Scale houses

Scale houses were common on farms decades ago but are a thing of the past. Look around as you travel rural roads and you will see scale houses of various sizes and shapes that still exist.

Blog #26 featured the Mills farm barns in Madison County. Here is a look at the farm’s scale house where grain or livestock was weighed. Note the high doors where wagons, a hayrack, or a livestock trailer could enter unobstructed. It was also a “drive through,” with doors on both ends. The scales inside, pictured below, are still intact, date back to the turn of the 20th century, and could be used today if needed. (2021 photos)

On a farm in Monona County one mile north of Blencoe is a scale house with the scale mechanism inside and the wooden platform outside that dates to 1936. (2015 photo)

Scale houses are very diverse in shape and size. North of Winterset along Hwy. 169 in Madison County is one that dates to 1917. The doors on the upper level provide access to bins for storage of grain, an unusual feature in a scale house. Originally there were also cribs on each side.

North Branch Stock Farm

It was 1900 and Charles Clay Jackson, his brother Haver and their beef cattle went by train to the first International Livestock Show in Chicago. Shown here is their bank barn that had all the amenities these prize beef cattle needed, as well as a gigantic lot for feeding and loafing until taken to market.

The Jackson brothers also had another barn, constructed in 1911, not near the family home, but about one-fourth mile to the south in the middle of a field (See photo below). Why was it built so far from the home? Nobody really knows but maybe two barns on this farm would be too many smells.

This remarkable clay tile barn was used for draft horses, cattle and sheep. They could spend their lives outside in good weather and get their feed from the openings in the barn wall at ground level. The spring-fed water tank, visible on the right, provided water all year round and is still available to any animal that finds it.

The unique design of this barn was recognized as innovative and brought recognition and prestige to the Jacksons. It was built into a hill with accessibility on two levels. Wagons filled with grain were driven through the pasture to the upper level bin entrances (the square white doors) visible in the above photo.

The most remarkable feature of this barn is inside. From the loft floor to the roof is the wall for the grain bins behind it. It is like looking up at a cathedral but meant for hay.

G. Devere Jackson, son of Charles Clay Jackson, inherited the farm, and later was sold to Dale and Irene Mills. Their son John inherited it and has retired from farming, but meticulously maintains this entire Madison County farmstead. He is to be commended. It is truly one of a kind. What a treasure it is. (2021 photos)

Unique Lofts

Two Iowa barns stand out using construction techniques designed for storage of hay in the loft.

In the Housewert barn in Madison County, built in 1880, spaced beams form a floor in one part of the south side for the hay. Soybean stalks between some beams and loose hay between others were “jammed in place” so hay could be piled on top. Here is a view of the beams from below.

Inside the barn, a hayfork was used to lift loose hay and drop it on top of the loft floor shown above. Getting the hay to the livestock involved a lot of work, pitching the hay over a retaining wall, then sending it down a chute to the basement level.

There was also a four-foot wall on the north one-third where more hay was stored from floor to roof. The middle third was space needed for access to the grain bins on the south side.

Bruce and Mary Koboldt, owners, have no idea of the age of the soybean stems or the hay, but they possibly date to the barn’s beginning. That’s over 140 years ago! Note that two “ancient” soybean stems are arched above the title of this blog.

The Jon and Doris Nibbelink barn in Mahaska County, built in the early 1860s, had a similar hay storage area with tree branches placed over the beams, arranged to provide a “floor” of sorts for loose hay (2015 photo below). According to the Nibbelinks, some hay has probably been there since the barn was built. See pages 26-27 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today for more history of this barn. 

The Nibbelink Century Farm barn is on the left. The Housewert barn on the right will be a Heritage Farm in 2030 (150 years in the same family.) These barns are Iowa treasures to be honored and saved as an important facet of our heritage.


Lesanville. Have you ever heard of it? The neighborhood was known by this name because of the many Lesan families who settled in the area. This view portrays the settlement today as seen from Highway 2 east of Mount Ayr. 

The Ramsey barn on the left, built in 1928, was in the process of getting a new roof in May 2021 when I happened to pass by the site. It has probably been re-shingled several times over the years but now has a new life for many years to come.

The Ramsey Farm Foundation, established in 2001, developed this site to portray rural life from the late 1800s to mid-1900s. Paul Ramsey fondly remembered his childhood summers here with Aunt Jennie and Uncle George. Prominent in real estate in California, he was instrumental in the development of this site.

The site has two barns, a chicken house, granary, church, school, general store, post office, three homes, and an event center. (See page 170 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today for more of the story of Lesanville.)

Carriage House

Rural chapel on White Pole Road. Since Milton Hollingsworth wanted to drive his carriage into the barn and not have supporting posts get in the way, the loft floor hung by iron rods from roof trusses above the loft, supported on posts within the exterior walls. Through doors on the south, north, or east sides he could enter, unhitch the horses, take them to the stalls on the west side, and leave the carriage positioned for its next use. 

Below left is a chute where grain was dropped from a storage bin located in the loft into a bucket placed below the chute, then taken to the feed troughs. On the right is an arched opening in each stall where hay was dropped into a feed box. 

How many carriage houses still exist in Iowa? No doubt many at one time, but not many today. This elegant 40-foot-square carriage house in Guthrie County, at the west edge of Stuart, was built in 1882. William Foster, a prominent Chicago architect, designed many Iowa and Nebraska buildings, including the State Penitentiary at Anamosa.

Pictured above are windows on the west side that provided a picturesque view for the horses. What a nice home they had. It is not in use now except to display barn history and photos of five generations of the Varley family with their Angus cattle. It’s a family treasure.

Barn Graffiti

If one is lucky enough to discover graffiti inside a barn, it can add to our knowledge of a barn’s history.

Wilson Prall settled in Franklin Township of Cass County in 1857 and had Richardson build a barn barn for him in 1877. (See name and date in small print on the right.) The evidence remained intact until a storm destroyed the barn on July 3, 1980.

John Housewert arrived in Penn Township of Madison County and established Hickory Grove Farm, adding a barn in 1880. The name and date was later painted by Rose Housewert and is a reminder of its heritage. It will become a Heritage Farm in 2030 (150 years in the same family).

Today it has steel siding and a steel roof that will last for decades. The address is 1162 Fawn Avenue, Earlham. It is owned by Mary Koboldt, a great-granddaughter of the builder, and her husband Bruce. 

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.