Please join us for our 2021 Spring Barn Tour Saturday, June 26, and Sunday, June 27, 2021. (Need more information about the tour? Call Roxanne Mehlisch, 641-751-1406).
Jack Smith, president of the Iowa Barn Foundation, who organized this tour, will give a personal preview of the amazing historic and beautiful barns at the Anamosa State Penitentiary (Sat & Sun, 10am-2pm). This is a first. These barns have never been open to the public before - this one-of-a-kind tour is free. And the Penitentiary Museum will be open noon-4pm each day.
In addition to the historic Anamosa State Penitentiary barns, an extraordinary tour, a one-of-a-kind event, touting Iowa historic treasured private historic barns, will also be on Saturday and Sunday, but 8:30 to 5 p.m. Also featured will be a close-up look at the history of Grant Wood, a revered quarry, Stone City, and some of the state's most picturesque landscape, centered in the Stone City and Anamosa area.
A light lunch will be served at the west farm on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 22002 Buffalo Ridge Road, west of Anamosa. For lunch reservations, send a check for $10 to Iowa Barn Foundation to Roxanne Mehlisch, 17590 730th Avenue, Zearing, IA 50278, or call 641-751-1406.
By the late 1860s, Iowa realized it had a problem. The state’s only prison, at Fort Madison in Lee County, was nearing capacity. Iowa needed a new penitentiary.
The tour will feature a walk on the grounds of the prison's historic site, bought by the state in 1875, and home to early twentieth century Romanesque Revival barns unique with the heavy density of walls, windows, and door openings.
The reformatory property was bought by the state because of the proximity to the valuable stone used in building the penitentiary and eventually transported by trains, around the country.
When the site was listed on the National Register in 1992, buildings included a South barn, a granary, root cellar, North barn, slaughter house, processing plant, seed house, dining hall, and cold frame. Some of those buildings remain.
When the state bought the property, there were 61 acres of farmland. Prisoners had a vegetable garden and raised some hogs. Farming did not become important until the turn of the century when 80 more acres were added. By 1917, prisoners were farming 380 acres of state lands and 1,675 acres of leased lands. Eventually all of this land was converted to six prison farms. The operation existed until the 1970s when the slaughtering operation was discontinued. The tour will include other Stone City area barns.
The penitentiary, located at 406 North High Street, Anamosa, is a maximum-security prison with a capacity of about 911 adult males.
Also on the Spring Tour are several other significant privately owned barns in this idyllic area, open both days, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.
This area of Iowa is truly scenic. These landscapes inspired Iowa's most famous son, Grant Wood. His childhood years were spent here, and he was able to capture on canvas who and what he observed. Possibly his best landscape work was his first, a depiction of Stone City finished in 1930, the same year he painted American Gothic. We will see and learn about his role in the area.
I would encourage everyone to dig into the history of this area before you visit. This is a unique piece of Iowa history that needs to be shared. This tour would not be possible without the consent of the prison warden Jeremy Larsen and his assistant, Tami Moore. Thank you for sharing these barns with Iowans! Thanks also to local historians Steve Wendl, Bob Hatcher, and Don Folkert for their help. Special thanks to Steve Hanken for locating important barns throughout the area and introducing helpful people. Because of Iowa barns, we have become good friends!
The Big Red Dairy Farm, on the prison property. The magnificent and huge dairy barn at the prison in Anamosa will be a highlight to the spring Iowa Barn Foundation area tour which will center in the intriguing Stone City area in Jones County. The barn was built in 1928 for $65,000. It was considered the largest barn in the state. The barn is northeast of the perimeter wall of the prison. It is 37 x 171 with another wing that measures 37 x 62. This barn had a 77 purebred cow herd in 1929. It had a pipeline milker and water drinking cups for each cow. There was an air exchange every 15 minutes. The barn was built with prison labor.
