The Portland neighborhood that may soon be home to the state’s largest shelter and service center for the homeless has been in this position before.

Until the early 1900s, the neighborhood now referred to as Nason’s Corner was largely farmland, but also had been the site of an almshouse for the poor.

It was likely named after a prominent farming family that once lived near the intersection of Capisic Street and Brighton Avenue, which was considered the neighborhood center, according to William David Barry, a research librarian at the Maine Historical Society who co-authored a book about the area.

The area was part of the town of Westbrook until the 1870s, Barry said, when it became the town of Deering. About 30 years later, it was annexed by Portland.

Just prior to being annexed, Deering had built a new almshouse and poor farm at the Westbrook line. That almshouse was located on the site of Portland’s Barron Center, where officials are proposing a new 200-bed homeless shelter.

And, shortly after annexing Deering, Portland closed its almshouse located on Park Avenue, where the Portland Expo and Hadlock Field are currently located, and moved its residents out to the facility near the Westbrook line.

At the time, the people who used the almshouse, named the Boothby House after Portland Mayor Frederick Boothby, were referred to as “inmates” and they were expected to work in exchange for a roof over their heads.

Able-bodied men staying at the Boothby House were expected to toil in the fields across Brighton Avenue, tending to a herd that in 1938 totaled 23 cows, which produced 91,836 quarts of milk, according to the book “Deering,” written by Barry and Patricia McGraw Anderson and published in 2010 by Greater Portland Landmarks. Women were expected to do household chores.

In addition to farmland, the area also had two major brickyards. In the late 1800s, the area became attractive for residential development because of the electric streetcar service connecting Portland to Westbrook.

In 1895, the 100-acre Riggs Farm was developed into 375 house lots, according to press reports.

“Attractive, affordable bungalows and starter houses laid out on quiet streets named after English counties (including Devon, Dorset, Essex and Warwick) were handy to the streetcars and appealed to young working couples,” Barry and Anderson wrote.

Sagamore Village was built by the federal government in 1943 as wartime housing for shipyard workers, but it is now owned by the Portland Housing Authority and provides low-income housing to 200 families, many of whom are immigrants.

Hundreds of additional homes and Hall Elementary School were built in the 1950s, followed by shopping centers and other commercial development.

It’s unclear when the old almshouse closed.

A nomination form from 1985 to have the Barron Center listed on the National Park Services’ National Register of Historic Places says: “With the decline of public institutions such as almshouses in the second quarter of this (century), the complex underwent a conversion for use as the city hospital.”

Today, the Barron Center is a city-owned nursing home for low-income residents that has a separate dementia ward. It also has a housing complex for seniors and the disabled on its campus called the Loring House.

Last month, the city announced plans to build a new shelter and service center for the homeless on the Barron center campus.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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