Typhoid and Smallpox Epidemics

In late 1899, the Catholic Church was built. The Episcopal Church was constructed in 1902; and the following year, the Baptists built a church on Penobscot Avenue and Spring Street, with Rev. Young as its pastor. In the summer of 1903, the Congregational Church was erected at its present location, calling the Rev. W.J. McNeil as pastor.

The sudden population explosion in 1900 was not without its problems, however. Newly added streets weren’t provided with sewage systems until the 1920s, the outside privies were the rule; and with houses built on small lots, this became more of a problem than they would have been in a more rural setting. Plus, people raised pigs and chickens, to supplement their incomes and diets, adding to the natural odors of a mill town.

The constant arrival and intermingling of people from all over the world also brought disease. Many infants died of such childhood diseases as mumps, measles, or whooping cough in the early 1900s. By 1902, cases of diptheria were appearing, particularly in Shack Hill. Then, by 1903, the town had to deal with epidemics of typhoid and smallpox.

In 1912, the Great Northern built an isolation facility at what was then the edge of town. It was a long rectangular structure that sheltered ten isolation beds. 

Today, about half of the structure remains, as a residence on Water Street, but it blends in well with the neighborhood, bearing little resemblance to its original role. In 1917, another Pest House was built on the Medway Road. This was a two-story structure, with five small camps built around it. 

Groups of people were required to live there awaiting the incubation period of the disease before they were permitted to return to their homes.

Health officials later determined that the spread of disease was due in part to the town pumping river water into the town’s water system, a problem which was summarily corrected.

© Michelle Anderson 2005-2014