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Red Barn Tree Shop opens a new season Oct. 1

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For 22 years, Barb Roth and Carol Troyer have worked close together to bring Christmas to life in a way so unique to central Illinois that the name Red Barn is usually sufficient to conjure visions of sugar plums, Santa Claus and, of course, the Christ child.

One of their special trees this year at the Red Barn Tree Shop in Morton is called “Reflections,” and it is adorned with several mirrors mixed in with the copper and cranberry hints. The mirrors, explained Red Barn owner Roth, “let us look back, with something looking back at us.”

And looking back over the 32-year history of the tree shop, she added, “We’ve had a lot of fun making it special place to visit. It never gets old.”

The Red Barn Tree Shop opens for the season with its annual Open House at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 2. Normal hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Dec. 24 and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays after Thanksgiving.

The Red Barn grew out of a family tradition that became a hobby before the Roths turned it into a business.

The Roth family grew a few Christmas trees on their farm for themselves, then later decided to plant more and make a seasonal business of it. The Red Barn Tree Shop started because Barb believed people coming to buy or cut their own trees would enjoy being able to purchase decorations and get decorating tips at the same time.

So, Russ Roth moved a 150-year-old barn across some fields to its spot on Jefferson Street in Morton, used original wood from the floor to build a staircase and second level, and then turned it over to Barb so she could make it into the quaint and colorful showplace it is today.

Today the farm has thousands of trees ready for cutting and the Red Barn has its own trees that are decorated with their own themes as a way to get the creative juices flowing for customers new and old. Each year, Troyer said, the Red Barn gets customers who have never been there before. “We enjoy showing it off,” she said while walking through the barn with its original beams and siding.

The family still farms crops as its livelihood, but the Christmas tree and decoration business is what Barb calls the fun part of the family business. Fun, but still a lot of work, she added.

And this year, there is something new on the Roth property. Their son Nick, who farms and owns the Roth Country Produce operation, has opened the Roth Pumpkin Patch next door to the Red Barn. Besides pumpkins, the business sells other produce and has a play area for children that includes a double barrel slide, a peak they can climb, Milly the Milk Cow (now a real cow), a pumpkin sling shot where people can try and win a pumpkins, hayrack rides and a train ride around the property.

“This is the first year for the Pumpkin Patch, but Nick plans to expand it each year,” Barb said.

The Pumpkin Patch is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday through Oct. 31. The play area opens at 3 p.m. on school days. The cost is $6.

A visit to the Red Barn is like stepping into a kind of magical place filled with decorations that bring out different aspects of the holiday season. Each theme is unique and includes a color and fabric scheme popular for the season at hand.

For example, visitors this year will find plaids in many of the decorations because, Troyer said, “Plaids are back in this year.”

A popular color is champagne. “It’s not gold or silver; this year it’s champagne as a very dominant color,” Roth said.

A new display this year is one of different kinds of sports-related ornaments. There is a tree with a look that brings yesteryear to mind and one filled with homespun decorations that appear to have been made just for that tree.

Another tree this year incorporates the music of the season into its decorations, focusing on the music that tells of the birth of Jesus with a unique Nativity scene in the middle of it. It is appropriately titled “Glad Tidings.”

Each year, Roth and Troyer decide on the themes of their trees by the decorations they find at various shows they attend, starting not long after the Red Barn Tree Shop closes for the season on Dec. 24. They take a short break, then start planning, they said.

Each show they attend has different designs from which they choose their themes, said Troyer. When it comes to what is hot one year to the next, she added, “The designers decide that, sometimes two or three years out.”

However, she noted, “What we see at these shows give us ideas, but we never just copy what we see. We decide what we want, then put it all together in our own way. What we see sparks an idea and we take it from there.”

After 22 years of working together, added Roth, “We can pretty well tell what the other is thinking. Sometimes we even finish each other’s sentences.”

The themes of the trees this year are:

  • 1st Snow: A dusting of soft, white snow with touches of fresh blue and silver.
  • Touch of Frost: Icy, crisp and white with birch branches and ferns and a family of owls peeking out at other animal scurrying about.
  • Glad Tidings: A champagne, taupe and pearl tree with the Holy Family and three wise men nearby as song rings out the Good News.
  • Towne Square: The traditional colors of red, green and gold with touches of black adorn this tree with Santas, holly and flickering candle lanterns reminding us of Christmas past.
  • Home Sweet Holiday: A tradition flocked tree filled with ornaments of yesteryear.
  • One Starry Night: Red and gold angels on a tree laden with stars, showing that one starry night that heralded the shepherds and guided the wise men.
  • Holiday Reflections: Reflections of copper, gray and a hint of cranberry, an unexpectedly stunning holiday combination.
  • Mingle-Jingle!!: Santa and his busy elves fill this fun and kid-friendly tree.
  • Homespun Holiday: Primitive stars, bows of ticking and cotton stems.
  • Snowman Fun: Fun-loving snowmen peek out of a snowy tree, begging you to take them home.
  • Timber Lodge: Red lanterns, woodland Santas, buffalo plaid ribbons give a cozy, by-the-fireplace feeling.
  • Be Lovely: Our ladies’ wear area with wraps and scarves, handbags and accessories.

While the Red Barn doesn’t sell its trees, Roth and Troyer will help customers use the decorations on them to decide their own themes and how best to create them. Many times it includes giving traditional themes a new look, which can be accomplished with something as simple as a ribbon.

Again this year the Red Barn is offering outer ware, including hats, gloves, scarves and sweaters.

Tree cutting on the Roth farm starts after Thanksgiving. That’s because trees can dry out, even with regular watering. This year, as always, the Roths will accommodate customers who want to have a tree up and decorated for their family Thanksgiving celebration.

The farm sells hundreds of trees each season. The Roths grow white pines, Scotch pines and a variety of firs. The pines have firmer branches for decorating, but the firs hold their needles longer, which can mean less clean-up at the end of the holiday season.

They make the wreaths they sell as well as centerpieces and the shop will also flock trees using a cellulose (water and paper) substance that is not messy and is safe for pets. 

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).