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.

Jackson County barn and log and limestone homes

This tiny log home in Jackson County is still hanging on, located about 500 feet off a gravel road northwest of Bellevue. What an unusual log cabin this is! Note that it consists of alternating rows of logs and limestone, the   stones visible in the lower right hand corner. Pioneers would have likely filled the spaces with mud or clay. The door as well as an opening (presumably built as a window) on the upper level can be seen; on the opposite side is another small window. 

The Jackson County Historical Society believes it may have been constructed by Henry Roling, although research is ongoing at this time. In A. T. Andreas’ Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875, Henry is listed as a farmer in Section 3 of Bellevue Township, a native of Hanover, Germany who immigrated in 1851. 

It was in a precarious state in 2013 when members of the county historical society stabilized it. The property is now believed to be owned by a trust in Galena, Illinois, and may be for sale. Information about the builder of the barn and date is still unknown. Pictured below are the barn in 2016 and what is left of it in October of 2020. 

On a bluff several hundred feet away from the log home and barn is the farm’s long-vacant limestone home below, also photographed in October 2020.

Early settlement in Allamakee County

Dreams and more dreams. When early settlers arrived in Iowa Territory at the Ferris Mills/Lundy Bridge Road junction in Allamakee County in the 1830s they bought land and built barns and homes. Here is a barn at this junction, northeast of Decorah, dating to early days of settlement. This crib barn is small, but had enough room for a horse, cow, and/or pig, as well as storage bins for grain or fodder. There were a number of crib barns at one time in this neighborhood, but this is the only one remaining.

This large two-story log home nearby was part of this farmstead. It has been vacant for decades but still had a bed on the upper floor a few years ago, according to a local resident who helped me find these buildings. It is still in existence today. Very few log buildings are found in their original settings, although in many Iowa counties there is an original log cabin or a reconstructed one in a county park or county museum area.

Glimpses of Pioneer Life

Early photos of farms give us a glimpse of life in pioneer days. Here we see Patrick Dunn, a central Iowa farmer, feeding his horses and cattle. The photo, taken by an itinerant photographer circa 1895, portrays not only the family but also their livestock and a way of life.

Winters around the turn of the 20th century were colder and more snowy than winters today, and the cattle and horses in this photo would have required a lot of corn and hay. The sheds and barn do not look very substantial, even though Patrick Dunn had been in America on this farm over 30 years. He had immigrated from Ireland, settling on this farm in Marshall County in the mid-1860s.

A close-up view of the center section of the photo below portrays his wife Catherine, their children, and the family dog. Catherine died in 1911 and Patrick in 1913. These buildings have been gone for decades, but the heritage of the family remains today.

Do you have an early photo whose image had faded and is barely visible? This photo is extracted from the farm scene above, enlarging the family enough that individuals can be recognized. Photos deteriorate over time, as did the original, but restoration may achieve dramatic results.

The derecho did it.

On August 10, 2020, a ferocious wind called a derecho, roared horizontally across the middle third of Iowa leaving untold damage to trees, corn, soybeans, homes, businesses, and barns. The wind speeds were clocked up to 140 miles/hour, with the most extensive damage between Marshalltown and Cedar Rapids.

This 100-year old Linn County barn along Highway 30 west of Cedar Rapids, collapsed in a heap, while a grain bin, situated about 100 feet to the east in an open area, appeared to escape damage. Trees on the west and north of the barn were also damaged.

 Across the highway from the barn, a home and other farm buildings escaped major damage, but the tall, older spruce trees on the north side of the home were broken off at the top, and the adjacent cornfield suffered significant damage.