This Old Barn has some Stories to Tell

[slideshow]J’Nan said that when they purchased the 122-acre River Crest Farm originally owned by the Darrach’s and then the MacNeill’s, the 2 1/2 story barn and implement shed were stocked full with old farm equipment, including a mussel mud digger, box sleigh, buggy, market cart, hay loader, potato hiller, walk-behind seeder, turnip chopper, cream separator, horse-drawn side-bar mower and manure spreader. The mussel mud equipment was used to gather shellfish rich mud from the West and Clyde River to fertilize fields as the one featured here on the Virtual Museum site. They gave a horse buggy and market cart to Billy Waller. Much of the farm equipment went to the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and some to Laurie Blue. J’Nan said at the time, if she had bought a horse, she could have started pioneer farming.

In 2010, the barn received a heritage designation for “its age, rare construction and integrity of original architectural elements.” Significant elements included a gambrel roof (hip roof), the construction with the north side built into the side of the hill protecting it from north winds (also referred to as Pennsylvania style) which makes it one of the few left in PEI, the placement of the doors, double barn doors, placement of windows, series of six-paned windows on the south elevation, cedar shingle cladding and the integral location of the barn in relation to the house and yard. The old barn is the first building to greet you when you drive into the yard before you walk through the gates and follow the red brick path to the house.

The barn raising was led in 1937 by Clyde River builder Kenison MacKinnon who was 43 years old at the time and with the help of the owner and neighbouring men. Beams from a previous building which had been hand adzed on one side and sawn on the other with mortised joint holes were incorporated into the structure of the new barn. Kenison was featured in the History and Stories of Clyde River where he said he raised many barns in Clyde River and he didn’t mind one bit. The book goes on to recount a story where he once fell off the roof of the barn he was building for Angus Cameron, but he dusted himself off and told the concerned men standing around him that he had just come down for another package of shingles. Kenison lived for 102 years.

It’s a long way down Kirk and J’Nan’s lane, about 100 yards short of half a mile, or 750 meters if you prefer. Kirk said the lane was a concern for others interested in purchasing the farm when the MacNeill’s put it up for sale. The local people were aware of PEI winters and how such a lane could be difficult. Well, even though the house is a long way from the road, it is also a long way from the river. It was typical in those days to place the house and buildings in the middle of the property, so you would be no more than half the length of your property away when you were out farming your fields.

It’s a beautiful property with a perfectly-centered view of the West River where it meets the Clyde River. Along with the neighbouring Darrach-Poritz farm, it’s the first land an immigrant would meet as they came by boat down the West (Elliot) River to the community of Dog River later Clyde River. The Darrach’s first saw it in 1806. Kirk said even before that time, the lay of the land in relation to the rivers would have also been a popular spot for Mi’kmaq that were known to travel over for the summer from Nova Scotia. Kirk and J’Nan explored down by the river, but they did not find any artifacts; however, they did find where later immigrants had dumped some old stoves that were long rusty.

J’Nan adapted the basement of the barn which is the first floor on the south end to raise goats from 1978 to 1987. She supplied goat milk to Garden City Dairy in Charlottetown. She then sold her 58 goats to a goat dairy in Ontario; there were 29 milkers and the rest were kids and two bucks. After that, they still raised lambs and goat kids each year until this year. The only livestock in the barn now are chickens they raise for food along with some Jack Layton election signs. Livingston’s, who now farm their land, pasture a few cows in the front field and they enjoy their company. J’Nan says the cows are timid, but when she feeds them over-ripe pod peas and corn stalks they warm up to them.

The wooden-fenced yard that is bordered by the barn on the West and the Second French Empire style home on the East and a woodshed to the north provides a cozy area for a rooster and his brood of hens. I managed to capture a photo of them under the large red pine tree before he rustled them through the bushes behind the house. Another hen in a cage was protecting her little chick. This Ameraucana breed of hens originating from Chile were adapted from a number of sources and lay blue eggs. Sloped down from the yard is a garden of corn, sweet pea, dill, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, onions. Behind the house are fruit trees and bushes. In the home’s solarium are herbs. The self-sustaining practices help to make being a long way from the road or a local store of less concern.

The old barn received a new breath of life this month when a wedding took place on the main floor. The Brown’s had chipboard screwed down to prepare for a good ol’ barn dance. J’Nan told me she was going to hang some quilts up on the wall, along with strings of lights and decorations. The band was to play from the loft area.

The barn is now 75 years old, and it’s a great old building that was well-built and well-loved with good stories to tell, and it was surely swaying and jigging to the music during this latest celebration. We wish the barn many more years of happy memories.

Thank you J’Nan and Kirk for touring me through the old barn and the rest of the property. It is not hard to tell how much you deeply love your home place and how much you have respected and treasured its history. Thanks for taking care of this old barn so well. It supports my theory of how some buildings choose who owns them.

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  1. Daphne Davey on November 8, 2016 at 8:57 am

    J’Nan, I never knew this full history. Fascinating to read! I’ll look at things with fresh eyes next time I’m there.

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