Encouraging Barn Preservation

Southeast Iowa festival celebrates a classic American icon while promoting barn preservation and Iowa's agricultural heritage

| September 2016

Like the windmill, the barn is an enduring icon of farm life – but also like windmills, barns are steadily disappearing from the rural landscape. Two Iowa groups are doing what they can to reverse that trend.

The Iowa Barn Foundation (IBF), an all-volunteer, non-profit organization founded in 1997, raises money from individuals, foundations, and corporations to give matching grants to property owners to restore their barns. The group hopes to encourage barn preservation, teach young people about Iowa’s rich agricultural heritage and renew pride in a unique heritage.

It is a mission shared by volunteers in Van Buren County, Iowa, where the countryside is dotted by nearly 40 well-preserved barns, some of which have been supported by IBF grant funding. “Barns mean different things to different people,” muses Brad Klodt, who moved an 1895 barn to his farm in 2002, and who is active in the Van Buren County barns program. “They were built by people with no formal education and many are still standing. That proves that people can do anything if they set their minds to it.”

During the annual Scenic Drive Festival put on by the Villages of Van Buren County, a handful of barns are open, offering interesting stops as you wind your way through the villages, where countless activities are offered that weekend. The barns are manned by owners who are happy to chat, and visitors are encouraged to step inside and take a look around.

Builders took pride in their work

Few of the old barns are working facilities. Many are empty, or house antique tractors and other farm collectibles. But they still have stories to tell. Van Buren County is just 25 miles from Fairfield, Iowa, the home of Louden Machinery Co., once a leading manufacturer of barn and stable equipment.

In what is now known as the Clark barn, Louden stanchions, hay carriers and track, and lazy Susan-style feed systems remain largely intact, helping visitors understand the multiple functions of buildings erected a century ago, and the unique products created to support those functions. “Builders really took pride in their barns,” Brad says. “They’d try to outdo their neighbors if they could.”