The Smith barn was built in 1917 by my grandfather Joseph Smith. He operated a sawmill on the property and he cut and sawed the lumber for the barn.
The actual construction was done by a man named Jack Brehm. He was only 28 years old when he built this beautiful barn. His son Earl told me that he could not continue to work for his boss because that man had a problem with alcohol, so he decided to start his own crew. Jack built several barns after ours and developed a great reputation. His grandchildren remarked that he was a little hard to work for because he demanded perfection.
Joseph Smith was the 3rd generation of Smiths to farm on the site. His mother Julia being the 2nd, her father George came to this farm in 1853. The abstract shows him to actually be the 2nd owner. A man named Horatio Sanford held the original deed. Upon doing some research on Mr Sanford I learned that he was a very successful land agent in Dubuque in those days. Thousands of acres in northeast Iowa passed from the government through his office to farmers George Smith being one of many. He acted as an agent for Senator Daniel Webster.
My uncle George Smith was born in 1899. He related to me that Jack Brehm prepared the frame of this barn over the winter previous to it's erection. The beams were pre cut and the holes for the pins were drilled. His crew slept on the lawn during the work week and walked to their home for the weekend. The labor bill was 500 dollars. Sounds pretty fair to me!
Many young boys from this area packed hay in this barn on hot summer days. Most would tell you that hard work like this helped them become the men they are today. My own sons spent summers sweating in this hayloft with me and I remember these days fondly. Filling this big old barn with hay was a gratifying accomplishment. My uncle Ray told me that it would hold 15000 bales!
Today we use this barn as a calving barn. It is vital to our cow calf operation. If we did not have this space we would have to replace it. But to me it is much more than that. This barn is a connection to a Grandfather I never had the chance to meet. I wonder at times, why did he build it so large at a time when loose hay was the norm? What were his thoughts insisting that the windows were trimmed in such an ornate manner? This barn has connected my family to the many grandchildren of Jack Brehm who live in this area. What was the nature of our grandfathers relationship? Who developed the plan?
We in northeast Iowa are so very proud of the beautiful gothic revival churches that dominate our rural landscape. They speak volumes about our ancestors. No one would question efforts to preserve these treasures. What about our barns? Each barn has a story to tell. We'll miss them if they are gone!
A note from the author: Maria and I are the 5th generation Smiths. Our sons Ted and Nick are the 6th to operate this farm. We received the Heritage Farm award in 2015 for this farm. I share the Iowa Barn Foundation's passion for Iowa barns!
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