BETHEL — A writer known as "The Barn Guy" read from his book on the history of Maine barns at the Bethel Historical Society on Wednesday afternoon to a crowd of curious residents.
Don Perkins, of Sebago Lake, author of “The Barns of Maine: Our History, Our Stories,” gave a PowerPoint presentation of what he has learned about Maine barn culture. Speaking over the sound of a crackling fire at the side of the room, Perkins led the audience through a history of barns in the state, including the three most common types of barns and where each is commonly found.
Perkins said he traveled across to different counties, particularly Washington and Aroostook. He said that Washington County consists mainly of English-style barns, which are “small, plain, built on flat ground and detached from farmhouses.” He said Aroostook County has gambrel barns, described as “large, created mainly after 1900, and used for commercial purposes.”
Perkins explained to the audience the large role that tuberculosis had in sculpting the way barns were built for the last 200 years.
“If a farmer had cattle that was infected with tuberculosis, they would slaughter the whole herd and burn down the barn,” Perkins said. “Maine lost a lot of barns that way.”
Perkins went on to map out how farmers would combat tuberculosis in the early 20th century by getting rid of manure basements, because they were a host for tuberculosis, and use concrete floors instead of wooden floors because the wood acted like a sponge for germs.
Perkins referred to different barn styles spread throughout the country.
“The Dutch certainly make an interesting type of barn,” Perkins said, “and so do the Germans. You can find different barns wherever you go, but Maine has mostly English-style barns.”
Perkins also entertained the audience with a story about a barn he investigated in Gorham that collapsed into the ground after a storm hit it.
“There are these small but powerful thunderstorms called microbursts,” Perkins said, “and one of these hit Gorham where that barn was. It tore the cupola off the top of the barn and sent it flying in the middle of the road, and the entire barn collapsed inward.”
After the lecture, Perkins answered questions from audience members and signed copies of his books.
The event was organized by Randall Bennett, the executive director and curator of collections at the Bethel Historical Society. Bennett said the Historical Society currently has “five or six different events planned for 2013,” and the next would be Dec. 1.
According to the website One New England, Perkins enjoys poetry, photography and hiking, in addition to studying the barns of New England. He also writes a monthly column on barns for a local newspaper.