August 12, 2013

A barn full of the past


---- — SOUTH HERO, Vt.  — A search for a touch of nostalgia, a folk-art toy for boy’s dresser or a real glass squeezer like grandmothers of a certain vintage used to make the best lemonade ever, ends at the Tinkers Barn in South Hero, Vt.

Almost anything can be found there short of the kitchen sink and a horse. Acutally, a kitchen sink is probably there in the treasure trove of antiques, collectibles and unusual gifts.

“I inherited (the business) from my mom and dad who built this barn 40 years ago from old barns that were here in town because my mom wanted an antique shop,” said JoAnne Rothenbeck, proprietor. 

“My dad was in his 50s, and he was postmaster here. So, they started tearing down the barn and poured the slab. It was a good old-fashion barn-raising. Neighbors and family came to erect the side walls. 

“Dad got it finished eventually. They opened in 1974. They ran it up until they were in their 80s. I’ve been doing it for 13 years.”

Her parents were Robert and Melba Lawrence. Her father named it the Tinkers Barn.

“A tinkerer was a guy who used to go around with a horse and a cart,” Rothenbeck said. “He would knock on ladies’ doors and ask if they had holes in their pots or pans and stuff like that. He would solder them.

“He would build a little dam of sand to hold his solder. Sometimes, the solder would break through the side of the little sand dam and run out. And that’s where the expression, ‘I don’t care a tinker’s dam’ came from. My dad was a great tinkerer.”


Though Rothenbeck has a healthy array of aprons in different styles and fabrics, they are getting harder to find.

“Ladies are still wearing them. A lot of these are early, handmade linen. They did a lot of embroidering on their aprons.

“Cotton aprons are the older ones from the 1930s and 1940s. 

She held a flouncy apron with black and red and white bands.

“This was one was from the ‘50s with brighter colors, more flowers,” she said. “This was a much fuller gathered look to be put in band, which is not easy to do. Something like this rick-rack is definitely indicative of the early ‘50s that wrapped around a little and was poofed up.”

She held a polished chintz, pink with a floral pattern.

“They made curtains and all kinds of things out of that fabric.”

A filmy, red nylon apron was worn by the hostess on Christmas or possibly Valentine’s Day. Contemporary bib aprons include text on barbecue aprons.

“The guys wear the big, long ones.”

She acquires her inventory from estates, auctions and people bringing in items like a curly-lamb swing coat.


Rothenbeck has an impressive hat boutique with every size, shape and color of hat made from straw, feathers, wool, fur, sequins and other materials.

“I bought a lady’s collection. She had collected hats for 25 years. She traveled all over the United States. So, then I put a little boutique in my shop, and I’m finding that ladies are having fun coming in and trying them on. 

“Of course, there’s the Red Hat Ladies’ Society, and then there’s the older women who say, ‘Oh, my mom had this.’”

Some patrons collect the hats. Others wear them.

“Some are just hanging them up on the wall as decorations. A lot of the women in 20-to-25-age group are coming in and buying the little cappy-type ones and wearing them. People do comment on the fact that our heads are bigger. A lot of the older hats aren’t fitting. 

“They buy them for a lot of reasons.”


Her hats range from the 1800s to 1990s. 

“I don’t put out my really truly antique ones because they would be ruined if they were touched. I have kind of kept with the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s theme. I seem to be doing well with those styles. 

“And the styles changed, and they came back. And a lot of the little different aspects of the hats have reappeared in the different decades of style. I’m not as educated about them as the lady who collected them, but I’m learning a lot.”

Her favorite kind is a tightly woven, vintage straw hat decorated simply.

“People can add scarves to them or flowers or however they want to make them their own. I think a wide-brimmed straw hat, you can wear that anywhere — mostly spring would be nice. I think a straw hat is more forgiving. It bends, and it’s easy to keep.”

Hats’ popularity died with a more informal-dress style.

“In certain parts of the country, they dress up and go to church, like in the city, you go to the theater or out to dinner at a nice restaurant. 

“I think in the North here where things are expensive, I don’t think they spend money on summertime hats. It’s more your winter hats and gloves and that kind of thing. 

“And fur is definitely hard to sell here in the North because of the people who don’t believe in killing animals. The ones I have are older. They are not furs from today.”


Once, she acquired a jaguar coat.

“I got a lot of comments about that,” Rothenbeck said. “People say, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have that.’ (But) I didn’t kill it. It’s been dead a long time. It’s just a coat. 

“I agree, I don’t like the thought of killing animals but fur is very practical. It’s warm. It lasts a long time, and I think if your mother or grandmother had a gorgeous mink or sable or dyed chinchilla, any girl would want to wear it if you have the right place to wear it. 

“That’s just my opinion.”

Email Robin



WHAT: Tinkers Barn.

WHERE: 479 Route 2, South Hero, Vt.

HOURS: Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 .p.m. through October. Closed Wednesday.

PHONE: (802) 372-4754.