By Crystal McGough
CLEAR SPRINGS, Ala. — Most people who live around or drive through Oneonta are familiar with the red-roofed white barn at the intersection of State Route 75 and County Highway 15, a local landmark of the historic Mitchell Farm. While the farm, itself, is technically located in Clear Springs, it is widely associated with and claimed by Oneonta residents. The alluring historic barns, the rolling hills and mountains, and the sparkling ponds and creeks all add to the charm this land brings to the community.
In March 2020, longtime Trussville residents Jeff and Kelli Gilmer purchased the 230-acre farmland, which had fallen into disrepair.
“The farm is a restoration project right now,” Jeff said. “(Clyde) Mitchell owned the farm until the early 90s, then the estate sold the property and there was one owner that we purchased the property from. He was an attorney – he wasn’t a farmer or anything – so it was more of an estate than a farm, for him.”
Mitchell Farm, which was established in 1932 as a cattle farm, originally incorporated 2,000 acres and was one of the largest cattle farms in the state of Alabama, Jeff said.
“The barn was built in the early 40s, from the best information I can gather,” he said.
When the Gilmers began their search to buy land, something as grand as Mitchell Farm was not even on their radar.
“We knew it was home the minute we got here,” Jeff said. “We wanted a place that our kids would want to come home to. We’ve lived everywhere in Trussville – the last place we were was in Stockton – great little community, but we have five kids and it wasn’t a good place for our kids to want to come home and do something but sit in the den and watch TV. So, we purchased this as, hopefully, a legacy property that we can pass down to generations.”
While their original plan was to find property that could become a generational home for their family, the Gilmers knew immediately that Mitchell Farm was too significant and beautiful to be kept to themselves.
“It had gotten into disrepair over the years and, honestly, we want this place to live again, and we want to share it with everybody,” Kelli said. “We want people to enjoy it. It’s not something that we want to keep to ourselves.”
One of the first decisions Jeff and Kelli made after purchasing the property was to bring life to it by purchasing a horse. Now, the couple owns a total of “only” 18 horses, according to Jeff.
“We bought the horse, initially, because our daughter-in-law rides horses and she brought her horses up there just as soon as we moved in,” Kelli said. “We took to them very quickly. Jeff has completely immersed himself into the horse world and breeding, all there is to know about horses and breeding. We’ve had three babies born on the property so far and another one on the way.”
Not only do the Gilmers plan to add many more horses to their farm, but eventually, they said they would like to be able to offer horse riding services.
“We’ve got 230 acres here (and) we’re utilizing about 20 acres right now with what we have,” Jeff said. “I would like to see us have where you could come and take lessons and maybe board a horse or build another place where you could do indoor riding. That’s future goals.”
As for the more present and near future, the Gilmers said they are willing to offer the use of the barn and property for company parties, small weddings, photoshoots and more.
“We’ve had several people get married there,” Kellie said. “At first, I kind of wanted to do a wedding venue, but we’ll do weddings there under certain circumstances. We are not swanking the barn up. We’re not going to add anything to the barn; we want it to stay in its original state, as it has for over 80 years. There will be horses downstairs in their stalls, it will smell like a barn, (but) if you want that authentic barn wedding for 100 people or less and you don’t mind having port-a-potties … we will definitely entertain that, but we are not going to become a working wedding venue.”
Kelli, who has previously worked as a photographer, said that she has also been thinking about offering her photography services at the property. She can do anything from wedding and engagement photos, to maternity, “Mommy and Me” sessions, senior pictures and more. Her only specifications are that the sessions will be done on the property with natural lighting, and she will not be offering infant photography.
“The farm just lends itself to some amazing photos,” she said. “No matter which way you turn, it’s a picture and it’s just full of beauty. I can do pictures with the horses. Not necessarily on them – it just would depend – but holding them on a rope.”
The Gilmers do not have a set price for photo sessions or use of the property for events. Instead, they want to keep it negotiable, in order to work with peoples’ needs.
“This is what I mean about letting the place live,” Kelli said. “If somebody calls me and, in our discussion, I know they can’t necessarily afford a lot, I’m not going to gouge them. It’s just fun and I enjoy doing it. So, I don’t have set prices … it would just be a phone call to negotiate. Anybody is welcome to call and see what kind of event they want to have, and we will definitely negotiate and discuss it. We will make it work for somebody.”
Jeff and Kelli said they have a lot of work to do before the farm is ready for a lot of big events, but they do have one big event planned for the near future: Vintage Days at Mitchell Farm.
Vintage Days will be a one-of-a-kind shopping experience featuring upscale vendors who will offer vintage items including furniture, clothing, home decor and custom-made products. The event is scheduled for Nov. 12-13, 2021, and will have a Christmas theme.
Anyone interested in experiencing the history and beauty of Mitchell Farm or utilizing the property for an event or photography can contact Kelli Gilmer at (205) 240-7945.