Seasoned with fire

Barn Event Center gives Townsend new venue with an old story

Sometimes good ideas are born over a stack of waffles at the breakfast table.

The Barn Event Center of the Smokies is proof of that.

The cantilever barn facility that opened Jan. 1, is a multi-use venue for meetings, parties and musical events. It is located in Townsend at 7264 East Lamar Alexander Parkway and is owned by Richard and Debbie Way.

Richard Way said part of the barn is built from a 200-year-old barn he found in Rogersville and part is new, constructed from timbers taken from a burned out Canadian forest. Richard and Debbie Way have a reputation for preserving history as they helped start the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. The wagons and carriages at the museum came from Richard Way’s collection, as did many of the old buildings at the museum.

When the museum was completed though, there was a 200-year-old two-story barn Way owned that wasn’t used in the museum. The challenge was what to do with the barn he found and disassembled on property in Rogersville. This was when a conversation at the Waffle House on Alcoa Highway led to Richard and Debbie Way building what became the Barn Event Center of the Smokies.

“It was a two-story tobacco barn. We were trying to figure out how to utilize these 200-year-old logs before they deteriorated,” he said.

Freddie Haun, a master carpenter, worked with Way on the project. Haun also built all the outbuildings at the museum.

Over breakfast at the restaurant, Haun and Richard Way drew out plans for building a cantilever barn. “We said, ‘We can’t do much with it stacked like this, but if we took the second story we could get a building 90 feet long and 50 foot wide, and it would be one heck of a cantilever barn,’” Way said.

They took the regular two-story Rogersville barn not used at the museum and decided to take the top level off and create two 32 foot by 32 foot cribs for a cantilever barn. Way also teamed up with Charles Judd of Blue Herring Timber Works in Oliver Springs to get the additional timbers needed for the project. Getting additional timber meant going outside of the United States.

“We went to Canada and bought a dead, standing forest that had been in a forest fire,” said Way.

Way said this was cheaper than buying regular timber because the timber actually cured while on the stump because of the intense heat. They then got the timber to Oneida where it was milled to get the wood for the barn.

“The upper part of this barn is what the Canadian lumber was used for,” he said.

Way said that according to information from the University of Tennessee, the Barn Event Center, a Mortise-Tenon timber-frame structure, is the largest cantilever barn on record in the United States. The 4,500 square foot upper level is supported by three 12 inch by 18 foot beams 90 feet long. They are cut in a zigzag fashion and put together like a key so they won’t move up or down, Way said.

Construction took two years. They built the two cribs first. “This is labor-intensive. It took a lot of men to put the barn up. It took three months to get the frame up,” he said. “We let the top part sit for nine months to cure.”

While the top part was curing, they worked on the lower part, put a roof on the lower level and then put the roof on the upper level while it was settling. “Once we got it closed in, we let it creak and groan until it found its place. The longer you wait, the better,” he said. “It wasn’t anything dramatically conscious. This is something you don’t rush.”

Sitting in the upper level of the barn, one can hear the creaking of the wooden structure. Way said this was because the structure isn’t rigid because there’s no steel, nails or bolts in the upper structure. “That noise is because this building is a ‘live’ structure,” said Way. “It’s able to move. It actually moves with temperature change and moisture. That’s the Mortise-Tenon joint. It’s like an elbow. It allows it to move.”

Way said the cantilever barns were first built in the U.S. in the 1800s to early 1900s and were derived from German Forbay barns built into hillsides in Pennsylvania. The cantilever barn worked well in the East Tennessee humidity. The structure made it easy to keep equipment dry and easily accessible, he said.

Way said that modern technology has led to great progress in building structures that withstand an earthquake. “Our ancestors knew about it then. They weren’t East Tennessee rednecks. They were very, very intelligent,” he said.

Way said the flooring on the second floor is hickory and was milled near Kentucky. The front doors are from a pub in England, found by a friend at an Old City antique store.

An event center

Way said the idea to turn the barn into a special event center was simply a matter of economics.

“Our original vision was to build a building to help promote artists. We’re still going to do that but practicality set in, and we realized we had to make money to make the payments,” he said. “The event center still allows us to showcase local art.”

One example of local art is quilts made by area quilt makers. “We try to share these kinds of things,” he said.

Work by local artists hangs from the walls of the facility. “Debbie and I aren’t artists but we appreciate art. Local artists should be appreciated,” Way said.

Antiques found in the Townsend area decorate the Barn Event Center. “I think it’s important for our heritage to be shared,” said Richard Way.

Way said the Barn Event Center is a venue for people to have business meetings, corporate parties, Christmas parties and even musical events. The upstairs holds 170 people comfortably, and the downstairs conference room seats 40 with room on the patio for 40 more. The facility has a commercial kitchen and Chef Mike Blair uses students from Walter State Culinary Arts School to staff the facility, Way said.

Blair can prepare food for a small party or a group as large as 180 at the facility. Blair also is catering outside events at other venues, Way said.

While Blair handles chef duties in the kitchen, Andrea Mervin manages the Barn Event Facility. “She’s the manager, and she’s doing an excellent job,” Way said of Mervin.

Way said that while building the facility, he and Haun often had fun with inquiring motorists. “It was amazing how many people would ask what it is. Freddie would say, ‘We don’t know. We’ll figure it out later,’” he said.

Way said the cantilever barn facility is a long overdue addition to the area. “I think something like this is needed in Townsend,” he said. “We need to promote what is good about Townsend.”

Way said he wants the Barn Event Center to be a destination for the whole family. Way, a retired pilot and a construction contractor, said he got a great compliment from a mother who said she wasn’t worried about anything her children heard or saw at the Barn Event Center. “That’s a tremendous compliment,” Way said.

Way said if the facility develops like he hopes, it will be something everyone in Townsend can be proud of, and it will be successful. “It will bring people in to enjoy the Smokies and what Townsend has to offer,” he said.

For more information about the Barn Event Center of the Smokies, call 865-448-3812. The event center’s Web address is

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