A tour of Munterville

Munterville. Where is it? Located about six miles north of Blakesburg, it is not on most Iowa maps. A big red barn, an immigrant memorial, a Lutheran Church, and a few houses are all that remain today.

 Southeast Iowa was a key area for Swedish immigration, including this village. In 1847 settlers arrived in Wapello County and established Bergholm. It was changed to Munterville in 1870 when the post office was established in recognition of Magnus Munter, a prominent community leader. The post office closed in 1905. 

The Swedish Immigrant Memorial in the lawn of Munterville Lutheran Church, adjacent to the church cemetery, commemorates the settlement by Swedish immigrants. It depicts a family dressed in pioneer clothing, rather than Swedish clothing. Three flagpoles surround it: a U.S. flag, an Iowa flag, and a Swedish flag, as well as a brass plaque listing donors and memorials of former residents.

About ½ mile east of the monument is a barn, erected by an early settler, whose name is unknown today. The red barn is in excellent condition and stands out in the countryside. It was the site of the Alex Johnson Dairy that sold raw milk from the1920s-1940s. Shown is a milk bottle cap from this dairy.

The Lutheran church was an integral part of the community but unfortunately closed several years ago due to declining membership. It will be kept in good repair for years to come, fortunately, by money set aside by members and descendants. Adjacent is a large, well-kept cemetery where many immigrants and probably the builder of the barn are buried. (September 2022 photos)

The original horsepower

­­­­­Horses were power in pioneer Iowa. They kept the family farm going and the family in business. Many farmers had spares in case of need and horse-trading stories were common. The 1850 Iowa census listed over 38,000 horses, most being in the eastern and southern counties. By 1860 they numbered 175,000. In the early 1900s the number exceeded 1.5 million. Horses with enough strength to break the prairie sod, haul away logs for cabin-building, and move huge boulders resulted in importing and breeding draft horses for farm use.

Below is an ad for a Riverside Farm sale in Cass County, printed in the February 22, 1911 Breeder’s Gazette. Peter Hopley made numerous trips to Europe to buy draft horses, and the winners in international competitions were brought to America to be sold, most in foal (pregnant). Imagine the amount of feed and hay it would take for a long ocean voyage, followed by a long journey by train to Iowa. See Iowa Barns yesterday and today, page 33, for the Hopley barns and story.

William Fields and his brother in Cedar Falls, Black Hawk County, also were renowned horsemen, but their late 1880s ad was for coach horses, not just “ordinary” workhorses. See page 35 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today. A coach was classified as a four-wheeled passenger-carrying vehicle drawn by two or more horses.

Many pioneers would not have been able to buy these expensive horses, but there were many local sales where farmers could buy horses at reasonable prices. Draft horses are still bought and sold today. Check out the fall Waverly Midwest Horse Sale, October 5-7, 2022, in Waverly, Iowa. The list can be seen online.

Chickens by the barnful

Summer and chickens are featured in this Metropolitan Life Insurance Company advertising card given to potential customers over a century ago. Hopefully, customers would have been interested in both life insurance and chickens.

What about chickens and this barn? Originally intended for livestock, it became a home for chickens some years ago at Greg and Janet Holcomb’s farm at the edge of Martelle. See more of this barn story on page 208 in Iowa Barns yesterday and today. (May 2022 

Ninety hens and 125 pullets were occupying the barn in August when we stopped by. Janet had dozens of eggs to sell and we helped the cause by buying a dozen.

One of the areas for the hens is pictured here. Inside, nesting boxes are provided with egg compartments, tilted so eggs roll down, keeping the eggs clean. Janet notes that there are hens that want to sit in the nesting boxes, so they try to retrieve the just laid egg by rolling it upwards to the nesting box. Some of them manage this feat. Then they begin incubating the egg like a good hen should. Determined hens they are, but not smart enough to know the eggs are not fertilized. (August 2022 photo)

The pullets live next door to the hens, separated by a fence. The pullets are  colorful, curious, and lively. They are teenage hens and will start laying eggs at  four to six months. Then there will be MORE eggs to deal with. (August 2022 photo)

A barn lover’s paradise

The Cupola Inn near Nora Springs, featured in Iowa Barns yesterday and today, is celebrating its 25th year as a bed and breakfast.

Two years ago owners Dale and Judy Mills wondered what to do with the many barn calendars they had saved. Dale decided to install them in a former shed, calling it a Barn EyeMax exhibit. See the entrance plaza below. A structural model barn, built by a friend, was given to them to exhibit.

Installed on the outside of an adjacent building is the Barnyard Art Gallery.

