We purchase our tickets at the Archives building on Main Street, there are 7 sites on the tour, barns were constructed between 1840-1940. Locations range from Romeo to Bruce and Washington Townships, it’s self-guided so we grab our map and go. The first barn is just a few blocks down Main Street, the red arrow on the Barn Tour sign guides us to a charming, white, Greek Revival home, the lawn a lush green carpet, Mums and Sedum steal the show in the landscape. A long driveway leads us to a blue-painted barn, open doors invite us inside. As people mill about we take the narrow stairs to the second floor, here we can see the way the barn was constructed; the home and barn are built of Cedar that was milled right on the premises. Pumpkins and assorted gourds sit atop bales of hay, Autumn has arrived.
Downstairs the main part of the barn is used as a workshop and storage space for the owner’s vintage automobile; tool boxes, antique lanterns and other old pieces decorate the space, back in the mid 1800’s this is where the family kept the carriage and through a doorway is where the horses stayed. In this space is a section for garden supplies; Hydrangea hang upside-down to dry out. Wood-working and automotive tools are found throughout the small room, sunlight sneaks in through tiny windows.
We drive out to the furthest point on the tour, the drive takes us past beautiful farmland, homesteads, vegetable stands and pastures. There are 2 barns on this stop, the first was converted into the family home back in the 40’s, we leave our shoes on the front porch and step inside. The abundance of wood, exposed hand-hewn beams and brick fireplace give the home a cozy feel; a large, round object is attracting lots of attention. A woman stands beside it asking people to guess what it is, everyone is at a loss; she gives in and tells us it was a light bulb tester, then she opens it up to reveal its current use: a super-cool bar! The home is filled with lovely vintage items spreading the owner’s personality throughout. And then there’s the barn…..
Music drifts out from the large, open barn, off to one side a gentleman plays guitar and sings for today’s visitors. Smack dab in the center is a customized Edsel, it’s gorgeous–didn’t I just see this car on the cover of DDEAF magazine? The space has been completely opened up from floor to ceiling, rusted and tattered vintage signs adorn the walls, I think the Meyer’s Bar-B-Q sign in the loft is my favorite. An old Ford is parked in a corner, an antique tractor, engines and drive trains occupy floor space; it reminds us of the American Pickers place in Nashville. On the way out we take a peek at an old pick-up parked in its own private slot, sweet.
Across the road is a complex of old barns redesigned into fantasy buildings; not what we expected to see out here. Each one has a unique design; window frames are unusual as are roof-lines and facades. We begin at the back of the property, the largest of the buildings, it’s easy to make out the original structure; pointed peaks give way to arched entrances, it almost looks forgotten. Inside a shiny red Chevelle awaits its next outing, cars and trucks in varying condition are tucked in here and there. A huge workshop looks as if it holds the right tool for any job. We roam from building to building, an early 60’s T-bird looks as if it hasn’t moved in ages.
We enter a rust-colored building with Gothic-style windows and find ourselves in a large entertainment space; on the slate-tiled floor a billiard table looks ready for a game, a disco ball mingles with antique light fixtures, up a step, a bar sits empty, wood beams and posts the only reminder of the building’s origin. Interesting faces are carved into trees, ivy has begun to claim an old tin-roofed wooden shed.
We arrive at a traditional red with white-trim barn on Fisher Rd, a group of banjo players are gathered near the barn entertaining tour-goers. We stop to listen to the group play, it’s the perfect complement to the setting. Inside, the barn houses 2 show horses, ribbons are proudly displayed on the wall, horses are in their stall; they seem happy for the attention. I wait my turn, petting each of them, they’re beautiful animals.
The next stop was once the old Brabb Family Farm circa 1860, a number of the structures remain, though not in usable condition. A bright red Farmall tractor is parked in front of the largest barn, behind the steering wheel a blonde-haired boy poses for pictures. On the backside we have a look under the barn, Swallow’s nests made of mud cling to the walls. Silos are roofless, stamped into the concrete is “Smith Silo Co. Oxford Mich”, love that kind of stuff! In the smaller barn burlap bags are displayed, companies located in Detroit, Battle Creek and Utica are represented, old photos are on exhibit,the corn crib is to the right, old pitch forks, crates and wire baskets are at rest. The land here is magnificent, green and rolling, surrounded by woods.
Our last stop is the Jack Frost Auto Museum on Campground Road. We’re told Jack A Frost was an electrical supplier and manufacturer in the early 20th century. He produced lighting and power accessories for the automotive and motion picture industries; his friends included Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. After WWI he built his home and orchard on 70 acres here in Washington Twp, and by the way, he loved automobiles. The current owner shares that same love of cars, he runs a full service auto sales, restoration and repair shop on the premises.
We enter the first brick building and are greeted by a red Lincoln with a white convertible top, wandering to the next room we are face to face with a variety of vehicles; a couple of old Lincoln Continentals, a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, a Javelin in the restoration process and an eye-catching 1970 AMX in Big Bad Blue. The room is a mix of fluorescent lighting, old chandelier and ancient looking sconces. Making our way to the next area we pass an antique Buick in yellow and black still wearing wood-spoke wheels. The next area is a collage of items; big round headlights, advertisements, machinery, a silver antique Peninsular heating stove and in a showcase ribbons, trophy’s and awards belonging to Mr. Frost. A Victorian music box is wound up and playing for us as we continue to peruse the collection of hood ornaments, lanterns and photographs. Walking up the driveway we check out the old stone barn that was converted into the caretakers house.
We are having lunch at Brown Iron Brewhouse on Van Dyke in Washington Twp, an American craft brewhouse serving up beer and ciders from coast to coast; they have 60 taps in addition to wine and craft spirits. Food is new American smokehouse style. The main dining hall is huge, the open ceiling and concrete floors give the space an industrial feel, sturdy wood tables and benches encourage community dining. There is a special Oktoberfest section on the menu today. First out are the Crispy Cheese Curds, they are delicious! Beer battered, they are light and crispy, they go perfectly with the house made buttermilk ranch. The Beast Mode Burger is beef brisket fresh-ground in-house, topped with smoked corned beef, applewood smoked bacon, beer cheese and a fried egg, it’s quite a (tasty) mouthful! Served with brewhouse fries, it’s enough for two to share. Time to head home; we’ve had a wonderful, surprise-filled day in the country.