Over the Moon
Oct 01, 2020 10:47AM
By Gayle Morrow
You see them everywhere—sad, old, falling-down barns on crumbling stone foundations, their weathered boards and huge hand-hewn beams abandoned to the elements.
Happily—especially for you if you’re in the market for a unique and really-good-vibes venue—that has not been the fate for one barn in Potter County’s Bingham Township. And while he can’t account for the origins of quite all of the boards and beams and stones at Moon’s Big Red Barn, John Moon can tell you where just about all of them came from. Talk about a labor of love.
“We [he and his wife, Vicki] wanted to keep as much of the original as we could,” says John. “Would you like a tour?”
He shares some history as we wander about. The barn was built sometime around 1860 after Robert Rowley and Betsy Monroe were married. In the ensuing years, it’s changed hands and usage a few times. It’s been a dairy barn, a hay barn, and a barn for young stock. For the past fifty or so years, Vicki’s family had farmed the land; her parents, Anna and Bill Van Etten, gifted the barn and some acreage to their daughter and son-in-law several years ago. Vicki’s brother was still farming and they let him use the barn for livestock and hay storage. When her brother retired, the couple decided to “do something” with the barn, which is just behind their own house, also a family heirloom.
John, who retired in 2018 after twenty-five years of owning and operating Moon’s Farm and Yard in Ulysses, says he and Vicki realized the structure needed a bit of TLC. And, as with so many building projects, one thing just led to another.
“We did some work on the barn...” John says with a grin and just a hint of “oh, if we’d only known then what we know now” in his voice. Initially they were just going to fix a section of leaky roof. Then they noticed a few other things here and there that needed attention. Then they started really looking at the space and thinking, gee, this would make a nice area for us to have get-togethers—kind of a giant party room.
Finally there came the ah-ha moment (though I didn’t actually hear anybody own up to being the first to have that thought): We could turn this into a venue! Followed by those famous last words: It wouldn’t take much.
Regardless of who takes the “credit” for the decision to repurpose the historic structure, the outcome has been spectacular.
As is typical for a barn—regardless of its use—there are several ways for people to get in and out. At the Big Red Barn, the main entrance opens via an extensive screened-in area (which was home to cows once upon a time) into a bright and airy room with five hand-crafted high-tops perfect for leaning on and looking at the view during a lull in conversation, and a counter just waiting for trays of hors-d’oeuvres. They’re all John’s creations, made with live-edge wood from the property and finished with an epoxy so shiny you can see yourself in it. When it’s night, the twinkle lights wrapped everywhere, around all the posts and beams and strung from all the rafters, reflect on the surface, too.
From there the bar—complete with a great railing to rest your foot on, making you feel right at home, even without a drink in your hand—is just a few steps away. Down the hall from the bar are the spacious restrooms, with the ladies’ version being large enough and light enough to serve as a space for brides and their attendants to change their clothes or take care of a make-up re-do in the event of a (sigh) particularly emotional ceremony.
The pièce de résistance of Moon’s Big Red Barn is the dining/dancing area. John recalls with a chuckle that he and Vicki were “taking hay out of here in January and February of 2019.” You’d never know it. Though the space has retained its “barn-ness”—with its high, open ceiling, exposed rafters, and old wooden ladders up into the loft (now transformed into a cozy nook)—it is warm and inviting.
If you’re the caterer, you will appreciate the new kitchen. It’s “cold,” which means there is no stove or oven (for liability and insurance reasons), but there is an abundance of counter space, two big refrigerators, plenty of electrical outlets, and a handy exterior door that lets you back your catering truck or trailer practically into the room, thereby making unloading a breeze.
The grounds are pretty special, too, and beautifully maintained. John says that before one of the events hosted here over the summer, he spent eight hours mowing. That kind of loving attention to detail is evident everywhere. There is a rebuilt stone wall and an old railroad trestle that both provide a nice backdrop for photos, lots of yard space in case you need a place to turn the little ones loose or want to run around yourself, plenty of parking, and a firepit. There is seating inside for 150, and more seating options outside.
This was to have been the debut summer for the Barn, but COVID-19 put a damper on things. The inaugural event turned out to be an “adult prom,” a dress-up, BYOB, ticketed evening.
“That was our first big test,” John says. It was evidently successful. When Jessica Eskesen, John and Vicki’s daughter and the Barn’s de-facto event/wedding planner, was asked if there were any photos of the evening that might accompany this story, she admitted that everyone was having such a great time that nobody took any pictures.
There are four weddings booked for October, and John says he hopes to be able to have an open house next year.
“We’re hoping to keep it used, and in the family,” he says.
With all the love and history here, who wouldn’t want to tie the knot in a place like this?
Find Moon’s Big Red Barn at 453 Rowley Road, just off Route 49 between Westfield and Ulysses. Call (814) 203-8232 or visit Moon’s Big Red Barn on Facebook.