Little Log Barn By Jeannie Blethen
Appeared in The News Record and Sentinel on April 3 2013
Many barn stories are told not by someone who has had the property and the barn in their family for generations but by those who have had a love of barns and purchase property in Madison County with a barn on it. This is one of those stories.
When I was searching for property here in Madison County in 2007, I had three criteria: a view (if I’m gonna live here, I want to see these beautiful mountains); a barn (I was actually more interested in a barn than a house); and a creek. The place we found had the first–a million-dollar view and the third– a tiny stream, but it’s way down at the bottom of a ravine in the trees, not visible or audible from the house–but no barn. Not even an outbuilding. But across the dirt road where we live in the Rector Corner area of Marshall, there was a little log barn down at the bottom of the hill. It was obviously old; there was Virginia creeper covering the north side, which had effectively rotted several of the upper logs, and it was beginning to lean a bit where the old stone-and-cement foundation had begun to crumble. The loft was littered with tobacco sticks, visible through the window and the gaps in the logs. For three years, we talked to the absentee owner, and finally in the summer of 2011 we were able to purchase part of the original acreage which included the barn.
We immediately set to work, cleaning out the accumulated debris of years: old canning jars, barrels, remnants of old tools and farm equipment, and lots of just plain trash. We pulled the Virginia creeper off the side, and my husband, with the help of two strong young men, shored up the foundation by pouring cement, a tier at a time, a day at a time. The barn is 10 feet by 20 feet, with two stalls across the back and a drive-through in front of them. The stalls were so packed with old manure and rotted hay that it was impossible to stand fully erect. We are
still unclear as to the original use of these stalls. Since they have such low ceilings, they are not suitable for horses. Both have such high thresholds–simply the continuation of the bottom log of the wall–that both a cow and a horse would have trouble stepping over them. The loft was obviously used in the past for both hay storage and hanging Burley tobacco, for which poles had been placed in tiers. We have to assume it was simply for the overflow, as there isn’t enough space for a significant amount of crop to be hung in there.
The logs are probably oak or maybe chestnut. They are assembled in a fashion called the half-saddle notch meaning that the ends of the logs are notched on the bottom but not on the top, so that there is space between the logs. There is no indication that they were chinked.
I began making phone calls to try to find out the history of our little old log barn. I called the former neighbor, who directed me to Guilford Barnes, now living in Whiteville out East of us, the gentleman who had owned over 300 acres here and subdivided it in 1988 into large lots. He told me that the barn was very old when he first lived here and that it was probably built at the beginning of the twentieth century. The earliest owner he knew of was Riley Rector. His guess as to its use was as good as mine.
Last spring, I snapped a photo of the barn while the flowering cherry trees on the adjacent property were in bloom. It was such an evocative photo that I decided to enter it in the Appalachian Barn Photo Contest, which was initiated to encourage people in Madison County to become involved in preserving, at least in pictures, some of the thousands of barns here. The picture included with this article won First Place in the adult division!
I have been told that at one time, there were over 25,000 barns in a county of less than 18,000 people!
And, I am proud to say that my husband and I have restored one of them and that my love of these barns has led to my commitment to help document and preserve as many of Madison County’s barns as possible by serving as a board member of the Appalachian Barn Alliance.