Colorful Wall Art

Colorful murals exist in many Iowa cities. Carolyn Blattel-Britton (1955-2019), an artist from Zearing, painted this farm scene covering the side of a main street building in the Story County town of Collins. In 2022, forty-one years after this photo was taken, it still looks good, although trees on an adjacent property now obscure a view from the street.

Mechanicsville was platted in 1855 and was so named because some of the early settlers were mechanics. Farmers in that era fixed their own machinery or found a local blacksmith for machinery repairs. Note the barn, silo, pheasant, geese, corn, flowers, and stylized cedar trees. This town is in Cedar County, thus “HEAVEN AMONGST THE CEDARS,” are the words in the arch.

Railroads played a critical role in pioneer days before the existence of cars and trucks. Farm women went by train to nearby towns for household items, and the men shipped their livestock to market by train. The town is in O’Brien County, founded in the early 1870s. It was named after George Sanborn, president of the Iowa and Dakota Division of the Milwaukee Railroad, at that time called the McGregor and Missouri Railway. This small town even had an 18-stall roundhouse visible in the mural on the right. The last passenger train ran from Sanborn to Sheldon in 1960. 

Alton, another northwest Iowa town in nearby Sioux County, was laid out in 1872 but called East Orange for its first ten years. This huge mural features an American flag, flowers, rows of steel bins, a tractor, a combine, a steam engine, and children having fun. Look for murals in the towns you visit this summer.

German Hausbarn

This German Hausbarn, originally built in 1660 in the village of Offenseth in Schleswig-Holstein, is located in Manning, which was founded in 1881 by German immigrants from that state.

This barn was dismantled, shipped to Manning and re-assembled in the 1990s by German craftsmen, and is now the focal point of the Hausbarn-Heritage Park. The thatch came from Germany, dried before being shipped to Iowa, and was installed by the artisans. The photo of the thatch below reveals the thick layers of reeds effective in repelling water.

Hausbarns are still found in Germany. Sometimes the animals and family both live on the lower level, but often the family lives on the upper level and the animals on the lower level. This provides ease in caring for the animals, especially in wintry conditions. This design also helps to provide heat for the farm family, assuming they can endure the odor.

A few hundred feet to the south of the barn on top of the hill is Trinity Church, prominent in the area for over 125 years. After the congregation realized they could no longer survive financially, funds were raised by the Manning Heritage Foundation to move it to the Hausbarn-Heritage Park where it stands today.

In addition to the Hausbarn and church, the Leet-Hassler farmstead nearby has a gambrel barn, a 1915 Craftsman bungalow, and several other buildings that preserve an aspect of Carroll County’s farming heritage that is rapidly disappearing. Check the website for open hours to the Hausbarn and farmstead.

The Frye Farm

The Frye farm near Maysville is an example of a model farm, with this well-preserved barn as the focal point. The buildings, once white but now red, all have the original siding.

Susan Frye’s great-grandfather William, grandfather Arnold, and great-uncle Alfred collaborated to build the structures shown in this blog, as well as a brick home, garage, and chicken coop, between 1925 and 1935.

The barn was originally a dairy barn, then housed hogs until the early 1980s, followed by equipment storage, and now used for Susan’s Community Supported Agriculture and flower business. The farrowing barn and the crib, both pictured below, were used until the mid-1980s, at which time the crib became storage for lumber salvaged from the original buildings that dated from the late 1800s.

Susan’s father Bernard used the machine shop pictured below until the early 1990s for his projects as a woodworker, carpenter and antique car restorer. She and her husband Mike Kienzle bought the Frye homestead from her parents in 1994, which included a black walnut grove planted by her father in the early 1960s. Since that time they have added over 100 more fruit, nut, and other native trees. Susan and Mike are to be commended for their outstanding farm in Scott County.

A prairie Valentine

Native Americans treasured the prairie thousands of years before settlers arrived in Iowa. As pioneers began settling in the state in the early 1800s prairie was plowed, making way for fields of crops needed to sustain the family and livestock. The prairie lives on, but barely, today.

In recent decades many farmers and businesses have been re-establishing prairie in Iowa, planting flowers and grasses obtained from many available seed sources.

Pictured below is a plot of downy phlox grown by Andy Swanson, a farmer in Story County, who harvests the seed and sells it.

Prairie Creek Preserve in Marshall County is one of many prairies that have been reconstructed, this one beginning in 1975. Owned by Carl Kurtz and Karlene Kurtz Kingery, it consists of ninety acres that was once fields of corn, beans, oats, clover hay, and pastureland.

A survey taken in 2022 lists 93 forbs (non-woody flowering plants), 12 native grasses, and 17 other species. Carl has spent thousands of hours documenting the area, planting seeds and eradicating invasive plants to enhance the quality of the site. After 47 years of working on this labor-intensive project, it is a “garden” of flowers and more from May to October. It’s Valentine’s Day in the prairie.

A big horse story

Few horses were in Iowa in early times because they were too expensive and not strong enough for breaking prairie sod. Instead, oxen were used to pull the prairie schooners and for farming. Farmers went to northern European countries to bring back larger horses, able to work in agriculture and industry. Percherons and other French draft breeds were early imports.

Mules and horses eventually replaced oxen. In the 1850 census there were over 38 thousand horses, mostly in southern and eastern Iowa.

