A man swallows fire. A woman swallows a sword. The crowd stares. A wounded Confederate soldier is taken in, cared for and hidden from Union troops. A taxidermied opossum stands on its hind legs wearing a top hat, bow-tie and a key around its neck as other oddities and skull-heavy creations are scattered about the rooms. Rooms of a timber-framed home that were built using wood from the surrounding land at a time when George Washington was president. The juxtaposition of this home’s history is why McHorney’s Odditorium in Barco, North Carolina is a place worth visiting.
While offering a small glimpse and tribute to the structure’s past, owner Erica Mason is shifting the property from the once modest living and updating it by making it accessible to artists, travelers, and the community. She purchased the unassuming house in 2014, when it was sagging, covered in vegetation and was little more than another neglected farm house along the road to somewhere else. She purchased the home, saving it from demolition and has restored it with the help of a locally-based Moyock contractor.
Once belonging to one of Currituck County’s earliest families, the home along Caratoke Highway had no electricity or plumbing. It was built in 1790 using nearby timber and recently replaced with Cypress siding. It was last owned and occupied in the 1960s by Edmund McHorney, who lived there for his 86 years. McHorney was a farmer, described as being quiet and keeping mostly to himself, and sold watermelons along what use to be a heavily trafficked canal waterfront nearby.
Part of the restoration included adding a period-style stage behind the home to help attract visitors and events. From traveling side-shows to big bands to a function space for people in the community, the stage is a welcoming host for events and performances of all kinds. It was most recently used by the local band Soul House Revival and the traveling show, Hellzapoppin Circus SideShow Revue. The county’s middle school band has performed on the stage and the property has hosted vendors selling handmade arts and crafts.
Whether you’re arriving into town from afar, or you’re just looking for something a little different for a weekend, be sure to check out McHorney’s Odditorium. The non-profit business is an addition to the county doing their part to preserve a piece of history while giving back to the community. While there is no set hours of operation, their website posts schedules for upcoming events.