Barn window flowers

Who built this 40 x 72-foot barn in Dubuque County? Would you believe it was a 16-year-old, the first of 12 barns this young man built in this area? Who had it built? Jack Smith’s grandfather, who was 66 years old at the time.

The barn was built in 1917 using white oak trees from the Smith farm for the framing and fir for the rest. With a height of 42 feet, the loft can store tons of hay and straw for livestock, and it still does.

Since 1853, which was not long after Iowa became a state, six generations have lived on this farm. An interesting note is that Horatio Sanford, a government land agent in Dubuque, bought tracts from settlers who changed their plans, and then re-sold them for a profit. This is one he re-sold to Jack’s grandfather, starting the Smith tradition, with Jack and Anna Smith being the current owners. A unique barn feature is flowers in the windows. How many barns in Iowa have flowers in windows? Very few. Note that this one has real flowers in three of the lower-level windows.

A great invention

The modern history of threshing grain began with John Froelich, a 43-old farmer in the tiny Clayton County village of Froelich.

John Froelich, looking for ways to make farming more efficient, invented a new one-cylinder gasoline engine. Connected to a threshing machine, it was used to thresh 72,000 bushels of small grain in the fields of South Dakota in 1892. It was also the first gasoline-powered engine that had both forward and reverse gears.

Previously, steam-powered engines were used which weren’t very efficient, were polluting, were heavy to transport long distances, and sometimes resulted in fires that destroyed the crop they were harvesting. What an improvement this new engine was! Pictured above is a photo of the original engine used in the harvest, courtesy of the Froelich museum.

Inventor Froelich took his engine (actually a tractor) to Waterloo to market it to businessmen there. A company was formed with him as president. He later left the company to pursue other interests but tractor experimentation continued. In 1912 the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company introduced the first “Waterloo Boy,” a kerosene-burning Model “R”. One hundred eighteen were sold that year, and a new Model “N”, which had two forward speeds, was marketed in 1915. In 1918 the Waterloo Company became part of the John Deere Company.

Today, the headquarters of the John Deere Company is in Moline, Illinois, and is one of the largest tractor-producing plants in America. 

Above is a Waterloo Boy tractor, a 1918 Model 2030, powered by kerosene, driven each year in the tractor parade at Carstens Farm Days, located at 32409 380th St., Shelby, Iowa. Farm Days will be held on September 9 and 10, 2023.

The Froelich Fall Festival (Fall-der-All), where a model of John Froelich’s one-cylinder engine will be on display, will be held September 23-24, 2023.


Froelich Tractor Museum

Froelich, an unincorporated village in Clayton County, was named after German immigrant Henry Froelich, who arrived in 1847. Within a short time there was a blacksmith shop, sawmill, stockyards, and even a depot.

This is also where John Froelich (1849-1933), Henry’s son, invented a one-cylinder engine that signaled the beginning of the history of tractors. This amazing invention will be featured in the next blog. He received 14 known patents in his lifetime, which include the one-cylinder gasoline propelled engine, a water-cooling radiator for internal combustion engines, a mechanical corn picker, a dishwashing machine, and more. He was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991. 

The site of the Froelich Museum barn, visible from Highway 18, can’t be missed. The barn, built long after Henry died, has exhibits in the loft, and is available for rent for celebratory occasions. 

Behind the restored general store (see photo below) is the museum where a model of the engine John Froelich invented is on display, as well as an 1866 country school, passenger depot, freight depot, and warehouse.

The Froelich Fall Festival (Fall-der-All) wlll be held Sept. 23-24, 2023. 

Check the website for more information. (2023 photos)

Old barn/new focus

Pioneers made their way across Iowa, beginning in the 1830s. The lines on this map approximate the patterns of land acquisition during settlement as families moved from southeast to northwest between 1833 and 1870.

Pockets of settlement occurred in every part of the state. Norwegians arrived in the Decorah area and surrounding counties in the early 1830s. Immigrants from the Netherlands settled in Pella around 1846. German immigrants settled in many areas around 1850, and in northwest Marshall County brothers and sisters of several related families immigrated from Ireland between 1848 and 1850.

Barns were a necessity for these early pioneers, and their creativity and ingenuity was evident in their buildings. The Gehlen barn was constructed in 1839 by immigrants from Luxembourg who settled near St. Donatus. This Jackson County barn, believed to be the earliest one in Iowa, is located on Highway 52, minutes from both Dubuque and Bellevue.

Now the barn’s focus has changed. It hosts parties, family reunions, concerts, craft fairs, barn tours, and more, as well as a brewery. It is a great example of the continued use of a barn (2012 photo). See more of the Gehlen barn story in Iowa Barns yesterday and today, page 55.

(Map published by the Malcolm Price Laboratory School, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa, 2003)

Big rocks for barns

The Nosbisch barn in Chickasaw County near New Hampton, honored as a Century Farm in 2010, has a barn with an amazing history. In 2022, it was also honored by Wallaces Farmer as “Iowa’s Most Beautiful Barn”.

How was it built? In 1926, a stonecutter spent an entire year cutting and placing hundreds of granite stones of varying colors to construct the eight-foot high foundation.

