WEST PARIS – Nubian goats Eliza, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Ginger and Mocha stand with their front legs dangling through the boards of their pen as a flock of chickens peck at grain and three guinea hens squawk nearby.

Snow-sprinkled fields stretch broadly in the view from the back kitchen window, with stone walls marking the boundaries.

At the round kitchen table sits Ellen Stearns Gibson, 53, the eighth generation to own the circa 1820 farm on Stearns Hill.

The 310-acre farm has been nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s a good example of a well-preserved family farmstead, with a barn complex, stone walls and fields,” said Christy Mitchell of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which nominated the homestead.

Gibson returned to the family home five years ago after spending 30 years in California. She spent many childhood summers at the farm and returned each summer when living away. She knows it well.

“When I was growing up in South Paris, my grandparents lived here. We picked apples, played in the barn, swung off ropes into the hay. We hitched their German shepherd to a sled, collected sap and went sliding down the hills,” she said.

Already, she has completed some restoration work, but much more needs to be done, including more work on the New England bank barn.

The three-story, 45- by 95-foot barn is built into the banking and connects to the nine-room Colonial-style farmhouse.

Making it onto the register would help Gibson in her search for grants. And it would help preserve a typical Western Maine farm that still has its views and a setting very similar to what it was a century ago.

Gibson hopes to eventually turn the farm into a living museum.

Besides working at an after-school program in West Paris, she hosts a 4-H club. When the children come to her farm, they love seeing the animals and the old tools stored in the barn.

“They named the goats and wanted to name the chickens. We need to foster a sense of place. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” she said.

The tools, like most of the furniture, have been used by family members for decades. The barn is lined with scythes, sleighs, wagons, wagon wheels and every imaginable tool that hardworking farmers once used to care for their land and animals.

“I have spent five years going through them and still find something new,” she said. “I’d like to have the farm so kids can see it, so they can see farming is viable.”

When the farm was built by William Stearns Jr., it was likely a sheep farm. Later it became a dairy farm, and now Gibson makes and sells maple syrup, raises a few animals, sells hay and will soon breed her goats and make cheese.

“Now, it’s a hobby farm, but I want more of a working farm,” she said. “I’m constantly looking at how I can diversify so I can improve the area.”

Her sense of history is deep.

Among her projects are calendars graced with photos of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and other ancestors. She bakes bread, biscuits and other goods in a brick oven. The fields are under a conservation easement so they will never be developed.

Besides farming and leading an after-school program, Gibson writes the Norway downtown newsletter and works for other organizations as a writer. She has completed Preservation Leadership training and holds degrees in biology, and environment and the community.

“When I moved here, all I brought were sheets and clothing. There is so much here. The farm has never been sold out of the family,” she said.

Placement of her farm on the National Register would be a wonderful thing, she said.

“I am thrilled. I feel as though the whole purpose is to preserve this place. This is living history,” she said.


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