Jackson County treasures

Barn, home, inn, and a school. On my visit to the Stange farm in 2016, Dennis, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Bridgeport, and his wife Janet, gave me a guided tour of this amazing place. (Bridgeport, with a post office from 1851-1873, was an early unincorporated village on a stage route between Dubuque and Davenport.)

This great barn, the pivotal point on this Jackson County farm, has been rented to a local farmer for calves for many years. A much earlier barn, used for horses and cattle and later for dairying, was destroyed by fire and was replaced by this one in 1943. Their home, built in 1890, is visible in the background. 

There’s more. On a wooded hillside overlooking the Maquoketa River is a two-story home or inn, possibly catering to travelers arriving in this area in the 1830s when it was still Iowa Territory. The Stanges purchased it when a family near Arthur was tearing down their home and discovered that it had been built around this log structure. They moved it 17 miles to their farm, restored it, and furnished it with period furniture. It is now a family treasure for gatherings at Christmas and other holidays.

There’s even more. At the top of the hill above their home is a Maquoketa Township brick school, later covered with stucco, built in the 1880s to replace an 1842 log school. Technically it was in Bridgeport, but it is now a part of the Stange farm. The school closed in 1954, but for 17 years, until there were safety concerns, students from local schools visited each year to learn about life in pioneer days. This family’s interest in historic preservation and dedication for educational opportunities for children is commendable.

Happy Easter!!!

Easter is a time to send greetings to friends and family, and to welcome spring. Rabbits, chicks, and lambs were very popular subjects for barn owners; cows and pigs not so common. Here are a few postcards that were sent over 100 years ago when Iowa was more rural, and families and friends were more likely to send greetings on holidays. No barns are featured today, but some of the subjects of the cards might have had a home in a barn. 

Greetings not in English are German (boy balancing eggs), Slovenian (boy and rabbits), and Ukrainian (girl and lambs).

A corncrib saga

A corncrib saga. A disappearing corncrib, or is it? This corncrib in Guthrie County, built by William Sheeder around 1900, was a most unusual corncrib, as it was a drive in/back out design. Otherwise, it would be like driving off a second story.

It IS a corncrib with storage on each side of the drive, with the open slats still visible, despite some color deterioration in the slide. It was not in use in 1980 when this photo was taken.

It got a new look when steel siding was added some years ago, which explains why it doesn’t look like a corncrib anymore. It was used for a few years for pigs and chickens, but when this photo was taken in 2013, it was being used for storage.

Great news! When driving past the farm in the fall of 2020 I noted that there is a new fence and it is again in use for calves. The location is west of Guthrie Center at 1769 Highway 44.

A silo story

It’s an ornament? A huge tube with a roof, call it a silo, has sometimes been described as an “ornament” on a farm, but crucial to profitable livestock raising and dairying. Wood stave silos were once common in Iowa but very few exist today. This wood stave silo in Floyd County, photographed in 1980, is gone. 

However, even in 1977, wood silos were still quite numerous, although mostly in the eastern states. The Unadilla Silo Company from New York claimed that using wood for a silo sealed in the juices making them “sweeter,” had good insulating qualities, and could be used for various types of silage.

Silos built since wood was common are concrete, clay tile, or glass-fused steel. On August 2, 2015, a tornado on the Blazek farm at Williamson in Adams County destroyed these two Harvestore silos. They are now in the process of being dismantled. Harvestore silos are still in use, however, and some are over 60 years old.

The clay tile silo below in Marshall County is a tall vase of greens and is being saved for photographers.

Church-like barn

A country church?  No, ordinary barns are sometimes extraordinary. This one in Monroe County looked like a country church, although country churches don’t ordinarily have louvered cupolas or two levels of windows. It was big: 110 ft x 45 feet. The horizontal row of windows directly over the large door was unique. A spiral stairway extended from the basement level to the main floor. An alley went the full length of the barn, with hay storage in the loft on both sides and a walkway that enabled passage from one side of the loft to the other.

Forty years ago, when this barn was researched, I found no one who could supply information about its history. It was in fragile condition and appeared to be abandoned when this photo was taken in 1980, and surely has been gone for many years.

Inside is the Painters Record, where there are at least four places painters left their marks at different times. W. E. Tyler left his signature three times and G. B. Tyler twice. Unfortunately many of the names are obscured, especially in the lower half of the record. The bottom line might have been the original name of the owner although it isn’t readable. (1980 photo)

The elegant home has a bell in a tower, obscured by the trees, to call hired men to dinner. It is not known whether the six second-floor bedrooms were used by the family or were available for the hired men. It is still occupied, although not in prime condition. Note the long sidewalk leading from the front door of the house to the barn.

