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Saving Our Americana Landscape
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Saving Our Americana Landscape

Thankfully, more and more people are preserving one of our nation's most enduring symbols of Americana on the Iowa farms where generations worked the land and are now saving their heritage, their barn. The barns on tour this weekend for the Iowa Barn Foundation's 2013 All-State Barn Tour are typical of Iowa barns that have served farmers well. These restored barns illustrate how barns can be brought back to their original glory. "Most barns on tour have been restored with matching grants from the Iowa Barn Foundation" mentioned their website, where you can get addresses and driving directions to this year's barn tour.

Come out this weekend and see this part of Americana during the Iowa Barn Foundation's free, self-guided barn tours this Saturday, September 28 and Sunday, September 29 from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

This year high on my list of must sees are Palmer barn,  (1206 150th Street, Castalia, in Winneshiek County). Apparently, the rock here is from nearby quarry using teams and wagons. In addition, the framing of the barn was oak harvested from own woodlands.  A portable sawmill was brought in to saw logs. Some 200-300 men came for a one day barn raising and according to the website, "each man given a new hammer". I'm also interested in visiting Gribble barn,  (3109 155th Street, Ft. Atkinson, in Winneshiek County). This boasts a Czech barn on lovely farm that has always been in family. This barn was featured in a New York Times article in June of 2012.

Last fall, I attended the Iowa Barn Foundation's twelfth year of barn tours, which brought out many people. The All-State Barn Tour was the first of its kind in all of the United States when it began and is attracting people from all over. Iowa Barn Foundation Representative for Allamakee and Winneshiek Counties, Marlene Fenstermann, noted that, "Attendance at all the Northeast Iowa barn sites was very strong last year, many exceeding the year before counts."

Many of the ninty barns on the tour where built in the 1800's by farmers or barn builders and now 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, like the Jim Boeding Stone Milk house by Decorah.

The All-State Barn Tour has been organized to encourage barn preservation in Iowa, to teach young people about Iowa's rich agricultural heritage, and to renew pride in this heritage. The tour was arranged so that you can go from barn to barn on your own, as time and distances permit.

Each year we try to check out one or two places on the list from Winneshiek County. The first place we visited early on a chilly Saturday morning (thank goodness for Decorah Java John's take-out coffee in our hands) was the impressive Jim Boeding 1900 Stone Milk House on Madison Road by Decorah. Mr. Boeding won the Award of Distinction for restoring the milk house himself, without matching funds. This was one of the reasons we chose to check it out, knowing all the money it takes to restore these old farm buildings and happy to see Jim took the initiative. There, we talked to Clair Borseth of Decorah and barn representative Marlene Fenstermann. The milk house was built by one of Clair's relatives and he was happy to see all the restoration on all the farm buildings going on. Marlene also mentioned that this is not the only farm Jim Boeding, has spent much time and money fixing up. Jim was unable to be there giving tours because of an unforeseen event he had to attend, so the gracious Marlene was our guide and sent us on to the next location.

We then traveled down a rolling driveway and was met with a spectator view the stone Lea-Oakley Barn on County Road W 42 by Decorah. Mary Lea and their dog Lizzy greeted us at the beautifully restored native limestone Norwegian barn, built by John Johnson in 1862. Mary explained about her and husband Anthony's restoration project, "Our restoration project is ongoing, but will insure the barn will be around for many more years to come."

The 34'x36' barn is made of Galena stonework. The roof is a gambrel, which was changed from the original gable roof around 1900 and wood shingles were put on it in 1923, in 2005 after a small fire a steel roof replaced it. In 2007, they had a contractor tackle re-pointing the exterior of the barn using a lime-based mortar. At that time frames, windows, and doors were rebuilt for this working barn. In 2009 the wood floor was replaced and wood siding was painted. They currently are having the interior re-pointed.

Changes in agriculture have lessened the role of the American barn, which always has been a symbol of hard work and the American dream. Partly because of the Iowa Barn Foundation's preservation efforts, Iowa is one state where barns can still be enjoyed and their important history remembered.

Thanks to all those who are saving a slice of Americana one barn at a time. I hope you can attend this year's barn tour.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Eve Sherrill York
    Eve Sherrill York
    This is sure nice to hear about. My state does such things also. It's a good thing. Nicely written as well. Voted.
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  2. Joyce Meyer
    Joyce Meyer
    Today, 9/30 on KWWL noon news will be a photo I took of the Palmer barn yesterday during one of the weather segments.
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    1. Eve Sherrill York
      Eve Sherrill York
      How cool is that?! Sorry this is late. I am sick.
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