The entire exhibit is a barn lover’s paradise. Breakfast is served in a small round limestone barn constructed by the Mills family. (2022 photos)

The barn at Brooks

The best barn in Adams County in 1953, according to an ad for the sale of the property, was this one at the north edge of Brooks. It is still the finest barn, at least in Brooks. (2021 photo)

James and Mary Miles Flowers Dawson moved to this farm in 1870. Their sons, who were carpenters, built their large three-story home in 1903 and this barn in 1913. They also rode the train to Omaha daily for some years to work at Brandeis department store. 

The barn is original except for the four large windows installed many years ago for additional light. The long row of small windows on one end and two sets of double sliding doors, each with multiple windows, are unusual features. The loft is gigantic. The barn was in use until the late 1940s, but is now the current owners’ workshop.

The town of Brooks has had four names in its history. First it was Canaan City, then Brookville, then Simpson, named after Methodist Bishop Simpson when Brooks Seminary was established. At that time, the south section of town was still called Brookville, which was confusing, so in 1871 it became Brooks, its fourth and final name. The population is 40 today.

 The barn and home are remnants of the town’s history. The local public school, east of the barn, closed in 1968. The seminary, north of the barn, had a brief existence in 1859 before moving to Simpson College in Indianola.

Corn planting history

The blog on June 26 featured the Dobbin round barn at State Center. This barn has the original round metal rack used for drying ears of corn.

The ears were attached to the rack by a clip fastened to a spike pushed into each ear. With almost 600 kernels on each ear and hundreds of ears on the rack, it would have held enough seed for the yearly planting. Really? Many farms in earlier days were small, 80 to 160 acres, with a rotation of corn, oats, alfalfa or red clover, and grassland pasture. Thus, not that many acres were dedicated just to corn each year.


How was all that corn shelled? Several contacts regarding this subject believed the ears were shelled by hand, rather than by a hand-cranked corn sheller, which would have broken some of the kernels.


A horse-drawn planter placed two or three kernels in each hill, with the hills spaced 38 inches apart in the row. The rows were also 38 inches wide. Today, single seeds are planted just six to eight inches apart, with 30-inch wide rows. Quite a difference! Notice how close each stalk is to its neighbor in the field pictured below. (2021 photo)

A State Center treasure

A new look! This Marshall County barn, built on the farm of Henry and Lillian Dobbin in 1919 and now owned by Christy Dobbin Chambers and her husband Jon, has undergone a major renovation.

In 2019-20, parts of the ring that had supported the roof were replaced. The photo below shows the ring, with new sections in lighter-colored wood. 

It was reshingled in the spring of 2021, then repainted. When the photo at the top was taken in late 2021, minor window repairs and painting of the small section below the cupola roof were all that was needed to complete the project. It was an expensive undertaking, paid for in part by a grant from the Iowa Barn Foundation. Check page 132 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today for a more extensive history.

The floor surrounding the silo, where the dairy cow stanchions and horse stalls are located, is unique. It consists of uniformly spaced rectangular wood blocks, with long triangles added to fill in the circular path around the barn.

 The next photo shows the interlocking design that keeps the wood blocks in place. According to advertising for this type of flooring, it was less tiring for the cows and horses to stand on a wood floor than on concrete.

The next blog will feature a rack used for drying corn found in this barn, and some corn planting facts that will surprise you. Stay tuned. 

Switzerland in May

In May, farmers lead their cows, wearing flowers and bells, to high mountain pastures to graze for the summer. It is a cultural experience with a long tradition, influenced by tourism today. Cheese made during the summer is brought down when the cows return in August or September, a cause for celebration and selling of the cheese. (2019 photo)

Many of us can trace our roots to Switzerland, where our ancestral farmers lived and worked. My paternal ancestors emigrated from Switzerland over 250 years ago, and many generations later their descendants were still farmers, including my father and Mennonite grandparents. 

Memorial Day in Silver City

Silver City Cemetery in Mills County is the site of an annual Memorial Day program organized by William Somervell. Terry’s Texas Rangers, portrayed here, was organized in 1861 as a group of volunteers for the Confederate States Army, and fought in a number of battles.

In 2021, the program began with the American Legion Post 439 color guard, a bagpiper, and riders portraying the Texas Rangers on horseback. The horse on the left in the first row is the riderless horse, with the commander’s boots placed backwards in the stirrups, looking back at his troops. At the end of the procession are civilians dressed in period costume. (See photo below)

The pastor of Silver City United Methodist Church spoke, followed by chaplains of the Legion and Legion Auxiliary. Memorial wreaths were placed in the cemetery and it concluded with a cannon 21-gun salute, a bugler playing taps, and music by a small group of musicians.

Somervell’s Percheron draft horses were originally stabled in the 1904 barn below, renovated to resemble Kentucky horse barns. Today, his seventeen horses reside in a nearby barn. Percherons were used to pull heavy cannons in the war because of their strength, and also were widely used in farming as a draft animal after 1850.  Wind your way to Silver City to celebrate Memorial Day in 2022.