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Boston's Pauper Institutions

Creator: William I. Cole (author)
Date: April 1898
Publication: The New England Magazine
Source: Available at selected libraries

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THREE of Boston's public institutions are on islands in the harbor. One of the Houses of Correction is on Deer Island, the House of Reformation for boys, on Rainsford Island, and the principal Almshouse, on Long Island. A city boat, the "J. Putnam Bradlee," serves as transport between these and the city proper, making two round trips a day, a morning trip for carrying more especially mails and freight, and an afternoon trip for passengers. Different parts of this boat are assigned to the different grades of passengers from the institution's point of view. The commissioner of Penal Institutions, in whose hands is the control of the House of Correction, has a cabin of his own on the upper deck and the exclusive use of the hurricane deck the trustees of the Children's and of the Pauper Institutions, the governing bodies of the House of Reformation and of the Almshouse respectively, have their cabin on the main deck; superintendents and their deputies, the chaplain, and members of 233 the city office force enjoy the privileges of the pilot house; ordinary passengers have the freedom of the upper deck and a small saloon opening from it; while prisoners for Deer and Rainsford Islands and paupers for Long Island find accommodations on the deck below, the former in rooms where they are placed under lock and key. The presence of the Commissioner on board is announced by the display at the masthead of the institution's flag, a blue field with white ball containing an anchor surrounded by the words, City of Boston, Institutions Dept. in blue; that of the Trustees, by a plain blue flag.


The House of Correction and the House of Reformation, of the harbor institutions, have been described in other articles of this series; the Almshouse remains to be described.


Long Island is slightly less than a mile from Deer Island and somewhat more than half a mile from Rainsford Island. It is about a mile and three quarters long and a quarter of a mile wide, and in shape resembles a high military boot with toe pointed downward. It derives its name from its great length when compared with its breadth; or, as Wood says in his "New England's Prospect," written in 1635: "The next Iland of note is Long Iland, so called from his longitude." The outer end of the island, or the top of the boot, rises abruptly to a height of seventy feet above the level of high water, and is known as Long Island Head. Here a lighthouse has been maintained since 1819; and at the present time fortifications for the defence of the harbor are in process of construction.


With the exception of this head, which is the property of the United States Government, the island was purchased by the city thirteen years ago for the site of an almshouse. Before possession could be entered upon, however, it had to be cleared of a colony of Portuguese lobstermen, who without any titular rights had established here their homes. After the time for vacating allowed these squatters by the city had expired, most of them persisted in staying on and met with some show of resistance all efforts to remove them. They were dislodged finally by eviction and the burning of their houses. A few of the colony still remain on the government side of the island, their row of shanties, near the dividing line, showing picturesquely where the city ownership ends and that of the government begins.


In 1887, a large brick building, the present "institution", having been erected, the female paupers were brought here from Austin Farm, whither they had been removed from Deer Island ten years before. But these were not destined to remain here a great while at this time. Within two years of their arrival they were transferred to Rainsford Island, where the male paupers had stayed their wanderings since leaving Deer Island in 1872, to take the places of the male paupers who in turn took their places at Long Island. The reason for this change was that on Long Island the men could be set to work, while on Rainsford they had little or nothing to do. When the hospital on Long Island was ready for occupancy, in 1893, however, the inmates of the Rainsford Island hospital were removed to it; and on the completion of the women's building, two years later, all the women were brought back.


The abandoned almshouse on Rainsford Island was taken possession of, in the same year, by the juvenile offenders, who were brought over from Deer Island, and became the present House of Reformation for boys.


In point of buildings, the Long Island Almshouse ranks among the best of the city institutions. Besides the "institution" already referred to, a well-built and commodious building, there is a model women's dormitory, an excellent hospital on the pavilion plan, a neat Gothic chapel with an attractive interior, and a fine superintendent's house.


The "institution," in which are the offices of the institution and the accommodations for the male paupers, is rectangular in shape, two hundred feet long and forty-five feet wide, three stories high, with a large extension leading back from the middle of the rear. The entrance hall runs through the centre of the main building. From either side of this opens a suite of offices and a great dormitory, and from the rear, into the extension, the general dining room. Back of this dining room come the officer's dining room, the kitchen and the general laundry of the island. On the two floors above are officers quarters, additional dormitories, of which there are four, a hall, and a sewing room in which clothing for the men is made and repaired. The basement contains the receiving room, where newcomers are entered, storerooms, the lavatory, and a large brick-paved room, lighted by half windows and furnished with rude tables and benches, known as "loafer's hall," where the men may spend their leisure time. The entire building is heated by steam and lighted by electricity.

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