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The poor farm and Gerald Seminatore

Gerry Seminatore Burlington MA

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, September 25, 1979

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 014)

The poor farm and Gerry Seminatore

In the early days of the town’s incorporation, the poor did what they could to take care of themselves. Usually families were a cohesive group, which absorbed children whose parents had died, took care of the sick, and respected old age. But every once in a while, some youngster or oldster – unable to fend for himself – became the town’s problem. Youngsters many times were adopted, brought up and treated as members of a family. That was not uncommon, but old people with no family ties presented a different problem.

By 1827, the number of poor people must have been just such a problem, for there was an article in the Town Meeting Warrant that year to “purchase a farm to keep the poor.” It was dismissed. The next year, the selectmen were instructed to investigate the number of poor supported by the town, the expense of keeping them, how best to support them and maybe purchasing a farm to keep them. However, there was no change in the town’s procedure. As late as 1837, the town voted in November to put the poor out to auction on the 28th at Sylvanus Wood’s Inn, a practice long in operation. What a farmer would bid to care for a person depended upon what that person could be expected to perform on the farm, and the town fathers let out their dependents to the lowest bidder. James Walker was still being paid to support paupers on his farm in 1850.

In 1852, an investigating committee convinced the townspeople that “the principle is wrong” and the “system is not what it should be.” The purchase of a “poor farm” was finally authorized and the farm of Capt. Daniel McIntire on Bedford Street was acquired. That house, built about 1750, according to Mrs. Dunham, became the home of Burlington’s poor until 1879 when it burned to the ground. The town immediately voted the sum of $1,800 to build a new one on the same site. The the poor moved into the new home in 1880. The barn behind the house was rebuilt in 1890, using the original wooden-pegged framework.

The poor farm in Burlington, MA
The “poor farm” or “town farm” was not a complete cost to the taxpayers because it became an operating farm. The inmates contributed substantially to its operation. In 1889, the total expenditure was $1,908, but income from labor and produce, etc. was $1,174. Thus, it cost the town just $734 to keep four subjects all year and to care for 177 tramps at one time or another. In 1900, the last indigent left the farm to fend for himself and the farm was sold to a Mr. Donovan. It then became the property of Frank Moglia, who sold tons and tons of sand and gravel from the site for years. It then passed to Mr. Cadario, a developer, and finally the house, barn and 12 acres of land was sold to Gerald Seminatore in 1944. And because of that sale, Burlington acquired one of its most colorful characters.

“Jerry” Seminatore turned the place into a small but good operational farm once more. The family had a cow and several horses. The boys were encouraged to join the 4-H Club, and Gerald Jr. raised over a hundred pigs in the lower pasture to help pay his way through college. The produce the farm produced was sold to local markets such as the IGA and the Fresh Spot. Gerald Seminatore was born in St. Catherine, Italy in 1899. As a boy of five, he came to this country with his parents and the family settled first in Boston’s North End, the Italian community, and then moved to Woburn. Here he acquired an education and, while working as a taxi driver, met Christina Surette of Wilmington, whom he married July 22, 1923. He often declared later that it was the hottest day of the whole year.

He became a well-known barber in Woburn, where he also became very much interested in politics. In 1933, he ran for Alderman from Ward 7 and was elected. He did not wait until his induction into office to criticize City Hall about the condition of the roads and snow removal in Shaker Glen, which he compared to the “Forest Primeval.” He promptly deluged the City Council with resolutions. He became embroiled in an argument with the post office about a change in deliveries, wanted rates reduced, called for an investigation of the highway department, violently objected to a carnival charging admission to library field. When the mayor of Boston wanted to send several hundred men to occupy the old Cummings Farm, most of which was in Burlington, he objected, with the result that a Boston transient camp did not materialize. In this effort, he was helped by Thomas Mohan, then a selectman for the town of Burlington. Seminatore became this “stormy petrel” of Woburn politics. Then he moved to Burlington.

He immediately became involved in Burlington’s politics. In 1950, he caused the biggest upset in years when he captured the moderator’s post. His baptism of fire began at once, for the big issue then was whether or not to grant a permit to the Hellenic Association for a cemetery off Wilmington Road. The town meetings were sometimes hectic and unruly. His involvement continued through the bitter arguments about the town manager and gravel pit operations on Francis Wyman Road. He served five terms as moderator and three years as moderator of the Burlington water district.

Mr. and Mrs. Seminatore raised and educated eight children. Marie, the oldest, is now a teacher in the Burlington School system and a Library Trustee. Marjorie, Helen and Barbara are employed as secretaries and still live in the old house with Marie. Geraldine is a member of the Sisters of Divine Providence in Pittsburg, Penn. Loretta is married, has two children and lives in Laconia, N.H. The youngest boy, Robert, is a hotel manager in Portland, Maine.

Gerald Jr. grew up to love the farm as much as his father did. As a 16-year-old boy, he won a whole series of awards in farm contests. In 1952, he captured first prize in the 4-H Dairy Show at the Topsfield Fair and the Middlesex County 4-H Fair, as well as the Junior Award in the American Guernsey Cattle Club. Two years earlier, his thoroughbred Morgan mare had given birth in the old “poor farm” barn to twin colts, a rarity in horse breeding. Today, he operates a camp site and restaurant in Lancaster, N.H. and probably farms.

Gerald Seminatore was an emotional, talkative, concerned, helpful and dependable Italian-American. He spent his last years operating his barber shop next to Murray’s Real Estate office and raising vegetables on his farm. Jerry died last March, as he was looking forward to another planting season. He will be remembered for a long time.