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by Esther J. Perne
They are grand, elegant, awe-inspiring, a feat of architectural art. They are solid, purposeful, once the most important and prized structures on a property. They were designed from ingenuity and memory passed from generation to generation and raised by entire communities. They are why the region was settled, survived, grew, prospered. They are our barns.
Barns are the most rapidly-disappearing buildings in the United States. In Maine, with its changing agricultural industry, a familiar sight is barns being torn down, picked for salvage, falling into disrepair. A few are recycled. Some give way to other buildings. Most sink to the ground. According to old farmer lore, the easiest way to get rid of a barn is to chop a hole in the roof and wait.
Yet, it is a rare visitor to a barn who fails to pause in admiration of the history and of the work ethic barns represent. Looking up, there is usually an immense sensation of space. There may be hand-hewn beams with bark still stuck to them from decades ago. There may be a hay hook on a runner at the peak of the ceiling which grasped piles of loose hay that were stacked 3 or 4 stories high. There may be thick wooden pegs holding the posts and beams together. There will be memories of happy visits to farms through the years.
Looking around, there may be rough boards, exceptionally wide and uneven in size but straight and true and well fit together. Under foot, the floor planks are thick and may be buckled from holding heavy loads where immense doorways could accommodate a loaded hay wagon pulled by a team of horses or oxen. If the barn sheltered cows, old wooden stanchions may still be standing. There is a wish to share this nostalgia with the next generations.
Barns are this region's heritage. Yes, they are disappearing, but there are opportunities still to see them — to drive by and to stop.