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Annual barn tour showcases Iowa’s rural treasures

September 15, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, , Messenger News

In a historic Iowa barn, each nail holds some history.

Iowa's agricultural history will be on display next weekend at the Iowa Barn Foundation's All-State Barn Tour, as nearly 100 barns across the state open their doors to visitors.

The tour is self-guided and free to the public. At many locations, the owners will give tours or information about the barn's history.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Gladys McBurney, rural Humboldt, received a grant to repair the 120-year-old barn on her family farm. Hers is one of nearly 100 barns that will be on display during the All-State Barn Tour.

"Barns are symbols of honesty, integrity and the American dream. Isn't that what we're all searching for?" said Jacqueline Andre Schmeal, president of Iowa Barn Foundation.

Schmeal helped found the group in 1997. She was concerned when she saw Iowa's barns disappearing, but she assumed some historical foundation would step up to take care of them. When that didn't happen, she helped get a group together herself.

"In a lot of states where there's no effort like this, barns are going and it's very sad," she said. "When they're gone they're gone."

Fact Box

If you go:

WHAT: Iowa Barn Foundation 2012 All-State Barn Tour

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sept. 23

WHERE: Barns throughout the state

For more information, visit

Area barns on the tour

For a complete list of barns, visit

Ferguson barn, 40415 130th Ave., Laurens, Pocahontas County, 3 3/4 miles straight north of Laurens - Barn and landmark "conehead" crib were built in 1912. Elevator still works.

Clancy barn, 1866 Marengo Ave., state highways 4 and 7, Pomeroy, Calhoun County - Barn was built in 1948 by Leo Clancy, charter member of Charlois Association, who raised the cattle on the farm.

Dreyer barn, 102 310th St., Fenton, Kossuth County. From the south side of Fenton, turn west on Kossuth County Road B19. Go 3/4 miles west to second place on the south side of road - Barn was built in 1903 and used as a dairy barn until 1944. There is a 1,000-gallon wooden water storage tank in its hayloft. Manure unloading system is intact.

Hansen barn, 4015 340th Ave., Ruthven, Clay County. Take Clay County Road N18 four miles south of Ruthven - Corn crib holds 7,000 bushels of ear corn, and in the center of the crib is storage for 4,000 bushels of small grain. In the middle of the crib is a bucket system that transports ear corn to the top of the corn crib and releases it into multiple outlets.

McBurney barn, 2550 Gotch Park Road, Humboldt, Humboldt County. At the Westside elevator, turn right. Go to Gotch Park Road and take the blacktop 2 1/2 miles - Stephen Taft, who founded Springvale, which became Humboldt, owned the land on which this barn stands. In 1874 he sold the land to Lorbeers, who built the house and barn. Both are still in use. The barn was built in 1890.

Ellis barn, 2370 Fletcher Ave., Lytton, Calhoun County. The barn is 3 miles east and 2 1/2 miles north of Lytton. - Landmark red barn, used to raise Red Rock Arabians, is called the "big red barn" by locals. It was built in 1918 and is 40 feet high to the eaves. It has 3-by-12-inch timbers.

Renze barn, 22695 U.S. Highway 71, Carroll, Carroll County, 3 miles west of Carroll - Farm was known as "Old Mattes Place."

Ed Sextro crib, 12708 280th St., Manning, Carroll County - Landmark corn crib was built in the early 1900s. It's one of the oldest cribs in the area. The late Ed Sextro cared so much about this crib that it was the cover of his funeral program.

Richards barn, 2201 R Ave., Jamaica, Greene County. Go 3 miles south of Old Highway 30 on Q Avenue (P30) ,which becomes R Avenue - The Thornburgh Home Place shows off all of its original buildings, which have been preserved, including a 1930s milking barn with original stanchions. The barn is only open on Sunday this year.

The foundation now gives grants to property owners to help them restore old rural buildings.

"The barns that have gotten grants, they follow guidelines," Schmeal said. "There's no metal siding. They have to be as historically accurate as possible."

Gladys McBurney got a grant to fix the 120-year-old barn on her family farm south of Humboldt.

McBurney said when she and her husband, Harold, first decided to fix up the barn, the man they hired only did some of the work before declaring bankruptcy, leaving them out for a large sum they'd paid up front.

"Then some friends told us, you need to get in touch with this foundation that's restoring barns," she said.

They didn't pay the whole bill, but the foundation did give some money which allowed the McBurneys to get a team from West Bend to finish the work. They easily found the right kind of siding where the McBurneys had failed before.

"This guy we had first said you couldn't get the siding anymore, like what was on there. My husband's health was not good, and I don't know one board from another," McBurney said.

The barn was restored around 1983, she said, and was repainted in 2011.

"Harold always said, 'Don't let things get so bad,'" McBurney said. "It takes a lot more money to fix it up if it gets so run down."

Harold McBurney passed away in 2005.

Gladys McBurney, 88, has given the tour nearly every year since the restoration was complete. She grew up working on the farm with her family, so she can tell all the details of how the barn was used. She tells how her mother used a team of horses to lift a sling full of hay into the spacious haymow, back before modern hay balers.

The barn contains an old horse-drawn sleigh that McBurney remembers using and an antique ensilage cutter that was used to fill the barn's two silos.

"They would cut the corn down before it got real dry. This chopped it up and threw it into the silo," she said.

She also leads visitors through the horse pen on the lower level of the barn and shows where her family kept about 35 dairy cows in stalls. Harold and Gladys McBurney took over the dairy business from her parents when they retired.

The barn was built by the Lorbeers in 1890. It was then sold to McBurney's grandfather, who used to herd cattle in the Alps before coming to America.

"I was so glad to get to the State Fair this year, when they made this farm a Century Farm. That means it's been in the family 100 years," she said.

Keeping alive the memory of these early settlers is one reason for the tour, Schmeal said.

"When I look at a barn that's what I see. I think of the person who built it, who came to America trying to get going with a livelihood," she said. "Often, they lived in the barn first. They were working 90 hours a day doing their animals, their crops, and also building their barns so they could take care of their animals and crops. I don't know if it was 90 hours, but they worked.

"That's why it's so important to preserve these treasures. Think of all the effort that went into these barns. It's not just the barns, it's the people who built them."



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