The Future of Franklin Farm
A Pendleton County farm near the tiny town of Franklin is a gold mine of history.
Photographed by Nikki Bowman
Off the beaten path, south of the tiny town of Franklin in Pendleton County, sits not one or two, but 23 log-and-frame buildings made more than a century ago. Here, the Pitsenbarger family ran its homestead on nothing but horsepower and manpower, and history has it they were quite a cast of characters—making hard cider, playing music and entertaining neighbors, and holding unique beliefs in both Christianity and the occult.
These days, Jeff and Teresa Munn, along with Jeff’s sister, own the beautiful mountain property and want to see it widely used for tourism. The property was placed on the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV) Endangered List in 2013, and PAWV members are helping the Munns develop a plan for preservation. The oldest building on the property—the main house—was built around 1845 and still stands.
From 1799 to 1973, three German families owned what is now known as the Ananias Pitsenbarger Farm. Historians say the Pitsenbargers never left home, where they had a woodworking shop, chicken coop, stable, carriage house, spring house, and hay barns. The property is a gold mine of history, according to Lynn Stasick, PAWV statewide field services representative. “What I find fascinating as an Appalachian historian is that there is so much corroborative documentation, not only about life on the farm, but family, politics, social mores, and taboos—all of them reflecting deeply engendered cultural ways of life in the region at the time,” Lynn says. “Then, as a preservation historian, all I have to do is turn my eye to the buildings to see the site’s worth.” The buildings were made using traditional German techniques, from hand-hewn horizontal logs to hand-carved wood hinges.
Jeff’s parents bought the farm in 1987 at auction. “We consider it our family place now,” he says. “They built their retirement dream cabin here on the property overlooking the old homestead. They set about trying to save the old homestead because many of the old buildings were falling apart. The farm had been empty and un-worked for 14 years—since 1973 when the last Pitsenbarger died.”
Weak roofs, broken fireplaces, and shifting foundations are among the problems facing the historic structures today. “Several of the old log buildings’ foundations have shifted and they are literally sitting on the ground,” Jeff says. In the kitchen sits a hand pump that hasn’t worked for years, and the Pitsenbargers never had indoor toilets or water. “We were told they used to bathe in troughs out in front of the house,” Jeff says. “When you come here and look at it you think, ‘In 1973, these people were still living this way in this house.’ You just don’t find places like this anymore.”
The Munns hope to eventually get nonprofit status for a museum on the homestead to display items owned by the Pitsenbargers over the years. The whole area is ripe with history—with a one-room schoolhouse and historic graves nearby—and Teresa sees the Pitsenbarger Farm as a logical place to visit. “The town of Franklin is on the National Historic Register and there are several mills. There’s a great opportunity for all of us to start working together for tourism,” she says.
Jeff and Teresa open the farm for events throughout the year, like yoga retreats, stargazing parties, and mushroom hunting forays. “The property is a great stopover for motorcyclists touring beautiful Pendleton County and the Potomac Highlands, with prior notice,” Teresa says. “We hope to participate in the near future as a coordinating venue for the Franklin Treasure Mountain Festival in September and the Spring Fling, too.”
In the meantime, it seems the Munns are always on the farm working on something. In 2012, they finished digging and pouring one new foundation. Unless they find grant money, restoration comes out of pocket. “It’s a long-term effort to raise or move a building,” Jeff says.
Teresa hopes to get the buildings airtight, as they work on the windows as part of a PAWV workshop this fall. Masonry repairs continue, and she hopes the fireplace will be functional by spring. “These are things that are critical, so we hope to get done within a year or so,” she says.
Make an appointment to visit the farm by emailing email@example.com.Franklin Farm; munnwerks.com; pawv.org