The Barns of Jones County
Originally published in the Fall 2001 issue of the Iowa Barn Foundation Magazine.
Jones County, located in eastern Iowa, is home to some of the most unique and impressive barns in America. Roman Welter, Monticello resident and Iowa Barn Foundation board member, researched, wrote about, and photographed some of these historic barns for us. Assisting him were Richard Snavely, Mt. Vernon, and Bob Hatcher, Anamosa.
One of the most massive and impressive barns ever built in Iowa still stands tall and proud in Stone City, a town made famous by Iowa artist Grant Wood. A photograph by Roman Welter is shown on the left. This great barn was built in 1889 by J.A. Green, early immigrant and operator of one of three stone quarries in Stone City at that time. It is 60 x 120 feet and stands 30 feet tall. Constructed of stone, it was built to stable as many as 100 horses used in the operation of the quarry. It also housed a blacksmith shop. The loft area, some of it three stories, had living quarters for stable attendants who worked full-time caring for horses and equipment. Local lore has it that it took 80 men 80 days to build the barn.
Horses from the barn served as the power source for the quarry until about 1910, the barn later housed thoroughbred race horses. The Green family sold the barn in the early 1930's to George Nissen of trampoline fame. Today the barn is owned by Michael Sealy, who uses part of the main floor for light manufacturing. Another part is opened to the public during an exhibition of Grant Wood originals at the Grant Wood Festival held every June.
A dairy barn was built on Iowa State Penitentiary property in Anamosa in 1929 for $65,000 and was said to be the largest barn in Iowa at that time. It was laid out in a "T" shape with the main part measuring 172 feet. There were two rows of stanchions, approximately 130 feet each.
Milk from the herd was used at the prison and also made into cheese and ice cream that were distributed to other state institutions. The dairy herd was closed out in 1970 due to the projected costs of bringing the facility up to Grade "A" standards. The cheese plant, next to the prison's walls, is being restored by a local group into a museum to preserve items of historical importance to the penitentiary.
Although there are many barns remaining in Jones County, few are being used for their original purpose. The Ed Lubben barn, located on Highway 151 between Anamosa and Monticello, is countering that trend. The round-roofed barn, 34 x 60, was built in 1942 by Charles Foley, replacing one demolished by a tornado. It originally had 12 stanchions for milk cows and the usual horse stalls and stock pens. Ed moved onto the farm in 1968, purchased it in 1974, and has modernized it with 32 stanchions. Ed has been milking cows for nearly 40 years and currently milks about 40 year-around. He is not sure how long he intends to stay at it and, likely, this barn will become part of the past in due time.
Approaching Monticello from the south one sees this barn, now owned by Max Dirks, looming large on the western horizon. See the photo on the right and click to enlarge it. The barn measures 40 x 100 feet and has a wing measuring 16 x 24 feet. It was built in 1881 by William Bates and first measured 40 x 64 feet. Ten years later another 36 feet and the wing were added. Lumber for the barn came from timber a few miles to the northwest. Old records indicate that the 40 acres, on which the barn sits, were purchased by Bates in 1857 for a span of horses valued at $400. In 1909 the farm was purchased by Dirks' grandfather, William Lieneman, who immigrated from Germany in 1894 when he was 14.
The barn has two driveways for unloading hay and grain on the upper floor. There is also a driveway through the entire length of the lower floor. The barn is of expert mortise and tenon beam construction. The foundation was made of stone held in place by mortar.
Anyone traveling on us 151 has seen this 32 x 72 feet barn owned by Art Burrichter. Built in 1925 by Art's grandfather, this round roof unit was likely one of the early ones of that design. The round roof shape was obtained by beginning with curved laminated trusses spaced each 10 feet. Joists, 2 x 4 feet, were placed horizontally between the trusses. The next step involved placing and nailing 1 x 4-inch boards vertically over the joists. Sheathing was nailed horizontally over this.
The lower floor contained 20 stanchions for cows along with horse stalls and stock pens. Today Art, a retired school administrator, houses his antique tractors and cars in the barn. He plans on maintaining the barn during his lifetime.
Northeast Jones County, rolling and not adaptable to intensive row crop farming, became populated with livestock operations. Barns were an integral part of this, and many were built in the early and mid-1900's. One typical barn sits on a farm operated by Ralph Manternach, Cascade. Built in 1952 by Ralph's father, this barn has a gambrel roof and measures 32 x 72 feet with additions added later.
Ralph was 16 years old when the barn was built, and he took an active part in constructing the barn. He recalled that a good share of the lumber used was provided by oak and elm from the farm-that nearly all of it was cut by a two-man crosscut saw with Ralph doing his share in manning one end of the saw.
Chain saws were scarce in those days. A sawmill was brought on site, and the logs were made into boards and dimensional pieces. The barn, with 10 inch x 5 feet walls, required a good deal of concrete and every bit was hand-shoveled. He remembered that all of the sand or gravel used to mix the concrete came from a riverbed that runs through the farm. All of it was shoveled by hand onto wagons equipped with dump boards and pulled by horses and tractors to the building site.
The barn had stanchions for 24 cows and pens for young stock. Cows were milked in the barn for 20 years, but in 1972 Ralph quit dairying and converted the barn into a swine farrowing facility. Today, it is being used to support the family's successful swine and beef operation.