Stone City barn/house

This IS a barn! This massive Jones County limestone barn was built by J. A. Green in 1889, who was the owner and founder of Champion quarry. Here he housed his draft horses and workers who worked at the quarry, and later race horses (2015 photo). For more about the barn and its history, see page 54 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today.

The Green mansion, located on a nearby hill, is gone. Green’s quarry office, pictured below, also built in 1889, is now a residence. (2021 photo)

In 2001 Stan and Debra Berberich purchased this massive barn near Stone City and converted it to their home. However, the family has continued to share it with thousands of visitors over the last twenty years. Below are two rooms inside used to entertain various groups as well as provide for their family of seven children and  twenty-four grandchildren. Their generosity of sharing this treasure is commendable. (2015 photos below)

A treasure restored

Treasures abound everywhere in Iowa, and in the McClelland area in Pottawattamie County it is the Hartwell farm. Dave and Jean Hartwell had a faded photo but wished they could see more beyond the brown haze. The restored photo shows fruit trees in bloom and a good view of the home built in 1908 using a Sears house plan, the second home on the site.

The photo of the whole farmstead taken around 1910 shows an active scene: calves scattered in several lots, a few pigs, a few chickens, and a buggy hitched to two horses in the center. The entrance from the road was changed at some point in time and now leads directly to the small 1906 horse barn in the center. The large barn on the right is gone.

The farm has been in the Hartwell family since 1891. Below is the horse barn, accompanied by a photo after its restoration was completed in 2020.

Threshing #2

What an advertising card this is!

The previous Blog, #28, featured early threshing techniques; here is a new invention for harvesting used in pioneer days. This late 1870s ad for a harvester and binder was a wonder. It was led by two horses and operated by a man in a hat looking like a gentleman farmer. The machine mowed the wheat and tied it in bundles, which were then left to dry in the field before threshing.

Forward to the 1920s in Story County near Zearing. Since the invention of the harvester and binder in the above ad, several machines were invented that speeded up the process.

It’s difficult to see the threshing machine in this photo since the emphasis is on photographing the farmers involved. Near the barn several men are holding white bags for the grain that goes down a tube into the sacks. The straw that was left was moved up the ramp to the loft of this well-built barn with a chain-driven elevator, whose mechanism is not obvious in this photo. Many hands make light work, or lighter work, of a job that would have been dusty and hot.

Did it really take 18 men to do this job? That’s how many are in the photo. The McCormick invention could not accomplish everything, as many men were needed to load the bundles on a rack to transport them to the threshing machine.

Events like this one are important documentation of what farming was like in early days. Today, gigantic air-conditioned combines cut the grain, send it to an attached wagon, and then drop the straw in the field to be baled later.


Forty-two years ago this month there was an article about me in the Des Moines Sunday Register. I had received a small grant to study Iowa barns and promote the idea of saving them. Letters by the dozens soon made their way to my mailbox in Creston telling me about barns to visit, even several just addressed to “The Barn Lady, Creston, Iowa.” Five years and 300 programs later we moved to Omaha and the barn story slept until I retired from teaching in 2012. Six years later my book Iowa Barns yesterday and today was completed. The barn story by the “Barn Lady” continues bi-weekly with new updates and new stories.

Today the subject is threshing.

South of Monticello in Jones County is what is believed to be a threshing barn (2021 photo). The internal space in this small limestone barn is open from floor to ceiling, with space on both sides to store bundles of grain. Doors on the north and south provided ventilation to assist in blowing out the chaff. This barn is small, so flailing would have been the means of separation. In later times, animals, typically oxen, were tethered to a center post and walked in circles, their hooves separating the grain from the stems. 

South of Monticello in Jones County is what is believed to be a threshing barn (2021 photo). The internal space in this small limestone barn is open from floor to ceiling, with space on both sides to store bundles of grain. Doors on the north and south provided ventilation to assist in blowing out the chaff. This barn is small, so flailing would have been the means of separation. In later times, animals, typically oxen, were tethered to a center post and walked in circles, their hooves separating the grain from the stems. 

Today’s machinery combines the harvesting and separating of the grain as one operation. Of course, we call this machine a “combine.” Isn’t technology great?

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.