BAR HARBOR – The stone barn at the intersection of Crooked Road and Norway Drive in Bar Harbor is quite photogenic, and the two miles of trails through the fields and forests behind the barn are great for hiking.
But aside from that – and even though the farm is on the National Register of Historic Places – most people probably know little about the buildings and the 128 acres of land that include rolling meadows, woodlands, patches of low-bush blueberries and a small farm pond.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which acquired the property for conservation last year, thinks the farm has a story worth telling. So, the Trust asked Tim Garrity, the Mount Desert Island Historical Society’s historian, to research and write a brief cultural and natural history of the property.
It starts with the mile-deep glacier that molded the land more than 10,000 years ago, then acknowledges that native people lived in the area “long before America was dreamed of.”
In the 19th century, six farms were clustered around the headwaters of Northeast Creek, an area known as the Emery District.
Garrity writes that an 1807 map “suggests that Eben Salisbury was the first to own, in the European sense, the plot of land where the Stone Barn now stands.”
At some point, the property was conveyed to Thomas Paine Jr., who, in 1793, was the first member of the Paine family to be born on Mount Desert Island. In 1819, he married Olive Hadley; the couple had 12 children.
“Thomas Paine may have built the first barn and the present house on the site around 1840, as local tradition attests, or a son built it between 1850 and 1860, as the Maine Historic Preservation Commission supposed,” Garrity writes.
A photo taken in the late 1800s shows a two-story house, a wooden barn and some connecting buildings.
“Though the house still stands, the connecting buildings and the barn have been replaced by the Stone Barn and a carriage house,” Garrity’s history explains.
Richard Paine, Thomas and Olive’s fifth child, took ownership of the farm between 1850 and 1860 and may have built the farmhouse.
In October 1862, 18 months after the start of the Civil War, Richard enlisted in the Union Army, along with several other men from the Emery District of MDI. His pregnant wife, Sophie, and their two young children remained on the farm.
“In addition to her children, (Sophie) had in her care two cows, two oxen, eight sheep and a pig,” Garrity writes.
Richard returned home from the war in August 1863 and Sophie died 14 months later at age 28.
“Richard pressed on, farming and marrying again, outliving three more wives,” according to Garrity. “A history published in 1899 reported that Richard was now a “policeman, carpenter and stonemason.’ By that time, he had turned over the farm responsibilities to his son, Willis, who sold the farm to James and Charles Shea in 1907.
“The Shea brothers were prominent masonry contractors whose long-lasting work is evident throughout Mount Desert Island,” Garrity continues. “The Sheas built the Stone Barn as a way to showcase their prowess as masons.”
In 1963, Harry and Cindy Owen, the last of the private owners, bought Stone Barn Farm. While living there, Harry worked as a teacher and Cindy as a registered nurse. The couple also grew vegetables and raised goats and chickens.
In addition to the picturesque barn, the Owens’ magnificent sunflowers were the subject of many a tourist’s photos.
Over time, the couple “became alarmed at the rapid rate of development on Mount Desert Island,” Garrity writes.
Bar Harbor’s land use ordinance would have allowed the Owens’ property to be divided into 42 house lots, but the couple decided, instead, to place it under a conservation easement to protect it from development. They also applied for the house, barn and carriage shed to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that was granted in 2001.
Cindy Owen died in 2018. Her husband lives in Bar Harbor, though not at Stone Barn Farm. In 2019, Maine Coast Heritage Trust purchased the farm property to manage as a public preserve.
Garrity concludes his history of Stone Barn Farm with the observation that the Owens “saw the threat of over-development as if it was a new glacier, looming over the island and threatening to sweep away this pristine corner of the island.”
“Their agreement with Maine Coast Heritage Trust set the future of the Stone Barn Farm in a new direction, one that forecloses further development and opens the land to all…”
To read Garrity’s history, titled “The Stone Barn Farm: An Overview of its Cultural and Natural History,” go to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust website and type “stone barn farm” into the search bar.