The House That Jacob Built

by John Gould – 1945

Great Grandfather Jacob, cutting the timber from a nearby forest, built his big, rambling farmhouse with his own hands in a day when shortages were accepted as a normal state of affairs. If nails could not be purchased, wooden pegs were used. The house, however, remained snug and warm for two hundred years. Fire destroyed it the night John Gould’s young son was born, just before the beginning of World War II. In a new period of shortages, Mr. Gould decided to rebuild the old house exactly as before, and the tangled web of handicaps which he ran into were as amazing and complicated as anything faced by old Jacob. The only thing that remained unchanged was the Gould determination. You live with this delightful Maine family, present and past, through every stage of the rebuilding, meeting all the fascinating characters of three generations – people who understood that the greatest pleasure in life are to be found beside one’s own fireside.


I first heard of this book from Tim Cotton, Detective Lieutenant and criminal investigator for the Bangor Police department in Bangor Maine. I followed his wonderfully funny Facebook page, back when I was on Facebook. He said he reads this book once a year. Well, I had to read it then! 

I loved this book. I laughed out loud and I was really sad when I got to the end. It’s like sitting across the table, in that lovely Maine country kitchen, from John and listening to him tell you stories. Wonderful characters coming and going. I can see myself reading it again and I’ve never read a book twice. Mr. Gould has many books and I am definitely going to be reading more.

One of my favorite chapters was about finding ‘the right sink’ for the kitchen. It had to be just like the original one. I’ll share a couple paragraphs from that chapter with you…

The Kitchen sink is a mighty serious part of a country kitchen. How serious is best explained by the old story about the farmer who, at bedtime, started for the kitchen and turned to ask his wife, “Did you wipe down the sink?” She said, “Yes,” and he said, “Well, I did want a drink of water, but I’ll wait till morning,” Wiping down the iron sink was the last thing the farm wife did before she came into the other room. Sometimes these sinks had no drainpipe to them, and were known as dry sinks. all the water had to be carried outdoors and dumped. Any that spilled into the sink had to be sopped up with a sink cloth. Why they bothered to have a sink at all is something to wonder about, but the women were glad to have even a dry sink. As time went along and they got hand pumps, and then sink spouts, life must hav seemed wonderful.

Even the sink spout has overtones that endear it to farm people. They whistle. What they whistle depends on which way your kitchen faces, but as most Maine homes keep the kitchen toward the south, and this is where our nasty weather comes from, it is usually a southerly wind or storm that makes the sink spout whistle best. The farm woman knows the minute the wind swings southerly, and if her husband says he thinks we’re in for a rain, she can confirm his suspicions by saying the sink spout has been whistling. A spout connected with a septic tank can’t whistle, of course – it’s only those that stick straight out from the side of the house and have two boards nailed together for an extension. You’ll always find the hens out around the drain. When the spout whistles you can look out and see the south wind blowing back their tail feathers.

Wet, dry or otherwise a farm sink wants to be big. Sink makers don’t seem to know what farm women do in their sinks. These big houses we have up here aren’t eight-hour wonders poured from a tank truck. Building a farm home is more than a “housing” matter. This is a business, here, a kind of a factory, with production problems and people coming in hungry. Most of the sinks we saw in the stores were hardly bigger than the pan my wife makes Johnny-cakes in, and that pan isn’t any too big at that. The sink we had in mind would be big enough to dump a crate of strawberries in while we wash them for freezing.

It might, at the same time, also hold the dishes from dinner in the other end, and leave room to clean a mess of trout in the middle. If things go along here on schedule, it wants to be a sink the children can swing a water-wheel in, and sail a few boats. Something you can run a decent tide in. Nobody in all the world knows, but us, what we might do in a sink. We certainly aren’t interested in buying a sink who’s dimensions include drainboards. We hear of a sink one day that was long enough suit us, and when we saw it the thing had drainboards attached, and the sink itself was about the size of a bread pan.

That house must have had one amazing sink before the fire!

My old copy had a little flyer in it from the book club from 1947. I love to find surprises like that in a book!

Check out a little info on John Gould HERE. I really want to read And One to Grow On and The Farmer Takes a Wife. Downeast Maine has some of his books. Please check out Tim Cotton’s podcasts. He is a master storyteller and so funny! He just had his first book published, The Detective in the Dooryard, Reflections of a Maine Cop. Looking forward to reading it soon.

Have you read any of John Gould’s books? I hope you will!

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