This is a beginning - more old homes will be added as information is acquired!
If you have done research on an old Readfield home you wish to share, email me firstname.lastname@example.org .
A Brief Explanation of How Our Old Homes Began
King James of England granted a large tract of land to the Plymouth
Council in England in 1621, which was to plan and govern New England. In
1629 the New Plymouth Colony received a grant from this council which included
this area of Central Maine (15 miles on each side of the Kennebec River).
In 1640 Govenor Bradford of Massachusetts signed over the grant to all
citizens of the New Plymouth Colony. Poor fur trade, land ownership disputes,
and threats associated with the French & Indian Wars prevented settlement
of this area, so in 1661 the Pilgrims sold this land to some Boston merchants
for 400 pounds sterling. The merchants called themselves the Kennebec Purchase
Company of the late New Plymouth Colony. This land remained unsettled,
but in 1749 during a period of tranquility the proprietors reorganized
in hopes of developing this land and increasing the value of their investment.
They promoted the construction of Fort Western in hopes of securing this
area from the threat of Indian attacks thus convincing settlers that this
area was a safe place in which to live. They had the land survey done two
settlers lots to one proprietors lot so as the area developed and became
more populated the proprietors share of land would sell at a higher price.
In 1761 The Proprietors of the Kennebec Purchase ran a persuasive advertisement for free land. The ad was circulated in England and America.
It read (in part) as follows:
"...the Proprietors will grant two hundred acres altogether, to each family who shall become Settlers on Condition that they each build a house not less than 20 feet square, and seven feet stud; clear and make fit for tillage five acres within three years, and dwell upon the premises personally, or by their substitutes for the term of seven years or more...the Proprietors propose to lay out in each township 200 acres for the first settled minister; 200 acres for the ministry; and 100 acres for a schoolhouse lot; training field and burying ground...
They went on to say that this land was the best offer of any yet offered in any part of America, had "plenty of meadows and intervale, that many settlers have carried with them 20 head of cattle which they have been able to keep year round....It is well stored with great quantities of the best and most valuable timber..." They further exclaimed that the water-carriage made for ready access to the Boston market "24 hours with favorable wind", and the river and sea abounded with various kinds of fish. By this time several towns had been established on the lower Kennebec River.
Men came ahead - brothers, sons, fathers, cousins. They came in the spring of the year, cut and burned trees, planted crops, and built shelter for the winter. Cabins were rustic with no windows, doors or chimney. The black flies and mosquitos were so overwhelming that they were often forced to leave their work for spells in the spring and summer - their eyes buttoned closed and bodies covered with open sores with flies imbedded in them! In the fall, once they had secured enough food supply and adequate shelter they went back for their families, livestock and worldly possessions, and weeks later upon their return to Readfield they set about harvesting their crops and doing further preparations for cold weather. The family built a door, cut a window and a hole in the roof to vent smoke, laid a floor with split basswood logs, constructed a stone hearth, and maybe even built a partition. They kept a fire going outside their door in hopes of warding off insects, thus the air inside the cabin was usually black with smoke.
Mothers were grateful when their babies were born in winter beause there was so much work to do in warmer weather - many babies died from illness and complications from childbirth as did their mothers! There was so much work to do that children played a vital role in operating the farm from a very early age. Men prayed for boy children, and women prayed for girl children since the chores were clearly defined according to sex, and referred to as men's work or women's work. Some jobs required many hands and all took a part - such as haying. Over time, once the men had cleared their land and built stonewalls and outbuildings, some chores which had until then been considered female domestic chores were assumed by the men - such as milking and tending to the cows.
By now the men could find time to make additions and improvements to the log cabins - sometimes the original cabin became an outbuilding, and a finer house was built. Sometimes the original cabin was enveloped, and a century later the unsuspecting eye would never have guessed that a log cabin was nestled inside a lovely Victorian structure. In the mid 19th century it became common in Maine to build a summer kitchen, shed and barn onto the house (usually a cape cod style house) creating a "big house, little house, back house, barn" effect. This architectural style caught on about the time of the mass exodus west, and at the beginning of the agricultural decline in Maine, thus our extended farm buildings are rarely seen in the rest of the USA. The disadvantage was, of course, threat of fire which would destroy the whole farm, and the smells and flies that went with an attached barn. Some of the advantages were easy accessibility to the barn, animals, food storage areas, milk room and sleigh in the winter; protection from the winter winds both outside and in, added warmth for the animals; and last but not least an indoor trek to the privy at the back of the barn or shed. If you mention a door yard in another part of the country chances are they will not know what you are referring to. With the extended farm buildings there were three yards: the front yard by the parlor where special guests were greeted, the barn yard where the men did their farm chores, and the door yard by the shed or summer kitchen where women did laundry, planted and tended their kitchen garden and did other woman's work. Sometimes we still hear the term "door yard call", and now you know the origin - you wouldn't want to disturb someone for any length of time while they were working so you just stop for a moment on your way by for a quick hello in the yard -
you made a "door yard call".
As you read these "house histories" I hope my brief description of our "house origins" will give you some insight into the struggles and accomplishments of our early Readfield settlers and the evolvment of their homes.
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