By Julia M. Johnson
In our nation’s agricultural past, the barn was often the center of a farm’s operations, a focal point of its busy life.
Entrepreneur Jonah White, owner of a large tract of land, the rustic White Tales Lodge, and a novelty-gift business in southwestern Illinois, has recultivated that idea through the reinvention of a “new old property.”
White’s land in Michael, Ill., includes an 1840s barn he has refurbished inside and out to play host to country gatherings, weddings and other occasions. Following a deal of investment and renovation, this rustic red structure formerly used in apple harvesting is now ready to help guests create fruitful new memories that honor the past.
White says the barn and surrounding grounds are ideal for outdoor ceremonies, reunions, and team-building events. And there’s space indoors for groups needing to feel a bit more sheltered.
What’s New Now
White has updated the barn with a large bar and newly poured floor on the basement level; new stairwell and hayloft balcony; repurposed church-pew seating in the hayloft; and a fresh exterior coat of red paint. The bar area features a long, deep custom-built sink where groups can keep kegs and other beverages frosty.
Throughout the building, old tools and vintage equipment are displayed to preserve the structure’s historic feel. White is adding an altar fixture that can be used for weddings, and Victorian furniture that will lend itself to photo opportunities.
“The basement level is quite beautiful, and features about 1,800 square feet of space,” he notes. “The lighting is amazing. I’ve spent a good deal of time concealing wiring and making sure things look subtle and natural.”
About 250 guests can be seated in the loft area, and tables can be set up outdoors overlooking the pond as well. There is also an awning off the back of the building that provides about 450 square feet of shelter. (See “before” photo for an idea of what the old gray barn looked like pre-renovation.)
The Wild Life
White is known for his interest in preserving animal species; his home property houses a number of creatures including a water buffalo, bear, fox, and wolf. He also encourages wedding parties and family groups to incorporate the four-legged creatures they love into ceremonies at the barn, including dogs, horses and goats. “I’ve even built hitching posts in the front of the building,” he says.
White is very in tune with the building’s history, and he’s convinced it will inspire people to create interesting memories there. “This barn has lasted more than a century and a half,” he says. “It was originally hand-built with huge timbers, 300 tons of stone, cedar shakes, and shingles, using wooden pins and mallets. The materials were hauled to the site in mule-drawn wagons.
“When you have an event or get married here, you’re doing something important in a historic space that people were very proud of,” he says. “Generations’ livelihoods depended on this building. Sharing that with others means a lot to me.”
Now, your own ceremonies and gatherings can enjoy the same pride of place in the peaceful countryside of southwestern Illinois, surrounded by a spirit of the past.
In additional to his entrepreneurial efforts, Jonah White is an engaging motivational speaker. He inspires audiences over subjects such as leadership and perseverance; entrepreneurship and invention; learning from adversity; choosing the smart path instead of the easy one; shaping your own destiny; and approaching life’s challenges with deliberation.
White has spoken to a variety of groups including business and industry professionals, inventors, students, sports teams, nonprofits and others.