The Iowa Barn Foundation has planned a special tour of the Anamosa area in eastern Iowa for its spring 2021 tour on June 26 and June 27. Included will be a rare up-close viewing of the fascinating and historic barns at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, which were built through the years by inmates. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.
"The tour will be outdoors, and we will not be intermingling with inmates," says Jack Smith, president of the foundation, who organized the tour. Other special barns in the Anamosa area will be included on the tour. You can attend either day to fit your schedule.
This one-of-a-kind tour is free and open to the public. The barns at the state prison have never been open to the public before.
Historic, interesting architecture
"You will be treated to some of Iowa's best, most interesting architecture," Smith says. "The west farm site at the penitentiary is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — and when you see the incredible stonework, you'll understand why."
The stonework is unusually ornate and obviously functional. The barns will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both tour days. The prison museum, also an interesting and unique part of the visit, will be open from noon to 4 p.m. both days. Experts on the prison staff will be at the museum to explain its history and answer questions.
A light lunch will be served at the west farm on Saturday at noon. For lunch reservations, send a check for $10 made out to Iowa Barn Foundation, c/o Roxanne Mehlisch, 17590 730th Ave., Zearing, IA 50278. Call Mehlisch at 641-751-1406 if you have questions.
Several other privately owned extraordinary barns in this idyllic area of eastern Iowa will be included on the tour from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. "This area of Iowa is truly scenic," notes Steve Hanken, a foundation member who assisted Smith in locating important barns throughout the area.
Unique piece of Iowa history
The area's landscapes inspired famous Iowa artist Grant Wood. Wood’s childhood years were spent there, and he was able to capture the people and places he observed on canvas. Possibly his best landscape work was his first, a depiction of Stone City, finished in 1930 — the same year he painted "American Gothic."
"On this part of the upcoming tour, you'll see and learn about Grant Wood's role in the area," Smith says. "I encourage everyone who is interested in visiting to dig into the history of this area before you visit. This is a unique piece of Iowa history that needs to be shared."
The Iowa Barn Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1997 and is dedicated to promoting the preservation of Iowa's barns. The foundation's activities include a spring tour and a fall tour. This year’s fall tour, known as the annual Iowa All-State Barn Tour, will be held Sept. 25 and 26, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. For more information about these tours and about the Iowa Barn Foundation in general, visit the website, iowabarnfoundation.org. Membership information is also available on the website.
Swoboda is the recently retired editor of Wallaces Farmer magazine and a member of the Iowa Barn Foundation.