Turning Bar Harbor's Stone Barn Farm into a preserve was a labor of love.
By Joel Crabtree Photographed by Michael D. Wilson
In 1963, when Harry and Cindy Owen walked into Bar Harbor Savings & Loan to see about borrowing $17,000, the bank president looked askance at them, cautioning that the 128-acre farm they wanted would never be worth that much. They bought it anyway, complete with its old stone barn, an architectural rarity. Decades passed, farmland around Bar Harbor sprouted development, and Harry and Cindy got numerous unsolicited offers, many of them a hundred times higher than the original loan value. In 2001, when Stone Barn Farm was added to the National Register of Historic Places, Harry told the Bangor Daily News, “I’d roll over in my grave if I knew there was a fun park or a golf course up there in my field.”
He and Cindy grew vegetables, kept goats for dairy, and raised a daughter on the farm, which he toiled tirelessly to preserve. “My whole heart is in that stone barn,” says Harry, now 94. The barn, at the intersection of Crooked Road and Norway Drive, was built in 1907 by a family of masons and farmers. Equally practical and beautiful, it needed little fixing up over the years, the kind of timeless object that might have inspired Andy Wyeth’s brush or E. B. White’s pen.
Harry and Cindy lived in the cedar-shingle farmhouse and came to think of the farm as a sort of de facto preserve, open to neighbors and friends who wanted to stroll the grassy field or the woods that border the meandering Northeast Creek. Passersby, coming and going from Acadia National Park, often stopped to admire the barn, the rows of sunflowers that Harry planted, and the Ford Model A and antique John Deere tractor that he parked on the lawn.
Cindy passed away in 2018, and Harry finally sold the place last year, not to developers but to Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which is turning Stone Barn Farm into an actual preserve, with the potential for a variety of uses: walking, birding, cross-country skiing, skating on the small pond. “People love the iconicness of not just the farm but of how the Owens occupied it,” says Douglas McMullin, MCHT’s Mount Desert Island stewardship manager. “There was something about Harry that was a draw.”
These days, Harry lives in a retirement community a couple of miles up the road from the barn. His comings and goings are restricted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Harry says that as soon as it’s safe to leave, he’ll be back down at the farm. “Everything about this property, even the mowing of the lawn, I miss,” he says. “And the walk — I walked to the creek every day. I’m 94 years old, and I don’t have transportation anymore, but I can walk the two miles down there easily.”
UMaine was founded in 1862 as an agriculture and engineering college. Now, it has but one ag structure left on campus: a three-story 1833 barn that anchors the school’s Page Farm and Home Museum, housing artifacts of rural life from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. 12 Portage Rd. 207-581-4100.
At the world’s last active Shaker community, two 1830 barns exemplify the prevailing New England style, with main doors on their gable ends instead of their sidewalls. The Shakers cleverly built on a slope, allowing for ground-level access to two different floors. 707 Shaker Rd. 207-926-4597.
Constructed in the 1830s amid the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening, the Temperance Barn was raised without the customary barrel of rum on site for refreshment. Today, the Bridgton Historical Society owns the barn and surrounding Narramissic farmstead. 46 Narramissic Rd. 207-647-3699.
* For now, visitation at these sites is curtailed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Call or consult websites for updates.