Couple renovating a Buckfield landmark discover secrets left by the town’s founder.

For some, the bundle of bones might have been too much.

Wrapped tightly in a small cocoon of tattered cloth, the random fragments were discovered deep within the walls of the Abijah Buck House on Buckfield Road. By the time those old bones were plucked out of their tomb of plaster and wood, Karl and Dona Grant were beyond surprises.

It started soon after the Grants moved from Ohio into the 226-year-old house in November. Karl was wiring in a wall next to a stairway when he happened upon a small piece of what had at one time been a china teacup.

“I found the piece of the cup and then a shoe,” Karl says. “Then another shoe. I just started pulling all of these things out of the wall. I was thinking, what in the world IS this?”

By the time Karl and Dona finished pulling oddities from the wall, they had a trove of treasures big enough to make a veteran historian go bug-eyed.

A tiny pouch of bent and rusty horseshoe nails. A faceless poppet constructed of cloth and sawdust. A few handwritten notes, including a land deed very likely scrawled by Abijah Buck himself. A tin cup, a large bone fashioned into a tiny mask, hundreds of corn cobs and a tattered top hat partially rotted through.

“That’s probably Abijah’s hat,” says Karl.

And shoes. So many shoes. Thirty of them, all told, came out of the wall; dusty, leather shoes in various states of disrepair. On some shoes, the Grants could see where holes had been patched by strips of leather. On one, the sole was held in place by a string tied around the toe.

“All of these things tell a story,” Dona says.

Not all of those stories are innocuous. There’s the matter of why all of those items were buried in this one wall next to the stairway and the chimney. Who in their right mind stores 15 pair of shoes inside a wall?

“They weren’t just jumbled up in there,” Dona says. “They were stacked oh, so neatly.”

It’s curious, all right. And Dona went directly to the internet for some insights into what she and her husband found. The query didn’t take long to produce results – the search string “shoes found in wall” was enough to do it.

“Have you ever found old shoes hidden in odd locations in your house?” asks the Westport Historical Society out of Massachusetts. “If so, your discovery may be evidence of a mysterious worldwide superstitious practice.”

The website goes on to describe the nature of concealed shoe walls dating back to the Middle Ages. Shoes and other items are most commonly found near the home’s entryway and typically near the chimney.

“It was amazing,” Dona says of this revelation. “They were describing our house.”

During her research, Dona learned a whole lot about concealed shoe walls. The items stuffed into walls were meant as charms to ward away witches or other evil spirits, which, at the time Abijah Buck had his lavish house built, was a genuine concern.

“They believed that witches could become trapped inside the shoes,” Dona says. “It gives you a kind of understanding on how these people lived.”

The experts at Maine Preservation thought so, too. They were the people who took over ownership of the Abijah Buck House when the previous owner gave up on trying to restore it and donated it to them. After the Grants bought the home and discovered so many items within the wall, Maine Preservation verified their findings.

“It’s really quite a house and quite a collection of things,” says Greg Paxton, executive director of Maine Preservation.

Concealed shoe walls are found here and there within Maine, Paxton said, but rarely to the extent of what the Grants found. Typically, they’re discovered in parts of New England where families settled after fleeing England and other parts of Europe where the practice was prevalent. The Abijah Buck House is unique in that it’s so far from the coast, although Buck did enlist the help of an associate from Salem, Massachusetts, in designing and building it.

The house now has become something of an archaeological dig. And it’s not just the stuff buried in the wall that provide a glimpse into the past. There are elements like Indian shutters, which roll into and out of a wall and were used to cover windows when there was a threat of attack from native Americans.

And when the natives attacked, people of that time were known to toss their valuables – gold, coins, cash – in the most easily accessible hiding place.

“I’d like to find out where the outhouses were,” Karl says. “They used to throw all kinds of stuff down there. You name it, they threw it down there.”

There is the grand fireplace near what is now the main entrance at the front of the house (which was actually the back of the house in Abijah Buck’s time), which features a brick oven and an even older beehive oven that had been bricked over.

“I just fell in love with this fireplace,” Dona says.

There is original woodwork all over the place, original hinges, latches, doors, flooring and even a bedroom wall still bearing stenciled artwork from the time when the house was first built.

When the Grants moved in, there was no electricity or plumbing. The house was basically gutted, and to some extent it remains so. From outward appearances, it’s just another sprawling old farmhouse with a sprawling old barn in a part of the world that is littered with such places.

