WEST PARIS – What does it take to save a nearly 200-year-old barn?

Besides contractors, tools and a new foundation, in Ellen Gibson’s case, it requires a unique calendar, her great-grandfather’s diary and her aunt’s linoleum prints.

After receiving a $10,000 grant from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to restore her barn, Gibson must raise a matching $10,000 by December 2007 as a grant requirement.

To drum up this money, she has created a calendar using her aunt Jane Porter Gibson’s prints as the images for each month. Underneath every print is one excerpt or more from her great-grandfather’s diary.

Both her aunt and great-grandfather lived at the family farm on Stearns Hill Road, which is where Gibson lives now and where the barn sits that she wants to save.

“January 1936,” begins one entry by Will Stearns, who lived from 1867 to 1945. “Fair, good winter weather. Yarded wood, hauled out two loads. Went to South Paris after grain, got 10 bags. Looks like snow.”

Above these Spartan words is a black-and-white print by Jane Gibson of the house in wintertime, with simple, flowing lines.

Gibson, who is in her 80s and has been making art her whole life, said, “Most of my work from prints comes from scenes around the property.” The farm is 310 acres and has views extending for miles. She said she would send her prints to friends and family as a way of sharing the news and life on the farm. The prints by Jane Gibson date from 1972 to 2003.

With both the prints and the diary excerpts, Gibson said she is trying to convey some of her family’s story. Her family has lived at the Stearns Hill Farm for seven generations, first settling in West Paris in 1792.

“They’re not embellished at all,” Gibson said, speaking about her grandfather’s quotidian entries, which describe rural life in typical New England fashion. “He is a Yankee, and his entries are totally cryptic, not embellished at all, but at the same time they give a wonderful sense of the farm.”

“Snow and rain all day,” Stearns wrote in April. “Bad going. Pulled mailman out of mud.”

The barn is 45-feet-by-90-feet, and four-stories tall. The Gibson’s have no animals, but they store their hay in the barn and hope eventually to house livestock in it. The last time the family had dairy cows was in the 1960s, according to Gibson.

While the barn is not in dire straights, it does need stabilization and a new foundation. All together, Gibson said the repairs will cost about $100,000, which she hopes to raise by creating and selling more calendars and other writing projects over the next five years.

She said, too, that she has become inspired from this project to help others who want to rehabilitate their historic barns.

“A farm is a marginal economic operation anyway, and then you have these buildings,” Gibson said, that over time, start to need costly work and maintenance.

The Maine Historic Preservation Commission offers grants to private property owners who have old barns or agricultural buildings, like silos, ice houses and smoke sheds, that they wish to preserve.

“It’s one of the few grants programs available to individuals,” Gibson said.

She said once her barn is repaired, she’d like to turn it into a museum of sorts where she could display the artifacts and documents from her family.

“Barns are historic and cultural structures that need to be saved,” Gibson said, but their history is often quiet. “Barns themselves have a story to tell, what the construction methods were, the kinds of nails used, and saw cuts.”


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