Capturing photos of mail pouch barns was high on my barn photography bucket list. The barns have “one or more sides painted from 1890 to 1992 with a barn advertisement for the West Virginia Mail Pouch chewing tobacco company (Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company), based in Wheeling, West Virginia. At the height of the program in the early 1960s, there were about 20,000 Mail Pouch barns spread across 22 states.” (Sources cited at Wikipedia).
We could only hit two states in November, 2014 for mail pouch barn photos on our cross-country drive from Boise, ID to my brother’s house in Boxford, MA. Most of the trip was spent outrunning winter storms.
We stumbled across our first Mail Pouch barn while exploring Jane Lew, West Virginia. Beyond the town, north of Elk City Road, the giant antique was surrounded by a moody, heavy sky that threatened rain.
I knocked on the door of the home in front of the barn, and a smiling old gentleman said “sure thing!” when I asked if I could photograph the icon in his back yard.
It was a classic, just like the town and folks themselves. We ate an early dinner at the Robin’s Nest in Jane Lew as the clouds thickened and darkened.
There was a bunch of locals eating leisurely inside. An older, farmer-looking guy — coveralls and grizzled beard — sat at a table next to us and his farmer friend came in and joined him shortly after. Soon a third, then a fourth arrived to join them.
One had been married 48 years and another 53 years, and they told the jokes and laughing heartily. Each ordered separately. One was telling about the barber in another town and the 50 cent haircut when he was nicked by the shave and bleeding. His shirt was a mess and by the time he left the barber, covered in blood he said, “That’s what you get when you go to a non-union barber.”
One of the other guys told a story about telling his barber to “cut a little bit here, and weave down this way, then angle up that way a little short here, a little long there.” The barber said, “I don’t know if I can do that,” and the guy said, “That’s what you did a few weeks ago!”
Lana said they “reminded me of my dad and the jokes he had.” That was our local flavor among the truck drivers and the pleasant waitresses and their West Virginia accents. It was a really good meal, we had a good time. Ken had all you can eat spaghetti. One dish and a salad took care of him. Lana had hot roast beef sandwich.
We saw two beautiful male ring-necked pheasants on the road to the Fox barn, a Mail Pouch barn in Sugar Grove, Penn. The writing is almost illegible on its nearly hidden walls, yet it maintains a kind of shabby dignity:
Probably my favorite Mail Pouch barn is located near Kirby, Penn. outside of Waynesburg in Greene County. I love how the wording on the barn follows the curves of the drooping barn:
Another favorite is near Mt. Morris, Penn. It’s easy to see the earlier painting (ghost painting) of when the barn had been a mail pouch barn and, before that, had advertised Coca-Cola.
The next barn, near Rogersville, Penn., was so situated that it could have made several different photos. To its left, a small ancient wood garage held a 1960s era pickup, but it was so overgrown it wouldn’t have helped the image. But the little barn to the right of this one adds a bit of flavor to the image:
All of these barn photographs, and many others, can be found on my web page, Icons: Old Barns of the East. It’s a photographic companion site to my original barn photo documentary site Disappearing Legacy: Old barns of the West. Images from both collections are available for purchase from the web pages. Both sites contain a beautiful collection of classic barns that may not survive much longer. In fact, some of them have collapsed or disappeared since they’ve been photographed.