Iowa Barn Honors Pioneer Stock Farm

Seems like people just love stories about Iowa barns. While this article I wrote first appeared in Farm News in 2011, friends have asked me to reprint it on my blog. Here’s a glimpse of some remarkable Iowa farm history. Enjoy!

The Z.T. Dunham Pioneer Stock Farm barn near Dunlap has stood for well over a century as a monument to Crawford County’s early history and the golden era of agriculture. Built in 1870 by Z.T. (Zachary Taylor) Dunham, the son of the first white settler in Crawford County, the barn housed the working horses of the Dunham farm and for decades served as a landmark that guided travelers in western Iowa.
Bricks for the barn, which stands on a slope up from the Boyer River, came from a kiln on the Dunham farmstead northwest of the barn. The barn’s walls are three bricks thick on the upper level and four bricks thick on the lower level. Other native materials incorporated into the historic barn include a hand-hewn, 40-foot walnut beam in the lower level, a testimony to the existence of large trees that grew along the Boyer River.

At the time the barn was built, Z.T. Dunham farmed in partnership with his brother Sam to grow crops and raise cattle and hogs. The men’s father, Cornelius, who first came to theCrawford County area in 1852, was a well-known pork producer who had been known as “Hog Dunham” in Jackson County, Iowa, where Z.T. was born. Cornelius was credited with introducing hogs to western Iowa, according to the book, “The Z.T. Dunham Pioneer Stock Farm and Late 19th Century Agriculture,” published by the Dunlap Historical Society. Z.T., who raised Poland China hogs, was also interested in shorthorn cattle and started a cattle ranch about five miles west of his home.

The Dunham barn, whose joists are secured by pegs in a mortise-and-tenon construction, included a number of unique, labor-saving features. A trap door was built in the floor above each of the 10 horse stalls so that the farmer could drop hay or grain from the upper level to the mangers below. On the lower level, a cable-and-pulley system allowed a large manure bucket to be pulled along the rear of the stalls so the manure could be transported to a wagon outside the barn.

Generations of Dunham children enjoyed playing in the barn. Carrie Dunham, who was born in 1880, recalled walking the beams of the big barn with the boys. While this placed the children 20 to 30 feet from the floor, they swung from one platform to another on the hay rope. “I was careful not to look down and was always glad when my feet settled firmly on the other side,” said Carrie, whose memories are preserved in the book from the Dunlap Historical Society.

In 1992, Virginia Dunham, along with her children, donated the Z.T. Dunham Pioneer Stock Farm barn and an acre of land to the Dunlap Historical Society. It was Virginia’s wish that the barn would be restored and used as a museum and interpretive center. Because of Virginia’s efforts, the barn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The Dunlap Historical Society has showcased the barn in many fundraising efforts, including the sale of t-shirts, sweatshirts and commemorative Christmas ornaments.
“The barn is a very important part of our history, and it’s worth saving,” said Jane Davie with the Dunlap Historical Society.


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