The first known mention of the name Hilton dates from at least the 10th century and is derived of two older Saxon words: ‘hyl’ which referred to a rise in the land, or hill; and ‘tun’ which first referred to a place or enclosure- later a settlement or town. Hyl-tun therefore refers to a place on a hill- and hills abound here as all who have visited can attest.
The present farm is the remainder of a larger farm which was first established by a Benjamin Hilton who, at age 38, with his wife Susannae, age 33, in the winter of 1778 came up from the Wiscasset area on the ice of the Kennebec, that being the easiest time to travel, and took up a 100 acre settlers lot from the Plymouth Grant of the Kennebec Proprietors. The lot was recognized as having milling possibilities, known as a mill privilege, so he built a gristmill on Hilton Brook in the valley which runs along and through the south portion of the farm. He built the mill and milldam about 100 yards downstream (east) from what is now the Route 43 bridge with his house nearby the road. The mill was still noted on maps and charts of the area as late as the 1880s, but the dam had reportedly washed out and been rebuilt a couple of times even by then. The mill is now long gone, as is the house, which remained until the 1930s. Only a portion of the milldam remains– barely visible from the old bridge and the overgrown cellar hole from the house. The old Hilton Cemetery where the first generations of the family are buried is located nearby next to the Brook.
Over the intervening decades, the farm was expanded until by the late 1800s it consisted of upwards of 850 acres, much of this prosperity being based on the raising of sheep in support of the (Civil) war effort and the need for wool for uniforms. In about 1896, two brothers, George Augustus Hilton and his older brother, Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Hilton, divided the farm between them. George took the lower portion where he had already built a barn and house in 1869 & 1870 (where the Hiltons now live). Kelsey and Emily Hilton, daughters of the current owners, are the eighth generation to live on this farm. B.F. kept the upper set of buildings including the house which had its origins in 1840 or earlier, and the ‘new’ barn which now sits on the crest of the hill. The two farms were substantially re-joined in 1992 when the current owners purchased most of the upper farm at a foreclosure auction.
Near the lower set of buildings is another house, the Hilton Schoolhouse, built in 1867 for Starks School District One by the local parents at a cost of $640. The building was still in use as a school until about the 1930s when the last of the Hiltons graduated 8th grade and left for high school in neighboring Madison. The school was converted into a dwelling, later renovated in the mid-1950s to its present configuration and is still part of the farm.
The so-called ‘new’ barn, sitting as prominently as it does astride the hill, was built from a kit to replace three smaller barns, which burned from a lightning strike on September 7th, 1887. The story from the family goes that B.F. was on his way home from Lewiston Fair and, having heard his barns- all atop the hill, and filled as they were with his entire harvest of crops, were afire, ordered a kit barn. In 30 days he dug the cellar out essentially as it is now, hauled in and raised granite and brick foundation walls, raised and closed in the barn and was putting in a second crop of hay. The frame came in to Anson by train and was hauled out to the site by oxcart. As reported later in a Bangor paper:
The frame of Mr. B.F. Hilton’s new barn in [Starks] was raised on Saturday, Oct. 1st, one hundred twenty-five being present at the raising. The frame was got out by the Kennebec Framing and Lumber Company of Fairfield, and it went together like clockwork. Every stick is planed and firmly pinned and bolted together and contains above the sills 30,000 feet of timber. The barn is 140 feet long, 47 feet wide, and 20 feet posted; to cover it will take 20,000 feet of boards and 76,000 shingles. The entire party of men were furnished a real old-fashioned dinner prepared by Mrs. Hilton, the tables being fairly loaded with the best things eatable.
– The Eastern Farmer in The [Bangor] Industrial Journal, Nov. 4, 1887.
Of course, the above article only reflected the raising of the frame. In all, as the family story provides background, 100 men worked continuously for 30 days for the pre-raising preparation and post-raising closing-in and finishing of the barn. So, it wasn’t only one day for which ‘Mrs Hilton’ (___) took on the responsibility of feeding an out-size crew ‘the tables being fairly loaded with the best things eatable.’
This barn, being at present perhaps the largest historical post and beam structure in the state, represented a sizable investment and a major move away from sheep. It was a precursor to the larger move in the overall farm economy towards the more centralized dairy industry we find today. Previous barns were sized to fit more local needs- milking up to perhaps as many as a dozen cows, but dairy co-ops were developing. With the advent of trains and better refrigeration (though still only ice), the ability to supply the dairy needs of larger towns and cities provided another level of opportunity for enterprising farmers. This barn was sized to house 25 to 30 milkers along with dry cows and calves, making it a more specialized operation and was much more greatly self-contained regarding feed storage, as well as manure removal and storage. In addition, B.F. and his son, Bert, started a breeding operation known as the Hilton Stock Farm which at one time supplied breeding stock throughout the eastern US. Until recently the place was still widely known by that name, and old-timers in the area still think of it thus.
In the 1960s state law mandated for sanitation purposes all dairy operations had to take place on concrete rather than wooden floors. In 1968 the then owner rebuilt the barn cellar, and re-timbered the barn so as to move the entire milking operation into the cellar on concrete. The entire upper portion of the barn was cleared and the floor strengthened such that the floor timbering is over 30 inches in cross-section. It was reserved for hay and feed storage. At this point the barn held 54 milkers in a tie-stall—stanchion arrangement. Later in 1978 with a free-stall herringbone milking parlor arrangement, the herd size was increased to 108 milkers. The farm went bankrupt and was abandoned in March, 1983, with foreclosure tied up in a federal court injunction until 1992 when the present owners with some cousins bought the entire farm at a foreclosure auction. It was divided with the present owners taking the barn and the 200 acres west of the road.
Over the last 20 years the lower farm starting with most of the land owned by George A. has been increased to 700 acres and reaches from Pelton Brook and Jeffers Mill on the west, nearly to the Kennebec River on the east and takes in most of the original settlers lot and most of the farm before the 1896 division.
Work on the present trail system was started in 1998 through opening up old skidder and tote roads and interconnecting them. The current trail system consists of about seven miles of bridle trails with five bridges and three at-grade stream crossings. With the recent purchase of an additional 50 acres taking the farm all the way to Pelton Brook in the west, an additional 1½ miles of trail are being developed. In addition, the trail system connects with miles of abandoned or near-abandoned town roads and cart tracks making for nice trail riding possibilities both east into the Kennebec River, and west into the New Vineyard mountains. With 30 stalls now available on the farm, group rides are very feasible.
A museum of sorts, filled with horse-drawn equipment and related items is located in the upper barn and scattered in other barns throughout the premises. The whole place is mostly a museum. Contact Ernie for tours.