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What's Up Magazine

Barns of the Eastern Shore

Jul 26, 2011 05:47PM ● By Anonymous

There are 611,467 acres of farmland in Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, and Dorchester Counties and more than 1,500 farms dot the landscape of the Mid Shore. They raise corn, soy beans, and wheat. There are chicken farms, of course, but few cattle and even fewer dairy farms left. Tobacco was once grown on the Shore and at one time was the major cash crop. But now farmers are trying new and different products. They are raising everything from cantaloupes and strawberries to tomatoes and zucchini for local markets and many are going organic.

But what catch the photographer’s eye are the barns themselves. There are some wonderful old barns on the Shore. Many of them are visible from the back roads and highways. If you travel to the beach you can see a half dozen wonderful barns from U.S. Route 50. Better yet, take a detour on back roads to Centreville, Hurlock, Sharptown, Harmony, or Vienna or any number of rural towns to see some great barns. Here are a few for your enjoyment.

Barn at Wilderness Tavern
In 1659 Edward Lloyd obtained the largest land grant in the emerging Talbot County— 3,050 acres on the Choptank River called “The Wilderness.” The nearest neighbors were Choptank Indians. Thirty years later the first frame dwelling was constructed and in the years that followed, “The Wilderness” became a productive self-sufficient plantation, hence the slave quarters still standing today. Its largest crop was tobacco.

Fast forward to the 20th century and “The Wilderness” had shrunk in size to 350 acres. In May 1911 it was purchased by J. Ramsey Spears, a steel magnate from Pittsburgh. Purchase price, $21,000. Mr. Spears began a remarkable transformation of the property at that time. The house was enlarged and new out-buildings added. Most notable of these was the horse and cow barn.

In a 1941 survey this barn, building number 25, was described as “magnificent.” It was reported to have been built in 1912 and consisted of two one story sections joined by a large central section of two stories. There were six horse stalls and sixteen cow standings in the single story sections. The imposing main section had wood trusses and joists as well as wood flooring on its upper level, which was used for hay and feed storage. There was a silo attached that stood thirty feet high.

Just a few years ago the current owners of “The Wilderness,” Earl and Carol Ravenal, refurbished the barn bringing it back to its original glory and making some notable improvements including electricity and a full set of stairs to the second story loft. In 2008 and 2009 the Talbot County Historical Society hosted Oktoberfest in the barn. Take note of the delightfully whimsical weathervane installed on the peak of its roof.

Today it stands sentinel over the surrounding fields, with its date of origin proudly displayed above the front doors, striking and still magnificent.

Classic Dutch Barn
The classic Dutch barn with its gambrel roof, the barn pictured in books and movies with a great hay loft, was most often intended for use with live stock, primarily dairy cows. Hay could be hoisted to a loft through a second story door.

Many barns were designed specifically for livestock. Chicken houses are a more common sight today. There are millions of chickens raised on the Eastern Shore and fewer than 2,500 dairy cows.

Pole Barns
Pole barns are a little easier to find in the land of pleasant living. These barns began to appear in the 1930s. As the name indicates they were made of a roof supported by a series of posts on each side. They were often open structures, allowing easy access to machinery and tools. Most have metal roofs. They vary widely in appearance.

By Jane McConnell - to see all photos, please refer to page 17 of What's Up? Eastern Shore