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Saving the red barn

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By John Barnhart

There is a consensus in the county to save the red barn near the county nursing home. Exactly what to do, and how to use it, remains a question.

Long before Bedford County had a nursing home, it had a poor house. In fact, Falling Creek Road's original name was Poor House Road, a name which many long-time county residents still use to refer to it. The poor house dates back to the mid-19th century.

"Bedford County was on the cutting edge of taking care of indigent people in the 1850s," commented Betty Gereau, of the Bedford Historical Society.

According to an article that appeared in the Bedford Democrat in 1937, the barn was built in 1936, as part of the poor house's agricultural operation at a cost of $5,000. The downstairs portion the barn is still set up as a milking operation.

The barn, along with two other buildings, is all that is left of the old poor house. The barn may also be a Sears kit barn, adding to its historic significance. Bedford has an exceptionally large collection of Sears kit houses, sold from the early years of the 20th century up to World War II, thanks to the fact that the city had railroad service. Like the kit houses, a kit barn would have consisted of precut lumber, all the necessary hardware and instructions, shipped in by train. Michael Stokes, the county's director of parks and recreation, said that Virginia Tech will help the county confirm this, as well as document the interior.

A meeting was held Friday at the Welcome Center, to get public input on what should be done with the barn. County Administrator Kathleen Guzi said that the board of supervisors has charged county staff with coming up with ideas about what to do with the barn.

The barn has a considerable amount of usable space. In addition to the downstairs portion, it has a loft with a tongue and groove wooden floor that provides 2,000 square feet of usable space.

"I feel we really need a community center," commented Teresa Craig, who attended the meeting.

Others felt that it could be rented out for activities. Randy Nixon, Bedford's director of parks, recreation and cemeteries, believes that there would be a lot of interest in renting it out for wedding receptions and other activities. He feels it would be a great community draw.

The barn could also be used to promote agriculture. Stokes said that small plots of local crops could be planted nearby and the barn could be used for milking demonstrations. There could also be an outdoor display of farm equipment. The loft could be used for cultural activities and some uses could draw grant money. Stokes said the county is looking for a public/private partnership to handle costs.

Other suggestions from the gathering included holding county fairs there or using the barn for an agriculture and forestry museum.

Then, there is the issue of stabilizing the deteriorating structure. Stokes said that the county hopes, using in-house expertise. to be able to decide how best to do this.

The county may be able to get community help with the work. Steve Drake, husband of the late Nanci Drake, was on hand and offered the services of CTS&I Millwork. He said that the building has Poplar siding. Much of this needs to be replaced and Drake said that if Poplar wood was locally harvested, his firm could kiln-dry the wood.