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On March 22, 1858, Governor of Iowa Ralph P. Lowe signed the legislative bill establishing the State Agricultural College and Model Farm. The bill provided for a board of trustees to manage the model farm and college to be developed. At the time, the site of the institution was not determined and in the spring of 1859 the trustees addressed the location issue. Several Iowa communities presented proposals to the trustees. Residents of Story and Boone counties presented an attractive proposal to locate the new institution at a site west of Squaw Creek and downtown Ames. The proposal included significant gifts of land and funding to assist in developing the College site. The Story County site was selected by the trustees on June 21, 1859.
The first concern was establishing the model farm specified in the legislation. Priority was given to two buildings. A farm house and livestock barn were both considered essential as a beginning, and construction of these two started in 1860. Construction of Old Main, the first academic building, was delayed until 1865. The delay was thought to be due, in part at least, to economic conditions related to the Civil War.
The story "Barns of Iowa State" begins with the construction of a cattle barn in 1860 and continues to this day; however, the barns considered here are those that are or would be more than 50 years old. During this 140-year period, barns have been an integral part of Iowa State's efforts to serve in the Land Grant tradition. In subtle and almost mysterious ways, though made of timber, clay and steel, they have become a part of us - a part of our culture. Students, faculty, farmers, and those serving the livestock industry have many memories related to utilization of these facilities for learning the latest technologies and methods for animal production and care. Many students have worked in these facilities to earn a part of the cost of attending Iowa State and to gain extensive experience in livestock production. The barns have provided facilities for literally thousands of student-managed activities and events related to career development. These experiences have been not only an important part of professional development but in many cases have formed the basis of lifelong friendships. Many students, faculty, and conference attendees remember fondly social functions such as barn dances, barbecues, picnics, and breakfasts held in and around the barn areas on campus. Thus, the barns were and are loved for many reasons. Some reasons are related to what Iowa State has contributed to the lives and professional pursuits of individuals and society in the larger sense. Some are related to human and animal relationships that developed between students and the animals they studied and cared for. Some are related to the fact that a homesick freshman could go to a barn and be in surroundings that made one feel a little closer to home. In all cases, however, the barns were loved because they represented an important part of our heritage associated with agriculture and rural life. The barns reflect something about the important symbiotic relationship between humans and animals and the contributions of the livestock sector of agriculture to society as a whole. Strong appreciation exists because the barns represent an important component of the architectural heritage of Iowa State and the Midwest. And finally, some love them simply because they represent an architectural style that reflects a unique combination of beauty, simplicity, and magnificence developed by the mind and hand of simple folk. All of these feelings are intensified in that such important historical examples are rapidly disappearing from the landscape.
Many of the Iowa State barns reflected a common thread in architectural style. To some extent this was because a limited number of architects did the designs. In addition, function of the facilities dictated common elements of design. While each building was different in detail, all had to meet standard functions for housing animals and the storage of feed resources. In viewing the buildings over the years and in looking at pictures of those long since buried as dusty rubble in unmarked graves, there are common threads that characterize the buildings. They were modest in size, usually rather austere in internal finish, simple and functional in design and in the case of the major barns were built of durable materials. As these served over the years they remained straight and true and, even though often neglected in terms of maintenance, were strong in frame and ready for refurbishing when their turn came.
Of the historic Iowa State barns described below, only two remain in largely original condition of design and material - the Horse Barn located in the northeast part of campus and the Dairy Barn and associated buildings located at the University Dairy Farm on Mortensen Road south of the campus. Looking at these on a beautiful day and hearing the haunting sounds of Bells of Iowa State wafting in the distance from the Campanile, one is reminded of the importance of these old structures in the heritage of the Institution. They like the bells are a part of the Iowa State culture. And like the bells and the Campanile that houses them, those that remain must be restored and preserved as a part of our heritage even though usage of the buildings may change over time.
The following descriptions of the individual barns of Iowa State include the date of construction and in most cases the date of razing as these buildings have given way to other needs. Such dates are based on the extensive work of H. Summerfield Day in his book, The Iowa State University Campus and Its Buildings 1859-1979. The book was published in limited numbers in 1980 and is on permanent reserve in the Special Collections section of the William Robert and Ellen Sorge Parks Library at Iowa State University. Mr. Day was University Architect 1966-1975 and Planning Coordinator for Facilities 1975-1980. Additional resources are: The Land Grant Idea at Iowa State College by Earle Ross published by the Iowa State University Press, Ames, in 1958 on the occasion of Iowa State's centennial; A Heritage of Leadership by Richard Willham published by the Animal Science Department, Iowa State University, in 1996 commemorating the department's centennial; and Iowa's Historic Architects, A Biographical Dictionary by Wesley I. Shank published in 1999 by University of Iowa Press, Iowa City. Finally, an Iowa State University report by Wesley I. Shank, The Impact of the Proposed North Campus Loop Road, Iowa State University Campus Upon Historic Architecture, dated November 30, 1989, provided some architectural descriptions.