A full house gathers at the August Second Friday event in Harpswell. (Kelli Park photos)

 There’s no shortage of old barns in Harpswell, but one that has been bringing people together for decades is taking a new approach to building community. 

A local family is trying to transform the barn, a former tavern next to the Elijah Kellogg Church on Harpswell Neck, into the creative heart and soul of Harpswell.  

The 192-year-old barn was a repurposed in the middle part of the 20th century, bringing in diners and drinkers rather than farm equipment and hay. It was known as The Potluck in the 1960s, The Captain’s Table in the 1980s, and J. Hathaway’s Restaurant and Tavern from the 1980s until it closed in 2002. 

Bee (from left) and Janice Thompson and Jeremy Jones outside the family’s home and a creative center and gathering space for Harpswell. 

In 2018, Jeremy Jones, Janice Thompson, and their daughter, Bee, stumbled across the real estate listing for the historic Harpswell house and barn. 

“My husband and I, who were never expecting to be in a historic house, saw this listed at one point and we came to look at it and fell in love with it,” said Thompson.  

After the deal closedthe former owners invited the new owners and neighbors, to celebrate with drinks.  

“Well, the neighborhood does have a bar,” Thompson joked that night. “We might as well put a sign up and the neighbors can come over. … Let’s get together once a month. What about second Fridays?”  

From that point on, Thompson and her family have operated under the philosophy of build it and they will come. 

“We feel strongly about how the barn is right in the center of Harpswell Center, and it feels like it should have people in it,” Thompson said. 

Since last November, the barn has hosted free Second Friday potluck events. Live music at the potlucks is often improvised with musicians bringing their instruments of choice. Thompson and her family have done some renovations in the barn and enjoy finding eclectic pieces of furniture in thrift shops.  

“We have people who have come here and said, ‘We’ve lived here for 10 years, and we’ve met more people from Harpswell in this one night than we’ve met in 10 years,’” said Thompson’s daughter, Bee. “I think that’s definitely something worth doing.” 

Thompson, who has worked as a professional fundraiser for 32 years, started to recognize during the past year that Harpswell needed a venue to host community programs. She has since offered the space to local organizations for meetings and events, including Harpswell Indivisible, Harpswell Coastal Academy and Harpswell Neck Physical Education Association. 

“I can envision doing local history talks, poetry slams,” Thompson said. I really like to bring people together around arts and culture, reading, and history. That’s just very exciting to me. And it’s just so funny because we were not planning on doing this at all.”  

Janice Thompson, whose family is bringing new life to a 192-year-old Harpswell barn, prepares ready for Second Friday behind the bar. 

It’s a gathering place for other organizations and there’s not a lot of them here, so that’s important,” said Jim Cornish, who has lived in Harpswell for 40 years and runs Stone Soup Institute, a school for agrarian sciences and arts. “It’s kind of like Jameson’s Tavern, where the charter for the State of Maine was drawn up. Those kinds of decisions and discussions were created in places like this. It’s a very traditional way of doing things. Places like this are for gathering people together, reaching consensus, having opinions and setting strategy.” 

Thompson sees potential for growth and is pushing to establish the space as a nonprofit organization and community center. Thompson’s goal with the nonprofit designation is to fund the winterization and general maintenance of the barn, which is currently not insulated for winter use.  

For more information on upcoming eventslook for “Second Fridays at the Tavern on Facebook or email [email protected]. The next potluck event will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 13.  

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: