By Laura Hill
When most of us think about our backyards, decks, swing sets and flower beds come to mind. When Cathy Barnett thinks about their backyard, she’s thinking old-timey barbershops, antique cars and a train depot.
Welcome to Pecan Grove Bed and Breakfast (formerly known as Our Backyard Town) in Martin, one of Tennessee’s most fascinating, one-of-a-kind destinations and a unique spot for a close-to-home getaway.
Acres of Antiques
Located on part of what was once the Barnett family sawmill and farm, the B&B boasts four acres of antique and new buildings.
Together, these buildings recreate the look and feel of two towns of yesteryear – the 1920s on one side and the 1950s on the other.
In addition to a nostalgic trip back to a kinder, gentler time, overnight guests can enjoy comfortable pampering in two log cabins and a hearty home-cooked breakfast by Cathy, an accomplished chef.
“We had no plans to be a bed and breakfast,” says Cathy, who admits she had never stayed in a B&B until she owned one. “We were just trying to entertain ourselves while our kids were in college. Some people hire psychiatrists; we just played in our junk in the backyard.”
That “junk” was the result of her husband Mike’s lifelong collecting affliction. Antique cars. Porcelain advertising signs. Relics from country stores. Flea market finds, estate sales and lots of swapping.
As the collection grew, especially the cars, the Barnetts began reworking existing buildings on the property into display areas for their treasures. People came to visit, celebrations of all sorts took place in the yard, and their tiny town grew and grew. Eventually, people asked to spend the night, and word of the Barnetts’ bounteous hospitality spread.
Becoming a Bed-and-Breakfast
They obtained their B&B license in 1998, but another year passed before any official guests were registered.
“I was worried – my grandmother was sure we’d be robbed blind,” Cathy laughs.
Today, two log cabins equipped with all the conveniences of a modern hotel room attract visitors year-round from throughout the country and overseas – and even from closer to home.
“I have to say it was one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had for an anniversary,” says Brenda Evans of Martin, who was treated to a night at the B&B by her husband. “It was very welcoming, the décor was homey and beautiful, and we were treated like royalty from the moment we arrived.”
What To Expect
In the backyard today, Clint’s Cut and Chew, a “man’s place” set in the farm’s old smokehouse, serves as an old-fashioned tobacco store and barbershop. A vintage checkerboard appears to have a game in progress, and an antique barber chair and tools look ready for a shave and a haircut.
In the old chicken coop, visitors enjoy a gas station with antique pumps, a 1950s diner and a vintage grocery store complete with screen door and a nostalgic array of groceries from rural general stores of yesterday. A 1920s drugstore contains an authentic soda fountain. A tiny chapel seating 20 guests has become a charming spot for weddings of all kinds. And soon, a train depot, complete with toy train and antique four-poster bed, will join them.
“It’s like stepping back in time,” says Kate Miller of Knoxville, who spent several weeks at the bed-and-breakfast when husband Daniel was temporarily working in Martin. “The little details are amazing, right down to the canisters in the general store. And the Barnetts go out of their way to make you comfortable.”
Perhaps the town’s biggest attraction is Mike’s collection of 27 antique cars, a hobby he began at 15. Among his collection is a 1911 Maxwell, a 1939 Packard Victoria convertible and a 1931 Cadillac LaSalle that once belonged to Hoot Gibson, a rodeo champ and early Western movie star.
As popular as the buildings and vintage treasures are within, though, it is the Barnetts’ hospitality that keeps visitors coming back. Cathy modestly attributes her talent for making people feel comfortable to her mother and grandmother – and to a major change wrought by a bout with Guillaume-Barré syndrome that cost her the sight in one eye and impaired the other.
“I tell people all the time that we have plans for what we’re going to do with our lives, but we don’t know what God has planned,” she says. “God gave me the gift of hospitality.”
She and Mike have never met a guest they didn’t like, Cathy says. Apparently the feeling is mutual.
“People plan to come for a night and ask if they can stay another,” she says. “That’s the highest compliment I can get – that and when people come back to see us.”