19th-Century overseers were assigned to look after Guilderland’s poor

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Chits covered expenses for Guilderland’s poor, including for coal, boots and shoes, hospital stays, telephone messages, horse keeping, doctor’s services, and coffins.

GUILDERLAND — In the beginning days of the town of Guilderland, there was no Medicare or Medicaid for the ill, poor, or elderly.  Individuals had to rely on their neighbors or persons cited by the town as "Overseers of the Poor" to perform such duties.

Early documents also reveal that the town's "poor" residents received medical attention from doctors who lived in Guilderland, and the services of those doctors were paid by the town.  Listed as doctors who were given a $12 annual fee for attending to the sick residents were:   Thomas Helme M.D., Abram DeGraff M.D.,  George Squire M.D.,  R I Barton M.D.,  Jesse Crounse M.D. and Frederick Crounse M.D.

In addition, several residents also performed such services.   Town archives hold many receipts of the handling of those cases.

In March of 1893, Albany Hospital presented a bill for two weeks’ board at $5 a week for a Guilderland resident that included the "washing of a dozen pieces at $1.00 per dozen,” services of a special nurse, medicine, and extras.

In May of 1898, another chit was received from H.A. Vosburgh, Overseer of the Poor, for 12 weeks’ board for a child.  In that same year, in November, a bill was presented to the town for $3.50 for a coffin for Mary Bent's child. And later still, Prospect Hill Cemetery was paid $1.50 for the internment of that child.

In 1896, Mr Vosburgh presented a bill for $10.25 for 41 pounds of coal for a poor family.

Chits were turned in by "Overseers of the Poor" in 1897 for "horse keeping  $.65 and for "horse hire" in regards to Jacob Smith's mule for $1.20.

Dr. Thomas Helme turned in a receipt for professional services up to the date of Jan. 12, 1896 for $25. “Boots & Shoes” cost $4 and were purchased at M. Mandelbaum at Washington Avenue, a wholesale and retail dealer of footwear, for a needy Guilderland resident.

Many groceries were listed next to Guilderland residents’ names as the "Overseers of the Guilderland Poor" took good care of buying food for the medically ill and the needy in the town.  It was a far simpler method than today apparently.