This is part of a series from Ilene Dube of The Artful Blogger.
A foursome of children is playing, holding hands, silhouetted against the Hopewell sky — this is the design on the weathervane sitting atop the newly restored barn at St. Michaels Farm Preserve. The brushed aluminum form commemorates the youngsters who lived in the St. Michaels orphanage from 1873 to 1972.
The barn is set on a hill, where visitors can see rolling farmland, cows, sheep, kestrels and bluebirds. In spring and summer, meadows ablaze with wildflowers draw walkers and photographers.
The site of the former St. Michaels Orphanage was preserved by D&R Greenway Land Trust in 2010.
A few hundred feet from the barn is the “office” of D&R Greenway Farm Manager Bill Flemer. His life combines passions for making music and growing things, and lucky for him, the two overlap.
Flemer’s Riverside BlueGrass Band will perform during a special dedication ceremony for the barn Sept. 28, 5 to 8 p.m.
An existing barn on the property was so old, passersby could see right through its broken and missing slats. So the Greenway worked with New Jersey Barn Company and several partners and donors to restore a 19th-century timber frame barn from Belle Mead. The original barn was razed at the end of August, after the nesting barn swallows had completed their life cycle. Nesting holes and boxes have been built into the new barn.
Flemer learned his first guitar chords from his father, William Flemer III. His mother played mandolin and sang with the Princeton Musical Amateurs Society. “My father’s Martin guitar was always under the piano,” Flemer says.
Beginning at age 14, Bill found friends to make music with – music was a language for them. While at PDS he played at dances and parties with rock bands. In the 1960s he formed a band, the Steel Hinge.
Flemer, an autodidact in six-string guitar, bass guitar and bass fiddle, doesn’t read music. “Growing up in a musical household trained my ear,” he says. “It’s the folk tradition for the music to go from one person to another that way.
“It’s a gift to be able to make music with family,” continues Flemer, whose daughter and son-in-law play in Riverside. “It’s a form of communication between generations. A lot of what Riverside plays comes from Emma and Jake – they’re plugged into contemporary bluegrass and are teaching us.”
Riverside Bluegrass Band will perform at the St. Michaels Farm Preserve Barn Celebration Saturday, Sept. 28 – other activities include music and movement with Music Together, a nature walk at 5:15, tours of the new barn led by the New Jersey Barn Company, and yoga at sunset led by Lara Heimann from Yogastream Studio in Princeton.
Guests are invited to bring picnic suppers, and Hopewell area food vendors will offer refreshments for sale. There will be dancing to music by Riverside Bluegrass Band at 7 p.m. Visitors can examine the barn’s special features, including a specially designed loft where barn swallows can nest.
Wood salvaged from the former barn is being repurposed for custom-made bird and bat houses: $175 (birdhouse) and $225 (bat box). Admission to the barn dedication costs $5 donation to help D&R Greenway.
The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.