100 Year History
Town Farm – Loui’s Beau Rivage – Park Place – Boardwalk Inn
Before the social safety nets of the DHHS, Social Security and Welfare, there was the Town Farm, also known as the Poor Farm. People who had no means to sustain themselves or had a mental disability but were still functional were sent to live and work on the farm for room and board. In Rumford, there were two such farms. One on the Franklin Annex Road in South Rumford and one on the Swift River Road, just past the Mountain Valley High School and Richardson Farm. The one on Swift River Road still stands today. Its history reflects the growth of this town and the changes and evolution of society. Below is a brief outline of this Town Farm’s 100 years history.
On April 22, 1911, the Town of Rumford purchased a parcel of land from Alvin G. Goddard, who owned the property for one day only. The property had been owned by William and Desire C. Blanchard since June 26, 1865. Previous to that Joseph Hall tilled and worked the land. The property consisted of 140 acres of tillable land, pasture, woodland, 350 maple orchard trees, an apple orchard and a sand pit of considerable value. The amount paid by the town for this land was $3,200.
The small buildings standing on the property were torn down and a suitable set was erected and stocked so as to give Rumford a “nice town farm”. A two-story frame house consisting of 16 rooms was constructed, as well as a large barn.
The town hired a superintendent to run the farm. He and his family would live there, work the land and take care of the “inmates” as they were referred to. The first of the superintendents was Felix Boutin, who worked for three and one-half years. The next was Alexander Lemieux who worked for the next seven years. Then Joseph Giguere took over on April 1, 1922, and remained there until its termination in 1942.
In the winter of 1924, it is believed that a spark from a passing train, whose tracks ran behind the barn, to Rangeley, landed on the roof and set the house on fire. The buildings were burned to the ground. The fire department was alerted and a fire truck was sent. Unfortunately, the truck got stuck in a snowdrift at Richardson’s corner and the firemen could only watch as the fire destroyed the farm. Three firemen were injured in the attempt, however, having been badly burned by the spilling of acid chemical when the heavy truck tried to speed through a drift and hit a hole in the road. Most seriously burned was Dona Coulombe, the other two were Fred Woods and Alex Law. None of the inmates or farm animals was hurt. The inmates were sent to surrounding houses until other arrangements could be made. The animals were taken to Richardson’s farm.
After the insurance payment of $11,500 and $5,000 appropriated by taxation, a new set of buildings was erected and completed in 1925. The main house and barn, which you can see today, are two of those buildings. There was also a garage, tool shop, wagon shed and two adjoining dwelling houses built at that time, none of which are still standing.
With the wood lots, gravel pit and gardening as income providers, the Town Farm, even during the depression years, was self-sustaining. In the winter months, they would cut, saw and split wood for their own use as well as delivering orders to the townspeople. In the spring, they would make maple syrup. In the summer the huge gardens produced enough vegetables to store for their own use as well as sell for profit. Of course there were cattle, pigs, hens and chickens, producing milk, butter, eggs and meat, for their own use and for revenue. The sand pit was also a huge income producer, selling sand to other town departments and also to the state for building and repairing roads.
The superintendent’s duties consisted of planting, haying, harvesting, building and equipment maintenance, wood cutting, and keeping the “town fathers” apprised as to what was being done at the farm. The superintendent’s wife’s task was to manage the household budget and to see that everyone was well fed, warmly clothed and given a comfortable home. She prepared three hot meals each and every day, canned and preserved the produce from the gardens and fruit trees. She was in charge of the laundry, ironing, mending and sometimes even doctoring. She would save on her budget by washing and bleaching cotton grain bags to make sheets and also made the soap they used. Another of her duties was counting heads to see that no one was missing for even an overnight jaunt.
The inmates, as many as were able, contributed to the work, in their small way, lightened the load and as a general rule, all felt that he/she was a member of a big family and considered the Town Farm his/her home. To most, it was their last home, coming as they did to the Town Farm when they were old and no longer able to live by themselves. Some will argue that inmates were mistreated, abused and neglected, and at some Town Farms, that may be the case, however, there are no such reports at this particular Town Farm. In fact we have heard stories from nieces and nephews of Superintendent Giguere of happy times spent visiting the farm.
During the Giguere’s tenure, 176 inmates were taken care of, 165 men and 11 women. During the depression years, there were as many as 40 inmates at one time. When the Town Farm closed forever in 1946, it put an end to the chapter of 35 years of a community’s history helping those less fortunate.
Ten acres of the Town Farm was sold on September 26, 1946, to Louis and Bernadine Fontaine for the sum of $10,000, which included the main house and barn. There were still 14 inmates on the property at that time and Mrs. Fontaine took care of them for three years until other arrangements were made. There were still lots of pigs, cows, 2 horses and a chicken house on the farm. The Fontaines turned the place into a resort of sorts, calling it the Rumford Inn, then later, The Beau Rivage. Many people remember roller skating in the “barn” and attending the parties in the “house”. In 1959, they sold building lots, now known as Swift River Park, for $500-$750 per lot.
In 1983, the Fontaines sold the property to Gerard (Gerry) Boudreau who owns it to this day. The name of the hall was changed to Park Place where many receptions, reunions and parties were held from February 1986 until October 2006. In 2003, The Boardwalk Inn was born, offering high-end accommodations to guests from as far away as England, Italy, Israel, South Africa and Australia.
Thanks to the work of the Rumford Historical Society and articles written by Yvette Lacroix Raymond (a relative of Superintendent Giguere) we have been able to keep this building’s history alive. We would also like to thank the Fontaine family for photos and information regarding their 37 years on the property. We are always looking for old photos and stories from people who have a special memory of a time here on the “Poor Farm”; of special interest would be a photo of the original set of buildings before the fire of 1923.