Howdy Barn Backers!
I recently returned from traveling the Maine coast, visiting with barn owners and wanted to keep you abreast of what your generous contributions made possible. I had a great trip!
First off, "barn people are good people," no question about it. I think this saying would make a great t-shirt. I had set up stops along the way beforehand, but I also left room for the occasional sidetrack, which proved fruitful. I have scores of photographs, audio recordings, measurements and notes-- even some video of barns and barn people. All good stuff.
Living in southern Maine, my first stop up the coast was in Wiscasset to a prearranged appointment with Dan Sortwell. Dan is a coffee roaster and operates "Big Barn Coffee" out of a historic big red barn that's been finely restored. The difference is in the details. Flanked by smaller sections on each side, the big gambrel-roofed barn in the center has the easiest rolling entry doors I've ever come across. The barn is devoid of animals today, but still has 10 horse stalls along the south side paneled in nice woodwork and iron railings. I saw a couple of things here that I'd never seen in a barn before. One of them being "urine pans," which were complete with plumbed drains in each stall. Dan said horse urine was used in making gunpowder, and he's right. This was a new one on me, but research backs it up. Among other sources, "The Foxfire Book" series recommends replacing water with horse urine in a gunpowder recipe. It "gives the powder more oxygen and higher performance."
My next stop along Route 1 was in Belfast, a bit of a sidetrack that proved fruitful. A few days before, I was the keynote speaker at the Mayflower Society's spring meeting in Auburn. In my PowerPoint presentation, I showed a few slides on Sears & Roebuck barns, which could be ordered through the mail from about 1918 through 1930. I mentioned to the crowd that I had never seen one of these barns. A senior citizen from the crowd promptly raised his hand and said he knew of one in Belfast.
I met up with him on my journey and we became fast friends. He was just as eager to show me the barn he remembered from his youth as I was to document it. It was actually located in Northport, just south of Belfast. I stopped by his place with an actual reprint of the 1919 Sears barn catalog in hand. Roger and I set out for Northport. He wasn't 100% certain this was a Sears barn, but he remembers everyone saying it looked just like the barns in those Sears catalogs. These barns were quite modern for their time. They're built with studs and nails. No posts and beams or pegged joinery. Each board is numbered to correspond with a set of plans.
We reached the barn, a big white gambrel, measuring 38 x 76 feet. Empty of animals today, several indicators pointed that this was indeed a Sears barn. The old cattle stanchions were spot on, as was the roof framing-- even the windows were the right configuration. But the most interesting feature was the huge wooden wheel mounted in a room on one of the top floors. The wheel was fixed vertically and was six or eight feet across. A round wooden pole about 8 inches in diameter came off its center hub and still had a stout manila rope wound around it. This was a slaughter hoist and was housed in its own room complete with a concrete floor and a drain. You don't see this sort of thing every day. The room was still relatively clean; the hoist looked like it could function with no trouble. Even though we hardly knew each other, Roger and I felt like old friends exploring this old barn, which, like many, is a veritable time capsule. I think it made Roger feel young again.
And speaking of Sears, an antique shop housed in a barn in Searsport was my next stop. This was a prearranged visit. Liz Dominic is in her 80s and loves old barns. She's lived in Searsport off and on for the last 40 years. But she grew up in Gorham, spending her very early years on a 600-acre hay farm. "Barns became part of my life," she told me. Liz has written poems including some on barns and described returning to her childhood barn a few years ago which still stands there in Gorham. She stopped just to look and the current owner noticed her and asked if she might like to see inside the barn. "The old smells greeted me immediately," Liz said. "I was overcome; I almost cried in front of her." More about Liz (as well as one of her barn poems) will be featured in the book.
I'm so grateful to have made this trip and want to thank you all again for your support. I hope to send out Part 2 of this update next weekend.
And remember, "Barn People Are Good People!"