Antique barn to home conversions are becoming a new trend, featured in magazines that cover real estate from Country Living to Architectural Digest. Giving these magnificent old barns and cabins a second life satisfies homeowners interested in preservation. Additionally, recycling and re-using brings out numerous creative ways to positively impact the environment.
Although life on Bent Mountain hasn’t changed that much in the last 75 years, newcomers wanting a peaceful lifestyle now co-exist with old-timers whose families have lived in these mountains for generations.
Long before the modern homesteaders discovered Bent Mountain, VA (Roanoke County), Morgan Bartlett’s granddaddy, T.J. (Thomas Jefferson) Bartlett, farmed tobacco back on what locals call “the second loop”. Morgan remembers working with his grandfather and father raising and curing tobacco, taking it down the mountain into Shawsville by horse and wagon, and then shipping their product to Lynchburg by train. According to Morgan, his granddaddy raised mostly chewing tobacco, not the “pretty golden tobacco” farmed in warmer Franklin County. Morgan’s grandfather got one crop a year, picking the tobacco in late summer and curing it in the Chestnut Tobacco barn in the early fall. Although Morgan (now 81 years old) remembers dead chestnut trees still standing majestically in the forest, not much remains of those tall trees today. Chestnut stumps still sprout new growth but the trees never mature to adulthood. The Chestnut Blight of the early 1900’s took out an entire species of trees in a little over a decade. Economically important to the people of the southern Appalachians, the American Chestnut was lightweight, soft, easy to split, very resistant to decay and the straight grained wood was ideal for building log cabins and furniture.
T. J. Bartlett built his tobacco barn around 1918 from dying chestnut trees cut right on his property. Fireplaces on the outside of the barn fed flues two feet in diameter that went into the building, down the back wall and out the opposite side. The circulated air caused the heat to rise and dry the tobacco which hung on sticks throughout the interior of the barn, which functioned like a huge oven. The fire had to be tended constantly for two or three days, and Morgan remembers the interior of the barn becoming so hot that his dad wondered how the barn kept from catching fire.
Not only did the sturdy chestnut barn endure the heat curing tobacco, it later served as T.J.’s workshop and still stands today. The Bartlett family no longer owns the property T.J. farmed, but Morgan and his wife still live up the road a ways.
Neighbor Larry Florin, owner of Floyd Virginia Land which specializes in unique mountain properties, appreciates the history and beauty of the area and has divided that part of the old Bartlett farm into three large tracts, two of which have been sold and houses have been built, and new families are enjoying their mountain lifestyle. The Tobacco Barn Tract is available for purchase. Mr. Florin discovered the old barn after buying the property. The 14 acre tract containing the old tobacco barn now boasts tall poplar trees replacing the chestnut trees of last century. Florin is hoping for a buyer who will recognize the historic beauty and want to preserve and restore T.J.’s barn and be a steward of this Floyd County farm history. While a lot of structures that are in various states of decay are dismantled and re-sawn into flooring, etc., this barn is still in excellent condition and could easily start a new life as a weekend getaway, a guest house, an outbuilding or an art studio. The barn has incredible primitive joinery and a standing seam metal roof that is still in remarkable condition.
Thomas Jefferson Bartlett would be proud that his Chestnut beamed tobacco barn built by hand, most likely in a week or two, has survived the test of time on this mountain for nearly one hundred years.
We call the parcel that houses the antique tobacco barn Tract 3N.