Big, red Lytton barn is on Iowa tour

LYTTON – Larry and Shirley Ellis’ barn is easy to spot.

The 40-foot structure is visible for several miles in either direction along U.S. Highway 20, which runs east and west just a few hundred yards south of their farm near Lytton.

Larry Ellis isn’t quite sure when it was built. He said that after researching the property’s abstract and other data, the closest he could come was determining it was built sometime before 1918.

“That’s when it first showed up on the tax rolls,” he said.

The Ellis barn is one of nearly 100 that will be open for free self-guided tours in the Iowa Barn Foundation’s All-State Barn Tour Saturday and again Sept. 29.

The tour celebrates Iowa’s history, but the Ellis barn is far from a museum piece.

“We’ve always used it,” Larry Ellis said.

The Ellises moved to the farm in 1971. In 1998, a hail storm severely damaged the old shake shingle roof, and they replaced it with modern steel.

“You have to save the roof,” he said.

In addition, there was damage to some of the concrete caused by exposure to hog manure that needed to be repaired.

In 2000, they applied to the Iowa Barn Foundation for a grant and, in 2001, performed the restoration work.

“We needed to fix it or it was going to go to pieces,” Shirley Ellis said. “The Barn Foundation does a matching grant. So you pay half and they pay half.”

The structure has been in Larry Ellis’ memories for a long time.

“I was thrilled with that barn since I was a kid,” he said.

It has seen a number of uses through the years – it once housed a herd of dairy cattle – and hogs have called it home. Today, it’s used for hay storage, housing for some of the family’s Arabian horses and a calving shelter for their Tarentaise cattle.

There are, of course, a few cats roaming about and a cobweb or two.

The barn is still very much a part of life on the farm.

“If it could talk,” Larry Ellis said. “Things have died in here, things have been born in here.”

The couple would never consider doing without it.

“That is the centerpiece of this whole farmstead,” he said.

Though they never get to go on the barn tour, Shirley Ellis said she always notices the old barns as she drives through the country.

“I just think they’re something from our past that you don’t see anymore. You see more metal structures. This is just something from the past that means a lot to me,” she said.

Most barns on tour have been restored with matching grants from the Iowa Barn Foundation. Other property owners received awards of distinction from the foundation for restorations they undertook themselves.

The Iowa Barn Foundation, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization founded in 1997, raises money from individuals, foundations, and corporations to give matching grants to property owners to restore their barns. The barns must be restored as closely to original as possible. The property owner must sign a perpetual easement when receiving a grant.

The purpose of the tour is to encourage barn preservation in the state, to teach young people about Iowa’s rich agricultural heritage, and to renew pride in this unique heritage. Owners will discuss the barns and their histories at many stops. Visitors are expected from around the country.

The tour is free, although donations to support the foundation’s work are accepted.