A Rural Adventure: Old Barns Get New Life
By Joanne R. Alloway
Barns are a natural part of our agricultural heritage. Considered obsolete these days, most sit in disrepair as we drive by them, a shadow of their former selves. I’ve always been fascinated by the untold stories of these landmarks, so I was happy to discover the entrepreneurial spirit in barn owners and others who are turning these shells of faded glory into places for other businesses.
In Maryland, the once-mainstay tobacco industry has almost disappeared, as has the need for barns. In much of Southern Maryland, they were built to dry and cure the tobacco plants. As state-sponsored programs offered cash payments as buyouts to farmers to not produce tobacco, most took the deal. Hence, tobacco barns quickly became obsolete.
The earliest barns in this part of the state date from the 1830s. One barn in Tracy’s Landing, Tobacco House No. 2, however, dates back to 1805, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. There are other types of barns in the area for livestock or storage, but tobacco barns were most prominent. Many still stand vacant.
That said, I recently visited two local barn business owners in the area: One is Harwood Hills Farm in Harwood, run by Rick Suit, where an old tobacco barn stands. The other, an old horse barn in Gambrills, The Barn Show, is owned by Maria Nucci and six other entrepreneurs. Both are in lovely, pastoral settings and have caught the public’s attention.
Harwood Hills Farm has been in the Fowler family since 1943. They no longer produce crops on the 100-acre farm. I toured the 1920s tobacco barn with Mr. Suit. It is now used for events and wedding receptions, and even boasts a ”ready” room, where brides prepare for the grand event. The hill to one side is where most couples take their vows. The $1500 fee gives couples the use of the barn for three days. Couples bring in their own caterer, flowers, etc., for a rural-style wedding.
Barn venues are becoming very popular, popping up across most states. Some are more elaborate than others, having been remodeled inside and out. The wide open space is a draw for today’s young couples. Strings of white lights and flowers temper the wood interiors, giving it a warm glow. Most of these venues do little advertising, although some have Facebook pages. For different venues throughout the state, log onto www.rusticbride.com/category/maryland
Barns are also being rehabbed to be used for upscale antique shows or sales. The Barn Show in Gambrills holds its events three times a year for three days – Friday through Sunday. All sorts of furniture, antiques, collectibles, jewelry, chandeliers, vintage items and other finds can be had at great prices. The next show is Oct. 3-5, followed by the holiday show from Dec. 5-7. The Barn Show has gotten great reviews, with many shoppers returning early for each show. Owner Maria Nucci encourages shoppers to come later in the day; she brings out new merchandise as items are sold. “The Barn Show team has been doing this for nine years, and although it’s a lot of work, we love it,” Maria says (www.thebarnshow.com).
Other barns offering upscale furniture, collectibles and antiques include:
Chartreuse & Co., Frederick www.chartreuseandco.com/
Stylish Patina Barn Sale, Frederick www.stylishpatina.com/
Ekster Antiques, Leesburg, VA www.eksterantiques.com/
Balleywyck Shoppes, Middleburg, VA www.baileywyckshoppes.com
Old barns have found adaptive uses in other areas: cut flower processing, exotic animal or livestock shelters, flea markets, farm supply stores, wholesale nurseries, organic farming operations, boat and trailer storage, art gallery, agricultural education centers, even a bed and breakfast. You’ve probably seen farm stands at barns if you drive on the Eastern Shore or in Pennsylvania. Perhaps you’ve been to wineries that have turned barns into lovely tasting rooms or event centers in Southern Maryland.
The most fascinating new life an old barn can get is being transformed into a home. In many parts of the country (and the world), people are converting old barns into inviting and beautiful homes. The task is not an easy one, but the rewards are many. See video of interiors and exteriors at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gzv5BcptdxY&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Joanne, an author and freelance writer, lives in Annapolis and can be reached at Jrwrite@aol.com