By Taylor Barnhill
The Appalachian Barn Alliance’s project to document the historic barns of Madison County is often inspired by old photos of the daily activities on mountain farms. The oldest surviving barns once had very different features and building materials, and reflected the simple building technology of the times. Studying these old photos tells us what those early materials were, when they became available to mountain farmers, and perhaps even when the barns were built.
This remarkable photograph, illustrating a 1960s era polling place in Revere, or Sodom Laurel, was acquired from Father Andrew Graves. The well-loved Jesuit priest lived in the community and served the tiny Catholic Chapel of the Little Flower just beyond the camera’s view. While the serious tradition of mountain politics is playing out in the foreground, the background shows the condition of the Ramsey-Chandler barn. This 19th century log crib livestock barn is of historic interest and the vintage photograph answers several questions about this site. One question is whether the old Ramsey home place would still have been standing during this period. It would have been a two-story house, slightly to the right between the polling tent and the barn: It was not there. Another question concerns when the existing shed roof additions would have been built for burley tobacco. They were not in the photo, so we know they were built after the 1960s.
This 1940s era photo illustrates how livestock barns were adapted to air-cure burley tobacco. It also helps farm historians answer an ongoing question; what accounted for the varied spacing of the horizontal tier poles in burley tobacco barns? As shown here, early generation burley tobacco stalks were only about three feet long compared to today’s five-foot burley stalks. Tier pole spacing increased over time as modern tobacco grew larger. The contrast between the two women’s clothing and hairdos is also a wonderful statement about how the times were changing the mountain culture.
Beyond the sense of place images of vintage barns and farmsteads create, old photographs can take us back in time, to afternoons such as this one in 1941. Ten-year old Rose Cook of Leicester had just jumped off the school bus. Before she could change out of her school clothes, her proud papa handed Rose the reins of the horse team. Ms. Cook, who currently lives in Brevard, is now 85 and still recalls this day.
For more information about the Appalachian Barn Alliance, upcoming events and barn tours, go to appalachianbarns.org.
Taylor Barnhill is the documentary historian for the Appalachian Barn Alliance, an architect and a consultant for non-profit organizations.