BETHEL — A stone marking the burials of people from the late 19th and early 20th centuries who had lived at the “Kimball Town Farm” was dedicated this week at the East Bethel Cemetery.

A stone inscribed “In Memory of Kimball Hill Town Farm Residents” was dedicated Sunday at the East Bethel Cemetery on Intervale Road. Alison Aloisio/Bethel Citizen

The effort was a community service project of the Alder River Grange, with additional funding from the Maine State Grange, according to historian Stan Howe, who is also a Grange member. Speaking at the event was historian Jean Hankins of the Otisfield Historical Society. She has done extensive research on town farms.

Like other Maine towns, Bethel established a town farm in the mid-19th century as a way to look out for the needs of the poor, believing that housing them in one place would save the town money, according to Hankins.

The towns would usually hire a superintendent and his wife to run the farm. But the system ran into problems, as the staff often had too much to do in raising crops, preparing meals and performing maintenance. Because many of the residents were elderly, nursing care often had to be provided also. People with mental illnesses also ended up on such farms.

In the early 20th century, the population of the farms dropped as the overall population declined and as the state established facilities to care for certain groups of needy residents, including people with mental illnesses, veterans’ orphans and others, resulting in their relocation from town farms.

Howe said that in Bethel it has been established that some residents of the Kimball Town Farm, which was located about a mile up the road from the East Bethel Cemetery, were buried in an unmarked plot in the cemetery.

“They were buried there, there is no question,” Howe said. “But there were no names, so we don’t know who they were, or how many. There were no records.”

About 20 people attended the dedication at East Bethel Cemetery.

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