Pictured below shows the huge glacier-deposited stones in one small area of the foundation. The large light-grey granite boulder on the left measures 3 feet x 1 foot. Imagine cutting and fitting hundreds of these heavy stones in place. In Blog #77 (June 4) is a barn in adjacent Floyd County that also has glacial erratic stones in the foundation.

After the foundation was finished, the loft was built. The loft entrance was an earthen ramp, making it a bank barn. Three openings were made in the loft floor so that the hay and straw could be dropped down to the basement level. There was room for 60 loads of loose hay, and straw from 40 acres of oats, but over 50 years ago, large and small bales became the norm.

Inside the basement of the barn there was space for 14 draft horses and stanchions for 28 cows, as well as concrete feeders and room for milk handling and feed storage. This level has been altered to make it suitable for the beef cattle they raise today. 

Randy and Morgan Nosbisch are the fourth generation of their family on this farm; their sons are the fifth generation.

A striped round barn

This striped round barn, located in Clayton County on Highway 52 south of Guttenberg in eastern Iowa, is like no other Iowa barn. The 36-inch wide vertical sections are metal (painted white), crimped to fit together with the neighboring sections. The roof structure is made up of 15 sections giving it the appearance of a dome as viewed from outside.

Louis Friedlein designed this barn and hired it built in 1914. It is 72 feet in diameter, has five doors, a cupola topped by an unusual aerator, and a 12-foot diameter wood stave silo inside. It is also a bank barn, with the earthen ramp up to the entrance built between two retaining walls, one wall visible on the far left.

It was originally a general-purpose barn, with stanchions for dairy cattle around the silo, as well as a milk room and pens for other livestock. On the upper level was a granary, a feed room, and a large loft that extended around the silo.

It is still in use today as a cattle barn, owned by Larry Friedlein, grandson of Louis. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Chickens at home

 The Bruxvoort chicken house near New Sharon in Mahaska County, owned by Nancine Bruxvoort, was built in 1917. The flocks of chickens raised here were lucky to have plenty of space to roam inside. Note the numerous windows on the south side that provided natural light as well as fresh air when they were tilted open. It still exists as an example of bygone days, although it has not been in use for many years. In the intervening years a large tree has shaded the building, which would make it less than desirable for use today. (2023 photo)

Another example is a much smaller 1920s chicken house now at Lesanville, a historic village site in Ringgold County, east of Mt. Ayr along Hwy 2. It is referred to on this historic Ramsey farm as “Aunt Jennie’s chicken house,” where she fed both hens and roosters. In this view it is apparent how the tilted windows allow for ventilation but keep out rain. (2013 photo)

Stonemason’s handiwork

Stonemason extraordinaire. Richard and Bridget Buckley Cummings emigrated from Ireland in 1850 and settled in Floyd County east of Charles City. In 1875 they purchased 160 acres of land, and Richard built this small stone barn.

A Cummings great-granddaughter, Kathy McCann, took this photo in 2015 and recently sent a copy to me. On May 12, 2023, I discovered to my dismay that the loft had fallen due to storms in the area a few years earlier, although the tiny milk house on the right is still intact. See photo below.

Matt Crayne, naturalist with the Chickasaw County Conservation Board, explains that the colorful stones are glacier-transported fieldstone fragments of granite and other minerals that differ from the local bedrock. His colleague commented that some of the stones would have needed to be split in order to get the flat faces seen here.

Next to the tiny milk house was another amazing discovery. There is a solid concrete “fence” extending from the milk house to the barn, with 3-D images of a heart, spade, club, and diamond embedded in the concrete, as seen below. It may be that he was fond of playing cards in his spare time.

What an industrious immigrant he was: not only a farmer, but also a stonemason.


It is spring, the time to prepare the fields for planting. Over a century ago, it was common to be disking with five horses, as these men were doing in 1908.

Amish farmers use horses for all aspects of farming today. On May 11, 2023, in the Hazleton area, I saw a number of Amish farmers disking in a setting resembling the above photograph.

In 2022, an Amish farmer in Ohio was disking a huge field using seven horses. My Iowa Amish contact thought it unusual to be using seven horses, as five is common. Special attachments would be needed to hitch seven horses together. It wasn’t possible to ask the driver­ exactly what he was doing, but some observers suggest that an additional two younger horses were being trained in pulling the disk around the field. See the photo below.


A house of God first, then a barn. The barn pictured above was dedicated as a place of worship for a congregation of Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). The loft was actually the worship space while the ground level was used for livestock and grain storage. An article in the Oakland Herald quoted an Elder in a late 1800s prayer service who prophesied that the branch would scatter and the House of God would be inhabited by animals. That’s what happened.

The Mormon Farm Creek branch of Latter-Day Saints was first located in Mills County near Henderson. Pioneers settled along Farm Creek in the fall of 1849 and spring of 1850, using a church for their worship services. That church is now gone. In the spring of 1858 a branch of about 40 members was “raised up.” It was reorganized twice and the members met in Farm Creek school nearby until 1890 when the barn/church was finished at a cost of $1725. Membership declined when families moved away, and most of the remaining members left in the early 1920s or attended services in nearby towns. The barn then became a house for livestock.

For many years Harvey and Darlene Bolton owned the farm and used the barn. Harvey died in 1998, Darlene died in September of 2022, and the farm has been sold. Farm Creek was a landmark in the area, and a sign designating the Farm Creek School site is located at the driveway entrance to the house and barn.          (2023 photo)