By Wendy Gooditus
The visionary in this particular renovation was Carol Gibson, who, with her family, moved out to Clarke County from the suburbs in 1977 to a big old horse barn built for the mares and foals of a thoroughbred breeding operation south of Route 50. The barn, surrounded to this day in every direction by open pastureland and mountain vistas, had inhabitants at the time, all right: lots of them. The predictable pigeon population, of course, and a herd of cattle, wandering through not only the beautiful stalls intended for highly-bred equines but also through the tack room, feed room, and offices, leaving two-foot deep piles as evidence of their passing.
So it took a special kind of person to say, “Oh! I long to live in the hayloft of a cow-infested barn!” But Carol saw huge potential. And I do mean huge! The hayloft was somewhere around 3800 square feet—ample for a family home. The family bought the barn on its 27.5 acres, evicted the cows, and moved in with their sleeping bags and camp stove. It was a long haul, according to Carol’s daughter Lori Gibson, who says, “It’s probably a good thing I was 12 at the time. It just seemed so exciting then! Maybe if I had been a teenager it wouldn’t have seemed like such an adventure.”
Gibson shows me an album of before, during, and after photos of the hayloft renovation. The excitement must have been terrific, but so were the difficulties. There were three huge square holes in the floor where the hay had been thrown down to the mares below. The family built a temporary staircase up through one of these. They organized a makeshift kitchen in a corner. They started planning rooms and putting up walls. I forgot to ask at what point the bathroom plumbing went in. Apparently Carol felt her husband had stalled on the question of electricity long enough, and she started pulling the wire herself. One way and another, progress was made, and eventually the barn had a spacious and homey converted hayloft, and, yes, horses downstairs in the luxurious stalls.
During the next decades, the barn saw a more than ordinary share of activity. There were at least three weddings, with the hayloft accommodating more than 100 guests. There was a concert series hosted here to raise money to support a professorial chair at the Shenandoah Conservatory, organized by Carol and her husband Lang Gibson. And, grown out of the series, an episode of Good Morning America was filmed here at the behest of host Charles Gibson, brother of Lang Gibson. The show was part of a series about Americana and activities in small towns, and covered the concert series transpiring in the old horse barn for the benefit of classical music education.
These days the barn is looking for a new population to move in, upstairs and down. The stable downstairs has been used only for storage for years, and the upstairs family has mostly left, through divorce, leaving the nest, and the sad death of Carol Gibson eight years ago.
It is a huge white barn with a silver metal roof, set in rolling fields near the Opequon Creek. Downstairs are eight huge stalls plus rooms for tack, feed, and offices. Plus, there is the added bonus of a cozy apartment downstairs, perfect for a stable manager or an in-law suite. There are both outside and inside stairs up to the human home, which has three bedrooms, an office, a family room with a woodstove, two bathrooms, lots of storage space, a colossal attic which I defy anyone to fill and which could easily be finished into a spectacular bonus space, a kitchen, and the big living room with a dining area.
As a lifelong equestrian myself, when I look at this property, I long to see equine athletes munching hay in the stalls, cantering up the hill, being tacked up in the wide aisle. I see an elite equestrian operation here, with a manager living in the downstairs apartment and an owner upstairs. Yes, the property needs care: sprucing up in the stable and attached shed, updating of kitchen and baths, new fencing, and, for serious riders, a riding ring. But oh, the possibilities!
Wendy Gooditis is a real estate agent on the Chip Schutte Real Estate Team with ReMax Roots in Berryville. Contact her at Gooditis@visuallink.com or at (540)533-0840.