WISCASSET, Maine — Some family heirlooms are jewels or furnishings passed from generation to generation. Dan Sortwell’s inherited treasure came with stalls, pine floors, cupolas and horse-chewed ladders that lead to an epic loft.

“I used to play in the hay lofts when I was a kid,” Sortwell said on a tour of his Wiscasset home attached to two vintage red-and-white barns just off Route 1.

Most of the spaces in his centuries-old ancestral barns are open choirs awaiting a new life, but a vital business is percolating in one re-imagined zone.

Thrust open the wooden door to the former Willow Lane Farm dairy, and the unexpected aroma of coffee perfumes the air. In this former milking parlor, where docile herds of cows gathered in the 1920s and ’30s to be milked, burlap bags with green coffee beans from far-flung coffee regions await a custom roaster in the corner. Maps of Kenya and assorted coffee equipment line the room. This has been the home of Big Barn Coffee, Sortwell’s micro roasting business, since 2009.

“Coffee roasting started as a hobby 15 years ago; now it’s an obsession,” the former food scientist who grew up in Massachusetts said.

As the seventh generation in his family to take over the farmstead, history speaks from every corner.

His great-great-grandmother was born on the farm in 1820. One hundred years later, his grandfather ran a dairy in what today houses Big Barn Coffee’s headquarters.

“Barrels of apples were also produced, as evidenced by the brass stencils found in the barn,” he said, pointing to the signs for “wealthy,” “stark” and “baldwins,” which he found here and hung over his door.

In a cemented room constructed to keep the milking process sanitary, Sumatra beans are roasted to a rich flavor profile and poured into glass jars. A wooden plank repurposed from his barn serves as a counter dividing the workspace. Through a passage into the big barn, his station wagon awaits the next batch of freshly roasted beans en route to farmers markets from Brunswick to Bath to Boothbay to Gardiner.

Since Sortwell moved to this homestead, the Foye-Sortwell Farm, in 2007, his maintenance has been steady.

Time, money and dedication are what barns of this era require.

“I could let it rot or tear it down. … I didn’t want to do that,” said Sortwell, who lives in the attached house with his wife, Claudia, who helps run the business.

Over the years, he has worked with Wiscasset builder Tim Hanley to lay a new foundation, reshingle the exterior and make sure walls no longer sway during a harsh wind. In shakey areas, floors have been replaced with new pine. Braces have been added, and the signature cupola has been rebuilt.

“It’s a lucky barn,” Hanley said looking around the soaring ballooned-framed space of the big barn. “This is a well-built wooden building. Now it’s good for a couple hundred more years.”

As Sortwell’s hand-crafted coffee business grows, he may move into the attached barns. For now, he is content with his small operation and is looking through the old, wavy glass windows from the past into the future.

“It’s authentic,” he said. “In a way, I am honoring my family history.”

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.