June 1, 2011

Lakes Region: Tour to take in four barns in Windham


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Barns reveal a lot about early Maine history. A Windham tour will cover some of it.

Don Perkins photo

Jim Leary of Saco remembers milking at night in a barn on Route 1 during World War II outfitted with "blackout curtains." Just like the visors on car headlights of the times, blackout curtains were necessary so an enemy submarine off the coast wouldn't see the outline of any US ships against a lit-up shoreline. But the war-time milking went on.

Many recall huge barn fires. Bob Bartlett of Oxford was about 10 years old in 1941 when he awoke in the middle of the night.

"... 1941, I saw a barn burn," he said. "My father woke me up at two o'clock in the morning, said the barn's on fire. I got up and looked out the window. The barn was all ablaze, 86 feet long. We don't know what started it ... Oct. 20, 1941."

Like many a Maine farmhouse, the home and barn were attached. Everything burned flat; their livestock was lost.


A lot of barns burned because of moist, loose hay, which is prone to spontaneous combustion. The composting action can create surprising heat; hay will ignite around 350 degrees.

Hay was the backbone of early agriculture and is why our barns grew to be so large. Hay fed the cows that produced beef and milk; it nourished sheep that produced wool.

Today, Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook goes through some 100 tons of hay a year. In the 1940s, when Roger Knight was just 8 years old, he remembers loading the family's big, red 1915 barn high with hay. Children often worked on farms as soon as they were able.

Knight can recall the many barns that dotted County Road (Route 22) leading toward Scarborough from Portland in those days, a section now packed with industrial development, offices and a major cinema complex.

"There were at least 15 barns between Brooklawn Cemetery and North Scarborough on this road," he says. "Many were good-sized barns."

The barn tour starts at 1 p.m. June 11. The event will include one barn the Windham Historical Society is saving from destruction, which it plans to move to its new "Village Green" complex at Windham Center. Tickets are $10 and will support the Village Green effort. Rain date is June 12. Meet at the society's brick building, 234 Windham Center Road.

For more on Maine's barns, visit www.ourbarns.com.

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:



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