Farm District on the Lincoln Highway is in Danger of Losing National Status

Farm District on the Lincoln Highway is in Danger of Losing National Status

The Meyer’s Farmstead Historic District is located one block north of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway in Lisbon. The Farm District is part of the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park. It is a two block walk from Lincoln Square Park which is located in the heart of the Lisbon Main Street Historic District. The Farmstead, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, and the Main Street Historic District are all nationally recognized as significant to the history of development in America.  Iowa’s travel industry is focusing on Agritourism in 2024.  It is more important than ever to realize the value of our history, our stories, and how they are being told.

Google maps with Meyers Farmstead Historic District, the Lincoln Highway, and Lisbon Main St Historic District

15.33 acres of the Meyer farm was sold to the City of Lisbon for the development of a park in 2019. For the next six years the City of Lisbon, the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC), and the Lisbon Parks and Recreation have been developing the Heritage Area. From a catch-and-release pond to tours of the farmstead, the plan is in motion. 

Lincoln Square Park Lisbon Main St Historic District
The fence post, water trough, and 3 historic barns are significant to the historic property.
Meyers Farm Historic District barn

A top priority for the Preservation Commission was to get the Meyers Farmstead listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The farmstead collective was deemed significant for important agricultural trends of livestock and dairy farming in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was listed in 2021. The agricultural buildings are significant as they represent the rarity of buildings still existing from that time period. They are also significant representives of adaptive uses as the industry changed (NRHP listing for Meyers Farmstead).

Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Preservation Commission was now looking for help and partners. In August of 2023, the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park including the Meyers Farmstead Historic District was named an emerging site with the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area (SSNHA). The SSNHA is an organization under the umbrella of the National Park Service. The SSNHA’s mission is “to preserve and tell the story of American agriculture and its global significance.” They connect partners and resources with the goal of creating a consistent professional preservation and interpretation standard. This was exactly what the Preservation Commission needed.

Silos & smokestacks

The plan for the natural landscape at the Heritage Park progressed quickly when a REAP grant was awarded last November.  The grant will be used to reconstruct 10 acres of diverse tallgrass prairie. The prairie will contribute to the farm’s story from prairie to farm. It will also improve water quality and wildlife habitat. The planting is scheduled for May 2024. 

Finally, in November of last year, the The Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun reported that the Lisbon City Council approved a contract between the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) and the City of Lisbon with OPN Architects. The contract is to prepare a preservation plan for the barns in the Historic District.  Rebecca Hess from LHPC described perfectly what the barns had endured, “The two barns and corncrib/hog house survived the tornado of 1908, the derecho of 2020, and the F2 tornado of 2023. Our goal is to ensure their structural integrity in order to preserve them for future generations.” Under the preservation plan, each of the three historic barns would have its own plan for rehabilitation created by professionals in historic preservation following historic preservation standards. Progress for the development of the park was coming together. 

2020 derecho winds
Meyers Farmstead Historic District inside damaged barn

Fast forward to mid-March of this year. The City of Lisbon and the Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) were told by the city’s insurance company to demolish two of the barns and fence the third one.  The barns would no longer be covered for liability by the insurance company. No one disputes that the barns should be fenced off from public access until they can be fully rehabilitated.  If the barns are demolished, the Meyers Farmstead Historic District will lose the designation of National Historic Register status, the Silos & Smokestacks support, and the means to receive any grants to help rehabilitate any of the barns. This would be a huge setback for the development of the Heritage Park. 

Marc Mohn from the Preservation Commission sums up the current status of the Historic District on their Facebook page: “The Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) is working closely with the City of Lisbon to find a solution for the insurance issues presented by the barns at the Pleasant Grove Heritage Park. The commission is meeting with city officials and contractors to gather and communicate information to stakeholders in a tireless effort to preserve and protect these unique structures, along with the history and character they bring to our community. Our goal has always been and will continue to be the preservation of Lisbon History to draw visitors, revenue, and strengthen the community’s sense of identity and place.”

Meyers Farm Historic District barn

The City Council meets on May 13 to decide the fate of these barns. The location of the Meyer Farmstead Historic District along the Historic Lincoln Highway and blocks from the Lisbon Main St Historic District is ideal for telling the Agritourism story. The story will be incomplete without them. If you would like to voice your support for rehabilitation of the three nationally significant barns in Lisbon you can email the mayor and city council members directly.  You can also plan on attending the May 13 Council meeting at Lisbon City Hall. You can comment here as well.

