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. 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.

Susan McChesney, Vice President, grew up happily doing barn chores before breakfast in Central Massachusetts. A visual artist and arts administrator, she raised 2 sons in Boston while working 20+ years in the Department of Education at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston designing and implementing community programs and educational initiatives. In 2001 she moved to Maine to be with the sea. While maintaining a studio and private teaching responsibilities, she was also involved with Maine’s First Ship, an organization reconstructing a boat built in Maine by the British in 1609. The reconstruction is an educational community project both in the shipbuilding and its future travel along the coast with historical exhibits and interpretation. Recognizing the educational value of a wooden structure that was built with hand tools and determination, to serve a purpose defined by the needs of the community, its people and its culture, Susan is now listening to the whispers of the barns of Madison County.

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.

Les Reker, Board Member, is the Director of the Rural Heritage Museum at Mars Hill University. His love of art and art history has shaped his careers. He is a lifelong landscape painter and has also served as a college instructor of art history as well as director of several museums, most recently as the Executive Director of the Ellen Noel Art Museum in Odessa, Texas. Les is also the past President of the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries. Except while living in New York City, he and his wife, Ellen, have always lived on farms, where they were able to raise their daughter to appreciate farm houses, root cellars, barns, dairy goats, and all aspects of sustainable farming.

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 for the Madison County Government in Economic Development and has served in other volunteer capacities.

Lesley King, Board Member, works in Film Production mainly in the Atlanta area. She is happiest when she spends time in Madison County. She moved to the area in 2001 and soon became part of the community. Tobacco was still the crop of the area, and the barns were still being used regularly. Lesley’s local volunteer outreach includes the Madison County Arts Council and Clean Sweep NC. After moving away from Madison for a few years she is back and ready to help preserve the beauty and history of this wonderful community.

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, Chuck Michel, Chad Ayers