by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
BANGOR — Author Don Perkins of Raymond spoke to a packed-house audience about his book, “The Barns of Maine,” on Feb. 6 at the Bangor Museum and History Center as part of its Brown Bag Lunch Series. Men in the audience far outnumbered women, but the information that Perkins shared about his research that led to the writing of the book proved to be of interest to all.
The book, published in September 2012, has proved to be so popular that it already is in its second printing, he said.
Perkins, a former carpenter and member of the Timber Framers Guild, said the foundation of his book began to take shape in 2007 when as a freelance writer he began the series, “Our Barns,” that ran for 20 weeks in the Gray-New Gloucester Independent newspaper. “I didn’t know [when I proposed the series] if there would be anything there,” he said. “Then I had to find a barn to write about every week for 20 weeks.” He confined the focus of his articles to barns in New Gloucester, Gray and North Yarmouth.
In his illustrated talk at the museum, Perkins spoke of the origin of the word “barn.” Barns in the distant past were not buildings where a farmer kept animals, but the place where he stored and threshed his crop of barley.
In Maine, Perkins said, three types of barns are typical: the freestanding English barn of the late 1700s to early 1800s, with vertical boarding that shed rain easily, small spaces between the boards that allowed it to “breathe,” and the door on the eaves wall rather that the gable wall; the New England barn of the 1800s with doors in the gable end, used for housing animals; and the gambrel barn seen after 1900 with its roof with two slopes to create extra height for storing hay.
Perkins showed photos of a barn interior that had been built using the English tying joint, a method of barn frame construction that was known in medieval England and harks back to ancient times.
Of his travels to Washington County to tour and photograph barns to include in his book, Perkins said that the majority of barns there are of the English type. In Aroostook County, he said, most of the barns are of the gambrel variety and are not attached to a house. Barns in the rest of Maine, he said, come in a wide range of sizes, have gable entries, and are attached to the house.
Most of the barns he surveyed, he said, were constructed of pine with oak sills.
His talk generated many questions, and one man and his grown-up son in the audience were pleasantly surprised to learn that a barn they are rehabilitating, which has an off-set door in the eaves wall, may indicate that it was built before the Civil War.
The museum’s Brown Bag Lunch Series is held at noon the first Wednesday of each month. The next event will take place March 6 at the Thomas A. Hill House, 159 Union St. The event is free and attendees receive a free reusable lunch tote.