If you approach Tim and Beth Sheets’ farm in Howard County from the west, you can tell their agricultural product—alpacas—right away. The shingle design on the barn roof tells that story. Brown, white, and black Suri alpacas roam the pastures surrounding the barn where Hereford cattle once grazed.
The Sheets are living on the property once farmed by Beth’s parents Robert and Nelda Brower Lovelace. Robert’s prize herd of Hereford breeding stock was the impetus behind their 1958 purchase of the 120-acre farm. The sound condition of the 40-by-60-foot English-style barn hooked Robert on the property. Although the two-story Federal style brick house was secondary to his interests, Beth jokes, Nelda painstakingly restored the long-neglected house.
Tim and Beth Sheets won the 2017 John Arnold Award for Rural Preservation presented by Indiana Landmarks and Indiana Farm Bureau at the Indiana State Fair. The award recognizes commitment to the preservation of Indiana’s rural heritage.
“Heritage Farm has had wonderful stewards who take great care of the property’s historic buildings. It’s a wonderfully picturesque place and fully functional,” said Tommy Kleckner, Indiana Landmarks’ western office director, who oversees the annual selection of Arnold Award winners.
In 1998, Beth and Tim were living and working in Indianapolis and raising their son and daughter when the Lovelaces built a new house on the property and turned the historic house, landmark barn, and some of the land over to the them. Beth still commutes to downtown Indianapolis five days a week, and Tim works part time as a pharmacist in Peru, a few miles from the farm. They aptly named their homestead Heritage Farm, trading her dad’s beef cattle for fleece-producing alpacas, and made the idyllic historic location a second cash crop.
The 1911 barn that first attracted Beth’s father to the property remains the jewel of the farm. It
stands on a rise several hundred yards from the farmhouse. From the road, the barn’s roof draws the attention of passers-by, its shingle pattern designed to depict a stylized suri alpaca. Tim created the design on graph paper and an Indiana roofer executed the pattern in interlocking asphalt shingles.
On the side that faces the home’s sunny breakfast room, the barn roof displays an “H” and “F” for Heritage Farm. The barn houses 60 alpacas, and stores hay—unloaded in the 16-foot-wide nave where for more than 100 years wagons have deposited bales onto hay forks attached to the still-functional overhead trolley system. In 2016, the Sheets’ barn was named one of the Top 10 Bicentennial Barns in Indiana by the state Bicentennial Commission.
Friends and family gather at Heritage Farm for the spring shearing when most of the herd get their annual cut. City folks and country visitors, as well as people interested in the quality alpaca fleece for spinning and knitting, attend the farm’s Fall 4 Alpacas Festival, where they can learn about spinning and weaving, walk an alpaca through an obstacle course and enjoy a hayride . The event draws over 200 people each year.
“There’s a market for the wool, but you have to work at it and get your product in front of the public and other producers,” Beth says. “There are a lot of new initiatives that are using a larger amount of the alpaca fiber. In the 2018 Winter Olympics, U.S. athletes will be wearing sweaters and hats made from alpaca wool in the opening and closing ceremonies.”
The Sheets added a new barn and a 40-by-80-foot party tent to rent for weddings, parties and other gatherings. Each year, Heritage Farm hosts student groups from Purdue University, local schools, Carroll County 4-H clubs, and the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis.
The couple shares their farm and the Hoosier pioneer heritage by renting a nineteenth-century log cabin for overnight stays through FarmStayUS, hipcamp, Glamping Hub and Airbnb. In 1987, Beth’s parents hired a house mover to bring the cabin they saved from demolition on a neighboring farm to a site near their 150-year-old brick farmhouse.
Beth’s mother carefully chinked the logs, stripped, and painted to make the cabin a cozy, inviting place for family gatherings and, now, for paying guests who want to experience farm living. A brick pizza oven, grill, large deck, indoor plumbing, and other modern conveniences make the Lovelace Cabin a treasured get-away. “Several guests from Indiana have stayed here but most of our guests have been from out of state, especially the Chicago area” said Tim.
The cabin remains a gathering spot for the family and a coveted place to spend the night for their six grandchildren. “The cabin reminds us every day of our agricultural roots, solid values and the importance of faith and family,” adds Tim.
This article was written by Mary Hardin for the November/December issue of Indiana Preservation magazine published by Indiana Landmarks.