Renew | The Simpson Barn

simpson barn johnston save the barn iowa

Julia’s note: Mary Jane sent a note that needs to be made before the Simpson Barn story continues.

There is one correction that needs to be clarified. In your introduction to the first installment, you state that the barn is owned by the historical society. The barn was first donated to the Johnston Historical Society. We refurbished it and then turned it over to the City of Johnston once it was completed. The City owns the barn as it stands now.


[Historical] Society members continued to work on the inside of the ground level. Johnston High School has a graduation requirement of community service and we were happy to welcome the skill and enthusiasm of students who saw what we were trying to do.

On Sept 11, 2003, as a community service project for a 9-11 memorial, Pioneer Hi-Bred International employees came to help us. They were shown what we wanted accomplished and they swept through both buildings finishing all that we had ready for them to do.

I had heard that the City had used prison labor on a remodeling project at a community building. I checked with the Dept. of Corrections and showed their representatives the extent of the work that we were doing. We became the first non-profit group to host these talented, hardworking people. A group of men showed up to show off their skills and a need to show what they were capable of. The inside walls were sided with cedar fencing, using the recycled horse stall lumber as molding. The bathrooms were lined with knotty pine recycled from the farmhouse and industrial steel siding. The stall walls for the bathrooms were recycled, sand blasted, and powder coated by Iowa Prison Industries.

We were very fortunate to have a Society member who was a retired heating and AC contractor. His donation of expertise and our purchase of wholesale equipment made the HVAC system possible. The ground level is comfortable for all seasons. The berm on the north and east sides of the barn makes a big difference in the utility bill for the city.

By this time, the community was beginning to see the dream we had that the building would become a valuable asset. We received a grant from a local bank to buy materials for the cultured stone façade. This stone was expertly installed with prison labor.

The roof of the barn had taken a beating with prevailing winds and we knew that we would need to put on something sturdy. We found a steel roof that looked like the original asphalt roof. It can withstand 120 mile an hour winds. The Johnston Chamber of Commerce donated the funds that would pay for a good asphalt roof. The City pitched in to make the steel roof a reality.

At the City Council meeting when we turned over the turn key ready barn to the City, it felt like we were turning one’s own beloved child over to a new guardian. It has been gratifying to see word spread about using it for events. Parks staff has shown that there is a respect for the vision and hard work that went into creating a unique venue that represents the agricultural heritage of the Johnston area.

Be sure to come back and read the rest of the story later, from the City’s point of view.


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a diverse background for a unique perspective.
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