Barn Raisers get the Ball rolling

For volunteers celebrating the 24th anniversary of the ‘new’ Ag Hall, the barn raising feels like yesterday.

Over 300 volunteers came together to raise the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. —MV Times file photo

The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society will celebrate the anniversary of the Ag Hall this Saturday, Nov. 4, with the annual Barn Raisers Ball. What is just a grand wooden structure to the thousands of people who pass through in the summer for the annual Agricultural Fair is much more to those who were there for its construction in November 1994.

The party’s namesakes will walk through the grand hall and see their own handiwork, as each barn raiser contributed to part of the project. It took only three days to complete, thanks to the help of more than 300 volunteers. The structure is now the home to many events throughout the year, such as the Living Local Harvest Festival and West Tisbury Winter Farmers Market, and many Island weddings.

The story of the barn raising is remembered every year around this time. According to Julie Scott, co-vice president of the society, 24 years ago, volunteers located a new building in Woodsville, N.H., which they deconstructed and hauled back to the Island.

Islanders are notorious for their do-it-yourself attitudes, so it’s no surprise that they decided to follow an Amish tradition and rebuild the structure themselves. “Many people had no building skills at all,” Jim Athearn remembers. “It was a pretty special time, a sunny, warm day with so many people smiling and happy. It just seemed like a great mood.” With the frame up in one day, and the roof up in two, they figured in enough time for a little party.

According to Mr. Athearn, on the second night Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish showed up and played a memorable set in an unfinished Ag Hall, and they all danced the night away on the dirt floor. This was the first of yet another Vineyard tradition, and thus the Barn Raisers Ball would commence for many years to follow.

The ball is a free event, held every year at the Agricultural Hall, located on Panhandle Road in West Tisbury. Guests are encouraged to bring a dessert, a drink, and some dancing shoes. Coffee, tea, and cider will be served, and Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish will perform. It may not be as rustic as kicking up dust on the bare earth, but with the sound of heels on the wooden dance floor, the nostalgia is still there.

The Agricultural Society will host an information table at the event to display upcoming projects and to accept donations. If you are interested in volunteering for an event, you can get in touch with them through their website,—