We pull down Folsom’s long, dusty, tree-lined drive, and the owner of the farm, Charles, greets us at the car window with a shovel in hand. “Welcome!” he shouts over the idling engine. “I was just getting ready to go plant a pomegranate tree.” We learned pretty quickly that he’s always getting ready to embark on some kind of seemingly impossible-sounding project (like bringing back the nearly extinct Long Pine trees or routing a stream and waterfall behind the farmhouse where we’re staying).
Charles is a farmer. And so was his dad. And his uncles. And his grandfather. And four others before that. This same farm has been worked by the same family for seven generations–dating all the way back to the 1819 when William Moore, a wagon maker from South Carolina, came to Alabama just before it came into statehood. He homesteaded 80 acres and went back for the entire family. Eventually, the farm grew to 35,000 acres (which was only broken up between various family members a decade ago). Many farms in the area failed after slavery ended, explains Charles’ wife Jenny, because none of the landowners knew how to run the farms, but Folsom has always been a family-run farm, so it survived. “We call it a plantation, because to me, a plantation is self-sufficient,” says Charles. And although it’s gone through so many changes that it’s hard to keep track (the farm once milled cotton, but “the boll weevils are ferocious.”), they’re still inventing new ways to stay successful and relevant. “You’ve got to be diverse,” says Jenny, who met us at the house and gave us a half-hour history lesson on the surrounding area. These days, they raise hormone-free cattle and sheep, grow timber and are tinkering with organic farming.
And then, there’s the extraordinary 1920s cottage we’ve rented for a night. Decorated with simple farm antiques, paintings of the country life, old family and farm photographs, and vignettes put together with pinecones and branches gathered from the grounds, the house feels like a living record of those who passed through before. “We didn’t buy anything from flea markets or antique stores,” says Charles. “Everything in here came from buildings around the farm.” Long, unfinished wooden floorboards creak, sheep gather right outside the windows, and a big southern porch has worn wicker chairs. Cooper–the youngest of Charles and Jenny’s three grown sons–is a woodworker who manages the former caretaker’s house, including working with nearby RuralStudio, whose students often come out to the farm to draw and study the way these old structures were built.
Built in 1920, it’s the newest structure on the farm with most dating back to the 1830s. If we had more time, I’m sure we’d have received a full oral history presentation on each building. Charles is as good at talking as he is farming. We wander over to a big barn on cement blocks, check in on the animals and peek into the old wooden structures–the log seed house used with the first cotton gin, a carriage house, the smoke house, chicken coop, plantation store, weaving house. It’s like Colonial Williamsburg without any of the sheen. Or explanatory plaques or period costume. Folsom is a real, working farm, where a family still makes a living off the land. They will, however, give you a personal tour if you ask nicely and make arrangements ahead of time. And I can guarantee, it will be more meaningful than anything you can get into with a ticket.
Starting at $100 a night. If you want to grill out, they’ll have a hunk of hormone-free beef waiting in the fridge when you get there, along with complimentary juice, milk and homemade sausage and cheese spread for breakfast. Cooper makes cutting boards from old fencing around the farm, and there are several in the house to buy. Four bunk beds, a full bed and a pull-out. Two bedrooms, sleeps eight.
On Jenny’s recommendation, we made the trip into the historical town of Marion while we were there. Check out the rest of our photos from the Alabama leg of our road trip at the Designtripper-Lincoln site!