I was only at Rocklands Farm that night to pick up my husband, since we were down to one car. I walked up the driveway at the same time as a man blowing into a jug. He said he had an extra one if I wanted it, but I thought he was kidding.
When I arrived at the Tasting Room, the Rocklands crew were abuzz with excitement. Since the farm hosts lots of concerts, I assumed this would be another one, just featuring "old time" instruments instead of keyboards and guitars. But as I walked to the Upper Barn, I realized that this wasn't a typical concert.
Like any jam, there weren't assigned songs or sheets of music. Everyone followed along to a few tried-and-true classics that they all seemed to know. And this wasn't their first rodeo, as I could tell by the familiarity of the musicians.
"Back in the day, the barn was a place where people celebrated life together. When my family bought Rocklands, the barn was old and derelict. But it's come alive again."
Today, Rocklands' barn brings people together for anything from weddings and baby showers to executive meetings and square dances. As Greg aptly pointed out, these aren't new uses for the barn — they're hearkening back to the barn's original purpose.
According to the Montgomery Planning Board's "Places From the Past" (my new favorite read), the prominent Allnutt family settled in the Seneca area around 1750, building the Rocklands farmhouse in 1870. The bankbarn and other outbuildings aren't dated, but the Planning Board guesses that they could predate the farmhouse.
The Planning Board also explains that Pennsylvania bank barns (Swiss-German structures first seen in the 1600s) were adopted in Montgomery County starting in the early 1800s. These large barns, which can be spotted by their gable roofs and overhanging forebays, were typically built into a hillside or bank, hence the name. The lower downhill stable is meant to house livestock, with the uphill loft area intended for processing and storing grains. At Rocklands, the lower stable that is now the Tasting Room used to house pigs.
For many, Pennsylvania barns conjure up images of barn-raising. "Places From the Past" calls these "a community affair" that brought neighbors together. According to the Encyclopedia of American Folklife, the task could engage as many as 100 men, which "created a festive family atmosphere around the laborious event, featuring large communal meals, sometimes including liquor and cider, and playtime for children."
Of course, not everything was cider-drinking and barn games. Barn-raising was hard work, and most of what went on in those barns, once built, was related to hard work. But the work was communal. "Husking bees" brought farm families together in each other's barns to husk thousands of ears of corn. Farmers shared expensive equipment, like threshers and cider presses. And yes, there were barn dances and lots of Old Time music, though it was probably just called music back then.
The Encyclopedia goes on to say that:
"Although the image of the rugged, independent pioneer building his home by himself was common in American popular iconography, the visual culture of the barn emphasized a spirit of community, generosity, and mutual support in a rapidly expanding nation."
We don't know what method Benoni Allnutt employed to build his barn. But we do know that now, Rocklands Farm is committed to the same spirit of community, generosity, and support that infused other barn-raisers in the 1800s. After all, Rocklands' mission is to Feed. Nourish. Engage.
The first jam was such a hit that Rocklands decided to keep it going. You can now enjoy free Old Time Music on the third Wednesday of every month! And get your dancing shoes ready for a Barn Square Dance on June 17 — tickets available here.