by Karl H. Kazaks
ABINGDON, VA – Kevin Campbell is not a man afraid of big challenges.
Consider what he likes to do for fun: hunt elk with bow and arrow in the wilds of northwestern Montana.
For Campbell, that’s relaxation, compared to the challenges of managing 30-plus weddings and events every year on his cattle farm, as Campbell and his family have done for the past four years.
But it’s all worth it, because it means continuing the family farming tradition. The Campbells began farming in this area in 1939 when Campbell’s grandfather Robert L. Campbell bought this farmland on the outskirts of Abingdon. Campbell’s parents, W.J. and Marieda, continued farming throughout the twentieth century, primarily raising cattle.
In May 2015 Campbell, his wife Teresa, and their daughters Ashton, Erin and Grayson, opened the Barns at Chip Ridge, an event facility on the highest point of their farm – the highest point in this part of Washington County.
They chose the site because of its spectacular, wide-open western vista: a stretch of hilly southwestern Virginia farmland running to the staunch and impressive Clinch Mountain Range.
“People like to come up here and get married with that view as their backdrop,” he said.
Campbell decided to build the facility when he was transitioning between two off-farm careers, hoping to get by just on farming, but not being able to make everything pencil out with a 65-head commercial cow-calf operation on 200 acres of rolling mountain land.
So he got creative and decided to build an event space to ensure the family would be able to keep the farm.
Then he spent a year and a half building the facility, which includes a large new barn with a spacious wraparound deck and outdoor fireplace, a cabin and a gazebo, all accented with a developed landscape which includes, among other things, two water features.
The approach to the site is impressive: a crushed gravel drive bordered by wood rail fencing with a set of lamp posts. (Like much of the work required to build the facility, Campbell did it himself, with the assistance of his regular farm help.)
The drive ends on a small plateau on top of Chip Ridge. There you find a spacious parking lot and to the side, the cabin which serves as the groom’s suite. Inside the cabin are plenty of manly features such as a bar with barstools and a bearskin stretched on one wall (one of Campbell’s many hunting trophies).
The main attraction, though, is the new barn, a timber-frame structure with a rustic but new feel. Inside, the walls are all wood paneled, both with fresh cut timber and a lower wainscoting section made from siding reclaimed from the historic White’s Mill, just down the road.
The new barn’s wall sconces are handmade out of old tin roofing taken from an old barn on the farm. The fixtures are open at each end and punched up to allow light to pass through.
Other reclaimed farm equipment can be found throughout the barn. In the men’s room, for example, the stalls are hung with doors salvaged from the stalls of a barn built by Campbell’s grandfather. There is also a drop ceiling made from old tin roofing, as well as light fixtures made from old blue Mason jars and a vintage metal canning rack.
The main attraction of the barn is its big interior space, capable of seating 200-plus people and dominated on one end with an impressive stone fireplace. Chip Ridge provides the chairs and tables for the space. There is also a staircase leading to the upstairs bride’s suite. During colder months, when weddings take place indoors rather than outside, brides will descend the stairs to an anticipatory crowd below.
Campbell has built another new barn on his farm recently, but it’s part of his working operation. It has a concrete slab and three alleyways. Campbell puts hay in the central alleyway and opens the other two sides for cows to feed on the orchard grass-clover-fescue mix he grows and bales.
Reproduction is natural service at Chip Ridge, with Campbell selecting for low-birthweight, good-quality bulls.
As for the event space, marketing is done in-house, with Campbell’s daughters being able to drum up solid business simply by building a website (barnsatchipridge.com) and posting on social media.
“The biggest headache is dealing with alcohol,” Campbell said. He requires wedding parties which want to serve alcohol to use a caterer, who can get a one-day alcohol service permit. Campbell requires the caterers to use independent bartenders to make sure all laws are followed.
The caterers at Chip Ridge have access to a full commercial catering kitchen, with refrigeration, warmer boxes, a range and stovetop, all commercial stainless steel equipment.
There’s just one wedding per weekend at Chip Ridge – when you rent the space for the weekend, you get exclusive use all weekend. Wedding parties come mainly from southwest Virginia, but Chip Ridge has hosted destination weddings from brides as far away as New York and Florida.
It’s a lot to manage, but for Campbell it’s worth it.
“It’s what I have to do to keep my granddad’s farm alive,” he said.