The swaying breeze whistles through the landscape of farmland. Mountainous hills stand in the background, with long grass slithering toward the foreground. A beautiful stone-walled home stands delicately in the distance.
This land, now home to the Gilligan-Arnold Farm, sits on the grounds of the Civil War’s Battle of South Mountain. Although the barn is relatively quaint now, the history of this battle lies within the roots of the farmland.
The farm’s owner and former mayor of Burkittsville Paul Gilligan stands next to his old Dodge pickup, the dark green vehicle accented by the vibrant red paint of the barn’s exterior in the background. He watches as volunteers look around his barn, examining the high ceilings and beautiful beams of its treasured structure. Old carriages, farm equipment and other tools are kept within the barn as a reminder of the past.
The history of magnificent barns such as this one will enrich the eyes and ears of the community during the 14th annual Barnstormers Tour and Plein Air Paint Out on Sept. 11.
Presented by the Frederick County Landmarks Foundation and sponsor MidAtlantic Farm Credit, this self-guided tour allows event-goers to immerse themselves in the agricultural history of the community. Each year, a different local, geographical area of focus is chosen. Happening rain or shine, this year’s event will start with a tour of eight historic barns around the Burkittsville area from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We’re extremely happy that groups like the Barnstormers and the artists that participate are bringing attention to a historic and vital aspect of Frederick County,” said Gilligan.
Through the cancellation of last year’s tour due to the pandemic, members of the Barnstormers committee are ready for the tour to make its return after months of preparation. Co-chair of the committee and artist Harry Richardson recalls visiting farmers across Burkittsville in January to determine locations for the tour.
“They were very receptive,” Richardson said. “They think it’s a great idea to showcase hard-working farmers.”
And as the event draws closer, these farm owners eagerly await the arrival of curious attendees. They’re excited for the chance to share their barns’ unique characteristics with fellow history lovers.
With a beautiful soft blue exterior almost mirroring the baby-blues of sky, the Picnic Woods Farm, owned by Griff Garwood, is the first blue barn ever featured on the tour. Exquisite metal sculptures made from old farm tools line the driveway of the farm, an artistic feature ticket-holders can see for themselves during the event.
“It’s great to be able to show it off and also to tell folks about the history of it.” Garwood said.
Although the historic barns are one of the main highlights of the event, demonstrators will be on hand, too, to display essential barn duties for farm life in the past. Blacksmiths, weavers creating clothes from wool and gardeners are just some of the demonstrations that will be featured.
Mardelle Poffenberger, the demonstrators committee chair for the Barnstormers Tour, works to provide attendees with an educational experience that brings history to life. “The idea of the demonstrator is to give an idea of what life is like on a farm,” said Poffenberger, “so they understand how a farm functions more than just looking at it.
The art portion of the tour provides an immersive experience for artists working in various 2D mediums to come together and exhibit the beauty of the barns through canvas. This year’s event will feature 35 artists from around the area, with around five artists dispersed at most of the barns throughout the tour to paint onsite. Some artists choose to focus on the overall landscape, while others paint intricate details of the barns. The creative path the artist chooses to follow is completely up to individual preference. With the farms on the tour being privately-owned, many of the artists are seeing these subjects for the first time.
“I think that’s why a lot of artists like it, because they get to go on private property,” said Harry Richardson’s wife and artist Deborah Lovelace Richardson. “It’s a place they wouldn’t normally be able to go.”
The finished canvases of all shapes and sizes are then presented in the Plein Air Art Show at the Burkittsville Ruritan Club from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tour-goers and members of the public are invited to the judged art show for an opportunity to meet the artists and purchase the finished pieces. Proceeds from the artwork sales will be distributed to Frederick County Landmarks Foundation, with the artists receiving a portion of the commission. Five Best in Show awards selected by a juror will be presented to winning artists during the show. Through a grant from the Frederick Arts Council, Best in Show winners will receive a small monetary award for the first time since the tour began.
Along with the art show, The Main Line Gravy Soppers will perform country music at the Ruritan Club until 5:30 p.m. Food from In10se BBQ and frozen treats by Snowball Waterfalls will be provided starting at noon.
With the tour just around the corner, will-call tickets are still available on the Frederick County Landmark website. Informational booklets with detailed barn notes and tour tickets are also available for purchase at the Burkittsville Ruritan Club on the morning of the event.
The tour displays the continued importance of historic barns across the area and exhibits the true appreciation the Barnstormers committee members have for Frederick County’s agricultural heritage. Like the everlasting structure of the barns, the history found on these farms continues generation after generation.
“They’re just so gracefully beautiful,” said Barnstormers cofounder Dean Fitzgerald. “To think of what it has put up with, what it has done, and the life it has lived, it’s just awesome.”