Lou Went Snowshoeing at Former ‘School for the Feeble-Minded’
This weekend, I ventured out to New Gloucester to go snowshoeing. These days, Pineland Farms is a 5,000-acre working farm that offers miles of diverse trails through the woods and countryside to explore on skis, snowshoes, and winter bikes.
What I didn't realize until later was the tumultuous history of the place. With its gorgeous brick buildings and stretching landscape, the campus has a vaguely institutional feel, so I googled it with the expectation that it used to be a grammar school or something of the like.
Something of the like is right! According to Maine Memory, Pineland Farms was established in 1908 as the "Maine School for the Feeble-Minded," essentially a place for society to send anyone with a developmental disability or delay. The term "school" was applied liberally, given that education was a small part of the institution's purpose. At the time, it was thought to be the most humane and prudent approach to raising children who had been labeled "mentally deficient".
But wait, there's more: Press Herald recalls an especially dark chapter in the facility's past, when Maine Governer Frederick Plaisted ordered the removal of the indigenous people of Malago Island:
The island’s 40 residents — white, black and mixed race — were ordered to leave the island, and to take their homes with them, else they would be burned. A fifth of the population was incarcerated on questionable grounds at the Maine School for the Feebleminded in New Gloucester, where most spent the rest of their lives.
... Leaving no stone unturned, state officials dug up the 17 bodies in the island cemetery, distributed them into five caskets and buried them at the School of the Feebleminded — now Pineland Farms — where they remain today.
In 1991, it finally succumbed to the generally recognized notion that institutionalizing and segregating citizens with inadequate care is cruel and uncalled for and closed its doors in 1996, according to Maine Memory.
Now, thankfully, it's known for its adventure trails and cheese, which is a much nobler legacy to pursue. If you want to know more about its tumultuous past, check out its full history on Maine Memory's timeline.