Barns, again

Iowa Barn Foundation Marks 25 years of Barn Tours

Emma Stalzer shows her American Cream draft horses to Iowa Barn Foundation tour visitors Sunday at the Rierson barn near Radcliffe. The breed’s genetics were developed, in part, on this farm. Stalzer and her parents breed American Cream horses on their farm near Zearing.

Several hundred people took advantage of fine summer weather on Saturday and Sunday to visit seven historic barns in rural Hamilton and Story counties.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Iowa Barn Foundation and its members, who own the barns, the tours educate visitors about the need to preserve Iowa’s rapidly-disappearing barns.

Age, weather, maintenance expense, and changes in farming result in the loss of 1,000 barns a year in Iowa, according to IBF. In 1950, U.S. Department of Agriculture records show Iowa had just over 200,000 farms. It’s reasonable to assume each of them had at least one barn. By 2014 the state had just under 100,000 farms, and tens of thousands fewer barns as a result.

IBF’s spring tours cover a small geographic area, and change each year, while the statewide barn tours in September feature barns statewide. All tours are open to the public and free.

Beginning in 1929, a series of related events made Ellsworth the epicenter of North Central Iowa’s “turkey belt.” Four large incubators installed in 1936 further boosted production.

In 1938, a turkey hatchery opened and was so successful it was expanded in 1944 and, again, in 1945. Also in 1945, the Central Co-Operative Turkey Producers Association opened a modern turkey processing plant in Ellsworth.

By 1952, 70 producers were raising 500,000 birds within a 10-mile radius of Ellsworth and the plant employed 80 people, many of them farm wives providing a critical second income for their families.

The great tradition of turkey production was represented on the tour by the Bauman barn in Story City. Built in 1912, it was purchased in 1956 by Woodland Farms expressly for turkey production.

The Clarence Rierson Barn, in rural Radcliffe, was built of brown clay block in 1920. More durable than balloon frame — wood — construction, such barns cost more to build, but provided decades of reduced maintenance costs thereafter.

Many readers will recognize draft horses from England (Shire), Scotland (Clydesdale), France (Percheron) or Belgium (Belgian), but few know the first, and only, draft horse breed to originate in America — the American Cream — was developed on this farm in Hamilton County.

Perhaps only 400-500 American Creams remain in existence today, and the breed is officially listed “endangered,” but good people, in Iowa and elsewhere, are breeding and promoting American Cream horses to secure the breed’s future.

Twenty-five years ago, the Iowa Barn Foundation was founded “to educate the public about the significance and importance of Iowa’s barns.” Not content with just hand-wringing and educational tours, the Foundation tackled the high cost of saving and restoring historic barns. Today, it can easily cost $50,000 to preserve an old barn, an amount often beyond the means of barn owners on family farms.

IBF uses a series of matching grants and both federal and state tax credits to help owners save their barns. Funding for the grants comes from corporations, individual donors, and other foundations interested in historic preservation. If your barn was built before 1937, or either has been listed or considered for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, it may qualify for a state tax credit.

IBF’s statewide barn tour will be held on a weekend this September, actual dates to be announced. A better day out in the Iowa countryside is hard to imagine.

To contact Iowa Barn Foundation: Iowa Barn Foundation, c/o Avalia Bank, P.O. Box 436, Nevada IA 50201 or 641-751-1406.


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