Date Of Visit: March 30, 2019
Location: Bare Cove Park, 45 Bare Cove Dr, Hingham, MA
Summary: Bare Cove Park was once home to one of the first charitable groups in the colonies and states. “Town Farm” at Bare Cove was one of the many almshouses in the states.
New England has a long history of helping others. One of the ways the people of New England have reached out to help others is with the creation of Almshouses.. In Christian tradition, alms are money or services donated to support the poor and indigent.
In short, Almshouses were charitable housing units designed to help the indigent, particularly widows, the elderly and those unable to pay their rent. They were maintained by a community or charitable group. Originally, they were attached to churches and other religious groups. They were later adopted by local officials and governing bodies.
Although they have a short history in the colonies and states, they have a much longer history in Europe. In fact, Almshouses are a tradition that was brought over from England. The first recorded almshouse is said to have been built in 1132 at the Hospital of Saint Cross in Winchester, England. It is still in existence today.
The almshouse in Hingham, MA, (“Town Farm”) which once stood in the area in the photograph below was built in 1832 and it lasted just over 100 years. It was the third almshouse in the city. Although the sign doesn’t say specifically where the almshouse was, it was in this general area. Trees, a few condos just out of view behind the trees and access roads now stand where the almshouse once stood. This sign, where the defunct almshouse once stood, is located on Bare Cove Path at Bare Cove Park.
Almshouses in the colonies and states were not just a product of Hingham, MA, though. In fact, almshouses were abundant throughout the colonies and United States way before Hingham erected “Town Farm.”
The first almshouse in the United States was founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1622. The original Almshouse was burned down in 1682. When they decided to rebuild it they chose a different location. But, these alhouses also dotted the Northeast in such places as Pennsylvania.
However, almshouses weren’t just used for altruistic purposes. In addition to providing a needed home for the poor, mentally ill and physically impaired, the homes were also used by some as a place to drop off vagrants, criminals and addicts. This made some of the almshouses unsafe. Allegations of neglect and unsanitary conditions were also rampant at some of the homes.
By the late 1800s and part of the 1900s, almshouses were largely gone. This was in part because the Social Security Act prohibited federally aided old-age assistance to residents of public institutions. This was because the creation Social Security was thought to make these types of homes unnecessary. Little did they realize how healthcare costs would sky rocket in the ensuing years. The prohibition of legally funded almshouses also paved the way for privatized elderly care homes.