Without even consulting his notes, a student of Maine architecture would quickly tell you that there are only half a dozen henhouses in St. George today. When I was in school, there were many of these money-making machines within a mile of home. Most have now returned to the soil and aren’t even memories.

Even though we weren’t in the hen business in the 1940s, like most St. George families, we had half a dozen layers we’d raised from Easter chicks that gave us a couple of eggs every day. And that’s as close as I ever came to being in the hen business.

Winslow, who raised thousands of hens, was one of the most prosperous men in our village because 75 years ago, raising hens was a viable and very lucrative business. Hens gave him the wherewithal to sport about in a white 1948 DeSoto. He rebuilt his great-grandfather’s barn, putting in five stories with concrete floors to facilitate cleaning, and even bought my great-grandfather’s sister Emerline’s house across the road and filled that with hens.

Shortly after the war, however, a summercating art gallery owner from New York City convinced Winslow to move the hens out of the rustic “Emerline,” and she and her son moved in.

Soon after the war, I helped Winslow in his henhouses. In payment, he gave me a chicken, which he decapitated and plucked. I remember taking one home that my mother cooked for dinner.

My grandfather Gilchrest, no slacker himself, had two respectable henhouses behind my boyhood home that survived up to my time. I put half a dozen Model Ts in the last one, and it fell down on top of them in the late 1950s only because I didn’t know how to brace it up.

Mr. Harper might have been the last man in town to raise hens. Around 1975, I cleaned out his henhouse with my bucket loader and hauled truckloads of the powerful nutrients home to enrich my soil. Nothing would grow in it for a couple of years except exotic weeds. Chicken manure is red hot.

The henhouse you have seen behind my house was built around 1926. It must have been state of the art, because it boasted electricity, which had come to town two or three years earlier, and dozens of feet of galvanized pipe to deliver water to the inhabitants.

The doors had a rope attached to the top corner. The rope ran through a pulley affixed to the door casing, and had a weight on the end. Push the door open and the weight ran up to the top; release the door, and the falling weight pulled it shut. Beautiful simplicity.

The soil by my south line right by the stone wall is black and rich, probably because tons of rich nutrients from my henhouse were deposited there in the 1930s. I planted 20 or so rhubarb plants in it just so Marsha would have a few stalks close to the house and wouldn’t have to walk way down to the rhubarb patch every time she wanted a pie.

John Holgerson, who lived down on the Barter Flats, had a garden that raised the biggest vegetables I’ve ever seen. I rotovated his garden for him spring and fall, which was a snap because there wasn’t a rock in it.

For years, John had cleaned out Harper’s henhouse and had simply dumped the nutrients in his backyard, where a mountain of it rotted for years. When he finally planted in it, the vegetables literally jumped out of the kind of black topsoil that hasn’t been seen since the last time the Nile flooded

Today a few progressive neighbors who enjoy farming keep a couple of dozen free-range chickens. Timmy Polky has some, and Elliott Prior has enough to enable him to offer a dozen eggs on my chrome-plated farmstand every other day. We are often the first customers. I might bring in a dozen, and Marsha will look at them and tell me to take them back and wait until tomorrow when they might be bigger.

Women who shop on my front lawn tell me that our local eggs are much better than eggs you can buy in the store. You might know what the difference is, but you’re talking here with a man who can’t tell the difference between butter and margarine.

Ride through rural Maine today, and you will still see huge metal henhouses that are either empty and falling down or used as storage buildings for boats by businesses like Jeff’s Marine in Thomaston.

Not only has Maine lost income, fresh produce and rich manure with the demise of our poultry industry, but some old-time dining skills a boy learns working in a henhouse are gone, perhaps never to be revived again.

Sixty years ago, Maynard Kinney was still raising hens, and when my brother Jim was in high school he helped Maynard sort eggs. When they’d come across a broken egg, the thrifty farmers would eat it on the spot – just so it wouldn’t go to waste.

This came in handy later when, as a Gorham Kappa pledge, Jim was asked to eat a few raw eggs. Instead of throwing up, as had been eagerly anticipated, he swallowed a dozen or so raw eggs and got so homesick, he almost cried.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

www.thehumblefarmer.com/MainePrivateRadio.html