Maine Farmhouse Journal

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Carriage House Restoration Begins

January 30-31, 1999

When John Meserve built the farmhouse about 1840, there was originally open ground between it and the barn. If the usual local practice were followed, a building was found somewhere nearby and hauled by teams of oxen to the site. This was positioned between the house and barn, making a long connected building that provided a sheltered route for the farmer to tend to the stock in the barn without having to go outside in the winter. From what we see in the style of their construction and the way that the timbers are worked, the carriage house at the Sebago farm apparently started out as two smaller buildings.

This "splicing" of outbuildings was a common practice of New England farmers, and is documented in Thomas C. Hubka's "Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn - The Connected Farm Buildings of New England" (University Press of New England, Hanover, 1984). Hubka highlights farms throughout New England, including the nearby Bridgton, Maine, area.

Over the years, the dirt floor of the carriage house has stored carriages and wagons, cars, and most recently, riding lawnmowers. The original builders of the farmhouse could not have conceived that where they parked their carriages was one day going to be transformed into an office with computers and faxes for an Internet business!

These hand-hewn beams will be left exposed
in the office ceiling.

When we arrived for the weekend, we were very pleasantly surprised at the progress made since our last visit to restore the carriage house, and to tighten it up so that it would be weathertight. Paul, our contractor, had made a good start in framing in the office, mud room and pantry on the ground floor within the existing timbers and walls of the carriage house - floors are roughed, partitions are framed, insulation is installed. It is a lot easier to visualize how things will look. The three of us tossed several ideas back and forth, and settled on where the doors, windows, steps, etc would be located.

The studs show where the pantry and mud
room will be located next to the office.

The mud room floor will be raised about 2 feet above the office floor, to make access to the house and kitchen a bit easier than the steep, narrow steps there now. With the new entry, you'll come into the mud room from a small landing off the driveway. From there, two steps go up to the kitchen, or two steps down to the office. The office will connect to our shipping room, and from there a short ramp will go down to the storage shelves in the barn. We'd have preferred all one level, but this is the best we could do with the existing layout of the barn, carriage house, and farm house.

Paul checks a measurement.

There will be three pairs of windows on the driveway side, and two windows on the back yard side of the building to give plenty of light. The old hand-hewn beams will be left exposed in the office ceiling, and we'll put in a hard pine floor. With the layout firmly in mind, Paul, Penny and I then went down to the lumber yard and picked out doors and windows.

The upstairs of the carriage house has been a convenient depository for 150+ years of culch. Paul and I cleaned out a good part of it - probably at least a truckload of old windows and screens, furniture, scrap lumber, old tires and bottles, toys, old mattresses, Christmas tree stands, bikes, trunks, tools and assorted treasures. Even found an old wooden apple drying rack big enough to dry several bushels at a time. Mixed in with the treasures and the junk was a liberal accumulation of guano from a healthy population of brown bats - they have been roosting up on the carriage house rafters every summer for several generations. (More on the bats in our belfry in a future journal.)

Penny had a field day inspecting our finds as the piles in the barn grew higher. Comments flew back and forth "put that on the dump pile", and "is this worth saving?." The furniture was placed in a back corner of the barn for Dot (the former owner) to claim, as was an old trunk full of old books, ledgers and tintypes that belonged to her aunt. There were lots of other neat things that probably hadn't seen the light of day for several generations - one of the bonuses of living in an old house.

Removing part of the carriage house
second story floor to make room for
the mud room ceiling.

Paul and I then removed a section of the second story floor and a big wood cross beam in order to make room for the mud room and pantry ceiling. By the time we got through we were ready for a hot shower to wash off the dust, grime, and bat guano.

150+ years of dust and bat shit everywhere!

Jack and Ellen, friends from Parsonsfield, dropped by on Saturday night to see the farmhouse and inspect our progress. They recently renovated their farm house, an old cape, and had lots of good ideas. In looking at the pattern of foundation stones in the celler, Ellen thought that the present chimney is probably not the original one that had been there. It has probably been rebuilt, and she speculated that the original chimney was much larger and had perhaps as many as three fireplaces. Some of the partitions upstairs may have been different originally also, based on how farmhouses were built in those days. We went out for supper at a handy brew-pub in Naples that they introduced us to. It features four or five local brews and had pretty good seafood.

After church on Sunday, we went out to lunch with Ed and Dot (the former owners of the farm) at the Colonial Restaurant. Dot first lived at the farm in the 1940's, and remembered a third chimney in the house and a parlour stove in the living room. They dropped by later in the afternoon after delivering a load of firewood. After inspecting the progress of work on the carriage house, she showed us where the older chimney had been removed. A part of the older chimney is still enclosed in the wall of one of the upstairs bedrooms - we'd not noticed it before!

A wonderful day to go snowshoeing.

The snow was deep enough for even Happy
to climb over the stone walls!

The weekend was bright and crisp, with blue skies and about two inches of fluffy new snow atop about 18 inches of old crusty snow. Temperature was comfortably in the low- to mid-20s (F) during the day, but not too cool at night. The sun on the roofs during the day was enough to loosen what snow remained and we could hear it "whump" off periodically.

Sunday was a perfect day to take the dogs out snowshoeing. They got along just fine walking on the top of the crust, and we explored the woods and fields down back. Didn't see any deer sign, but I expect they are pretty much yarded up at this time of the year. The deep crusty snow makes it tough for them to get around very readily, and unfortunately makes them easy prey for any group of dogs that pack up and who can easily run along on top of the crust.

Just couldn't resist a couple of sunrise shots - this glorious display filled the sky on Monday morning as we were getting ready to head back. A nice conclusion to a very productive weekend.

The reds and oranges of a winter sunrise
filled the early morning sky.

Allen and Penny Crabtree

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Last updated February 6, 1999