, Derry, New Hampshire


February 13, 2013

Column: Hopkins Home was Derry’s first effort at elder care

My mother-in-law has been at a nearby nursing home for about three years now. Sure, it’s very expensive ($331 per day) but she’s getting great 24/7 care. The staff’s very professional and allows her to maintain her dignity. Unlike when she was living alone, she now has a great social life with field trips to restaurants, museums, stores, gambling casinos — and her favorite libation served during a monthly “happy hour.”

Nursing homes are a fairly recent idea. For millennia, when someone became frail he or she would have to move in with the kids, live on the charity of others or die all alone. In 18th century Nutfield, there was the venue system in which the town auctioned off the infirm elderly, disabled and the poor to the lowest bidder. Later, the town owned a poor farm where the indigent, elderly and insane were expected to work for their room and board. In the mid-19th century, Derry began to send their poor and feeble to the county farm in Brentwood. Being driven “over the hill to the poor farm” was viewed as a humiliating experience which everyone dreaded.

In 1912, the selectmen of Derry were informed that the town was mentioned in the will of Miss Lucretia A. Hopkins (1824-1911) of Reading, Mass. She, her sister and two brothers had been summer residents of Derry for years. Lucretia outlived her siblings and was survived only by nephews and nieces. In her will, she left to the town $1,000 and her summer home at 4 Thornton St. to establish “a home for aged women.” For the next couple of years, the town rented out the Thornton Street property and added the rent money to the bequest.

The Town Meeting in March 1914 voted to accept the bequest and soon a board of trustees was appointed consisting of two men and three women. Its chairman was Leonard Pillsbury, the do-gooder in Derry. Also on the board was Miss Hopkins’ nephew Arthur Greenough and Annie Shepard, the grandmother of the astronaut. The idea of an old ladies home proved popular with locals and soon donations of furniture, linens and kitchen utensils converted the house into a convalescent/assisted living home. A bequest of $20,000 by Margaret Berry of Windham was later added to the endowment.

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