Anyone interested in viewing and learning about beautifully restored and preserved barns as part of agricultural history is invited to attend the annual Iowa All-State Barn Tour Sept. 23-24 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The 2017 barn tour is divided into separate areas of Iowa, so you can attend the tour in a location near you. These driving tours are free and self-guided. For directions on where to drive to view the barns by area of the state, visit iowabarnfoundation.org.
The western Iowa tour includes eight barns in northwest Iowa; the west-central tour also features eight barns. The central Iowa tour has five barns in the north-central region, 16 barns in the central region and seven barns in the south-central region. In eastern Iowa, you can visit 10 barns in northeast Iowa, 24 barns in east central Iowa and four barns in southeast Iowa.
Most barns on the tour have been restored with matching grants from the Iowa Barn Foundation. Other property owners received awards of distinction from the foundation for restorations they undertook themselves. Jacqueline Andre Schmeal and Roxanne Mehlisch, longtime volunteers and leaders for the IBF, provided Wallaces Farmer with the following information.
Foundation founded 20 years ago
The Iowa Barn Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1997, raises money from individuals, foundations and corporations to give matching grants to property owners to restore their barns. The barns must be restored as closely as possible to original. The property owner must sign a perpetual easement when receiving a grant.
The Iowa Barn Foundation is the only group of its kind in the country. The annual All-State Barn Tour is free, although donations to support the foundation’s work are appreciated. The foundation has a board of directors and a volunteer representative in each county in Iowa. The representatives promote the preservation of barns in their area and encourage membership in the Iowa Barn Foundation.
The purpose of these tours is to encourage barn preservation in the state, to teach young people about Iowa’s rich agricultural heritage and to renew pride in this unique heritage. Owners will be present to discuss the barns and their histories at many of the stops. Visitors are expected from around the country. The effort has encouraged barn preservation throughout Iowa and beyond.
Tours aid barn preservation
This is a special year for the Iowa Barn Foundation. It is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The group was founded by folks with Iowa roots, to encourage the preservation of barns, which are part of Iowa history and for so many years were sacred to the economic livelihood of this state.
Twenty years ago, the people who founded the Iowa Barn Foundation observed that barns were becoming less needed in modern agriculture, but were symbols of hard work and the American dream, and should be preserved.
With the dedication of volunteers throughout the state, over the years the foundation has awarded 157 matching grants to restore historic barns. The amount raised and awarded totals over $1 million. The foundation has also given awards of distinction to barns restored by the owners. These barns are included on the annual All-State Barn Tour.
The foundation’s barn tours emphasize educating young and old about barns and encouraging publicity about the importance of barns in the agricultural history of the state.
Barns continue to disappear
This year is also a bittersweet time for barns. “We are watching barns continue to shred and tumble as they are no longer used, and sometimes seem to get in the way of today’s world,” says Schmeal. “We see them ripped down to make a bit more acreage for gardens or for growing corn. Their role in the history of Iowa’s livelihood — as shelter for animals and crops, and sometimes people — is fading.”
Whole farmsteads are becoming increasingly rare in the countryside. Roxanne Mehlisch, who lives on a farm near Zearing, observes: “The barns that have been saved once are now being sold by their aging owners. The new younger owners don’t have a personal connection to barns. There are not many people left who actually worked in the barns — taking care of animals. Hardly any of the new owners of old barns grew up on farms.”
Other Iowans are looking ahead and see the value in preserving these treasures. Tab Daly found a 30-by-50-foot timber frame barn for sale in Shelby County. He guesses that it was built around 1900. It needs some major work, but he says, “Not once did I think of tearing it down. Once a barn is torn down, a person can no longer walk inside and climb up into the hay loft. It’s hard to imagine the carpenters building it or the farmer using it, if it’s no longer there.”
Every barn has a story
Daly has challenges in his barn restoration project that do not deter him. The split-face block making up the foundation of the structure is loose. Heavy timbers on the walk outside need replacement. It’s a bank barn so he will need to level, jack and raise it. It’s a lot of work to restore a barn, but it’s worth it, he says. “I was worried someone would buy this barn and tear it down for barn wood.”
Barns, like old cupboards, are valuable antiques. Every barn has a story — a story about the people who built it, the farmer who milked cows in it, the children who played hide-and-seek in it. “Barns are so much folk art — art built by untrained artisans — sort of like quilts. We cherish and collect quilts. What about barns and corncribs?”
Schmeal offers this final thought: How long will it be before people visit Iowa desperately searching for old barns to view?