We are fortunate to have Town Pounds in both Acton and Shapleigh. In fact, according to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission research, there must have been, at one time, one or two hundred pounds in the state; there are only about 19 left. Animal pounds are indeed an uncommon survivor from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that assume increased significance as today's modern culture gradually becomes increasingly removed from its original farming focus.
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, almost every country town had a pound built and paid for by the local citizens. They were a very important part of the agricultural life of the community because it was in these enclosures that farm animals who had strayed were kept until claimed by their owners for a fee which depended on the type of animal and length of time he had been cared for by the pound keeper or "pinder".
The primary figure behind the operation of the town pound was its keeper. Often of a colorful nature, strong determination and rugged constitution, the pound keeper exercised a diverse range of responsibilities twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Although some pound keepers acquired their job by winning a local election, more often the job was bestowed upon unwilling persons. In 1974, Dick Shaw of the Lewiston Evening Journal likened the process of selecting pound keeper to that one by which you may find yourself selected for jury duty. He goes on to add that the draftee usually met certain specifications of stalwartness, but occasionally the newest-wed or least prepared male of the community was selected as a sort of time-honored tradition that must have provided many hours of laughter for village gossipers-- until it became their turn for the often dreaded appointment.
A cattle pound is a stonewall enclosure, some rectangular, some circular. These stones, in order to erect the relatively thick, high protective wall, were frequently brought a fair distance from fields or meadows. This alone could not have been an easy task. However, when completed, the sturdy enclosure would hold large and small stray farm animals alike. It is important, after all, to remember that these enclosures were built for the purpose of holding even the testiest of bulls.
The construction and maintenance of the site was only one of the immense, sometimes onerous, demands placed on the pound keeper's shoulders. After the enclosure was finally fit for all size beasts, the pinder had to be literally on his toes to catch wandering culprits, which was often no simple task. The agony and public lambastement of losing a stray horse or pig was compounded by the fact that the fine paid by the farmer in possession of the animal was legally the property of the keeper. Therefore, the usual daily fine of twenty-five or fifty cents was denied the poor pound keeper if he failed to round up the wanderers.
In some instances, the keeper was left to the matter of tending the already impounded strays and collecting the fines and a separate task of pursuing the critters was left to the man known as the field driver.
The pound keeper was also expected to deal with angry and disgruntled owners, a job that most likely proved as encumbering, if not more so, than working with the animals. Some farmers were not above tricks such as claiming animals that were not theirs, or visiting the pound on cloudy nights and claiming their strays without paying the fines. To guard against such scoundrels, the pound keepers often kept scrupulous records of each impounded animal and lived adjacent to the pound.
By the turn of the century, the cattle pound had largely fallen into disuse. With the advent of barbed wire and electric fences, farmers enclosed their own pastures. As a result, animals remained within their own territory and out of the town pound. Gradually, the pound, once a very important part of the farming community, became obsolete and was no longer needed.
Shapleigh's "pound" was established 1790. The Town of Acton voted to build its "pound" on September 12, 1831 - to be completed by June 1st, 1832. Simon D. Brackett was paid $35 to build it. It still stands today as a landmark in Acton's history.