HARRISONBURG, VA – On many farms there’s an old barn or building that’s no longer serving its original purpose. That is strikingly true at Tim and Karen Liskey’s dairy farm, where their 100-year-old bank barn was renovated into an event space known as Cross Keys Barn. “I love weddings,” said Karen Liskey, she will be facilitating plenty of them in the future. The first wedding to take place in the newly renovated barn was last year, their daughter, Rosemary’s wedding. The upper level, the old hay area, is now a 3,220 square foot room with a vaulted ceiling, perfect for receptions. The lower level of the barn is enclosed on one side, with exposed limestone, it’s now a pre-function area.
In addition to the renovations, several new additions were made. Next to the main floor, there are restrooms and a staging room for caterers. The barn does not have full kitchen facilities, so all food served must be prepared off-site. Downstairs, there are more restrooms and a bridal party suite, complete with a huge walk-in closet with full-length mirror. A deck was also built off the back of the barn, with cable railing, so as not to disrupt the impressive view. Surrounding the barn is flat grassy space, available for outdoor events, weather permitting, as well as a newly installed gravel parking lot. Just beyond the new event space is the working farm, fields that will be thick with crops, pasture and the farm’s dairy buildings. A bride preparing for her big day in the new bridal suite can look out and likely see grazing cows.
Looking to diversify, the Liskeys family, who milk about 120 cows, first considered poultry, but their farm is right on the edge of residential development. “I rent acreage from potential developers,” Tim said. Some of his fields are even zoned residential. So Tim concluded that poultry was probably not a good idea. Which meant that for the dairy to diversify, the Liskeys had to think outside the box and inside the barn, so to speak.
The barn, which is open for events from May to November, attracts interest from many types of people. They spent about two years researching the idea of converting their barn to an event space, visiting farms that underwent similar changes. They also had to present their idea for approval to the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and obtain a special use permit. As it turned out, even though there farm is faced with development pressure, it’s also in a good spot for an event space. “It’s close to town,” Time said, “but out in the country. We’re not right on top of our neighbors.” Harrisonburg’s hotels are only about eight miles away. “It’s a good location and a good barn,” Karen said.
Structurally, the barn didn’t need much improvement, an engineering study showed. A post was replaced and braces were added. Karen’s eye for detail can be seen throughout the facility, from the cable railings to the windows in the bridal suite overlooking the choice farm landscape, to the windows above the sliding doors on the west side of the barn. Those windows are frosted, to filter sharp late-day setting sunlight and prevent glare from disturbing guests gathered inside. Overall, the barn retains an original feel, with an abundance of charm. For example, some of the interior walls are the reverse of the barn’s original siding, with a beautiful weathered pattern. “We wanted to keep the rustic feel,” Tim said. “Have it be comfortable but with modern conveniences.” The goal is to have about 20 weddings in the barn per year. Other events have been held and planned at the facility as well, including a church group meeting, a bridal show, a graduation party, a baptismal party and an art show. Having an event space in a central part of the farm has caused Tim to re-think his farming operations. Instead of spreading manure, this year he is considering injection. He’s also coming up with different ways to plan farm work to minimize noise and dust for the guests of Cross Keys Barn. “This has been a learn