The Innovation Barn in Manassas, Virginia

If you ever been driving on Route 234 heading toward Interstate 66 and looked to your left as you crossed over Route 28, I'm sure you've caught sight of the prodigious monument to times gone by when Prince Wiliam County was about farming and especially, dairy farming. I talking about the "Innovation Barn." In a 2003 article for Northern Virginia Historical Notes, Debbie Robison wrote about its history. 

"Around the turn of the 20th century, the land on which the Innovation Barn would be built was cultivated with corn by the farm’s owner, L.J. Hornbaker. He subsequently sold a small portion of his farm, consisting of 39 ½ acres, to William T. Thomasson on 29 September 1905.Upon first working the land, Thomasson, known as W.T., was a subsistence farmer growing wheat and corn.

After several years, he saved enough money to purchase a Holstein bull and begin dairy farming. Profit from the operation was reinvested in the infrastructure of the diary farm to allow for additional growth; however, the early dairy barn had poor ventilation, low lighting, and was difficult to keep clean. Therefore, ca. 1929, Thomasson built an improved milking barn that corrected these deficiencies. The assessed value of buildings increased from $2,200 to $6,700 in 1929 when land tax records note the reason for an increase due to improvements. Local man, Will Kerlin installed the barn roof. Typically, local professional builders built this type of barn. Mr. Farquhar of Manassas, who built a similar barn in western Fairfax County, may have built the barn. The oak floor planking was obtained from friends in Washington, D.C."

The barn was build with hollow-tile terra cotta blocks (you can see the "blocks" in the the back of the barn) The put a rough surface on the outer facade of each block to make it look more like brick. The barn had two floors with the cows on the first floor getting milked and the hay and feed stored on the second floor. Mr. Thomasson sold his milk mostly to the Washington D.C. market as did most dairy farmers in Prince William County in those days. Dairy was big in the county in the early part of the 20th century, but rapidly declined from the 1940's onward. Today, Virginia's dairy farms are 95% fewer than in their heyday.

After Mr. Thomasson's death in 1950, his daughters sold the farm to a Mr. George Dickerson. Dickerson held the property for 10 years and then sold it to a developer. Can you believe that the Innovation Barn has stood there empty and unused since 1960?

I've always felt drawn to this building. As a photographer, it just seemed like such an interesting subject. Everytime I passed it by, I would make a mental note, "Ive got to get a shot of this barn." Well, today, I finally did. . .a quck stop. . had my gear with me as I was retuning from an assignment at the "Arts Alive" festival at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. .. . so I pulled over, jumped out. . leaned over the fence and got the shot. 

I wish some saavy investor would come in here and purchase the barn and convert it into a Roadhouse Restaurant/Bar & Dance Hall. I see pick-up trucks, gun racks, t-bone steaks grilling, cowboy hats, cowboys and cowgirls boot skootin boogying until. . .uh. . .the cows come home?

The Importance of Good Listing Photos

Of course, as a photographer, I'm going to be leading the parade for good photos. You need the best photos possible, end of story. Here's why: upwards of 40% of all potential buyers are online looking at houses even BEFORE contacting an agent. Good photos of impecable quality sets your property apart at the point where it matters most. 

What is a "good" photo? Let's start with what is a bad photo. . .in fact, lets just show a few really bad examples. 

Here's one. . ..what's wrong with this picture? See Mr. Agent in the mirror? This is bad. Rule #1, the agent/photographer should not be in the listing photo. You'd be surprised how many times I see photos like this. 

This photo is bad for other reasons too. It just doesn't present the vanity area of the bathroom in a complementary fashion. . .it's just. ..blah. 

But let's find an even better example of ugly bad. Most "bad" photos are created by an agent with their camera phone or a basic "point & shoot." Here's one. . .what's wrong with this picture?

First of all. . .the "blowed out" window syndrome. It's an exposure problem or what we photographers call a "dynamic range" problem.. When the room is darker than the outside light, the typical point & shoot camera will tend to attempt to brighten the exposure so that the objects in the room are visible. However, this causes the bright windows to "blow out" . . to be over-exposed and very unappealing. Another serious problem is the chair placed in the foreground which blocks so much of the vital floor space that would have given the photo a better appearance and present the room as having a more open space. 

Let's look at a "good" photo and, for copyright reasons only I will use one of my own from a recent listing photo shoot. . 

What do you notice about this photo? Notice that the windows are not blown out? The floor space is open and you have a open view from the camera through the doorway to the deck. It looks open and spacious. .and most importantly. . inviting. Another important quality is that we can see the beautiful texture of outside and inside light and shadow. That's what good photography accentuates.. . the subtle interplay of inside and outside light and shadow. 

I am often asked about whether I provide some of the latest fads in listing photography.  . .i.e. the "360 degree" vertigo-inducing camera views or the vitual walk-through ala google-earth style. My answer? A resounding, unequivical NO. Don't do it. . .it is overkill. You never, never want to make the viewing of a home to become about your bells and whistles. Look at the above photo. . .the photographer and his skills are invisibly imputed to the property. . you don't say. . "hey, what a great photo and photographer. . I wonder what kind of gear he was using?". . .no, you say, "what a beautiful room.". . and then the next most important statement. ."honey, look at this. . .let's go see this one."