2019 Romeo Barn Tour

20 Jan

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Today I’m taking you back to a sunny day in September; the sky is blue, the grass is green and the breeze is warm. The Romeo Historical Society is hosting its annual Barn Tour;  for a fee of $15 you get to drive through beautiful countryside gazing at cows, horses and farm fields in addition to access to 6 local barns. What are we waiting for? Let’s go.

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 Kenrick Farms on Boardman Road is our first stop. The 350 acre farm began in the 1890’s, today it produces hay to be sold to other farms. The first barn is selling hand-made goods and refreshments, a cold lemonade sounds perfect! Our guide shows us around the property, he explains what they do here and how it’s done, farm equipment is at rest but they hope to do demonstrations if the weather cooperates. The far barn is stacked with both round and square bales of hay, the front barn has hand-hewn posts and trip-sawn boards. A hand-written sign details the difference between 3 stacks of hay; First Cutting: highest yielding, used for all livestock, second and third cutting: yields only a third of first cutting but has higher nutritional content, wheat straw: basically what’s left at the end of the season, used for bedding, archery targets and fall decorations. We thank our guide as we walk toward the Jeep. Pausing for a moment we take in the details of the Victorian home on the property, done up in grey with burgundy and black decoration she’s quite lovely.

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The Bishop Family Farm on Fisher Rd is picturesque; large white farmhouse, rolling grounds, swans gliding in a large pond, an artist paints under a shade tree, serene. You might think this charming, weathered barn has always sat on this spot, it has not. It was originally located in Oakland Twp, Oakland County. Mr. Bishop spotted the barn, at the time most of the siding had been removed, the owner agreed to part with it. The Bishop family dismantled the 30’x40′ barn, numbering all the timbers, moved it to their property and went about reassembling on a new floor. Damaged timbers were replaced with Pine cut from their property. The windows in the gables were said to have come from the Romeo train station. I think it looks perfectly at home. A new barn is in the process of being built, made of pine with a metal roof, it’s nestled into a small orchard; the apples are lookin’ good. The property is a Michigan Centennial Farm, it has been owned by the same family over 100 years.

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This next barn is full of beauty, intrigue and sheep… You can look at all of the pretty pictures Kris took while I tell you the story. Let’s start at the beginning. The main house was built by the Sibley lumber family of Detroit. In 1932 it was purchased along with 128 acres by Mr and Mrs Glen Averill of Detroit as a summer house. The couple resided in the Whittier Hotel in Detroit, he was a retired policeman, she an accountant for an architectural firm. Between 1932-1941 the couple built all of the out buildings, extensively remodeled the house, added porches, landscaping, walkways, stonework. They acquired a total of 628 acres on 5 surrounding farms, built 7 homes, purchased a Canadian retreat and a Ft Lauderdale vacation home. You might be asking yourself how does an accountant and a retired police officer afford such extravagances? Alleged embezzlement, running whiskey from Canada and black market beef. Then they got caught. They owed $11 million in unpaid taxes for 1962 alone. The government seized the property, threw Mrs Averill in jail. When she got of prison she was broke, her husband had fled to Canada, she died shortly thereafter. In 1963 George Kovacs came along, he had patented screw injection molding of plastics and had become extremely wealthy. He decided he wanted to be a farmer; he purchased all 628 acres, the homes, 400 cows, all of the farm and dairy equipment, furniture and crops for $225,000.  Mr Kovac had no idea what he’d gotten himself into, it was too much for him to keep up. The dairy herd and milk routes hung on for a few years. In 1991 his car got stuck in the snow by the 6-car garage. He didn’t want to spend money on a tow truck. He had a heart attack in his car and sadly, died with over $100,000 in his pocket.

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The current owners purchased the property from the Kovac estate in 1992. They named it Mt Bruce Station after Bruce Mountain in New Zealand where Yvonne lived–it’s a coincidence the property is also in Bruce Twp. Peter and Yvonne began restoring the badly neglected buildings, all original from 1937. They started sheep farming and added a peach orchard. We wander around the large barn, it was named Michigan Barn Preservation Networks 2019 Barn of the Year. A bake sale is going on, poster boards detail the history of the barns. Walking from one building to the next each has been beautifully restored. A small pavilion and pergola have been added and match the main house, hydrangea are in full bloom, pots of colorful annuals decorate the property, porches are lush with blooms, the main house is a beauty. At the time of our tour the house and property were for sale.

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After a short drive we’re in Leonard. Originally the Caleb and Mary Gilbert property founded in 1836, a portion of the 80-acre parcel is the highest point of Lapeer County. A grey farmhouse is surrounded my mature trees, the sun directly overhead has spurred the heat bugs into song. The owner Mike is talking to a group of visitors, we join up and listen. At one time he considered pulling down the old barn until a visitor pointed out that this was actually a historic barn. Once owned by a German family, they lost it during the Depression. The original barn rests on it’s old foundation, the hay track and hand-hewn posts can still be seen. Mike, a painter, explains that barns were traditionally red because ocher, linseed oil and rust were mixed to use as paint to make them red. Hhmm. Very interesting.

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Following the map we find ourselves on Romeo Rd in Addison Twp, a huge white barn can be seen from the driveway. With an added third floor the barn has over 10,000 square feet, did I mention it has a 13 x 22 elevator? They call this a bank barn, two stone ramps allow tractor access to the second floor. We enter on the side, the interior is vast, look straight up, the wood ceiling is amazing. Interesting things are mounted to the walls, tucked into corners, displayed on tables; tool collections, antique furniture, vintage toys, mini bikes and a snowmobile each have their place. We make our way through each floor, we get a wonderful view from the upper windows. The lower level is home to individual stalls, there’s even a whole woodworking shop inside. Our program tells us the barn was built in 1920 at a cost of $12,000, when finished it hosted a barn dance, “With floors of matched timber and the room brilliantly lighted with the Delco system of electric lights, Chinese lanterns and American flags, it was a sight to behold.” The exterior of the barn matched the pretty home on the property; white with blue trim and stone accents.

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Our last stop on the tour is Cold Frame Farm on Campground Rd. The buildings on the farm have a much more modern look to them. When we arrive Matt is leading a tour of the property, we follow along out to the recently finished family home. Dark in color, with handsome timbers the home is built with the latest energy efficient technology. Walking towards the garden beds we pass a row of green and white stacks of what look like drawers but are bee hives. Multiple garden bed fill the land growing flowers, greens and assorted vegetables; this is a USDA Organic Certified farm. Next to the produce barn are three 96 x 30 ft high tunnels, or hoop houses, inside we find tomato vines that are taller than me! The hoop houses collect energy from the sun year round without the aid of heaters or fans, vegetables are produced year-round without the use of chemicals or electricity. Inside the barn I ooh and aah, it’s super charming with lights strung from the ceiling, colorful vegetables like carrots, broccoli, eggplant and tomatoes are all for sale, bunches of garlic and flowers are hanging to be dried. Bunches of flowers drink up water in buckets placed outside for purchase, glasses of fresh lemonade with basil are selling quickly. I choose some vegetables, grab us some lemonade, hot and tired after our adventure I can’t think of a better way to end the day.

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