BAR HARBOR — After Steve and Kirsten Henry closed on Bay Meadow Cottages in Bar Harbor’s Salisbury Cove village in 2017, they asked three trusted contractors for their opinions: could the roughly 1,300-square-foot barn, with its massive, hand-hewn roof timbers and floorboards scarred with hoof prints, be saved?
“Two of them said ‘tear it down,’” said Steve. “One said ‘you can save this.’”
They went with the unpopular opinion.
“This barn was a huge endeavor,” said Kirsten. “It needed to be functional. It’s such an integral part of the business.”
The Henrys, former owners of Morton’s Moo in Ellsworth, closed on the 1.76-acre property, with its 14 housekeeping cottages, in 2017. In the late fall of 2018, they began work to save the cavernous structure, which Steve said was likely built as a dairy barn in the early 1800s, although records are spotty. The cottages, most of which are on the order of 220 square feet, were built in the mid-1930s, some of the first in the area.
The barn, which had long been used for storage and as office space, had fallen into disrepair over the years. The sill had rotted away, as had many of the floorboards, and “the walls were just kind of sinking into the earth,” said Steve.
The couple, self-described “project people” who have several substantial home construction projects under their belt, began by saving what floorboards they could (“I pulled every nail,” said Steve) and having the structure jacked up roughly 7 feet in the air — a process that had to be done from the second floor, since the first had deteriorated in too many places. The building stayed aloft for several weeks while excavation crews dug out a foundation and contractors laid concrete. Building Movers & Riggers’ Ken Jordan and Champion Concrete and Perry Contracting of Franklin were engaged in this critical phase.
“It was scary having it in the air that long,” said Kirsten. “It breathed with the wind.”
Once the foundation had been laid, Steve and a friend, Scott Simpson, set about putting the floor back together. They used original boards when they could, adding in new boards (hemlock, sourced from Parker Lumber in Bradford) where necessary.
“Everything about this building was very surgical,” said Steve. “It’s not your typical construction.”
The barn is largely mortise and tenon, he continued, with beams so large they would be nearly impossible to find now. The barn boards are roughly 24 inches wide, and the roof timbers are 45-foot long, 4-by-6-inch beams, hewn by hand.
“Try to find a tree that is straight,” said Steve. The Henrys aren’t sure, but believe most of the wood was locally sourced and is mostly spruce, fir or pine. “The original barn boards are all pine,” said Steve.
“Our assumption would be they’re from this island,” said Kirsten.
As with any project, the couple ran into a few snags along the way, but the biggest issue they faced was weather.
“Winter came early last year,” said Kirsten, recalling frigid temperatures and blustery north winds. Steve worked on the building without heat until February, she noted, while she reglazed and painted all of the original windows.
“We do get hammered with north winds on this side,” he acknowledged.
But they were on a strict schedule, needing the space finished enough by spring to be able to function as an office for guests, along with laundry facilities, so they pressed on. ABM Mechanical Inc. handled the electrical and plumbing while Martinez Metal Roofing of Troy installed a metal roof. Steve set about replacing the mismatched shingles (asphalt, vinyl and cedar) with eastern white cedar shingles.
“We’re going for that rusticator look,” said Steve, referring to Bay Meadow Cottages’ families and other guests venturing up from cities to spend summers on the Maine coast. “Our intention here with the renovation was to maintain the rustic cottage island feel so when our guests step onto the property they’re stepping into the 1900s.”
Kirsten estimates that they were able to save roughly 70 percent of the original barn structure. They added a Vermont Castings Defiant wood stove to heat the space and partially opened the second floor so guests can enjoy a view of the cavernous vaulted ceilings. The barn has a common area for staff and guests currently occupied in part by the bones of a small wooden boat that Steve is restoring.
“We’re trying to keep it simple and have an island feel,” he said. “Our motto is ‘play, stay, rusticate.’”
And, being “project people,” they’ve now turned their attention to the cottages: replacing rotting floors, repainting inside and out. On a recent March day, Kirsten was meticulously cleaning the vintage hot plates used in the cabins after the couple had rewired them to be up to date with safety standards.
“I pinch myself every time I come down the old Bar Harbor Road,” said Steve. “It’s such a serene, welcoming place to be.”