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.
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.”
Schyler Morris, current owner Dena Clark’s great-great-grandfather, built the Clark barn north of Stockport in 1916. Innovative features included cupolas rotated a quarter-turn to catch prevailing winds. “We think that made it cooler for livestock in the basement,” Dena says.
Built in 1870, the barn now known as the Parsons barn (currently owned by Fred and Sheila Parsons, Keosauqua) is a small, Pennsylvania-type bank barn owned by the same family for 110 years. It’s construction combines log, hewn and milled lumber and locally quarried stone. It is supported by 10-foot beams with 8- by 8-inch braces and 12-foot wide flooring. A louvered cupola rises proudly from the roof.
Maintained in part by an IBF grant, the Parsons barn is wrapped tight in family ties. “Members of my husband’s family have lived here since 1906,” says Sheila Parsons. “This is an enduring part of our history, and we have to know our history in order to be strong. It’s important for our children to know how their elders worked and lived together. Until the last one of us is here, we will try to keep this place.” FC
BANK BARN: A barn built on a slope, allowing entry from two levels, similar to a house with a walkout basement.
BAY: A compartment for storing hay.
BOARD-AND-BATTEN: A type of siding commonly used on barns. Board siding is vertical and the battens - thin strips of wood - are placed over the seams as a fastener covering.
CORN CRIB: A small, ventilated structure used to store ear corn.
CUPOLA: A tower-like structure on a roof, primarily used for decoration and occasionally for ventilation.
FODDER: Coarse feed such as cornstalks, hay or straw that is fed to livestock.
FORE BAY: A smaller bay in a barn.
GABLE: The triangular wall enclosed by the sloping ends of the ridged roof.
GAMBREL ROOF: A roof with two slopes on each side, the lower one steeper than the upper, which forms the ridge.
HAYFORK: A mechanically operated device used to lift hay in and out of a hayloft.
HAYMOW/LOFT: The area in the top of a barn where hay is stored.
HIP ROOF: A roof with a ridge whose sides and ends slope.
SILO: An air-tight pit or a tower in which green fodder is stored.
STABLE: A building where livestock are sheltered and fed.
STANCHION: An apparatus used to confine a cow, usually for milking.
VENT: Openings in barns that provide air circulation. Hay, when not ventilated, is prone to the spontaneous combustion.
-Courtesy Van Buren County Barn Tour
"The ... barn sheltered and fed horses who provided personal transportation, plowed the fields and pulled the wagons for the harvesters. This barn sheltered sweet hay in the loft and golden corn in the granary for the horses, pigs, milk cows and chickens. It was home for the cats who earned their keep by decreasing the barn mice population and providing companionship and play for isolated rural children. This Barn Housed the family dogs, who protected the stock from native predators and alerted the family to unexpected visitors'.
All parts of the barn were in use when, in great storms, the sheep were herded into the crawlspace to calm them from the wind's fury. Those same sheep provided wool that was carded into fabric for warm shirts, caps and mittens. This barn stored 200 bushels of apples that were sold door to door during the Great Depression for 5 cents a bushel when no other crop would sell. This barn sheltered cows that produced milk for the family, rich butter and cream for selling or trade on Saturday night, meat for the winter, and lard for cooking and for soap making."
– Sheila Parsons, describing her family's barn in a grant application.
For more information:
– Brad Klodt, email@example.com.
– Villages of Van Buren Scenic Drive Festival, Oct. 8-9, 2016; online at www.villagesofvanburen.com; (800) 868-7822.
– Iowa Barn Foundation, online at www.iowabarnfoundation.org.
– Leslie McManus is senior editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com. Teri McManus is a photographer based in Iowa. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more about the Scenic Drive Festival, read Scenic Drive Festival Keeps it Simple at Morris Park