DES MOINES – It used to house dairy cattle near Muscatine. Today, it's one of Iowa's most treasured historic buildings.
Built in 1926, the Muscatine County Home Dairy Barn with its distinctive Gothic roof is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The barn was part of the Muscatine Country Poor Farm – also known as the Muscatine County Home – and housed dairy cattle that produced cream for sale and milk and butter for residents. It's located near the eastern edge of Discovery Park.
"We're pleased the Muscatine County Home Dairy Barn has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and we congratulate all the stakeholders who worked so hard on this successful nomination," State Historian Laura Sadowsky said. "This recognition marks an important milestone for Muscatine as it continues to preserve the legacy of its past for future generations of Iowans to enjoy."
The dairy barn's historical significance is tied to its association with the Poor Farm, which was created in 1883 by the county where "'unfortunates who could not care for themselves' (i.e., the poor, elderly, and physically or mentally disabled) were cared for at taxpayer expense," the dairy barn's National Register nomination form said.
Like all of Iowa’s Poor Farms, the Muscatine County Home was largely self-supporting because its agricultural production provided food for residents and extra provisions for sale that funded its operating expenses. The dairy barn was essential to the Muscatine County Home, which revolved around its purebred Holstein dairy herd.
"By 1961, the Muscatine County Home’s Holsteins were the top producing dairy herd among cooperators in the local Dairy Herd Improvement Association," the nomination form said. "The Muscatine County Home Dairy Barn reflects the history of the Muscatine County Home, a once important county institution that has all but disappeared."
In addition to its historical significance, the Muscatine County Home Dairy Barn is also recognized for its well-preserved Gothic roof barn.
"The curved Gothic roof barn, with its pleasing appearance and brace-free haymow, was the culmination of decades of effort on the part of farmers and agricultural engineers to achieve maximum loft space in the light-frame, two-story type Midwestern barn, many of which were built to house dairy herds and milking facilities," the nomination form said.
The barn is also recognized for being originally outfitted with equipment such as cow stanchions and a hay carrier purchased from the Louden Machinery Company in Fairfield, Iowa. Because Louden provided affordable architectural plans to all its equipment customers, the barn was most likely built with the company's plans.
In addition, the use of concrete in barn construction reflects Louden's barn plans and Iowa’s dairy farmers' widespread compliance to state sanitary regulations. Concrete also accommodated modern mechanized systems for livestock care, many of which were manufactured by Louden and installed in the Muscatine County Home Dairy Barn.
"Despite its metal clad roof and some interior modifications to make the building more accessible to the public as a museum, the Muscatine County Home Dairy Barn, represents this barn type well," the nomination form said.
The period of significance for the dairy barn is 1926 to 1966, which reflects the year it was built and put into service to when the county voted to build a new residential facility. The original Muscatine County Home was demolished in 1969.
The State Historic Preservation Office oversees the National Register of Historic Places program in Iowa in conjunction with the National Park Service. The State Historic Preservation Office is part of the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.