So, at an age where most couples are downsizing, why drop everything to take on such a momentous project?

“She fell in love with the house,” says Karl, a tree surgeon originally from Utah. “I fell in love with the barn.”

“My husband basically humored me. He got this house for me,” says Dona. “But the history is growing on him. There has been so much to learn as we went along.”

So much to learn and so much work to do. As of March, just four months after the Grants moved in, the house looked ancient in some areas, almost modern in others. In some parts, there is an interesting mingling of the two – a modern recliner and television, for example, sitting beneath one of the Indian shutters.

They have the kitchen functional, the bedrooms cozy, and everything wired so they can have lights and an internet connection. All of this while respecting the history of the town’s founder.

“We don’t want to live in a museum, but we do want to live in a historical house,” Dona says. “We want this to be a home, but we also want to respect that history.”

Karl grew up on a farm with a father who was a cabinetmaker. He has eight older brothers who are general contractors. He can wire and plumb and do woodwork because all of those things are part of his own personal history. To deem Karl a jack-of-all-trades might be an understatement.

While he was boarding up the stairway wall, Karl said he originally had misgivings about using a nail gun. The people who built Abijah Buck’s house didn’t have such luxuries, after all.

“Then this feeling came over me. It occurred to me that if Abijah Buck was here today, he’d definitely have a nail gun.”

He slides his hand along the wall, where some of his own nails sit side-by-side with nails pounded there when Buck constructed the house.

“This is me,” Karl says, “but I want it to be him, too.”

The marriage of history and modern convenience is quite all right with the preservation people.

“We really think the Grants are the perfect owners for this house,” Paxton says. “They really love it. They understand it and they have been just incredibly productive.”

The Grants’ upgrades not withstanding, there was a time when the occupants of this stately house next to a babbling brook in bucolic Buckfield stuffed old bones, faceless dolls and shoes into the walls in order to ward off malignant spirits. Even the most non-superstitious person in the world would be forgiven for getting a little bit jumpy when darkness falls on the house and things go bump in the night. Especially after they’ve removed those charms from the walls.

In short: Is the Abijah Buck house haunted?

“I wish,” says Karl.

Dona shakes her head. It’s not like the idea hasn’t occurred to her. How could it not?

“It’s not spooky at all. Even when you’re up in the middle of the night and it’s dark. It just doesn’t have that vibe,” she says. “Even our grandkids aren’t afraid to stay here. I don’t know how to say it. It just isn’t a creepy kind of place.”

For Dona and Karl Grant, the house isn’t a museum or an archaeological dig site. It’s a work in progress, and it’s home.

“This old house,” Dona says, “is probably happy to have the feeling of people living in it again.”

Then again, 200 years ago, somebody took great pains to place all those shoes, those bones and that old hat in the wall as a way of keeping bad spirits at bay. Now all of those charms have been removed from the wall. If there really are bad spirits afoot, the house is unprotected.

Not to worry. The Grants have an obvious spirit for adventure, but they’re not completely reckless. The space in that wall next to the chimney will be filled soon with some charms of their own.

“We’re adding a couple of our old shoes as well as a ‘time capsule’ with a short biography, some coins, a photo, a copy of the article you’re writing, a book from our church and a few other things,” Dona says. “We love the idea that someday, 100 years from now, someone may find our story in the walls of this house along with old Abijah Buck’s story.”

Shoes, an old doll, pottery, a hat and an assortment of artifacts were found behind a “shoe wall” at the Abijah Buck House in Buckfield. 

Homeowner Karl Grant walks down a staircase near the “shoe wall” at the Abijah Buck House in Buckfield. Pairs of shoes and other items were found stuffed behind the wall next to the brick. 

The Abijah Buck House was built by the first family to settle in Buckfield, which was then called Bucktown.

Homeowner Dona Grant shows Maine Preservation field service advisor Christopher Closs shoes that were found behind the “shoe wall.” 

An old doll was found behind the “shoe wall” at the Abijah Buck House in Buckfield. 

Christopher Closs, left, and Greg Paxton of Maine Preservation have a conversation with homeowners Karl and Dona Grant at the Abijah Buck House. 

Karl and Dona Grant discovered a beehive oven at the Abijah Buck House. 

The Buck House as seen from the river.

The Buck House as seen from the river.

The Buck House in the early 1800s.

The Buck House in the early 1800s.
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