words: Marcus Coker
Images: courtesy The Barn by Two Brothers
Just off Rogers Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas, on 87th Street, there’s a red, three-story barn that time and progress have somehow allowed to stand for over a century. For decades, it simply stored hay and maybe a few sheep. But thanks to renovations, it’s recently been the site of numerous weddings, birthday parties, and even a swing dance convention, all perfectly framed by hand-cut wooden rafters, antique pickle barrels too big to wrap your arms around, and more history than you can shake a stick at.
Built circa 1910, the barn sits on two acres, but the original property was thirty-five acres and included a blacksmith shop, a potato house (now Scott’s Bike Shop), and a two-story farmhouse between the barn and Rogers Avenue.
“The property was the old Sharum place,” says Frank Sharp, who’s seventy-seven, lives in Fayetteville, and bought the property (including the hay barn, blacksmith shop, and potato house) in 1977. “They sold produce, had a large greenhouse, and stored potatoes for their neighbors. I understand that the main house was destroyed by a fire in the 1940s.”
When Frank bought the property, he converted the potato house into the Ozark Mountain Smokehouse, selling smoked meats, bakery items, and jellies and jams until he retired from the business in 2007 and leased the company to a friend who kept it open for a couple more years. In 2010, Scott’s Bike Shop moved in.
During the smokehouse years, Frank repaired the roof and the foundation of the hay barn. He traded two hams for the flagstone floor on the first story. “We kept my daughter’s 4-H sheep there,” says Frank, “and many people may remember coming to the ‘sheep to shawl’ demonstrations and craft fairs we hosted.” Between 1997 and 2001, Frank got rid of the sheep, insulated the barn, built a loft to make a third story, and constructed a gazebo outside. “For nearly ten years, it was vacant until I found someone as crazy about old buildings as I am.”
That person was Lisa Neumeier Bobel Hearn. In 2011, Lisa was looking for a place to use as a workspace for her floral design business,
L Designs. “I was visiting one day with Scott Chapman at his bike shop,” says Lisa, “and Scott introduced me to Frank, and he showed me the barn. It was full of junk, covered in foliage, and boards were falling off the wall, but I fell in love.” For over a year Lisa worked in the barn without heat or air conditioning, borrowing water in five-gallon buckets from her friend Scott next door.
At the time, Lisa was a single mother and named the building The Barn by Two Brothers in honor of her sons. “Being a single parent isn’t easy,” says Lisa, “and more than once I thought that I was getting in over my head. But Frank has been like an angel to us and made it possible to buy the barn.”
The purchase was completed in June of 2013, and by that time, Lisa was engaged. She and her fiancé, Tim Hearn, decided the barn would be the perfect place for their wedding reception in September. “We still didn’t have any water, and Scott was kind enough to open up his downstairs bathrooms. It all worked out so pretty and so well that we had others approach us asking if they could use the barn.”
The next year and a half was spent getting the building up to city code, which included adding plumbing, restrooms, more electricity, air conditioning, and handicap access. “When the inspector first came out, I just knew I was going to be shut down,” says Lisa. “But he gave it the thumbs up and said, ‘What a shot in the arm for Fort Smith.’”
Stepping into the barn on the main level, which is almost 1,800 square feet, is like stepping back in time. The wooden floor planks are as wide as my foot is long, covered in scratches but strong enough to support the trucks that used to drive in and deliver hay. The walls are paneled in wooded planks, each a different type of wood. (You’ll recognize the same paneling at Scott’s, as well as The Garden Room on Dickson Street in Fayetteville, one of Frank’s properties.) There are windows to the left and right that used to be large openings for tossing out hay. Secured to the floor and beams are original hooks and pulleys, also used for moving hay around.
Upstairs is the loft that Frank built, which Lisa uses as her office. Downstairs is where the sheep used to stay, but it now houses Lisa’s design business. Doors on both sides open up to the rest of the property. On the east side, there’s a pasture with a stage perfect for outdoor concerts and dancing. On the west side, there’s the gazebo that Frank added, which goes back to a potato house story.
“The potato house has a strange history,” says Frank. “There is a very shallow natural gas formation under the area. When the Sharums leased the natural gas on their property, they were given free, unlimited access to it, which they used to heat the potato house where they stored their neighbors’ potatoes for the winter. Anyway, farmers used to camp on the banks of Massard Creek before going into Fort Smith to sell their produce and purchase supplies. There was a water well by the campground that would fill with gas and occasionally catch fire if someone dropped a match. So I built a replica of the well inside the gazebo and had planned to feature a burning well for special occasions, but Lisa capped it off because she’s much too careful for such foolishness.”
Since May 2015, The Barn by Two Brothers has been open for business, mostly hosting weddings and receptions. “The official capacity is ninety-one,” says Lisa, “but we’ve had as many as 300 because we can use the east pasture.” Clients of the barn have access to tables, vintage chalkboard windows, and many other rustic decorations, including pickle barrels and a serving buffet that came from the smokehouse.
“At one time, people used to come together as communities to put barns together,” says Lisa. “And one of the best parts of renovating this barn has been all the support from the community, especially people at the Butterfield Place Retirement Community next door. They come by and say, ‘Thank you for saving this,’ and share their stories, like eating sandwiches at the smokehouse and coming here to feed the sheep. It’s been a lot of work, and there will always be something to do, but it’s so fun to see this treasure come to life again. This big city has grown up all around it, and it’s just been waiting. I’m proud for it because it’s withstood a lot of time.”
The future of The Barn by Two Brothers is bright. Lisa is working toward expanding parking and buying the old blacksmith shop, which could potentially be used as a bridal suite. With each new addition, every new idea, Lisa feels an even greater connection to the barn’s history. All those memories make everything she does that much richer, that much more full of promise.
The Barn by Two Brothers is located in Fort Smith at 8720 South 87th Street.
For more information, find The Barn by Two Brothers on Facebook, visit thebarnbytwobrothers.com, or contact Lisa
at 479.434.6737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.