A Short History of Amen Farm
It was only by chance that I first spotted the Real Estate Ad for Amen Farm. One cold and snowy Saturday in January many years ago now, while I was searching rental cottages for our two-week summer vacation, up came a whole list of houses for sale. Amen Farm was at the top of the list. Intrigued by the name, I clicked on the listing and what appeared was the most glorious view of Blue Hill Bay with a schooner under full sail. I’ve bought and sold enough houses to know that anytime an ad shows the view and not the house, something is probably wrong with the house. Either it’s next to the town dump or it is a handyman special. But I was curious so I googled Amen Farm, and to my surprise, a photograph of a small white clapboard farmhouse with a big red barn surrounded by fields and flowers appeared. Now I have to confess that I had dreamed of living on a small farm by the sea since I was seventeen years old so my fantasy life lit up. I loved staring at all the pictures of the rooms in the house and the barn. But that’s all. We were not in the market for a new house whose price we couldn’t even begin to afford, nor we were thinking of moving to Maine.
During the next few years, when it crossed my mind, I would google Amen Farm sure that I would find out it had sold. I was surprised it was taking so long for someone to buy it, but I was busy with my teaching and writing, and I didn’t give it much more thought than that.
Then came the year that my husband, Robert, and I decided it was time for us to decide where we wanted to spend the rest of our life. We tried on several different locations from North Carolina to Rhode Island to Connecticut and Vermont, but none of them seemed to fit. Then one day when I had nothing better to do, I looked up Amen Farm once again. What I noticed immediately was that there was a big “New Price” across the screen. The price was drastically lower. I showed it to Robert. It only took him minutes before he was eagerly google mapping it, looking up the boundaries of the land and staring at that view of Blue Hill Bay. It only took us a little longer to decide to go look at this little farm on the coast of Maine.
On one of the coldest days in January with many inches of snow on the ground, we flew up to Bangor and drove to Brooklin to see Amen Farm with our own eyes. From the moment we opened the back door and stepped into the kitchen, without saying a word to each other, we both knew that this was to be our house. So six months later, we moved with two cats and two dogs, and a car packed to the gills to Amen Farm. Many children followed us. In October of that year the goats from our farm in Virginia arrived and the chickens came a few weeks later.
The history of the place is that sometime in the mid 1800’s it was bought by the Bowden family who farmed it and maintained a general store that delivered groceries and other dry goods to the neighboring homeowners. While researching a little book I was writing on the history of Brooklin’s Friend Memorial Library to commemorate its one-hundredth birthday, I discovered that in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Bowden store was one of the depositories for Brooklin’s then tiny lending library’s collection of books. So along with groceries, Mr. Bowden would deliver new library books and pick up the old ones.
By the late 1950’s, the farm had fallen into disrepair, and the main house had been turned into a chicken coop. But that didn’t stop our predecessor, the late Roy Barrett and his wife, Helen, from seeing the possibilities in the place. Like us, they were captivated by the view of Blue Hill Bay and the quiet beauty of the surrounding area. They bought the place, had the house rebuilt and cleared the land. The farm was said to have gotten its name when Helen Barrett arrived with a moving van and all their possessions from their home in Philadelphia and was heard to have exclaimed, “Amen, we are finally home.”
By the mid 1960’s the Barretts and had become an integral part of the Brooklin Community. Roy became close friends with E.B.White who was said to have provided him with a supply of cows and pigs to fill the barn. Also a writer, for years Roy wrote a column for the Ellsworth American as well as several books, including the well known, A Country Man’s Journal.
In the meantime, Roy Barrett, already a master gardener, began designing and creating spectacular gardens, adding an arboretum in the back and a green house that was full of flowers that bloomed all year. A generous and fun loving gentleman, he welcomed visitors to his gardens, and never tired of showing them around and telling them the names of every plant on the place. Many articles appeared in horticultural magazines as well as magazines such as Yankee and Down East extolling his gardens.
By the time we appeared on the scene, Roy and Helen had been dead for many years. During most of those years, when the house was for sale, the place had not been well tended. We have worked hard to make repairs to the house and the barn. We added a bedroom on the first floor for ourselves so that we had enough room for our seven children to visit. The outside also needed lots of tender care to bring it back, if not to Mr. Barrett’s high standard at least to standard he would have approved.
Years earlier, Roy had moved what was once the Bowden store from the barn area to the other side of the farmhouse and turned it into a guest house. Because we have this separate little house, we are able to welcome many visitors. And to a person, they have all told us how healing Amen Farm has felt to them We have one dear friend who comes twice yearly on retreat. She says there is a deep peace in this place that nourishes her and gives her time to refuel.
We inherited all of this beauty, and while we don’t have a staff of several gardeners to help as Roy and Helen did, Robert and I, a staff of two, do our best to maintain his vision while adding our own touches. When we show people around, we are very clear to point out that we are fortunate to have become caretakers of the work and vision of Roy Barrett.
The woods, the sea, the mountains, the sky are where we find peace and joy. We are grateful to be able to share this small piece of creation with friends and family, our animals, the birds, and the bears, the coyote and the fox, and even the bobcat. We give thanks to the Unknowable All for pointing the way here and sustaining us with love and hope as we plough the fields of the daily.