History, Mission, Objectives and Accomplishments
In late summer of 1991, citizens learned that the last remaining round barn in Wayne County was about to be sold. Concerned that new owners would demolish the historically significant structure, a core group formed a non-profit corporation, secured a bank loan, and successfully completed the purchase of the 93-acre farm located one mile east of Allerton. The International Center for Rural Culture and Art, Inc. was born.
The purpose of the 501(c)3 non-profit corporation is rural education through historical preservation. Recognizing the importance of Iowa’s rural heritage, the corporation provides opportunities to educate the public, both youth and adults, about past and present rural life.
At its inception, the organization’s emphasis on historic preservation concentrated on the 1912 round barn built by Ed Nelson for landowner George Fennell. The 50-foot diameter barn features a loft free of support columns due to unique spider web construction. Eight milking stanchions, animal holding stalls and granary complete the main floor of the barn. Restoration work included the repair or replacement of doors, windows, and siding, a new cedar shake roof, restoration of the cupola, and the installation of a staircase to make the mow accessible to the public. All restoration focused on authenticity—maintaining the barn’s historic value.
The 1994 relocation of the 1868 Spring Branch Church added another significant structure to the site. Restoration of the church had been completed when the church was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire on May 20, 1998. Soon after the devastating loss, another rural Wayne County church, the New York Christian Church, was donated to the organization. The 1887 church was moved to the site in the fall of 1998 and restored. Several weddings are held in the church each year and the community comes together for a worship service during their annual fall celebration.
In September of 1996, a one-room country school was moved to the site. Restoration of Williams School, built in 1869, was completed in 1997. Many local residents offered school related items to be displayed.
Another preservation project on site is the establishment of a shelter belt of trees and shrubs. The Center received a $3,100 grant from Trees Forever/IES Branching Out to purchase trees for the site. On May 3, 1997, volunteers planted 168 trees to beautify the site and protect the historic structures.
From the beginning of the organization, board members hoped to add a house to the site. On September 27, 2004 that dream became a reality when an 1897 Queen Anne house was moved from Allerton. The original owner, Joseph F. Wilson, was a Civil War veteran who, at the age of seventeen, lost his left arm in the Battle of Shiloh. Mr. Wilson later became a prominent banker in Allerton. The house was placed on a full walk-out basement that now has a meeting room and handicap accessible restrooms.
Funding for the original purchase of the site and restoration was provided by the generous support of local residents and businesses, former residents, Allerton High School alumni (this school no longer exists), and numerous fund raising activities. P. Buckley Moss, nationally known artist, visited the site and prepared a print depicting the Round Barn and Spring Branch Church. Ms. Moss donated 200 copies of Iowa Morn to the corporation and sales of these prints netted over $25,000 for the restoration costs of the Spring Branch Church. Currently, five acres of the farm are reserved for the historic buildings and public use. The remainder of the farm is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and seeded to native plants. Funding for improvements is dependent upon private donations, public fundraising activities, and tour admission fees. The corporation has received very minimal support from grants.
The Round Barn Site is a source of pride for Wayne County’s residents. It serves the community by hosting craft, quilt and art shows, inter-faith church services, weddings, family reunions, workshops, youth day camps, etc. The site is open for tours during June, July and August, Friday through Sunday 1–4 p.m. Off-season tours may be arranged by reservation by calling 641-873-4259 or 641-870-6500. Numerous out-of-county guests visit the site annually, including youth and senior citizen bus tours. The site makes Iowa history come to life for young and old alike.
The Board of Directors is committed to their long-range vision of continually adding to and improving the site. This effort requires an extensive volunteer effort and successful fundraising. The dream will become reality through the community’s dedication to preserving the past and improving the future.