Jonesborough couple transforms junkyard to a rent-able ‘hobbit house’ with a view


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Where most saw a junkyard, a Jonesborough farmer saw a slice of Appalachian paradise.

William and Danielle Barrett purchased a junk-filled quarry in late 2017. The plot of land functioned as a quarry in the 1970s, and then as a junkyard in the 1900s and 2000s.

Two thousand recycled tires later and a Discovery Channel special later, the quarry returned to its natural glory, with a few additions.

This view from behind the “hobbit house” shows the reclaimed pond and waterfall.

The Barretts restored the property with a wedding venue and vacation spot in mind. The first thing arriving guests may notice is a quaint hole in the ground – a unique earth house touted around on social media as Johnson City’s very own “hobbit house”

Barrett said he didn’t have the Shire in mind when developing the property. He and his wife poured their love of nature into the project, making sure to trim away the conventions of modern lifestyle – a wide view of the property’s pond and waterfall replaces the walls where a television might stand, and the absence of a WiFi connection invites guests to unplug for their stay.

“Part of what we want to try to do here is to allow people to experience more of a natural setting and natural environment,” Barrett said. “We really want to encourage people to unplug, so to speak, from normal life.”

The Barretts say they didn’t have Tolkien’s works in mind when restoring the property but wanted a structure that reflected their passion for ecology.

The Barretts’ project was featured on a 2019 episode of ‘Building Off the Grid,’ a Discovery Channel program focused on erecting innovative homes in remote areas.

It’s easy to forget that the property is just a few minutes from Interstate 26. The ‘hobbit house,’ officially named The Sassafras, sits at one edge of a wide pond with a manmade waterfall, while a treehouse perches across the other side for those who would rather stay above ground.

The treehouse is a patchwork of reclaimed items from vintage doors to windows and pieces of roof. Barrett said the treehouse required the most creative energy.

Dubbed “The Bostonian” by the Barretts, the treehouse overlooks the wedding arch next to the edges of the pond.

“I’ve often thought it would be cool to develop a vacation spot, of course for me and my family to enjoy, but also to develop something that allows other people to enjoy and experience that is something that would not be normal,” Barrett said.

Weddings fill the venue’s booking calendar for much of March through November, but the couple periodically open days for rent on the Airbnb app each month.

That opens the door for a staycation for locals, but the Barretts say they’ve seen national traffic through the booking app. One guest from Hawaii checked into the Sassafras this week.

To add another unique twist to the experience, Barrett, a sheep farmer, said the next steps might include a sheep enclosure for guests to interact with livestock.

“With the way things are now, people are moving more into unique stays and they want something different in their lodging, and with the different vacation lodging platforms that are out there allows people to have a stay or an experience that is far superior to what you’d get in a hotel,” he said.

Follow Waterstone venue on Facebook, or check out “The Sassafras” and “The Bostonian” on Airbnb for bookings.

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