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.

Silvers Sales pavilion near Cantril for sale

Need a new home with an amazing view of the countryside? How about a round one? Van Buren County’s Silvers Sales pavilion, northeast of Cantril, is for sale, decades after its original purpose for Hampshire hog sales ended in 1924. See page 176 of Iowa Barns Yesterday and Today for more information.

The former sales arena is on the ground level. On the second floor are eight pie-shaped rooms, and on the third level is a large open area under the conical roof. Just imagine the possibilities as a living space! The second floor could have bedrooms, office space, children’s playroom, computer room, and a game room. The third level could be a party room. On the east side there are steps leading down to the basement entrance where the “café” prepared food for the hog buyers. (See photo below.) 

The barn was re-roofed a few years ago and is in good condition. Locals would like to see it become an event center, not yet a viable option, so preserving it as a home is a great option.

In Cantril there is a bank, Dutchman’s Store, lumber and hardware store, truck and trailer business, grain elevator, two antique stores, chiropractor, medical clinic, post office, and library. The Starlite Café also displays photos of the barn taken in 1923.

Midway Stock Farm barn destroyed by tornado

On July 19, 2018 a number of tornados roared across Iowa, including ones at Marshalltown and Pella. In southeast Iowa near Keosauqua a local resident driving by the Midway Stock Farm on Highway 1 saw this barn lifted up and then dropped.

Midway Stock Farm barn, 16677 Highway 1, Keosauqua in 2013
Ruins of Midway Stock Farm barn

Barn restored in Allamakee County

Good news of the day: a barn restored. This 1906 barn in Allamakee county, three miles east of Waterville, was in use for decades but sat empty for 10-15 years before Chad and Kari Kelly purchased it in 2013. I discovered the three buildings in 2014 and learned that the Kellys planned to restore the barn. Attached is the 2014 photo I took and one taken today by the Kellys.

They installed a new steel roof, replaced windows, installed four double doors, replaced the stone foundation, paved the floor inside, and painted it red. Their photo includes antique equipment they found hidden among the weeds. Currently they are using this beautifully restored barn for storage of machinery.

The Kelley family, immigrants from Ireland in the 1860s, possibly lived in the tiny building next to the big barn until they built a home on the hillside. Now the barn is back in the Kelly family. (The name Kelley was changed to Kelly sometime in the past.)

When the barn was being built in 1906 they documented its beginning with a photo of 37 people, mostly family members, proudly standing on the framework.

Restored barn (July 26, 2020 photo)
2014 photo
Kelley barn under construction in 1906