Second barn of historic Mortland farm to be demolished

By Jordan Bailey | May 18, 2017
Courtesy of: National Register of Historic Places The two barns of Mortland Farm can be seen in this 1991 photo. The white barn to the right is scheduled to be demolished Friday, May 16.The one on the left was previously demolished.

Searsport — A barn that forms part of a property on the National Registry of Historic Places is scheduled to be demolished Friday, May 19. It is a rare surviving example of a connected farm complex.

Connecting barns, a style also referred to as "continuous architecture," are unique to New England. They are characterized by additions built at different times out of different materials as farms expanded, with barns attached to the house so they could be accessed easily in winter. They are historically significant, according to National Registry, because they reflect changing trends in agriculture over the 19th and 20th centuries.

"Unfortunately they are an endangered resource," the National Registry listing for the 133 Mortland Rd. property reads. "The decline of the agricultural system that sustained such buildings has resulted in their wholesale abandonment. Thus, ... the identification and preservation of intact complexes remains a priority."

Town Manager James Gillway said at a May 2 Selectmen's meeting that Historic Preservation Committee agreed with the code enforcement officer's assessment that the barn at 133 Mortland Road is a dangerous building and thus its demolition would not require a public hearing.

During the last town meeting, Searsport residents amended the land use ordinance to include a demolition delay for buildings 50 years or older so they could be documented before being torn down.

"Unfortunately we lost a lot of buildings over the years, some to disrepair. We want to be able to get photographs and preserve the history," Gillway said May 3. "We made sure we followed the letter of the ordinance and ... went in as far as we dared to take photographs of the construction."

Code Enforcement Officer Randy Hall said May 16 that from the back of the barn, you can see its deteriorating stone foundation, a guy wire holding up the building from the corner, and a roof "sagging like a swayback mare." His pictures of the interior reveal the once open space now thick with crisscrossing braces nailed at all angles to the posts and beams, making it difficult to pass through except by numerous brave or oblivious pigeons.

Despite his efforts to keep the barn standing, owner Marc Goodheart of Bucksport eventually decided to demolish it. A second barn attached to the first had been demolished earlier, according to Hall.

"That's the thing," Hall said."If he had millions of dollars, then maybe he could rebuild it."

The complete 14.7 acre property including the building is assessed at $131,600.

Searsport Town Clerk Debbie Plourde said the property was on the market recently, but the condition of the barn might have been a deterrent to potential buyers. Goodheart could not be reached for comment by press time.

William Dakin of Dakin Construction was responsible for getting the demolition permit and will be at the site Friday to disconnect the house and milk-house from the barn to ensure they are not damaged. He said another contractor hired by the owner will be carrying out the demolition.

Deconstructing a slice of Searsport history

The property was in the Mortland family for five generations, beginning when Samuel Mortland and his wife Ann immigrated from Ireland in the early 1820s. It is believed that Samuel, a stonemason, built the still-standing rubble stone cape himself in 1834. The cellar hole of their original log home is still visible to the north of barn.

Faith Garrold, assistant to the photo archivist at Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport who has been researching Searsport's historic schools, said Samuel Mortland was the "school agent," responsible for hiring teachers and other administrative duties, at the former Mortland School which stood at the corner of Old County Road and Roulstone Road, as Mortland Road was called at the time. She said Searsport had 16 schools then, each organized as its own district with its own school agent.

According to the National Registry, by 1850 the Mortland farm consisted of two milk cows, two oxen, one pig and 68 acres of land, half of which was unused. It produced 25 bushels each of oats and potatoes and 10 tons of hay per year.

When son Samuel Mortland II assumed responsibility for the farm in the 1860s, he expanded it by acquiring sheep and adding wooden front and rear ells (additions perpendicular to the original structure) to the stone dwelling. By then the farm was producing wool, orchard products, butter and honey, according to the property's National Registry listing.

Frank Mortland, Samuel II's only son, also made additions to the building when he took over the farm. He added a cow barn in 1894 and a stable in 1898. This marks the family's entry into the dairy business, the listing reports, reflecting "a pattern of shifting agricultural trends that was emerging throughout the state at this time."

The next two generations of Mortlands carried on the dairy farming business, and the final additions — a milk house and two silos — were built by Philip Mortland in the 1950s. His death in 1987 marked the end of the family's agricultural activity.

Garrold said the property remained in the family until about 10 to 12 years ago, when Donald Mortland, an English professor at Unity College, and his wife sold the farm to move to closer to the college.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated that the town had consulted with the Searsport Historical Society about holding a public hearing on the demolition. Actually, town's Historic Preservation Committee was consulted.

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Jordan M Bailey
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Jordan Bailey has been working for The Republican Journal since 2013. She studied philosophy at Boston College and has experience in marine science education and journalism. She lives in Belfast.


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