My perception of barns took a sharp detour during the short time I lived north of the Mason-Dixon line in Pennsylvania. There, the complexity, grandeur, and beauty of what is known as the Pennsylvania barn* completely changed my understanding of this most visible of agricultural outbuildings. I felt the same way with my first glimpse of Castle Knoll Farm, a truly amazing collection of early 20th century barns and other outbuildings. I think I probably shrieked and gesticulated madly…but fortunately, I wasn’t driving.
A collection of white frame barns and other outbuildings, almost all capped with green roofs, stood out against the bleak February landscape. Cradled against hills swathed in the brown yellow of winter dormancy, the setting seemed otherworldly – like Hollywood had dropped down in southern Indiana and set about constructing the idealized version of a historic, early 20th century farm.
The story of this barn lover’s paradise proved a bit tricky to find. Although all of the buildings seemed to be in good condition from my roadside vantage, they also also bore the stamp of disuse. No livestock, no fences, no signs of a working farm.
But all of those barns, corncribs, and silos once supplied the “Carlsbad of America” – West Baden Springs – and its neighbor (and one time rival), French Lick Resort. The development of these two hotels is a story unto itself, but Castle Knoll Farm fits into the puzzle around 1915, when a local boy turned gambling mogul named Ed Ballard oversaw the construction of the agricultural complex.
Castle Knoll Farm (I failed to discover the origin of the name) not only grew produce served at the hotels in French Lick and West Baden, but the cattle, pigs, chickens, and pheasants raised on its 2,500 acres also fed the hotel guests, many who came from Louisville, Kentucky, and Chicago, but many also journeyed from further afield. The railroad allowed visitors to purse leisure activities in the Indiana valley, and a spur line to Castle Knoll Farm made the delivery of goods quick and expedient.
Ballard used plans from a company in Fairfield, Iowa, for the outbuildings at Castle Knoll. Louden Machinery Company initially produced a hay carrier invented by its founder, William Louden, but expanded in the late 19th century. In 1906, the company created an architecture department “to promote more efficient use of space and labor saving devices” (and those labor-saving devices, naturally, were designed by the Louden Company…).
And those well-planned, modern, and efficient barns are gorgeous.
Gambrel roofed, gable roofed, round roofed – bristling with cupolas along the ridegline and windows in the stalls – the orderly arrangement of white buildings (and clay tile silos) is breathtaking. Although I lingered for a while along the road, taking photographs, I didn’t venture inside any of the barns. And since we stopped for my photo opportunity after leaving West Baden and French Lick, I didn’t have the chance to query any of the local residents about the current ownership of the farm, or what plans (if any) are in store for the buildings.
I can think of a myriad of uses for the farm – agri-tourism, bed and breakfast, a working farm with a CSA bent, a movie set for a film about the history of the nearby resorts…Just as long as those amazing buildings can remain, to startle and delight some other passenger in a car winding along US 150 in southern Indiana.
* The Pennsylvania barn is a bank barn with a stone foundation, and a projecting forebay or overhang – also known as a Switzer barn.