BRIDGTON — Beams and boards tell some of the story of Maine’s old barns, said Don Perkins, author of “The Barns of Maine. Our History, Our Stories.”
Perkins spoke to about 30 people during a two-hour course on Maine’s old barns at Tuesday morning’s “senior college” at the Bridgton Community Center. Senior College offers diverse courses purely for fun for people 50 years and older.
Perkins, a resident of Raymond and a carpenter and woodworker before he became a writer, has traveled the state to find barns that tell rich stories of personal lives and loss, and even sometimes love.
“Dairy really was the saving grace for our farms,” said Perkins who described and showed pictures of the three types of barns in Maine. They are the English style, popular particularly in Washington County where people of English descent largely settled; the New England style with its gabled ends built during the latter half of the 19th century; and the gambrels, which Aroostook County residents built almost exclusively after 1900.
Perkins spoke about the circa 1830 Temperance Barn in Bridgton, that unlike many other barns was raised without a drop of alcohol being consumed.
He recalled the late Bob Bartlett, a former Norway town manager, whom he happened upon during a ride up Route 26 in Oxford in 2011 while on search for material for his barn series in the Advertiser-Democrat. He spotted what he thought was an early English barn, knocked on the door of the house and was welcomed in by Bartlett.
Bartlett’s barn turned out to be not so old and never even housed animals, but the information Perkins received from him was invaluable, Perkins said.
In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, when dairy farming came to Maine to save the farming industry, Perkins said majestic gabled roof barns were built with big haylofts and their grand cupolas used for ventilation.
The turn of the century, he said, saw the construction of gambrel roofs, such as the one on the barn of the Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook.
Early barns were not built with tape measures, he said. Many were based on the circle. “Things were not written down,” he said of early barn measurements and construction styles.
Perkins fielded a number of questions about design and construction and even a few memories like the woman who used to tunnel through the loose barn hay as a child.
“It was the best playhouse,” she said.
Perkins’ interest in barns came from his interest in timber framing with hand-hewn material and as a carpenter early in his career.
Perkins is scheduled to appear at a number of local area events in the next few months, including the Bangor Museum and History Center on Feb. 6; Books-A-Million in South Portland on Feb. 7; the Otisfield Historical Society on April 25; and McLaughlin Gardens in Paris on May 11.