Stories from the Eye of the Barn

At the top of a lane in South Bridgton, Maine, sits the homestead of the Peabody-Fitch family.

A pioneer settler of Bridgton, William Peabody married Sally Stevens on August 14, 1797, in Andover, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Jacob Stevens, a ranking member of the surveying crew who came to Bridgton in 1766 to survey the plots of land. He returned in 1768, under contract with the proprietors to develop water power along Stevens Brook and make it serve early settlers.

William built this house in 1797, just three years after Bridgton was incorporated. The house was 30 x 45’, 2.5 stories with a center chimney and six fireplaces: 3 up and 3 down. The Peabodys had ten children, though four died at a young age.

Their fourth daughter, Mary, married George Fitch of Sebago on Dec 21, 1823, and in about 1828 the Fitches took over the hilltop farm. At the time of their marriage, William was in his late 50s and Sally not well. That meant that the house needed to accommodate two families: Mary’s parents and three of her younger siblings, plus Mary and George and their growing brood.

George Fitch added an ell with a new kitchen, larder, pantry and two bedrooms. A shed and carriage house were also included.

By 1856, George Fitch owned 80 improved acres and 128 unimproved acres. The farm produced wheat, Indian corn, oats, buckwheat, maple syrup butter and cheese. In addition, he had a stand of mulberry trees for silk worms. The cocoon, when unraveled, can be spun into silk.

A 40 x 60’ barn was built by Mr. Fitch and friends beside an already existing 40 x 40’ barn to help house his two horses, six milk cows, six working oxen, six other cattle, sixteen sheep and one swine. Hay would have been stored there as well.

The lore of what’s always been known as the Temperance Barn, is that it was supposedly constructed during prohibition without the usual swigs of rum for all who helped in the building process. Following a blog post I wrote in December 2018 about this very property, a granddaughter of Margaret Monroe who gifted the property to the historical society in 1987 wrote the following message: “Hi – I am glad you enjoy my grandmother’s property. A heads up that there is no written documentation from the period re: the barn actually being built without alcohol. My grandmother was prone to making up history. I want to give respect to hardy native Mainers: Monroes were largely summer people. My grandmother also said sherry wasn’t alcoholic and would drink a big glass of it every night before dinner, Lark cigarette in her other hand. Rebecca Monroe.”

But it was the granite foundation that drew part of our attention today. Apparently, when Mr. Fitch first built the barn, it sat upon a two-foot foundation, but he later raised it by eight feet, perhaps to store manure below.

To take a look at where the granite came from, I headed up the trail behind the house, which is owned by the Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo Land Trust’s new Peabody-Fitch Woods that surround the farm with companions Marita, Mary and Steve. Along the way, we saw numerous delicate Purple Milkworts still in bloom.

And really, we took a detour because we wanted to first honor another granite structure that has long stood upon Fitch Hill.

According to an August 17, 1963 article in the Bridgton News, “Enoch Perley, early settler of South Bridgton, built his first house in 1777 and brought his bride to their new home in 1778. (Five Fields Farm location)

As Enoch acquired livestock, he was much troubled by depredations from bears. He built a bear trap on the hill back of his first home . . .

Tradition says that four bears were caught in this trap–not enough! So Mr. Perley later had an iron bear trap made which took care of eight bears. Without a doubt, many were disposed of by him personally. A story is told that in an unarmed encounter with a bear and two cubs beside a wood road at dusk, Mr. Perley allegedly strangled the mother bear with his garters . . .”

The article continues, “The bear trap is built of stone. A large stone door is suspended and as the bear takes the bait, he trips the lever and is caught in the stone enclosure.”

Hiking back down the trail to our second destination located along a spur, we were stopped by an anomaly on a White Pine. An individual Pine Tube Moth caterpillars bound together 10 – 20 needles with silk to form a hollow tube. Though we couldn’t see it, we could see by the evidence that it had moved up and down the tube to feed on the tips of the bound needles, which were much shorter than those that were free. Eventually, the caterpillar will eat itself out of house and home, and move to another set of needles to repeat its tube-making, needle-feeding behavior before it pupates within one.

Our second destination was to a quarry we’ve all visited periodically over the years. This was the spot from which the foundations for the barn and other buildings were quarried so long ago.

Spaced about six inches apart are the drill marks made by Mr. Fitch and perhaps hired hands. Today, I asked a hand modeler to kindly provide a sense of depth for the drilled holes.

After a brief pause at what we now think of as Quarry #1, the four of us bushwhacked around the side of the hill, following my nose to the next location recently discovered by Jon Evans of both Loon Echo Land Trust and the Bridgton Historical Society.

Quarry #2 was much bigger and deeper.

We poked around and found old drill marks on slabs still in place.

Perhaps one of our favorite finds was a stone that slightly resembled a keyboard, the holes only two or three inches apart.

At a ninety degree angle, they continued down the side of the same stone. What made us wonder the most was the curve in the rock–usually they follow a straight line in the grain, thus giving the stones a uniform shape. This one did not. Maybe the Temperance story really is a legend.

And then we spotted another beauty.

Again, the hand modeler showed off the depth and width of a much wider hole, created with a much deeper and wider instrument.

Below the quarry, we found two slides of rocks and between, what might have been a “roadway” used by oxen pulling sleds in the winter to haul the stone out. We followed it for a few minutes because we thought we’d spied the Narrow Gauge Train Track below, but realized we were fooled by a few patches of reindeer lichen that were lighter in color than the surrounding woods, thus mimicking an open route. One of these days, we’ll explore further. The question remains: Was the rock quarried here and used to support the rail track at certain points along the way, or was it shipped out via train to other destinations?

We didn’t know the answer, but did spy a few of my pet species, including Rock Polypody Ferns growing upon granite as is its habit.

The underside of its fertile fronds were still decorated with mounds of sporangia. While many other ferns feature a membrane covering the sporangia during development, this one does not. Each tiny bubble within the larger “mound” is packed with spores, waiting their turn to catapult into the air.

After a couple of hours, we returned to the field and my companions, Marita, Mary and Steve, kindly posed with Narramissic in the background.

In the end, we departed knowing that there’s much more to the story of this land that perhaps only the eye of the weathered barn board knows as it peeks out from behind fringed bangs, gray from watching all that has taken place for almost two hundred years. If only it wood share those stories.