By Chris Lawler
If you’ve ever crossed Painter Road while visiting Tyler to explore the Minshall and Pink Hill Trails, chances are you’ve come across the ruins of the South Farm barn. Just a standing corner remains today, with a stone arched opening hinting at the majesty of this once proud building.
The area known as South Farm began as a 50-acre tract of land purchased by Thomas Minshall in 1734. Future generations, namely the Painter Brothers, added land through various acquisitions, and the farm eventually grew to 130 acres. The property was always used as a tenant farm, and from the mid-1700s well into the next century, a number of farmers and families took up residency, worked the land for a few years, and then moved on.
In 1839, James Edwards, a ward of Jacob Minshall II since the age of 6, took up residency and ran the farm until his death in the early 1860s. His son, Milton, took over operations, and stayed there another 25 years until the property was sold at a sheriff’s auction to John J. Tyler, the highest bidder. Milton Edwards gained ownership of the land for a brief span of time before his financial hardships, and during this period the farm became known as Edwards’ Farm. The property was christened South Farm under the ownership of John J. Tyler, and it remained a tenant farm until it was abandoned in the 1930s.
The main buildings in the South Farm complex consisted of the barn, a small manor house, a springhouse and a smokehouse. An ice house was constructed in 1874 by John J. Tyler, a necessity as the farm was primarily a dairy farm by that point. Only a few bits and pieces from the foundations of these buildings can be found today, and they are best seen in the winter months when the foliage is gone and the under story is sparse. It wasn’t too long ago, however, that these buildings were still standing in a state that could be described proper ruins and structures…not too long ago on the Tyler timeline, that is.
I remember distinctly the first time I stumbled upon the South Farm barn as a teenager, perhaps 30 years ago. Those days, most things at Tyler were still brand new to me, so when a big shell of a building appeared on the trail, seemingly out of nowhere, the euphoria of discovery–and a twinge of reverence–washed over me. I walked inside over rubble and debris and stood in the middle, looking up at the blue sky (by that point the roof was long gone). The four walls seemed impossibly tall, and while I knew I was standing in the ghost of an old farm building, it sure felt like a cathedral to me.
I returned many times over the next few years, pausing on hikes to rest and to measure the decline of the structure. Red-back salamanders could always be found by lifting a rock, and every now and then a garter snake would make an appearance. The ravages of time persisted, and one day I returned to find it all gone, razed to the ground for the concerns of safety. We’re blessed that a small piece of it remains today.
The South Farm barn ruin is a comfortable walk from the Visitor’s Center and is quite easy to find. Some of the best times to visit are in the coming months, as the changing colors make a pleasant pallet against the stone archway. Please admire this treasure from a distance and tread gently, so hopefully this small window to another place and time at Tyler remains intact for many years to come.