Big Red Barn Photo Credit: Dave Austin
Photo below - more barns on the prison property
Photo Credit: Dave Austin
See many more barn photos from Dave Austin, of Anamosa State Penitentiary Farms - March 2020 - see Google photo sharing at: Farm Photos
Brown barn, 15381 County X31, Anamosa. From Anamosa, take North Ford Rd. 3.5 miles straight to X31. The Brown barn was built in the 1860s. The stone was taken from quarries at Stone City and the State Penitentiary. In 1963, a single tornado hit the barn twice causing roof damage. The Brown family has owned this property since 1953. Thanks to Shane, his wife Mindy and son Aaron for allowing us to tour this beautiful historic barn! Photo Credit: Dave Austin.
The Dirks barn, 16647 190th St., Monticello. From South Main turn west on to 190th past Innovative Ag Services. The Dirks barn is a beautiful two bay landmark barn easily visible from Highway 151 near Monticello. The barn was built in 1881 by William Bates, with the second bay added ten years later. Max Dirks grandfather William Lieneman, a German immigrant purchased the farm in 1909. Karen Dirks owns the barn today. This barn will be a drive by only! Photo Credit: Dave Austin.
The Green Barn, 12559 Co Rd X 28, Anamosa, was built in 1889 and is one of the largest barns ever built in Iowa. The barn was large enough to house over 100 horses and included living quarters for stable attendants. It also housed it’s own blacksmith shop. The barn measuring 120 by 60 feet is 30 feet tall and is a good example of an Irish stone barn. This barn is a contributing piece of The Stone City Historic District listed in 2008. Thanks to Deb Berberich and family for sharing this one of a kind barn! Photo Credit: Dave Austin.
The Bohlken barn, 12489 148th St., Monticello. Go south from Monticello on Hwy 38 then right on 148th St. for 2 miles. This barn was built in 1914 by the Gerke Bohlken family. Today the barn is under the care of Wayne Bohlken a great grandson of Gerke. The barn was a dairy barn in an area known for its high quality butter. Thanks to Wayne and his wife Linda for sharing their barn. Photo Credit: Dave Austin.
The Grief Barn, 20028 Meadowlark Road, Monticello,1 mile south of Monticello on Hwy 38 then left on Meadowlark Road. This barn is thought to be an 1860’s threshing barn. The lack of openings for windows beyond the two at the peak, the deep threshold at the base of the doors, and the double doors on the north and south suggest this. This was a time when animals or flails were used to thresh small grains such as wheat or oats. The opposing doors could channel wind to winnow the chaff from the grain using screens. From all indications this is a rare find for Iowa! Thanks to Bill and Camela Grief for saving this barn and allowing it to be toured. Photo Credit: Dave Austin.
A special feature are the early twentieth century barns on the grounds of the site, referred to as the West Farm at the Iowa Men's Reformatory, west of Anamosa. The reformatory property was bought by the state because of its proximity to the stone. Through the years, notorious criminals were housed at the reformatory. The prison's dairy barn built in 1928 for $65,000. It is 37x171 feet with another wing that measures 37x62 feet.
For many years, it was the largest barn in Iowa with around 77 milking cows. Using that milk, they made cheese for prisoners and wards of the state. A pipeline milker was installed in 1929. The herd became renowned.
In 1850, limestone under the Wapsipinicon River put the area in the forefront of stone production. For 50 years, the quarries accounted for millions of dollars in sales. Old records suggest some 1000 men worked the quarries creating 160 loads of stone. Much of the quarrying was done by inmates at the prison.
J.A. Green, who operated three quarries, envisioned a city, known as Stone City, made entirely of stone to accommodate the city which had grown from 60 to 500 by l880. When Portland Cement Company, Waterloo, opened, the need for the quarries put the city on a downspin.
Edward Rowan, director of the Little Gallery in Cedar Rapids, and artist Grant Wood, who grew up on a farm four miles east of Anamosa and was dedicated to using local scenery in art, discussed making Stone City into an artists' colony. Other Midwest artists offered to join the venture and eventually become Iowa's major artists. The Carnegie Foundation invested in the project. Wood would not take payment for his teaching and art intellectual contributions.
By 1932, there were 90 students at the nationally renowned colony. But expenses were too great, and in 1933, the school was closed. Grant Wood had become a professor in the art department at University of Iowa.
The area remains important in America's heritage.