration Building is now home to the Massachusetts Public Health Museum.

John Fuller House // 1823

This home was built for John and Mary Fuller in rural Suffield, CT in 1823 and operated as a farm by the family for over fifty years. The town of Suffield purchased the house and farmland before the 1880s for use as a poor farm. Poor farms (also known as almshouses) were often rural houses where paupers (mainly elderly and disabled people) were supported at public expense. The land was available for the elderly and workers to harvest crops for sale and sustenance. According to an 1886 article, a former slave from Stamford, CT died in the poorhouse. “Old Cato” was a slave owned by Maj. John Davenport, a lawyer and politician of Stamford. Davenport offered Old Cato his freedom in 1812 if he enlisted to serve in the War of 1812, which he did. By the 1820s, he moved to Suffield CT, and worked at the West Suffield Congregational Church, paid to ring the bell at the church, likely also maintaining the property. He eventually ended up at the poorhouse and died, estimated to be over 100 years old. Back to the house… It was sold by the town at private auction in 1952 and purchased as a single family home, which it remains to this day. The house is a great example of a vernacular brick Federal style home with fanlights.