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Farm House

College Farm to University Museum

Mary E. Atherly

Publication Year: 2009

Now available for the first time in paperback, Farm House tells the story of the first structure built on the Iowa State University campus. Mary Atherly provides a comprehensive history of the Farm House from its founding days to its role as the center of activity for the new college to its second life as a welcoming museum visited by thousands each year.

Construction on the little red brick house on the prairie began in 1860, two years after the state legislature passed a measure providing for the establishment of the State Agricultural College and Model Farm. In the 1860s, as the only finished house on campus, the building was the first home for all new faculty members, farm managers, farm superintendents, the college’s first president, and their families. In the 1870s, after the college officially opened its doors, the Farm House also served meals to as many as thirty people each day, most of whom boarded there.

As the college grew, the house became home to the deans of agriculture; it was expanded in 1886 and renovated in the 1890s. After the last dean of agriculture moved out in 1970, the Farm House was lovingly restored to its nineteenth- and early twentieth-century appearance. Now a National Historic Landmark, it opened to the public as a museum on July 4, 1976.

This second edition includes a discussion of the archaeological dig of 1991, which carefully excavated the area under the Farm House, and thoroughly documents the extensive renovation and reconstruction of the exterior of the house during the 1990s. New photographs add to the first edition’s rich array of images and a foreword by Gregory Geoffroy, ISU’s president since 2001, adds to its historical content. The history of Iowa’s only land-grant university and its impressive cultural and educational impact on the state and the nation as it evolved from model farm to college to modern multipurpose university is inseparable from the history of the Farm House.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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pp. vii-viii

Nestled in the northeast corner of the expansive and beautiful Iowa State University campus, the Farm House quietly and humbly represents the very essence of this great institution of higher learning and service. More than one hundred and fifty years ago—on March 22...

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Director's Foreword

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pp. ix-x

Iowa State University has seen significant changes throughout its history, and the Farm House has remained a constant presence through it all. Built on Iowa’s prairie of waving grass, the Farm House was constructed in the early 1860s to establish the model farm for the new college. It became a home for the early families, faculty, and staff of the emerging college. These early residents gave birth to and then refined new ideas in higher education for the citizens of Iowa and...

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pp. xi

The idea for a book about the history of the Farm House developed following a conversation in 1990 between Lynette Pohlman, director of the University Museums, and myself. She asked me what I would really like to do if I had all the time in the world. At that time, as curator of the Farm House Museum, I was most interested in researching the lives of the people who had lived at the Farm House....

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1. Tour of the Farm House Museum

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pp. 3-28

Once a lonely structure on the prairie frontier, Iowa State University’s Farm House stands among large, modern buildings in the midst of a busy campus. Stories and myths obscure the true history of the house but give rise to some interesting possibilities. One theory is that the Farm House really was an old stagecoach stop and tavern during the 1860s. Another story tells of secret tunnels in the basement where runaway slaves hid on their trip...

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2. Origin and Construction of the Farm House

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pp. 29-42

In a lecture entitled Iowa, A Character Study, Tom Morain, former director of education at the Des Moines Living History Farms, describes Iowans as having a unique sense of “US-ness” about them. It comes, he says, from a background of strong family partnerships, family farms, and small rural communities. This same sense of family partnerships combined with a strong work ethic existed in the early settlers of Iowa who began streaming into the...

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3. First Residents of the Farm House

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pp. 43-64

Supporters of the agricultural college had every reason to be disillusioned during the early 1860s. Just months after the April 1861 start of the Civil War, old and young men alike left their Iowa farms behind and went off to fight. Few men remained on the farms and help was difficult to find. The state would not and could not provide any additional money for the agricultural...

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4. First Years of the College, 1869-1879

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pp. 65-86

The State Agricultural College and Model Farm opened its doors for business on March 17, 1869, with 173 bewildered students, half of whom required remedial classes; four eager faculty who made up the textbooks from their notes; and one partially finished college building that served as dormitory, dining room, chapel, and classroom. The Farm House was well established on the east side of the campus and provided a temporary...

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5. The Knapp Years: Sketches of Nineteenth-Century College Life

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pp. 87-106

Advocates of Seaman Knapp’s appointment as head of the new Department of Practical and Experimental Agriculture at the college believed, as biographer Joseph Bailey wrote, that Knapp was about to “work some minor miracles for the farmers of the state,...advancing an...expanded program of farm experimentation at the college farm.” It was a subject, Bailey noted, that Knapp frequently wrote about in the Farmer’s Journal. President...

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6. The Wilson and Curtiss Years

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pp. 107-140

In the late fall of 1890, the powerful Iowa Stock Breeders Association delivered several ultimatums to the trustees of the agricultural college. These demands, they believed, would save their “farmers’ college” from the liberalized curriculum which evolved under President Chamberlain’s direction. These ultimatums eventually resulted in a complete revision of the agriculture program at the school and created a new position by merging the...

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7. The Final Years of Active Use

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pp. 141-162

After Charles Curtiss’s death in 1947, Professor Elizabeth Hoyt of the Department of Economics shared the Farm House with two other employees of the college, Dr. Frances (Mary Agnes) Carlin and Beulah McBride. They lived there until the summer of 1948 when the house was reconditioned for use as a “home management house.” The concept of home management...

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8. Restoration and Museum

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pp. 163-188

After 110 years of continual use, there were no immediate plans for another tenant after Andre moved out in the summer of 1970. Some believed the Farm House had outlived its usefulness on campus and there was talk of just bulldozing the century-old house, since it needed substantial repairs, to make room for a modern classroom building. For the first time in its long history of service to the college, the Farm House stood empty,...

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9. Exterior Restoration: One Hundred Forty Years Later, a Facelift

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pp. 189-216

In the fall of 1991 volunteers helped the museum staff with a general cleanup day around the Farm House Museum in preparation for winter. While washing windows, curator Mary Atherly noticed a significant number of new cracks in the stucco as well as areas of rotting wood on the west porch columns, so was faced with developing a plan for major exterior repairs and finding the funds to pay for them. House Museum for grants to fund architectural assessments.This type...

Appendix A: Brief Architectural History of the Farm House

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pp. 217-225

Appendix B: Residents of the Farm House, Chronological Listing

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pp. 226-229

Appendix C: Residents of the Farm House, Alphabetical Listing

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pp. 230-232

Appendix D: Chronology of the Farm House

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pp. 233-236


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pp. 237-244


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pp. 245-250

E-ISBN-13: 9781587298875
E-ISBN-10: 1587298872
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587298103
Print-ISBN-10: 1587298104

Page Count: 262
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: paper