About Us

Our Beginnings:

Realizing the need to record our county’s agricultural history before we lose those stories, Ross Young, County Extension Director, got together a group of people who share his concern and vision. They met in January, 2012 to begin the daunting task of documenting the barns. Representatives from the Madison County School District, the 4-H Club, the Madison County Library,The News-Record Sentinel, the Madison County Tourism Development Authority, Mars Hill College Center for Regional Studies, Madison County Economic Development, the Genealogical Society and the Community Centers joined with the County Extension office representatives to brainstorm how to tackle this challenge. In August of 2012, we formed a non-profit corporation,”Appalachian Barn Alliance” to further our goals and to better enable us to preserve our barns in history and in fact. Some of the members of that original committee formed the Board, while others still serve either as committee members or on the Advisory Committee. In August of 2013, we received our 501(c)(3) status.

Board Members:

Sandy Stevenson, President, retired from teaching high school U.S. History and moved to Madison County in 2002. She quickly became involved with volunteer groups ranging from the Arts Council to the Visitor Center. Her love of research and history found an outlet in writing the content for the tourism website assignment in her job as Director of the Madison County Visitor Center from 2009 until 2017. She enjoys sharing all that she has learned about Madison County’s heritage with tourists and residents alike and is always discovering new ways to showcase the richness of the culture to all. The projects of the Appalachian Barn Alliance provide the perfect vehicle to continue that pursuit.

Matthew Pierce, Vice President, moved to Madison County in 2017 with his wife, who serves on the faculty of Mars Hill University. An economic developer, Matthew works with cities, counties, and regions to develop strategic plans for targeting industrial recruitment and restructuring economic development organizations. Though he grew up in North Carolina’s eastern Piedmont, he prefers the a more South Carolina style mustard-based barbecue.

Rob Kraft, Treasurer, retired after 35 years of service with ExxonMobil in 2003.  He and his wife, Melanie, relocated to the community of Sodom in Madison County. Here they built their home. Rob is a member of The Weaverville United Methodist Church Men’s group. Here he helps to organize 3 Blood Drives a year and builds ADA Ramps for Mountain Housing Opportunities. Rob volunteers his time in the food pantry of Neighbors In Need. He enjoys the outdoors and raising Grass Fed Beef from inception to your freezer.

Janet Foster, Secretary, retired in 2012 after a 30 year career as a geophysicist/software developer in the Texas oil and gas industry where she focused on imaging 3D seismic data.  She and her husband Mike immediately fled the concrete city for the natural beauty of Madison County.  Janet has past volunteer experience as an alumnae club president and treasurer, a collector’s club treasurer, and community group board member of the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.  She currently volunteers for the American Red Cross and the Marshall Native Gardens Initiative.  Janet loves to ride her bicycle, sew, needlepoint, and learning to play the fiddle.  The beautiful sunrise view from their mountain home reminds Janet every morning to cherish the responsibility and privilege of living in the Appalachian mountains.

Nancy Larkin, Board Member, has had a multi-faceted career in education since 1974. teaching in urban and rural environments in North Carolina and Georgia. She participated and presented in the Mars Hill history program sponsored by the Library of Congress. She has served as coach, judge, and mentor for high school senior projects. During the past several years she has become an avid quilter and knitter and has a great love of books. She has most recently served as a Volunteer Coordinator for Asheville-Buncombe County United Way and has occasionally tutored for the AB-Tech GED program. She finds great joy in marveling at the mountain sunsets, watching the moon as it travels on its monthly journey over the mountains and valleys, and living in such a beautiful part of the world.

David Wyatt, Board Member, grew up on a farm in the Petersburg area of Madison County. David graduated from Marshall High School and Western Carolina College and returned to Madison County to teach science and math at his alma mater for three years. After earning an MA in Education, he went on to positions as a principal in western North Carolina schools and then at schools in Madison County when he and his wife, Willa, moved back in 1974. He served as Superintendent of Madison County Schools before his retirement in 1996. David lives on the family farm in Mars Hill where he and his sons raise beef cattle.  David enjoys working on the Wyatt family “Home Place” that includes a log cabin dating back to the early 1800s, the original smoke house, pack house and spring house.

