When Alvin (Al) Liske and his wife, Jean, signed up for the Barn Quilts of Sac County project, they had no idea how much attention this would attract to their stately World War II-era barn west of Early, Iowa.
“Our barn has been featured in Eleanor Burns’ book, ‘Quilt Blocks on American Barns,’ and it was also included on the cover of the Department of Transportation’s 2009 map of Iowa,” said Jean.
Burns, a popular television personality who gained famed for her “Quilt in a Day” system, visited the Liske barn last year when she traveled to Iowa to participate in the Sac County Quilt-a-Fair. She was especially intrigued by the Country Lanes barn quilt pattern that graces the barn’s haymow door. She noted that Country Lanes is a very old pattern that was originally published by Mountain Mist, a company that began selling quilt batting in Cincinnati in 1846.
“We chose the Country Lanes block, because we live on a gravel road,” said Jean, who works in the registrar’s office at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake. “Even though we’re off the beaten path, it’s not uncommon to see people drive out here and take photos of the barn.”
Jean’s father, Herman Puetz, built the barn for approximately $4,000 around 1943 or 1944 on the Boyer Valley Township farm that his family had purchased in 1930. The new barn replaced an existing barn that was made from cottonwood lumber. After the concrete foundation for the new barn was poured, lumber was not readily available for the building, due to the war. In the meantime, the family roller skated on the concrete slab. “When construction started again, I can also remember going with my parents to Albert Lea, Minn., to get the rafters for the barn, and I thought that was a really long trip,” said Jean, who noted that the barn includes glazed tile on the bottom and originally had wood shingles on the rounded, gothic roof.
Herman kept horses in the barn, said Jean, who added that farming with horses could be dangerous. “One time when my Uncle George was hauling manure on our farm, something spooked the horses, and they ran toward a barbed wire fence. My uncle jumped off, and he broke his ankle, which got infected.”
Jean’s father, who was one of 12 children, also milked cows on the east side of the barn and kept plenty of hay in the haymow. “I’d play in the barn with my brothers and sister, and we’d make tunnels and caves and houses with the bales. When enough hay had been fed, there would be bare spots in the haymow, and we’d play basketball up there,” said Jean, who noted that the haymow still includes basketball hoops.
After Jean married Al and the couple moved to the farm where Jean grew up, the Liskes raised cattle and hogs in the barn and farmed from the early 1960s until the 1980s. In 2005, the couple decided to remodel the barn, which still had a good foundation. “It was getting to the point where we needed to fix up the barn or think about tearing it down, and we didn’t want to watch the barn fall down,” said Jean, who noted that the family power washed the interior, rebuilt windows and doors, had the barn rewired, covered the roof with red steel and added a staircase to the haymow.
The barn, which is now used for storage, became
a favorite play area for the Liske’s grandchildren. “The barn is an important part of our family’s heritage, and it’s one of the few old buildings left on this farm,” Jean said. “My dad was always proud of the barn, and we’re glad we’ve maintained it.”
Note from Darcy: I first wrote this piece in 2010 for Farm News.
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It started as a dairy barn in the 1920s on a farm north of Adel. By the mid-1990s, the farm was gone but the barn remained part of an acreage surrounded by new housing developments. In 2006, the barn became the hub of Penoach Winery and remains a big draw at this central Iowa destination.
“I like the fact that the barn is rustic and has lasted all these years,” said Joanie Olson, who runs Penoach Winery with her husband, Stan. “Our customers also love the old barn.”
The clay-tile barn was built on the H.B. Kinnick farm north of Adel to house dairy cattle. It was likely constructed with clay-tile blocks made in Adel. Olson recently met an 89-year-old gentleman from Arizona who is related to the Kinnick family and grew up on the farm.
“His father lost the farm during the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Olson said. “This man recalled sitting on the back porch and crying during the farm auction.”
In 1960, Olson’s parents, Paul and Mildred Hufferd, purchased the 240-acre farm, where they raised crops, cattle and hogs. Olson moved back to her family’s farm around 1980-81 with her husband, Stan, who had grown up on a farm near Lake Mills. The couple farmed for about 15 years. “My dad raised pigs in the barn, and then Stan did, too,” Olson said.
Although Stan began selling insurance after he quit farming, he never lost his passion for agriculture. “Stan missed growing things, so he planted 50 grape plants in 1999,” Olson said. In 2000, the Olsons started a grape nursery to supply grape vines to wineries that were taking root across Iowa.
Within a few years, the Olsons decided to start their own vineyard and winery. Penoach Winery, which reflects Adel’s original name, opened in 2006. Today, the operation includes 4 acres of grapes behind the barn, not far from areas once covered by cornfields and a hog lot.
“The barn was in pretty good shape when we started remodeling it for the winery,” Olson said. “We worked from top to bottom, starting with cleaning out the hay and pressure washing the barn.”
The transformation also included new floors, electrical wiring, plumbing, windows, doors and a covered patio on the south side of the barn. “Stan did most of the work,” Olson added.
While couple installed their wine-making equipment in the back of the barn, the space wasn’t quite large enough. About four years ago, the couple moved this equipment to a nearby shed and transformed the back room of the barn into a gathering space, complete with comfortable chairs. In the adjoining room, guests can browse the gift shop, which showcases 18 varieties of wine made at Penoach Winery.
“We enjoy meeting lots of people who visit our winery,” Olson said. “We’re glad we can share our barn with them.”
Want more Iowa culture and history? The barn at Penoach Winery will be featured in my upcoming book, Dallas County, a pictorial history from Arcadia Publishing, which will be released in the summer of 2017. In the meantime, check out my top-selling “Calhoun County” book, which showcases the history of small-town and rural Iowa, as well as my “Culinary History of Iowa” book from The History Press. Order your signed copy today!
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@Copyright 2017 Darcy Maulsby & Co.