A facelift for Iowa State's Horse Barn

February 4th, 2022

Before and after look of white hayloft doors on a red brick barn
The hayloft doors on the north side of the Horse Barn were in desperate need of repair. The new doors were made using wood from three bur oak trees harvested from the ISU Packer farm on the south side of campus.

By Whitney Baxter

Weighing more than 300 pounds each and made of local, native lumber, the four (two pair) new hayloft doors on the north side of the Horse Barn are both heavy and durable. Traits that will allow them to withstand Mother Nature’s elements for many years to come.

Nick Upah, agriculture specialist with Iowa State University Research and Demonstration Farms, was tasked with replacing the old, rotten doors. The doors are trapezoidal in shape with unique windows, hung high on unusual sloping tracks near the barn door. During the disassembly process, it was discovered the doors had been repaired at least once and the rotting visible on the first of the three-layers-thick doors went deeper than originally anticipated.

Upah worked with Troy Heeren, forestry specialist, to select the best wood that would not only match the existing, salvageable wood, but also maintain the historic appearance of the barn. Due to the odd size and cut of the existing oak boards, Heeren said they decided to source the lumber from campus because it would have been hard to find similar cuts at lumber yards.

They did not have to look far to find trees that would suit their needs – three bur oaks were discovered on the ISU Packer farm south of Reiman Gardens on the west side of University Boulevard.

“It was an available resource, and it was the quality of wood we needed that will hopefully last another 50 years,” Upah said.

Heeren said the three trees were split and likely to die soon, anyway, so it was an opportune time to use them. He cut and milled the trees down to size, then brought the boards to the kiln in the basement of Bessey Hall to dry.

Once the doors were assembled, Upah worked with Tim Goode, farms manager, and Mark Wuebker, agricultural specialist, to hang the heavy doors Dec. 13. The multi-year project was a success.

“They look great and should last a lifetime,” Goode said of the doors.

History of the Horse Barn

Barns have been a part of Iowa State’s history since its establishment in 1858. Over the years, the barns have become a place for learning, gathering, housing livestock and providing a sense of home or familiarity for students who grew up in an agricultural setting.

The Horse Barn, located on the northeast part of campus remains in mostly its original condition in terms of design and materials, and is still in use.

The three wings of the U-shaped barn were built between 1923-1926. Proudfoot, Bird and Souers of Des Moines served as the architectural firm – this same firm also designed Beardshear Hall, Curtiss Hall and the Memorial Union. The interior of the U-shaped barn includes box stalls, tie stalls, a breeding stall and group-housing stalls. It’s also used to house machinery.

Today, the Horse Barn is maintained by the Department of Animal Science and includes two student apartments. Although designed for draft horses, the barn is now used for light, riding horses – it is home to the university’s herd of Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred broodmares. The barn serves as a place for students to gain hands-on experience working with and caring for horses. The horses are the last large farm animal kept on central campus and a popular stop for students and visitors.

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