Christopher Brown, Board Member,  grew up in rural Vermont where his appreciation of small communities and the necessity to preserve the valuable culture within them was ingrained at a young age. He spent his childhood creating, tinkering, and building, restoring antiques and learning carpentry. During his adult life, he has worked and volunteered in a variety of industries & services. Through his experiences there has always been one common thread that has been his passion: concentrating on the human side whilst building bridges across diverse perspectives. When Christopher, Dana (wife), and Áine (daughter) finally made their way to Madison County in 2010, it was a dream come true. The community they had been searching for had been found and they immediately fell in love with the people and land that is so alive in these hills. He has served as Executive Director of Community Housing Coalition of Madison County since 2013. Christopher feels honored to be able to help preserve homes, barns and communities through his work and his life.

Jeannie Blethen, Board Member, was raised in Southwest VA on a farm where she had to hand-milk cows before school in the morning.  So much of her childhood was spent in her grandparents’ barn in Smyth County that when the latest owner intended burning it down, she salvaged the stall doors and stored them until they could be installed as the back wall of the sunroom in her log home in the Rector Corner community. Jeannie served as Secretary/Treasurer of the newly formed Southwest VA Land Trust in 2004-2005, and had put her 261-acre farm into a conservation easement program with The Nature Conservancy so that it would remain a legacy of rural living. She has lived in Madison County since early 2007.She and her husband Chuck currently have a teaching vineyard and small family farm with Scottish Highland cows, horses, chickens, and rabbits.

Ryan Cody, Board Member, had the privilege of being born and raised on a farm in Madison County. From vegetables to tobacco and even trees, farming has been an integral part of his life. Many childhood memories were made while climbing through the tiers of some of the old barns around the farm. The values and work ethic that was taught growing up on a farm has carried over throughout his life. Ryan now lives in the Mars Hill area with his wife Amy and three sons. He works as Field investigator, North Carolina licensing board for General Contractors and has served in other volunteer capacities.

Lynn Steen, Board Member, was raised in Fayetteville and later Rockingham, NC where she had her first exposure to rural life. She met her future husband, Reese, there and fell in love with his family farm. Thus began her love of gardening and farming. After graduation from UNC-Chapel Hill, they moved to Hot Springs. Reese became the first dentist for the newly formed Hot Springs Health Program and Lynn taught third and fourth grades. They bought a farm in Mars Hill, where they have lived for 44 years. Lynn loves farm life, where she has raised cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, organic vegetables and three children. Now retired, Lynn spends more time on the farm where she enjoys the sunrises and sunsets from the front porch of their 144 year old farm house, hiking, and canning and freezing vegetables grown on their farm. In her spare time you can find her on her mower mowing the grass around the farm and the soccer field for the Madison County Youth Soccer League.

Judy Ricker, Board Member, considers herself fortunate to have been born and raised in Madison County. She grew up on her Grandmother’s farm on Shelton Laurel and always wanted to be a farmer, still do. Her ancestors on the farm, came over the mountain from Jonesboro, having originally landed in Virginia. Her mother grew up on a farm on Bull Creek, the house and barn are still there.  Her grandfather, was Kelly Hunter for whom a road in Madison County is named. Married early to Bill Ricker, she and her husband remained in Madison County.  She loves all parts of the farm, barns especially. Nothing like the smell of fresh mowed hay, stacked in the loft, corn in the crib and all the animals. She has written short stories about the farm and currently is in her book “Leather Britches”.  Bill and Judy are retired, with his passion being golf and hers quilting.

Contract Staff:

Taylor Barnhill, Lead Researcher, grew up in the NC Piedmont and spent most summers of his childhood working on an uncle’s tobacco farm and quickly learned that rural culture was in his blood. After completing an architectural degree and graduate studies in regional planning in 1974, his work brought him to Madison County as a consulting architect for the Hot Springs Health Program. Like so many people who visit Madison County, he fell in love with the mountains and the people, bought a farm, and set about absorbing all aspects of Appalachian history, culture, and natural history. Throughout that quest he came to recognize that the barns were the iconic heart of the family farm and its noble mountain lifestyle of self-reliance and resiliency. He now works to understand the creative minds of those barn builders who are now long gone.

Advisory Council Members:
Ross Young, Pat Franklin, Karen Paar, Maurice McAllister, Paula Shelton McAllister, Sidney Harrison, Ethel Kirkpatrick, Dedrick Cody, Steve Tweed, Jerry Plemmons, Betty Reeves, Jerry Jacover, Chad Ayers, Joy Anders