Dan Harvey's clay-tile barn rises majestically up against the cerulean sky. Framed by cottonwoods easily a hundred years old, the Harveys - Dan and Michelle and Dan's father Vere - stand before that barn, thinking of who built it maybe, and how it's still here after all these years.
The Harveys' barn and other outbuildings southeast of Gruver were a local focal point of the Iowa Barn Tour this past weekend. In addition to the barn, built in 1925, there's a chicken house and shop, both built in 1919, and a 1921 crib, all made of the same clay-tile material. There's also a clay-tile garage and two wood structures with a lot of history in their own right - a woodframe house dating to 1899 and an ice house that once housed slabs of ice cut from Swan Lake and stored through the summer between layers of sawdust or ground corncobs.
To know the real history of the Harveys in Iowa, you have to go back to Alexander Harvey of Scotland who crossed the ocean, starting in March 17, 1850, getting shipwrecked, then rescued by a salt boat, then ending up in Oswego, Ill.
Vere, Dan and Michelle Harvey with Keesha by the Harveys’ 1925 clay-tile barn.
Son William came along in 1861 followed by Stuart and the brothers ventured west to Algona and Emmetsburg in 1886.
I have some real good land, rich land, a land agent told them, so they bought 160 underwater acres for $8 an acre, William settling on what's now Dan's place with Stuart first going to the south then later buying a place to the north of William, now owned by Mark Devary.
Dan bought the place from his second cousins, Connie Dahna and Judy Stowe, putting the family homestead in Harvey hands for 113 years. Connie and Judy's father was Bill Harvey whose father was William, son to William who homesteaded the place.
Dan has kicked around a number of ideas of what he'd like to do with the place, including opening a museum. His ultimate goal is to get it on the National Register.
It's certainly worthy of that distinction, the unique clay-tiled barn and outbuildings presenting a unique complement to the landscape.
The barn is unique in its own right. There's a brick floor where the horses were kept and a milking parlor. The loft above has a basketball-court-size floor and the rail along the ridge pole above is intact - just as it was when haul was hauled through the big double doors to the haymow. Visitors' suggestions for barn dances sound like a pretty good idea, Dan ponders.
The granary was once a commercial operation - in competition with Golden Sun, even, grinding feed for local customers. The elevator leg is still there along with 8,000 bushels of storage. Climb the series of steps to the top of the granary, then a bit further up on the ladder, and you see what could be the ultimate penthouse - a good 50 feet off the ground, the swell of prairie unfolding below.
On the sides of the granary are ventilation slots - such as you would see on the seldom-seen corncribs here and there throughout the countryside. Dan, who travels widely in his job, said he's seen only one or two others like it.
The blacksmith shop is entirely intact, the forge still there replete with coal, a woodworking shop to the north side of the building.
Harvey roots go deep here - deeper than you would imagine. Dan said his grandmother, Margaret Harvey, tells that when the Harveys first settled the place in 1899 they could look out from their front porch toward the south where smoke curled from Winnebago tipis on the shores of High Lake.
To help preserve this heritage, the Iowa Barn Foundation helped with the barn roof through a grant. In exchange, the Harveys are giving tours for 10 years - such as the one last weekend.
It's a good investment, one that will pay off years down the road when people will continue to tell the Harveys' story.
Because it's a good one.