Dog Creek bins

Dog Creek grain bins—even the name is intriguing. At Dog Creek Park in O’Brien county you can enjoy biking, camping, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. You can even stay in a grain bin.

Two steel bins are available, aptly named “Corn” and “Beans.” Each one accommodates up to 12 persons and comes with TV, heat, air conditioning, a kitchen, queen-size beds, and more. The address is 4902 Warbler, Sutherland. (Two miles SW of Sutherland on Highway 10 and ½ mile south on Warbler Avenue) 

A home using a steel bin has become popular in recent years. Log onto the internet and you can find hundreds of unique homes of various sizes and designs utilizing grain bins. In the photo below, taken in 2018, a wedding was scheduled to begin within the hour.

A treasure restored

A treasure restored. Lonely and abandoned, this Gordon-Van Tine kit barn sat waiting to be rescued when photographed in 2013. Built by Paul Jens in 1921 at a cost of $2,600 as a horse barn, it was later used for hogs in the 1960s-1970s.

Owen Jens of rural Glenwood, grandson of Paul, took on the restoration project in 2014. The two photos below illustrate the roofing progress using interlocking powder-coated steel shingles. Note the painter in the photo on the right restoring the ventilator.

Just months before restoration was completed in 2017, Owen died of cancer after a short illness. Travis Sell, the current owner, uses it for storage of hay, but his future plans include horses.

It’s a great save! Below are two photos taken in November 2020.

A brick marvel!!

It’s in Pottawattamie County between Silver City and Treynor. Everyone in the area recognizes it but may not know that it is missing any occupants today. (See page 278 of Iowa Barns Yesterday and Today for more of the story.)

Here’s an amazing view of the inside. The “ceiling” consists of bricks while the foundation, as well as the upper section leading to the cupola, consists of hollow clay times. The roof is made up of smaller clay tiles. The result is a double layer of tiles and bricks. Wow! That’s a heavy load.

It’s an engineering marvel, and almost 103 years later is still standing with just a few missing tiles and window glass. A nearby structure, seen below, is the dome of the cistern once used as a water supply.

Bin Billboards

Grain bin becomes billboard. It was there and then it was gone. This gigantic steel bin was painted in 2012 by the Wall Dogs, a group of traveling artists. Located at the Highway 30-County Road V40 intersection four miles north and east of the town, it was destroyed by the derecho on August 10, 2020. A new sign directing travelers to the town will be erected in the near future. 

These two, also located along Highway 30, have disappeared. The Iowa scene, painted in the late 1970s by Jerry and Barbara Sonka, their daughter, and a neighbor, photographed in 2016, was destroyed by the derecho. The second bin with an enlarged University of Iowa Hawkeye logo on the side, not visible here, is also gone. They were located two miles south of Newhall at the intersection of Highway 30 and County Road W14.  Many grain bins and other buildings were destroyed in a wide path between Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids.  

Christmas colored barns

Merry Christmas!!

Lighted image of a bison on a farm along Hwy. 65, one and one-half miles south of Zearing. (photo courtesy of Carl Kurtz, brother of Karlene)

It’s red! It’s green! Christmas colors of barns stand out in the countryside during the holiday. More barns are painted red than any other color. Why? Theories abound—just pick your theory and believe it. Even Santa would approve. After all, it’s his color too.

Red paint was the cheapest paint in earlier days, an important consideration. There are many “recipes” for red paint. Linseed oil dried with a slightly reddish tinge, but a darker  red color could be made by adding rust or animal blood. The effect was a color  resembling bricks, which gave the impression of wealth. Some farmers preferred whitewash, however, because stories circulated that they had more money and considered it to be a status symbol. When whitewash became cheaper, white barns were more common.

Here’s the only one I know that changed from green to red. The Otter Creek barn in Linn County, originally white, was painted green by Lila Olmstead because she liked the color. Their house was also green. Lila’s husband Bill died in 1980 and she sold it in 1995 to Brad and Roxanne Huff, who renovated it and painted it red. The Christmas color still prevails. Pictured below is a green one in Dickinson County. 

So what about barns that are yellow, gray, blue, orange, pink, purple, brown, tan, or unpainted? It’s a farmer’s choice. At Christmastime, look for red and green ones, which remind us of the holiday season.