Madison County, Iowa has its bridges; but here in Madison, New Hampshire, they have barns – lots of them. Today the Friends of Madison Library sponsored a Barn Tour – I’ve had it marked on my calendar for months.
My reason to get excited about barns? Well, I’ve always liked them – as a kid we played in the hay and swung from ropes and sat in the loft looking out over our childhood kingdom. They also make great subjects for photography. But my main reason for going on the tour today was prompted by a comment left on one of my previous blog posts here.
Awhile back I came across the bit of information that my favorite poet, e.e. cummings, lived in Madison. Since it is very near my house, I was thrilled – I had to go find it. I made the trip only to realize that it no longer is in the Cummings family and is privately owned. I could not bring myself to trespass on the Joy Farm Road, and was left wondering what the farm looked like.
So today – 2 years nearly to the day of that post – seven 18th- and 19th-century barns were open to the public … including Cummings’ Joy Farm. It was a self-guided tour, with NH Preservation Alliance on each site to answer questions. The day began at the Madison Library to pick up the tickets I’d ordered through the mail; also there was an art exhibit (featuring barns, of course) and bag lunches were available for purchase in case you wanted to picnic at the beach or in the library garden. (We did.) I was asked what kind of car I drove … ?? The reason for this was the fact that the road to Joy Farm is “primitive and steep” and maybe that fancy sports car might not make it. Luckily for me, I do not own a fancy sports car. My SUV would be just fine.
We followed the tour map and found the barns one by one. In this area it would be tough to throw a stick and not hit a barn; 150 years ago all these families in Madison lived on mostly self-sufficient farms. Some of the barns we saw were rugged and utilitarian; some still housed animals and some did not; and one had been converted to living space. One property owner did a demonstration of how thousands of pounds of hay were lifted into the loft of his barn … with a series of pulleys, iron grippers, and horses to do the pulling (today a couple of strong guys filled in for the horses). This loft could hold 300 tons of hay. Many of these barns were built with wooden pegs; the oldest, built c. 1795, was built on a loose fieldstone foundation and is as square and plumb today as the day it was built.
We had our lunch on a bench in Kennett Park, next to a small beach on Silver Lake. There was no one else there. In the distance on the lake were a few kayakers and we knew that there were loon sanctuaries nearby. The water was so clear and shallow I had to wade in a bit. And I’d like to commend the person who made the chocolate chip cookies in that bag lunch!
The highlight of the day, though (for me, anyway) was Joy Farm. We had been warned about the road into the place and we were looking forward to a little adventure. It was indeed narrow, bumpy, and eventually little more than mown field. When finally we came to the clearing where the house and barn stood, all we could say was WOW. The driveway opened up to a gorgeous view of Mt. Chocorua and it was no wonder that Cummings loved it here. This farm was already a century old when his family bought it in 1898; he died here in 1962.
A small display was set up behind the house, featuring some of Cummings’ original paintings, a few letters, and some old photos. The barn had a studio in the loft that was built so he could get away to a quiet place. Another getaway was the “gazebo,” a small building set at the edge of the woods; as we crossed the field to get to it we realized we were walking on blueberries and wild lilies. The gazebo, we were told, had not been built well and was slowly falling apart. That’s one of the things I liked about the Barn Tour: things are what they are.
At the end of the day I felt good about what I’d seen and heard – the stories, history and people of Madison. It made me love this area even more. One property owner told us that there was a female ghost in her house that she’d seen with her own eyes. One man told us about his grandfather’s livery stable, and another explained the workings of his barn as it was originally used. I, for one, am hoping that the Barn Tour is an annual event. And judging from the turnout I’m guessing that plenty of other people tonight feel the same way.
Well done, Madison!
“when my soul – my self’s own self –
wasn’t wandering pasture & woodland,
its home was the barn. Savagely hand-hewn
timbers(held together,as nearly as I could
discover,by sheer love; with a wooden peg
now& again for luck)supported this dark big
coolish haven of enchantment.”
~ e.e. cummings, on Joy Farm
More information on the barn tour: http://madisonbarns.wordpress.com/category/tour-barns/