In the sunset years of the 19th century, the Knight family settled in Cullman County near Good Hope, and built several homesteads that are still a part of their legacy. While barns have always been considered an essential part of a functional farm, these days it is far more common to tear down the old ones and build steel buildings in their stead. Most of the time it is practical to do so, but there was something about this particular barn that pulled on Ryan Schueler, who married into the Knight family. His wife, Whitney, and he would go visit her parents at their cabin located on some adjacent property. And every time he would drive by the homestead, the old house and barn just seemed to be calling out to him with the need to be kept in the family. Ryan and Whitney dreamed of the day that they could buy the ten-acre place, and they were finally able to purchase it in 2017. “But it was the barn that sold me,” said Ryan with a smile. Whitney had always loved the barn, and as the family genealogist, she had heard heartwarming stories that span well over a century of life lived there. She longed for the chance to “write” stories of their own, and now they could.
The history of the house and barn is pure Alabama Americana—it belonged to Erasmus and Dicie Knight, and they raised a passel of kids there -- ten to be exact. In 1960, their children disassembled the farm house and used all of the elements to build one right next door, and the next generation of Knights grew up there. The paneling and floors are from the original house, and Ryan and Whitney began to look for old farm implements, furniture, and rustic signs to decorate and make it their own. The result is a charming weekend retreat place that has been used for family reunions, an engagement party, and a wonderful wide-open place to ride out COVID while still “working from home.”
Whitney Schueler gave birth to their daughter, Reagan, a bit over a year ago, and as is the case in the 21st century, these days dads get to take paternity leave to be home with their newborns. Ryan decided to take his paternity leave this past May, and it was then that Ryan and his cousin Chad Lindsay set to work to restore the barn.
“It was covered with Virginia creeper,” Ryan told me, and later showed me just how destructive climbing vegetation can be. There were places where the vines were the only thing holding up portions of the barn. Both Ryan and Chad, who owns a Deckmasters Construction in Athens, were dogmatic that the old flavor of the barn needed to be preserved. There were also places where the barn had literally sunk; so great care had to be given to shoring it up, and keeping the “flavor” of the original structure. Where the creeper had done its worst, they took off the weathered exterior, built a whole new wall behind it, and put the original back on. The foundation corner posts were built on stacked shale, and as Ryan said, “It’s a miracle after all these years that someone didn’t clip this as they were going by on a tractor and pull down the whole corner.”
Speaking of tractors, Ryan’s has been an integral part of one of the other features of the property, and that is the beautiful crop of sunflowers that have been widely shared via social media. Ryan explained, “We planted the first crop in 2018, and just finished our third season. Cousin Reid sent some photos of the sunflowers and the barn to meteorologist James Spann, who then posted them on Facebook. All of a sudden, people were asking, ‘Where is that place?’” That gave birth to the idea of having a place each year to provide what Ryan calls “a private experience for photographers.” So, it takes about a day to break up the soil, plant, and fertilize it, and as Ryan says, “We leave the rest to Mother Nature.” The results can be seen in the pictures you see here. They have added lighting and seating, and family BBQs are most comfortable, with room for everyone to spread out.
Ryan and Whitney have a list of possibilities for what could happen with the property in the future. Barns have become the rage for “destination weddings,” a trend that is only expected to continue. “We had a family engagement party here for Whitney’s sister, and it really turned out well,” said Ryan. Other ideas include making a museum with farm tools and other reminders of yesteryear to teach Reagan and her friends about their heritage. They are grateful for Chad’s hard work, and for sharing the vision of restoring a beautiful barn and leaving a legacy.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner