If you want to see a barn – or, indeed, any animals -- on the Iowa State University’s central campus - you might almost be out of luck. Only the Horse Barns remain active on central campus – and they are a great show when the foals are born.
But there’s also another ex-barn now converted for classes and offices, as well as a handful of other sites that might interest someone who cares about barns and agricultural history.
For starters, check out the converted horse barn known today as Old Landscape Architecture on Farm House Lane. It’s only a few hundred yards south of the existing barns.
It was built in 1901, primarily for horses and polo ponies (Iowa State had a competitive team). During World War I it was used to train horses (and men) in the cavalry.
Walk around the entire building in order to admire its grace and style. The large barn doors on the west façade have been replaced by a more modest entry up some stairs. The doors on the east façade, along with access to the haymow, have been largely replaced by windows and a fire escape.
If you are there between 7.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. on Monday through Friday, you can get some idea of what the original interior must have looked like.
Right across the road is the Farm House Museum. It was built in 1860 on what was then prairie. The Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm was still in the planning stage (and only opened 9 years later). It served as a family home for at least 115 years before the three-story building was renovated and restored to reflect the beauty and look of the 50-year period from 1860 – 1910.
Today, the Farm House Museum is open weekdays from 12.30 to 4.00 p.m., but closed weekends. Admission is free (click here to see the ISU webpage).
After that, you might consider visiting the old Veterinary Quadrangle – built in 1912 (with additions in 1956 and 1962). For decades the original Quadrangle was hailed as “the finest in the country and excelled by but few of the European [veterinary] schools.” It originally housed livestock in the west wing.
Once the Stange Memorial Clinic was constructed across the road in 1938, some of the Quad’s stable space was set aside for a studio for Danish sculptor – Christian Petersen. He created two campus relief sculptures that still resonate with rural Americans.
The first is a seven-panel “History of Dairying” located in an idyllic closed forecourt of the old Dairy Industry (now known as Food Sciences) building on the east side of campus. In the center of Petersen’s 1934 creation are three jersey cows and a bull bent over a trough above a fountain’s waving pool.
This beautiful, isolated patch has been called one of Iowa State’s “best kept secrets.” If ever you coveted a place to relax and contemplate, this is it.
Alas, the building is locked on Saturdays and Sunday. Access during weekdays is between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
How to get there: Park in a lot or the ramp on Wallace Road. Walk to the rather grand semi-circular steps at the southeast corner of the building. Follow the corridor and take the first right. You will soon see the courtyard on your left. Don’t forget your camera and perhaps a snack.
Petersen’s other magnificent rural sculpture is known as “The Gentle Doctor” and depicts a veterinarian holding an injured puppy against a background of veterinary practices. Created in terra cotta, by Petersen in 1937, it was originally located at the Quadrangle on campus.
When the Veterinary College moved off-campus, the sculpture followed. The original is inside, but a faithful replica of the entire work is easily visible at all hours in the Vet Med plaza just off Christensen Drive.
It’s a mile or so south of Campus off University Boulevard (the turning is not far from the southeast end of Jack Trice Stadium). Follow Christensen Drive until you think you are about to run out of building… The sculpture is just beyond the flagpole to your left (north).
Now for some bad stuff.
If you are a glutton for punishment, you might want to re-trace your steps and turn west on Mortensen Parkway until you pass Hayward Avenue and then have a look left at the U-shaped ISU Dairy Barns. They are today so deteriorated that they could be considered fodder for the ISU-sponsored Fire Training School.
At least your trip won’t be altogether in vain because you can still see the Dairy Farm Pavilion just to the east of the old barns. It was built in 1921 or 1922, is oval in shape and nicely sized. Like all pavilions, it is encircled by high windows for natural light and is quite similar in character to larger pavilions commonly built at major fair grounds.
The Pavilion’s future is still undecided, since the Dairy Farm has moved 3.7 miles away.
The building’s exterior trim and surroundings have been restored thanks to a joint effort by ISU students and faculty (with support from the dairy industry).
The Pavilion is only used today for storage, but Animal Science chair Don Beermann says he does not foresee this classic structure being demolished – at least during his tenure.
Dairy Pavilion death surrounded by mystery.
The body of ISU graphics design senior Jon Lacina, 21, was found in the boiler room of the Dairy Pavilion after he had been missing for 82 days – from Jan. 22 to April 14, 2010. How he got there and how he died are still matters for discussion and speculation, but the State Medical Examiner called it an accidental death as a result of hypothermia.
[The boiler room door is down a few steps on the southwest side of the Pavilion.] For more details, see the Iowa State Daily.
Another Testament to the Importance of the Barns
Not only is the presence of the ISU Horse barns a magnet for perspective students, but it also has an impact on faculty prospects – and not just in agriculture.
For example, Peter Collins, who is widely published in Materials Science and Engineering, was heavily recruited out of the University of North Texas.
He writes that it was the first thing he saw on his first campus visit. “I was driven by the horse barns and was asked whether I could imagine another top tier university with such buildings. I personally thought the barns were iconic, and were an excellent of the ‘living history’ of ISU.”
Collins, who accepted the position in July 2015, adds this: “It is most appropriate that the first Land Grant institution would remember and preserve its roots. It is part of what makes ISU special.”