Growing up, it was not unusual for our family to be out on a drive when suddenly my mother would shriek, “Wait! Stop the car!” Did we run over a small child? Were we about to drive into a giant pothole? None of the above. “Just look at that Greek Revival,” my mother would enthuse. “Must be 1841. It’s in great shape.”
These sudden stops were not surprising, given that my mom is an architectural historian (some parents drill their kids in the multiplication table; I was quizzed on what style of house we were driving by). Well, now my mother has written a book about one of her architectural passions and I am so proud.
Like the “town farm” above, many communities in the nineteenth century created poorhouses “in a valiant but ultimately failed attempt to create a critical social safety net to shelter the destitute, including the sick, elderly, unemployed, mentally ill, unwed mothers, and the orphaned.” Or in other words, housing for society’s outcasts.
My mother’s book documents the poorhouses of Massachusetts, examining their architectural significance as well as the social life that went on inside them. Many poorhouses are still standing, like the one below, and mom spent years driving around Massachusetts taking pictures and researching their histories.
Congratulations mom! Now that the book is finished you’ll have more time to spend on other pursuits…like teaching your grandchildren the difference between a Queen Anne and a Colonial Revivial style house.
For more information about her book, please see The Poorhouses of Massachusetts. It will be out in the spring; you can also ask your local library to order it.
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