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Almshouse Hill

11/15/03 12:00AM By Alan Boye
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(HOST)Commentator Alan Boye found something on a recent walk, that offered him a glimpse of a child at play many years ago.

(BOYE) My neighbors must think I am crazy. I'm scuttling over a recently logged corner of the Town's Forest like some kind of carrion beetle. Instead of enjoying the view, I've got my eyes glued to the ground. Every half minute or so, I jump down and poke at the cold earth with my fingers.

It's a crazy habit I have. Most of the time when I'm outside I like to look at nature, but every once in a while, I just walk the hills of Vermont searching for artifacts of our human history.

The trees they cut down from this hillside had been here for decades. This ground has not been exposed for over 45 years. Forty-five years ago, this was a part of what was politely called the St. Johnsbury Almshouse.

Today, the hillside I am on slopes down to the town's three baseball fields. Beyond these deserted fields, the rushing Moose River tumbles noisily over rocky rapids and then empties into the ambling waters of the Passumpsic.

Right down there where home plate now stands stood the town's Poor Farm; this hillside was the farm's pasture land.

I walk along the hill, searching the half frozen earth at my feet. A small white fragment shines in the dirt just ahead of me. I pick up a tiny chip of porcelain no bigger than my thumbnail. There is a small indentation on one side was this a tea-cup? Or a dinner plate that once held steaming food for an evening's meal?

St. Johnsbury opened the Almshouse Farm during the depression years. Families who were down on their luck could live at the Poor Farm until they got their feet back on the ground. People who needed food and shelter could work here to support themselves. By the 1950s Federal aid programs and a changing economy meant there were better ways to help our less fortunate neighbors, and the Almshouse Farm closed.

A bit of red flashes from the slope to my right. I stoop over and pick up a small toy tractor. The wheels are gone, and the red metal is cracked, but a human figure sits behind the steering wheel still ready to plow the earth.

I twirl the toy in my hands and look back across the decades of St. Johnsbury's history to a child, temporarily sheltered here from the ravages of fate, playing farmer in the pastures of the Town Farm.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.
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