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

Buying permission to build a barn in Kossuth County

A license to build a barn is not an ordinary business deal, but in 1901 H. A. Bates, a Kossuth County farmer, paid Horace Duncan, a Knightstown, Indiana barn builder, $5 for a license to build his barn. It is a mystery why this round barn wasn’t actually built until 10 years later. When it was photographed in 2013, the owners were Evert and Donna Broesder. They died in 2018 and the barn is not now in use. 

Broesder round barn, 2608 140th Avenue, Algona

Horace Duncan built a number of round barns in several states. In July 2019 we discovered a magnificent one he built in 1908 on State Route 385 in the Lakeview, Ohio area. The family’s elegant 1875 home is at the end of the long driveway, pictured below.    

The Maple Avenue farm round barn was built in 1908 for J. H. Manchester and is still owned by the fifth generation of the Manchester family. It is a Shaker design with feed and hay stored in the center and livestock housed around the outside. It has been used for seed storage in recent years. At 102 feet in diameter, it is the largest round barn east of the Mississippi River, and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.

Cupolas or ventilators? Either name will do

What do you call these functional things on top of barns? Cupolas or ventilators? Either one will do and they are often used synonymously.

In early days a cupola was the “icing on the cake,” located at the top of the most important building on the farm. They were originally made of wood and were square, round, or multisided, designed with the purpose of allowing heat and moisture to escape.

What about ventilators? The Louden Machinery Company in Fairfield, Iowa wanted to capitalize on the cupola concept. They claimed that wooden cupolas wouldn’t last forever, but their new metal ventilators were superior. They were advertised as being storm proof, bird proof, and meant to last a lifetime. 

They called their Louden metal ventilator a cupola. What an idea! Marketing is everything! Often these ventilators included artistic designs stamped in the metal and incorporated a weather vane topped with a horse, cow, or pig. Here are a few examples of cupolas and ventilators. Besides serving a useful function, they add character and interest to barns.

Welcome to Business Corner: Mennonites in Osceola County

Welcome to Business Corner! This sign, erected in 2017 at the intersection of Osceola county roads M-18 and A-34, lists businesses in this area beginning in the late 1880s (not 1870s as the sign suggests). There was a gas station, but not until the late 1920s since the 1870s was before the existence of cars. There also was no general store or broom factory in early Business Corner days.

In the mid-1880s a number of Mennonite families arrived in Ocheyedan by train from Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ontario, Canada. They moved to this area of the county, bought land, and built barns and homes. The village closest to Business Corner is May City, established in 1889.

Daniel and Fannie Weaver were among the first to arrive, building the historic barn seen in the background in 1889. The business sign says “Weaver Jeweler,” although Daniel was actually an optometrist who also made jewelry, clocks, and watches.

A blacksmith, shoemaker, wagon shop, harness shop, and cigar factory, as well as a church, school, and cemetery existed during the time the Mennonites lived in the area. All the buildings were painted red.

The colony was short-lived, due to disagreements over church affairs and differing customs they had when they arrived. By 1915 all but a few of the families had left the area. Today there are no Mennonites, except those buried in the Mennonite cemetery. 

Today this landmark barn, owned and restored by the Lorch family, serves as a reminder of early settlement.

Jefferson Highway Barn Burns

Another barn destroyed by fire. This barn, south of Hubbard, was built in 1917 with “Jefferson Highway Farm” painted on the side. The Jefferson Highway went past the barn, although the route varied when the U.S. highway naming system began in 1926. In Hardin and Story counties it followed what is now Highway 65. It was promoted as the “Pine to Palm” route and was the first north-south transcontinental highway in America, extending from Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans.

The town of Hubbard was tentatively making plans to move the barn into the town and restore it, but early in the morning of March 13, 2019, it is believed to have been struck by lightning.

Many remembrances of the original Jefferson Highway can be found on paintings and markers in towns all along the route. There are murals on two buildings in Decatur county, one in Leon and one in Lamoni, as both towns were on this highway. Below is the Lamoni mural.