In the 1880s the first Belgians were imported. A famous Iowa horse, Farceur, a Belgian, who was a San Francisco World’s Fair Champion, was purchased in 1917 by C.G. Good. He was a service stud who died in 1921 and is buried in a stall at Oakdale Farm, near Ogden. See page 83 in Iowa Barns yesterday and today for a photo of Farcour’s barn.

Farcour’s great-grandson, Brooklyn Supreme, weighing 3,200 pounds, was the world’s largest horse at one time. He was bought by C.G. Good, who hired Ralph Fogleman to travel with the horse around the country, charging spectators 10 cents. He died in 1948 at age 20.

Below is a postcard sold to spectators. C.G. Good is on the right and Ralph Fogleman is on the left. The background is typical of postcards of the time.

A candy-striped barn

Look for this red-and-white striped barn northwest of Waverly on Highway 218. Built in 1919, it originally housed a dairy herd. However, if the barn could speak, it would tell you it was first the home of Belgian draft horses, then for Percherons for decades.

Bill Dean, now deceased, and his wife Elsie bought the Waverly Sales Company in 1975 and held draft horse sales. It was the largest draft horse sale in the world at one time. His six-horse Percheron draft horse hitch was seen in parades and shows in many states.

Percherons were used extensively during World War I in Europe as “war horses.”  They were first imported to the U.S. in 1839 and were used in farming and industry. By the 1930s they accounted for 70% of purebred draft horses in the U.S. When use of tractors became more common after World War II their numbers declined.

Elsie Dean now owns the barn, although it is not in use. Can you imagine how much it would cost to paint it today? Its legacy lives on as a famous barn, recalling the days when draft horses were common on almost every farm. Once can almost imagine these horses grazing in the field next to their candy-striped home. The spring horse sale will be March 29-31, 2023. (2022 photos)

Happy New Year!!

Pigs! Pigs! Pigs! If you are a “pig farmer” you know that Iowa is the number one pork producer in the country, with over 23 million pigs raised each year. A new survey indicates there are over seven times as many pigs as people in Iowa! They’re everywhere!

Most hog farms have confinement buildings, not referred to as barns, raising thousands at a time.  There aren’t many farms in Iowa where ordinary barns are in use for raising pigs, at least not in great numbers.

In German folklore, there is a notion that a pig is a sign of good luck in the New Year. In honor of the New Year, here is a postcard with a German message that was mailed over 100 years ago. 

Christmas Greetings!

May 2023 be a year of kindness, love, and generosity, and one filled with hope for a more peaceful world. The spirit of Christmas is exemplified by two postcards dating from around 1900.

The children, accompanied by their trusty dog, walk home through the snow carrying evergreen branches. St. Nicholas of the Children (a German fantasy), dressed in fancy boots and a warm coat, pulls the child Jesus on his sled to homes everywhere on a snowy Christmas Eve. No reindeer and no sliding down the chimney–just stopping at the front door to leave a few apples from his basket and to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Barn quilts

Quilting is a folk art dating back several hundred years but the idea of quilt squares on barns in farming communities caught on just a few decades ago. Hundreds of interesting designs can be seen and all are meaningful to the owners.

In Iowa they became popular in the early 2000s. Grundy County introduced them in 2003 as a marketing tool to bring visitors to the county, when Highway 20 became a four-lane highway. The above barn quilt in Sioux County has a  geometric design, as do most of them.

Check the website of the county of interest for photos and addresses of barns displaying quilts. The size is usually 8 ft x 8 ft, although some are 4 ft x 4 ft because of space limitations.

Pictured below are three barn quilts that Brandon Rial, an Omaha artist, designed and painted for spaces that were once windows in our garage. We call them garage quilts since we have no barn. Wednesday, December 7 was the premiere showing. Watch for another blog of more designs in weeks to come.

A cornhusker story

A three-story barn! This unusual 1890 barn was designed for hay, horses, and cattle, one on each level. Stanchions for six dairy cattle were on the ground level, along with a space for resting and loafing. Stalls for carriages and 16 horses were on the second level, with an entrance ramp on the north side (not visible) and an exit on the east. The third level was for hay, with a hay door on the east side.

Detlef David Guttau was an 1870 German immigrant, Pottawattamie County pioneer, barn builder, and California landowner. After Detlef and his wife Louise retired from farming and settled in California, their son Hugo and his wife Clara moved to this farm, followed by their son Deflef and his wife Ethel.

A memorable event was picking corn in 1946. Detlef hired six men, “cornhuskers” from Nebraska, who picked 40-bushel wagonloads, one each morning and one each afternoon. The six 26-inch-wide wagons were each pulled by two horses. He chose this method of picking corn because he thought there was too much loss with a mechanical picker he had previously used. However, the next year he bought a new one-row corn picker and retired the cornhusker idea. The name was penned as a Nebraska name, “cornhuskers.” Sound familiar?

The fourth Guttau family to live on this farm includes Gary, his wife Dee, and son Chad. The barn was in use for cattle until 2012 and it is now a home for their cats. Saving this large, aging barn required considerable effort. It was re-shingled on the south side in 1955 and the north side in the 1980s. The limestone foundation was replaced by concrete blocks in the 1980s and major structural repairs were made in the early 2000s. It was re-painted in 2019. Originally it had a large cupola.

It became a Century Farm in 1977 and will be a Heritage Farm (150 years) in 2027. The location is in Pottawattamie County at 31082 Dogwood Rd, Treynor. (2022 photo)