Every now and then, a man will admit that his wife was the impetus behind paying attention to the family barn. But it isn’t often you learn that it was his 8-year-old daughter who had something to do with buying the barn in the first place.
Such was the case for Bill and Erin Mansfield, formerly of Petoskey, when their daughter Flynn overheard someone telling her parents that a Boyne City farm they enjoyed visiting was for sale.
“We should buy it!” Flynn said excitedly as she thought of their annual summer visits to the farm where its owner, Linda Longworth, had a beekeeping operation that had, quite literally, blossomed into a lavender farm.
Says Bill Mansfield, “Lavender is a super food for bees. The previous owner started out with a few plants to feed her bees. But before she knew it, people were asking about the lavender, so she planted another 1,000 plants.”
The Mansfields bought the farm at 07354 Horton Bay Road in Boyne City in 2015 with business partner, Rita Robbins, and today it has more than 10,000 lavender plants. But instead of the plants being there for the bees, now the plants themselves are the focus.
At harvesttime, dried buds are used by local artisans to make products sold at Lavender Hill, such as soap, sachets, ice cream and cookies, or to be distilled into essential oils and floral water.
Beginning this summer, Lavender Hill will also be the site for a barn-based concert series that has flourished in the greater Boyne City area for more than 20 years.
“We are humbled,” Mansfield says. When concert hosts Bill and Maxine Aten wanted to retire, “we were sought out to continue the series in our barn. Concerts drew more than 175 people. The Atens had hosted concerts every Saturday night throughout the summer in their Aten Place Barn on Old Mackinaw Trail in Boyne Falls. They gave us their blessing,” Mansfield says.
The Mansfield family has built a stage and is adding bathrooms to their barn. The series will run from mid-May to the end of October with seating for more than 250.
Once a dairy barn, the Lavender Hill barn is L-shaped with 10,000 square feet of usable space of which 3,700 is in the main 47-by-75-foot section. A milkhouse is part of the basement. Two silo bays and a 65-foot-tall silo complete the arrangement.
“When we took over, the barn needed attention,” Mansfield says. “Structurally speaking, she was in fabulous shape with no water stains inside at all. But a 30-year roof was at 40 years, so we reroofed, straightened, added floor support, repainted and put in new windows.”
The barn is central to the lavender operation and the upcoming concert series. It is also used for parties and weddings.
“We have had a 70th birthday party, a 40th wedding anniversary, a sweet 16 party, ballroom dancing and even yoga classes in our barn,” Mansfield says with a laugh.
When decisions were being made about improvements to the barn, “we did due diligence,” Mansfield says, having no fewer than four people out to assess the structure, including two architects, a builder and a structural engineer.
They also called on neighbors who knew the barn well for advice, since the photo of the barn they have on their kitchen wall dating to the 1950s wasn’t quite enough to work from.
Neighbors, happy that the farm would remain a farm rather than become a new housing development, recommended the roof once again be silver metal, and that the barn be painted true barn red.
“We have hundreds of people who come to Lavender Hill Farm,” Mansfield says, “and the barn is photographed a lot. We want to take care of her. She turns a 100 in a couple of years. We have put our money where our interest is. She’s the point of our farm.”
Arnett writes from Battle Creek.