The first time I pulled up to the large barn covered in cobblestone, I was immediately met with a sense of wonder. Baldwin’s Book Barn, or as some call it, “The Barn,” is six acres long and holds over 200,000 books. The walls are lined with books and trinkets and each room of the five-story building has its own cozy feel to it.
I soon realized this was not just any old bookstore—this place has character and history, and it really pulled me in further with each room I entered. Books and reading have always been a passion of mine, but this place was taking that love to a whole new level.
This used book and collectible business was established in 1934 by William and Lila Baldwin in Wilmington, Del., and eventually moved to The Barn in West Chester in 1946. It absolutely has an antique vintage feel to it and it is an amazing place to escape the chaos of the outside world, even if it is for half an hour.
However, enter at your own risk, because I can find myself getting lost inside for hours, and that can happen on just the first floor. There is so much to explore, and each time I visit, I am intrigued by something new.
I got a chance to speak to the lovely Carol Pfaff Rauch who is one of two managers at The Barn. Carol Rauch has been there for six years now alongside Fred Donnaway, who has been manger for 16 years now. She explained to me that Thomas Baldwin, William Baldwin’s son, is now the owner of The Barn, although he lives in Florida. They are still looking for someone to buy the six acres—the size of the whole lot—however, The Barn is for sale on its own as well.
Although Carol Rauch is not the owner, she does so much for the place and is there seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. “I do everything you would do at a regular home,” she states.
Not only does she do the “housekeeping” of The Barn, but she is also a warm, friendly smile that can help you out with all things book-related. She brings this warmth to The Barn that makes it so unique; she is the kind of person you could sit and talk with for hours about anything. Her passion for books, history and The Barn itself really shines through.
Speaking about her job, Rauch said, “I’m always learning, always seeing a new book. It’s better than the library, because you sell the book and handle it and say, ‘Oh my God, I gotta read that.’”
Although I knew the reasons why I personally love The Barn so much, I was curious to see what Carol Rauch thought was the reason many of her customers loved it so much. She explained to me that The Barn “kicks in the 7 senses.” I could smell firewood as she was speaking, and later when I explored the place a little more, I felt the need to touch every book I passed.
Not only is the store a place to come in and get a book on any subject you could ever think of, but it is also a place to gather for family and friends. Rauch explained to me that hours before I arrived at The Barn, she helped a man propose to his girlfriend. Explaining the engagement, she spoke as if it was something that happened often around here.
The Barn is always used for all sorts of things like birthday parties and picnics. She added that there were four different weddings that took place here, one of them being her own daughter’s. It is definitely a place of happiness.
After a few minutes of me jotting some notes down, Carol Rauch looked at me and said, “We have ghosts.” I looked at her with wonder until she explained a little further that a customer said they saw someone upstairs reading a newspaper and Baldwin’s doesn’t even carry newspapers.
Another interesting part of this ghost story is that a paranormal group from Downingtown came to The Barn to check out the place and they discovered one female ghost and two male ghosts. They even figured out that the female ghost’s name is Darlington, which was originally the name of The Barn. Rauch even added that Tom Baldwin thinks one of the ghosts is his father, the original owner of the barn.
After speaking with Carol Rauch, I asked her if it was okay if I looked around for a little while. She handed me a map and pointed me to the books about writing, because she knew I was a journalism student.
However, before even making it to the writing section, I got lost in the shelves, literally. I realized that I had just finished the book I was reading last night and I needed something good to read next, so I wandered through the fiction section. I almost forgot where I was for a moment in time. I forgot I was here for school, forgot what day of the week it was, let all my worries go away and I just roamed.
Although the place is so big, I felt a sense of peace. If I were lost anywhere in the town of West Chester, I would most certainly want it to be in Baldwin’s Book Barn.
I finally came back to reality as my mind was spinning with amazement and found the steps and headed downstairs, leaving happily with three novels. I promised Rauch that I would bring my parents to visit, and I certainly will; it is a place that words don’t do much justice.
Everyone who lives in or near the West Chester area needs to check out Baldwin’s as soon as they can. A short five-minute drive from campus, it is set to the right of a dirt-looking road and it holds so many wonders you can’t even imagine.
As Carol Rauch spoke about learning when she works, I think I was able to learn a lot just from the short time I spoke with her.
If you are a book lover, Baldwin’s is the place to be, and if you’re not, I’m sure there will be something that will spark your interest. Just beware of the ghosts along your journey of the five-story magical barn full of books.
Breanna Connell is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at BC810217@wcupa.edu.