The new barn burned, but the old one stood

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By Horace E. Hobbs

Hampton Union, Date Unknown (ca. 1980s)

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

About 1905, we had a disaster on the Hobbs farm on “Beach” road, across from the oldest public cemetery in town, Pine Tree Cemetery. My grandfather, Horace, with the assistance of my father, Oliver, were rather successful farmers. In fact, we had two large barns, the old weather shingled barn, built before the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the “New Barn” of fairly recent construction, not painted red like many of the older barns, but gleaming white with slight red trim.

I must have been about six years old at the time, when, in the darkness of early morning, I was awakened by noises and flashing light through the window. When I looked out, there was the “New Barn” all in flames. Bedlam was loose! There were the combined noises made by the crackle of the fire as the flames leaped high into the air, the whinnying of the horses before the fire reached them, mingled with the mooing of the cows, the cackling of the hens, slightly removed from the barn, and the squealings of the pigs, loose in the outside pens. As Dad put it afterward, it sounded as if “all Hell had broken loose.”

In those days, there was no organized fire department, and no running pressurized water system. Fires were fought by buckets of water thrown on the fire. Water had to be pumped by hand, while, literally, “Rome burned.” Such was the case this dark morning. I can see my good mother now, standing by the kitchen sink, pumping water furiously as the sweat ran off her brow and the tears ran down her cheeks.

From this lone supply, there was an endless chain of men from the house to the barn, passing pails of water along, one to the other, until it finally reached three or four men on the ridgepole of the old barn pouring the water down over the wooden-shingled roof Once in a while, some brave soul would dash in between the old barn and the burning “New Barn” 30 feet away, and douse the side shingles which were beginning to burn from the heat. Today, some of the old side shingles show their burned and scorched edges. Fortunately, there was a strong west wind blowing the flame and heat over the extensive fields of what was called “Great Lots.” That is the area now being so built up with new houses.

In those days, all of he neighbors came, bringing their fire-fighting equipment (water buckets and brush brooms). The town hall bell tolled to call the bucket brigade into action. They did their job!
Everything was lost in the fire. The carcasses of the burned livestock were buried. I remember John, one of our horses, had gotten loose somehow. He was so badly burned that we had to lead him out next day to the side of his grave that had been dug and shoot him so that he fell into it. We had hoped to be able to save him, but he was suffering too much. So ended the disaster of all disasters on our estate.

We never rebuilt. but fixed up the old barn and used it. It still stands. And I hope to keep it standing. Some day, it may be a memorial for the town, or has nostalgia just gotten the better of me? I think that is the oldest barn in town.

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