HOPE, Maine — Chris Pearse lives in the house his great-great-great-great-great grandparents built. It’s an heirloom, just like the 200-acre dairy farm that has been passed through eight generations of Pearses. But when time had taken its toll on the house, Pearse and his wife, Linda, decided it had too rich a history to let the building disappear from the landscape.
Rarely in its 216 years has the two-story house been without at least three generations of Pearse ancestors. At one point, 12 children lived in the five-bedroom farmhouse, Chris said. Traditionally, the grandparents would live in the downstairs bedroom while the parents and children lived upstairs.
“A lot of people can trace their roots back to this place,” said Linda. “He is related to half of Knox County.”
Chris’ father, who was born in the house, is about 90 years old and now lives in a nursing home. His grandmother was 99½ before she passed away.
“We’re known for longevity,” he said.
Chris traces his roots to Hope’s settlers, the Barretts. In 1782, Hope was named Barrettstown. Twelve years after the family settled the town, the family constructed the homestead on their 200-acre plot of land.
Since that time, Chris’s family has raised dairy cows on the farm, which is now 74 cows strong. According to the couple, theirs is the last dairy farm in Hope, Appleton, Camden, Rockport and Lincolnville. The green pastures of the farm surround the white farmhouse; a perfect, bucolic picture marred only by a black scar of pavement that cuts through the property to reach the house.
Chris started working full time with the cows after he graduated from high school. He stayed in the original farmhouse until he and his first wife moved into another family house a tenth of a mile down the road. The main farmhouse was full with other family members at the time. He lived in the other house for 25 years, driving the tenth of a mile to the farm for work every day.
For Chris, moving back onto the dairy farm was a matter of staying true to his heritage.
“It has always been in the family. It is part of the farm. It’s what I do,” Chris said. “This is my family history.”
It was this conviction that led the couple to decide to renovate the family homestead, although the project would present its challenges.
“No one ever moved out of this house — they just died,” Linda said.
So when the couple decided to make the old house theirs, they were faced with at least three bedrooms full of family artifacts. The Pearses loaded a 40-foot box trailer half full of items, including a flax wheel, spinning wheel, butter churn and 30 chairs.
Linda and Chris wanted to keep the feel of the old and have the convenience and beauty of a more modern look. To do this, they furnished the updated house with their family’s antiques.
The quilts that cover the upstairs guest room beds were made in the home a century ago using a black sewing machine that now sits in a pink upstairs bedroom.
“That’s the first sewing machine in Hope,” Chris said as he walked by the machine.
But the biggest tribute to the farm’s history is illustrated on the staircase wall.
Between a guest bedroom and the master bedroom on the first floor, a main staircase goes toward the second floor and splits into two sets of stairs that go in opposite directions to the three guest bedrooms on the second floor. Chris and Linda decided to paint their home’s history onto the walls above the landing to the two staircases, hiring artist Doreen Conboy of Alna to replicate old photographs of the farm from different periods.
“It’s like a story board through the ages,” said designer Jean Sharratt, whom the Pearses hired to help renovate the home.
The historic pictures have a special meaning to the couple. After eight generations of the same family doing the same work in the same fields and living in the same home, the dairy farmers’ tradition might soon come to a halt.
“We are probably the last generation,” Linda said. “We have no children and his brother has no children, so we wanted the history of the house to be here — until someone paints over it.”
Friends of the couple who have not visited the farmhouse for a while could be in for a shock.
“The outside looks exactly the same. When they come in the front door, they are in for a surprise,” Linda said.
People accustomed to seeing slanted, uneven floors and a low-hanging ceiling in the kitchen are greeted with high ceilings, made possible by eliminating one upstairs bedroom; tile floors, quartz counters and an induction cooktop. Every material purchased had to be practical for the working farm.
“He [Chris] comes in with manure on his shoes, mud, whatever. We needed tile floors,” Linda said. “We used the materials that could withstand our lifestyle. This is a working farm, it is how we are — it’s not a showroom.”
There were some necessary structural changes made to the house during the renovations, which started in the fall of 2009 and were completed in early summer 2010. The electrical wiring from 1939 was ripped out and replaced, and what were thin walls filled with corncobs and newspapers were expanded to fit new, modern insulation.
“It heats much easier. It doesn’t take hardly anything to get it up to 80 [degrees Fahrenheit] — it gets too hot,” Chris said; a big change from his childhood when, in the winter, a cup of water might ice over in his upstairs bedroom overnight.
The old downstairs bathroom became a closet, and what was traditionally the oldest generation’s bedroom was turned into a tiled pasture-side bathroom with robin’s egg blue walls and a porch with patio doors.
“People always say ‘what if someone sees you from out there?’ Who is out there?” Chris said, looking out to the cow-filled field.
One room over is the master bedroom, which formerly was the front parlor. The light green room is accented with hand-cut wood panels and a small mural that covers an old fireplace.
The only other bedroom on the first floor belongs to Linda’s mother, who insisted the designer veer from the traditional color pallet for the house and cover the walls with lavender paint.
Upstairs there are three bedrooms, a bathroom and a small indoor balcony space overlooking the kitchen. The three bedrooms all required heavy coats of polyurethane on the hardwood floors and the walls got new coats of paint.
Even with all the modern touches, the living room still has seven doors, and the master bedroom has light green paint and dentil molding — all true to the house’s original era.
“We wanted to keep as much of those [historic] details as we could,” Linda said.
The designer, Sharratt, said this renovation could be one of many if people had the time and energy, because there are several older homes for sale in the Hope area.
“We have enough land; we could have put a house anywhere,” said Linda. “But that wasn’t the goal. We wanted to keep the house.”
Chris and Linda say they plan to live in the house for a long time. With no one from the family coming up behind them to take over the farm, the Pearses will have to decide what happens after their generation. Although the forty-somethings are contemplating giving it to a land trust, they said they are not going to decide what to do with the house and property for another 25 years or so.
But with all the updates, the house is in much better shape.
“It needed a lot of work. It needed to be restored. We did that. Now it won’t be so much of a burden if someone takes it on,” Linda said.