Old-style barn dancing Fund-raiser: The Historical Society of Carroll County replaced its annual black-tie event with a red-bandanna barn dance to honor the county's agricultural roots.

September 28, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A hundred years ago, Carroll County farmers would have concluded the harvest season with a combination corn-husking marathon and barn dance -- all under one roof that sheltered the farm animals and a banquet table full of homemade fare.

Modernization and suburbia have rendered those old-fashioned dances obsolete, but the Historical Society of Carroll County re-created the festivity Saturday. The society replaced its black-tie ball with a red-bandanna barn dance to honor the county's agricultural history.

The dance was in a barn, but with no corn-husking, the food was prepared by a caterer, and the only animal on the property was a gray cat named The Old Lady.

In many cases, the old-style dances had to be taught to the crowd of 270, each of whom paid $50 to attend the fund-raiser.

"If you can put one foot in front of the other, you can do it," said Steve Bockmiller, the hired dance master who led the partygoers sometimes with short instructions and sometimes by wordless demonstration. On one side of the barn, Potomac Thunder, a Peabody Conservatory-trained trio, played Early American waltzes, reels and marches.

The Amish-built structure on the Thomas farm in rural Carroll County was constructed about a year ago strictly for entertaining. As elegant as a barn can be, it was decorated with antique quilts that hung from the beams, while a mix of Carroll's farming and nonfarming families twirled to the lilting fiddle music.

Farmers were in the minority, though some very important ones were in attendance. The Historical Society used the occasion to honor six families that have farmed the same land for 200 years or more.

Those families are the Cooks, the Bixlers, the Roops, the Nulls, the Owings and the Haineses.

The farmers' dances of old generally followed a day of work by those attending. Sometimes the work continued during the dance. Some would dance while others worked husking or shelling corn or threshing wheat and barley.

"I've been to barn dances in recent times -- and I'm talking about since 1950 -- but they weren't the old-fashioned barn dances we heard about," said Bob Jones, retired director for the Carroll County office of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

Farmers still celebrate the harvest, but in ways that are more like a company picnic.

"These days, my husband's workers get together, and they have a crab feast," said Marge Lippy, whose husband, T. Edward Lippy, is an owner-farmer with Lippy Brothers Inc. in Hampstead.

Fall, she said, is a time when farmers say, "Oh, thank goodness that's all done," Marge Lippy said. "It's an enormous accomplishment, when you stop and think about it to have planted all that and worked all summer and then harvested it."

When it was time to find a barn for the Historical Society dance, organizers found that most working barns had less than ideal qualities, lack of toilet facilities not the least among them.

"A lot of barns have uneven floors -- anybody could twist an ankle," said Becky Herrick, chairwoman of the dance committee.

Then she heard about the Thomas barn, where the family has had parties and family weddings -- white tulle from a niece's wedding was cleared away Friday as Herrick and other volunteers decorated for the dance. The Thomases, who are members of the Historical Society, enthusiastically agreed to play host to the event.

"You can't get better than this," Herrick said as she looked over the spacious room -- bigger than many hotel banquet halls. "Bathrooms in the barn, tongue-and-groove floor."

Owners Dennis and Dawn Thomas own the land, but lease it to a farmer who works it.

Dennis Thomas is a vice president with International Paper, and Dawn Thomas is an educator and historian on leave from Montgomery County schools. She is a former Carroll County middle-school teacher.

"We're really the new kids on the block," Dawn Thomas acknowledged to the crowd between dinner and the Grand March, a Civil War-era line dance. Her husband's grandfather, Howard Witherspoon, bought the land as the Great Depression was ending.

She and her husband have tried to give the home and barn they had built a historic look.

"If you were fooled and thought, 'Look at this place, it must have been here for a hundred years,' then we did a good job," Dawn Thomas said.

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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