Dust billows from our feet as we step out of the car. Sun glimmers through the oak leaves above; a retired trolley car rests nearby. We leisurely follow the path towards the barn, pausing to look at the various farm equipment, buggies, wagons, carts and stagecoaches that seem to appear everywhere. I have the distinct feeling of stepping back in time.
An older gentleman rides towards us in a golf cart.
“Can I offer you a lift?” he asks cheerfully. Our kids have already scampered off to look at an old tractor nearby.
“Thank you, but I think I can make it,” I say, smiling.
“Very well then. Don’t forget to see our museum. It’s just up the hill from the barn,” he points, then makes his way down the rows of cars to find someone else to give a lift.
The sun already swells with heat, and the sound of fiddles and stringed instruments bursts out from the open doors of the barn, welcoming us to come join in the fun.
Musicians sit in the front of the barn with an old red stagecoach to their side. Various farm equipment and animal skins hang from the walls, completing the atmosphere. If everyone wasn’t dressed in contemporary clothes, no one would guess it’s the twenty-first century.
Every seat in the barn is taken, so we stand in back, our kids sipping on root beer floats to beat the heat.
“I remember the night, and the Tennessee Waltz,” the singer croons. “Only you know how much I have lost.” The fiddles swell behind her. A couple gets up and dances in the aisle.
After a few minutes the song ends and everyone applauds. The roar of box fans cooling the barn fills the silence before the next song begins again and drowns out their noise.
“Old Joe Clarke the preacher’s son, preached all over the plain,” she sings from the stage. “The only text he ever used was high low jack and the game.” Toes began to tap, heads bob, and smiles grow. There’s something magical about music that brings people together of all ages and heritages. Here, it’s easy to know that fiddle music is far from outdated in Lake County.
During a short break, we make our way up a narrow path dotted with worn and dated plows, shovels and old farm equipment to the Museum. As we step in the door, the air conditioning feels almost as welcoming as the music. The open room swells with historical artifacts and documents. It’s a pleasant place to stop, slow down, and enjoy a bit of Lake County’s storied history. And if reading the informative tags on everything doesn’t answer all your questions, one of several volunteers will gladly tell you tidbits of history, promising the Ely Stage Stop will never be forgotten.
Before leaving the museum, we take a stroll around the wide wraparound porch and sit for a minute in a rocking chair. Wherever we look, swooping hills wind up to blue sky. Vineyards and natural vegetation weave around them, creating Lake County’s unique tapestry.
Soon we wander back down the path to the barn. The musicians, just finishing their break, sit in front, tuning their instruments and chatting with friends. Picnickers sit outside at tables, eating hamburgers, munching sweets, and laughing. Within minutes the music picks up once again, inviting everyone back into the barn for more toe-tapping fun.
People wash down sweet homemade treats for dessert and sip on chilled wine. There’s an hour of music left to be enjoyed, and we sit for a few moments, feeling the fan’s air blowing on us. Soon the fiddlers will stop playing, pack up their instruments, and head home.
But don’t worry. Although seasons come and go, the Fiddlers will be playing every month of the year, rain or shine.
To learn more about The Ely Stage Stop Museum and their monthly fiddlers’ jams, visit their website, or wander over between noon and two on the first Sunday of every month.