The landmark has loomed over the outskirts of Winterport for more years than most people can remember.
South of town on Route 1A, the old barn up on the hill, across from the apple orchard, has been deteriorating for years — until a Texas man decided to restore it to its former glory.
Dean Arnold is a man who appreciates old things. After all, for the past 32 years, Arnold has run The Wood Factory in Navasota, Texas, a company that creates millwork for historical buildings and does most of its business through mail order.
“I have an affection for old buildings,” Arnold explained in a phone interview from Texas. “We don’t have those kind of barns here. I’d hate to see something that magnificent torn down.”
Still, despite this obvious symbiosis between man and structure, it took a meandering journey to bring the two together.
Arnold’s first visit to New England was in the early ’90s. His purpose was to take a chair-making class in New Hampshire. He became friends with a few classmates, and taking such a class became a semi-regular thing.
One time, he brought his wife Shelly along, and that set the wheels in motion: “She’s a country girl, and she fell in love with the countryside up there. Driving around the area brought back such wonderful memories of growing up on her family’s farm. We live in town down here, and we’ve always wanted to find a place in the country,” Dean Arnold said.
Fortunately, finding just the right piece of property isn’t the struggle it used to be. “The Internet can be a dangerous thing,” Arnold recalled. “We typed in ‘pre 1900 barn, water view, with a minimum of five acres.’ “
Renovating the barn, which is 45-by-60 feet and three floors tall, to eventually house Arnold’s millwork shop has been ongoing over the past few years. What kind of repairs did the barn, thought to be 150 years old, need?
“We secured the barn’s structure by installing a new foundation, replacing rotten beams, re-framed the interior and exterior walls, and put on a new roof. We then gave it a facelift by rebuilding the cupola, [and] replacing [the] windows, siding and doors,” Arnold said.
Despite the barn’s murky pedigree, Arnold has done his best to be as historically accurate as possible.“It will all look original from any vantage point,” he said. The barn houses several grain silos and an auger-type system that fed animals on all floors. Most of it is still intact, he reports, and he intends to restore it as well.
He and his team have done the bulk of the restoration themselves, with the aid of a handful of local contractors.
Bud Jordan, of Bud’s Landscaping and Construction of Winterport, admires Arnold’s determination.
“Dean’s been very faithful to his project,” said Jordan, who handled the earthwork on the project. “It should have been torn down, so it’s been quite a job. Still he’s saved this 150-year-old building, and it’s nice when people do that.”
The 6-foot ceiling in the basement hardly allowed space for Arnold’s machinery. So, after the barn had been securely put up on blocks, Jordan excavated another four feet to prepare the site for the new foundation and slab.
Readying the area was a challenge, Jordan said.
“It was a surprise right from beginning to end,” he said. “You really had to shoot from the hip. Previous owners had hinked [the barn] together many, many times.”
Barry Maddock of Maddock Concrete in Winterport followed with a new foundation; he replaced a rock-wall foundation in one section and a more recent concrete foundation in another. He also poured a new basement floor and a series of 2-by-2-by-4-foot cubes in the basement, upon which the timber framing for the barn now rests.
Maddock found the hardest part of the project to be logistical. “It was a tight area in which to jockey around concrete trucks,” he said. “The most difficult part was trying to coordinate with the other contractors.”
Maddock is pleased with the results so far.
“It’s one of the prettiest barns you’re ever going to see,” he said. “It’s nice he’s taking care of it, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Mark Leclair, owner of All-Pro Roofing in Bangor, has been working with Arnold for several years, roofing the old farmhouse and its addition before moving on to the barn itself.
He marveled at how the structure has stood the test of time. “It’s amazing how they constructed it and how it still stands,” he said.
For his part, Leclair stripped the roof down to its old boards, put down felt paper and sheeting, then synthetic felt, and then shingles.
Leclair discovered there was quite a bit of interest in the project among townsfolk.
“When I’d go into the store down the road, people would be asking about the barn, and they’re glad he’s saving it,” he said.
Arnold has been splitting his time between Texas and Maine. He will be back up in mid-September to finish up the cupola and to finish the street side with replica windows, siding and trim before having the power pole reattached to the structure and buttoning it up for the winter. He hopes to finish the barn next spring and move his millwork shop to Winterport.
Arnold has no idea what the final cost of the project will be. “I don’t want to know. We’ve done 99 percent of it ourselves, and how do you put a price on your time?” he said.