by Wayne Frost, co-owner.
What is it about old barns in Iowa that let us know we’re in farm country? Growing up our barn was a focal point for the work that had to be done each day. From milking the cows to all the things that went along with this form of making a living. Hay to be cut and stored in the barn, fencing for the cows, manure to be hauled, feed ground and the list goes on! Barns such as this one, the farm where my sister and I were raised on, were once a common sight. My sister Kathy Miller is my co-owner. She lives in Washington State now, however, she owns the property with me, as it was the family farm.
The restoration of the barn led us to do some research on who built it and when. I spent countless hours at the county courthouse and local library searching for information about when the barn was built, by who and for whom. There was a builder’s block with the initials of JSM carved in it. I first thought it might have been the contractor that built the barn, however after some research discovered it was the son of the family that originally built the barn. This led to tracking down the descendants of the family that homesteaded here in the 1850’s. They sent pictures of the original family and newspaper clippings of happenings during those times.
The large red barn was originally built in Black Hawk County during the 1870’s by the Michael Mitchell Family who moved to Eagle Township in the 1850’s. In the summer of 2018 the barn was restored by an Amish crew that worked seven weeks putting all new wood on it. Later the limestone walls were tuck pointed and the barn painted. My family has lived at this location since 1946 raising livestock and farming for many years. The barn is currently used for raising sheep. The dimensions on the barn are 88’ X 40’ X 40’ and originally had a large overhang on the east side. The north half of the first floor was for the horses and the south for milking cows and calf pens. In the late 1940’s as tractors began seeing more usage on the farm the dirt floor was cemented, 27 new stanchions for the mild cows were installed and the section for horses was switched to calf pens and a place to farrow hogs.
It’s not easy finding someone willing to take on this type of renovation project. After talking with a lot of people including one contractor who was a fourth-generation barn builder whose grandfather, built barns such as this I settled on an Amish crew from near Fairbank, IA to do the work. The barn was stripped of its outer layer down to the frame and roof before the new wood could go on. Much of the old wood has been kept for future projects.
Relatives, friends and even people I didn’t know stopped to check the progress of the renovation. Cars would go by and honk or give a thumbs up signal.
What started as a project to restore an old barn became a project restoring memories of a life, long past! I hope that as others read this story and see the pictures of the barn, they are reminded about their life growing up in farm country!
When you undertake a project like this you come across a lot of memorabilia! Like the old Daisy BB Gun found in a pile of hay. Did my Brother use it acting like he was Roy Rogers or Matt Dillon? Maybe it was my Sister using it like Annie Oakley! Probably both, just a matter of who got to it first on that particular day! There is the old hay saw used for cutting loose hay that was found in a pile of old lumber. The old hay fork used to first take lose hay up in the barn and then later used for bales.
There were many initials and names carved in the wood, stone and cement. A few I recognized such as a couple of hired men that worked for my Dad, one name I’m told came from an earlier owner. I found two planks with odd looking boards attached, in a pattern. It turns out these were part of a set of wooden stairs from the horse barn to the hayloft.
Additional details and photos will be available during the barn tour!
Photos supplied by owner, July 2020
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