The first Frederick County barn tour I was before I started writing MidAtlantic Daytrips, but it sealed my geeky fate as an old barn enthusiast. In September 2021, we went on the 14th annual Barnstorming Tour, which let us explore the barns of Burkittsville, MD in the lower Middletown Valley.
The barns, situated as they are in the rolling farmland beneath the Blue Ridge of Maryland — land which witnessed the Civil War in bloody clashes and skirmishes during the 1862 Maryland Campaign –demonstrate the Germanic and English heritage of the region.
Horror movie fans will recognize the town of Burkittsville as the home of the fictional Blair Witch, from the movie series “Blair Witch Project.” The town itself is much more than depicted in the movie, having been established in 1741. Soon afterward, it was divided into the farms that we still can see today. But even before 1741, the site of the town was the intersection of two historic roads/trails used for centuries by Native Americans. History runs deep in Burkittsville.
This popular self-guided barn tour brings awareness about Frederick County’s strong agricultural heritage and demonstrates how barns were constructed to last. Barn docents greet ticket holders at each location to share information and answer questions.
Don’t be surprised to see plein air artists at work in front of and near the barns.
During the day, as we explored the barns, we saw antique farm equipment and tools, old carriages and automobiles gathering dust, stored away for decades. But we also enjoyed a working dairy farm, including seeing newborn calves take their first steps.
Our first stop was the Gilligan-Arnold Farm, with its heart-shaped carriage shed to allow farm equipment to drive through the barn itself. For more than 150 years, the Arnold family farmed this land. Several generations lived in the adjacent stone farmhouse, which dates back to the 1790s. During the Civil War Battle of South Mountain, the family watched soldiers from both sides fight along the barnyard’s stone walls.
From there we headed to the Sowers Farm, another classic six-bay bank barn. It was really cluttered inside — these barns have become our nation’s attics! We noticed an old-timey ice-cream truck! The family who farmed here operated a distillery through the late 1800s into the early 1900s, until Prohibition-era laws shut it down.
The Oak Hill Farm barn and its adjacent stone farmhouse show construction patterns perfected by early German and English families in the region.
While barnstorming, you’ll explore the region’s agricultural heritage. It’s also a fun way to spend the afternoon — my sister and I enjoyed poking around in these historic barns. The rural setting is among the loveliest in Maryland.
My favorite barn of the day, the Red Brick Barn, is one of the oldest on the tour that day. Unlike all the other barns, there’s no nearby farmhouse — or evidence of a farmhouse. This barn was likely part of the Old Needwood Plantation, home of Maryland’s second governor, Thomas Sim Lee. Before his death in 1819, he and his family enslaved more than 100 men, women and children, who worked his fields. In addition to its brick construction, this barn is notable for its long — half the length of the barn — American Chestnut hand-hewn timbers and a huge brick and stone barrel vault that passes through the stone ramp up to the barn’s upper level.
My second favorite stop was the ShafDon Dairy Farm, a fourth-generation dairy farm. I was captivated by the cows, of all sizes. From the newly born calves still getting steady on their legs to huge mamas waiting to give birth. I could not take enough cow photos!!
Next article on MidAtlantic Daytrips will explore the rest of the 2021 Barnstormers tour, and a cool old house I’ve driven past and wondered about since my teenage years!
Getting there and hours: Each year the annual Barnstorming tour explores different barns in the region. Check the website below for this year’s tour details.
Website: Frederick County Landmarks
Can’t get enough of these fabulous old barns? Check out the following articles about barn tours: