It’s rare that the addition of a new building on a homestead or farm should raise the level of talk in the neighborhood to anything more than a passing interest. But, between the years of 1863 and 1871, the building of a “pig pen” caused a stir worthy of inclusion in the history books and newspapers.
The topic of interest was Colonel John Putnam Perley’s new pig enclosure. As grandson of Squire Enoch Perley, and son of General John Perley, “Put” as his family called him had inherited a fine farm in South Bridgton. Each generation worked to improve the patrimony, and in Colonel Perley’s reign the farm was well-respected as a model and prosperous farm. So, why was his addition of a new pig pen such a matter of interest?
We find the following mention of the pig pen written in The Bridgton Reporter in May 15, 1863:
South Bridgton is really a very nice little village, flanked as it is on all sides by fine farms, where sloping lawns, cultivated fields and green pastures stretch off to the thick woodlands, whose gigantic trees have a golden promise for the speculator. There are farmers at South Bridgton who make the business pay, as many say, because they have the means, but the sight of such thriving New England plantations makes us wish there were more who had the means to make farming profitable. Mr. Perley, who is one of the model farmers, is now engaging extensively in raising swine. We have not learned the dimensions of the new pig pen he has been building recently, but in passing we compared it in our mind to the Cumberland Mills, and feel quite confident that by actual measurement it is more than half as large.
The upper stories are to contain the grain and vegetables intended as food for the animals, and the building is also furnished with a convenient apparatus for cooking the food. One great source of gain to the farmers of the West is the growing of swine, which they carry on in no very systematic manner to be sure, but we see no reason why the same may not be turned to account here.
When the new church was built in South Bridgton in 1870, the women of the neighborhood formed a Ladies Circle group to raise funds to furnish the church. It was reportedly the first fair of it’s kind in the local area. Mrs. Perley offered up the as yet unpopulated “pig pen” as a location for the fair.
The story of the fair was captured in the Bridgton History book (page 269-270) by Annette Farnham Barnard who was both a Perley family member and a fair organizer.
The Ladies Circle held a fair in the newly-finished, three-story building on the Perley farm, which the family called the “pig palace,” and others the “hog house,” as the first floor was to be used for just that purpose! This was the first sale of its kind to be held in town and was a huge success. There was a supper–rolls and butter, coffee and a piece of cake at five cents each–within reach of all comers. Strawberries and sugar and heavy cream were sold separately: Charles Gibbs bought nine dishes! There was a “Witches’ Cauldron” where grabs were fished out by the children; three oracles who told fortunes; a fancy handiwork table; a stage with a patchwork curtain where scenes of the past were shown in tableaux. One was the large Peabody sleigh with three seats full of children and parents sitting straight and stern.
Another Perley family descendant, Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, used family stories and letters to write Short As Any Dream, a slightly fictionalized story of her family. Here again the Pig Palace makes an appearance. A visiting relative asks about the new building (p. 201):
“What’s that new building Uncle [John Putnam Perley] has built next to the ox barn?” she inquired briskly, as her cousins escorted her up the flagged walk.
“A palace for the pigs,” laughed Nan [Annette Barnard], with a half-fearful glance at Aunt Clara [Clarissa Ingalls Perley], who regarded her severely over her sallow cheeks. Nan was pretty, and round, and pink, and fair, a girl made to be coddled and petted, but Aunt Clara did not believe in petting.
And again in Short As Any Dream, more talk of the fair and the piggery:
Mary [Barrows Shepley] was driving back from the Fair, in the dark, with her two girls nestled close against her, one on either side–little girls they felt tonight, soft and hot, their clothes smelling of the exciting, perspiring labours of the long day. The very feel and smell of them comforted her tired bones.
Clara Perley had furnished the granary, over the piggery as yet uninhabited by porks, but she [Mary] had provided the spirit, the grace, the movement, the imagination and execution of the occasion.
And finally, in the 1880 book, History of Cumberland County, a book that contains biographies glorifying the leading men of each town in Cumberland County, a line drawing of the Perley farm appears. It’s a fascinating look at the farm as it was in 1880. To the left, on the near side of the road is the third house built by Enoch Perley. Across the street is the imposing mansion built by Enoch’s son, General John Perley. In the center of the picture is Enoch Perley’s first cabin. To the right of the mansion are three barns and one very elegant, dormered three story building. This is most likely the Pig Palace. The picture tells us just why the neighbors felt it worthy of some talk.
Sadly, the Pig Palace is no more. Gone, too, are the old barns and the Perley mansion. But that neat, model farm still continues as the home of another third generation family, and it continues to produce fine apples. Enoch Perley’s third house still exists, a beloved home. And his first little cabin is being lovingly cared for by a new family on a little bit of land on Highland Lake.
But once there was a Pig Palace, and a Ladies Circle Fair, both so grand they were the talk of the town for generations. They still are.
Caroline D. Grimm is the author of the Voices of Pondicherry series, telling the stories of the town of Bridgton, Maine, originally called Pondicherry.