Thank you to The Lisbon Historic Preservation Commission for the photos and information, to the “Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun” for their responsive reporting on preservation efforts, to the Silos & Smokestacks organization for their support and logo use, and to all of those who support the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway and Agricultural Heritage locally, regionally, or nationally. –See you on the byway!

The National Register of Historic Places

The National Register of Historic Places

The National Register of Historic Places, or NRHP, is a federal program administered by the US National Parks Service (NPS).  It was created in 1966 as part of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) to recognize cultural resources that, whether intentionally or accidentally, had withstood the tests of time and human action.  No legal obligations – for owners – are imposed by being listed on the NRHP.  For them, it is an honorific program.

The NRHP places nominations and listings into one of five categories: buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts.  The most common listings are buildings and districts, or groups of buildings (more on structures, objects, and sites below).

National Register of Historic Places Plaque

The NRHP recognizes four kinds of historic value: association with significant events, association with significant people, outstanding exemplars of architecture, and/or the potential to yield important historical or prehistorical information.

The NRHP places nominations and listings into one of five categories: buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts.  The most common listings are buildings and districts, or groups of buildings (more on structures, objects, and sites below).

Nominations to the NRHP document many aspects of a place, including its current condition, remaining design features that indicate that it is historic, its own history (in the case of a building, for example, documentation of expansions or renovations), and its historic context.  Nominations provide this information textually and with images such as maps and photographs.  They are written using a wide variety of historic resources – fire insurance maps, newspapers, Census and other genealogical records, any available historic images, archival collections, secondary sources produced by historians, and even other nominations.

The NRHP places nominations and listings into one of five categories: buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts.  The most common listings are buildings and districts, or groups of buildings (more on structures, objects, and sites below).

Brick Street Historic District Woodbine, Iowa

Youngville Cafe

Youngville Cafe Watkins, Iowa

Lincoln Highway Bridge

Lincoln Highway Bridge Tama, Iowa

Lincoln Hotel Lowden Iowa

Lincoln Hotel Lowden, Iowa

The NRHP requires that nominated properties have integrity – that they themselves convey their historic character and significance themselves.  The NPS breaks integrity down into seven elements: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.  Some of these elements are more subjective than others, but over the years the NPS has written many National Register Bulletins now available online, which explain their meaning, the procedure for preparing nominations, and other questions related to historic preservation.

In addition to recognizing historicity, the NHRP provides a framework for how public resources and regulations are allowed to affect the United States’ cultural resources.  Whether a place is listed or eligible for listing informs the federal government’s actions, as do the professional and work standards set forth by the Secretary of the Interior, who oversees the NPS.  The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards guide projects that preserve, rehabilitate, restore, and/or reconstruct historic cultural resources.  As with the National Register Bulletins, these are available online.

A private owner of a place listed on the NHRP is most likely to encounter regulation when they obtain or try to obtain a financial benefit from the federal, state, or local government.  At the federal level, a 20% federal income tax credit is available to recoup up to 20% of the money spent on a certified project to rehabilitate an income-producing building that is certified as historic by being listed individually on the NRHP or by being in an NRHP historic district.  The State of Iowa offers a 25% tax credit for “qualified rehabilitation expenditures” to preserve historic buildings’ architectural elements that give them their historic character.  Counties also may offer exemptions from a few years of property tax increases that result from the value added to historic properties by performing rehabilitation projects.  In all cases, these benefits must be applied for through an officially designated procedure.  The projects they support must be “sensitive” according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.  And the affected places must be recognized as historic.

The NHPA imposes similar obligations on the federal government itself – and the spending of federal money or issuing of federal permits.  According to Section 106 of the NHPA, federal “undertakings” – projects that spend federal money or use federal permits, including state, local, and private projects – must evaluate the effect of their proposed work on any places listed on the NRHP or that are eligible to be listed on it, and avoid or mitigate adverse effects.  Section 110 of the NHPA requires federal agencies to manage the historic preservation of their own resources using the guidelines of the NRHP.  Finally, section 402 of the NHPA requires the Department of State to care for the historic preservation of US-held sites abroad if they are either a UNESCO World Heritage Site or eligible for the NHRP equivalent of the country in which they exist.

The “structures” category is one of the harder ones to define.  It is essentially human-made things, some of their buildings or building-like, that were built for some function other than providing human shelter.  The NPS gives some helpful examples, including vehicles; agricultural infrastructure like irrigation systems, canals, and windmills; and, importantly for Prairie Rivers’ survey of historic resources in the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway, bridges.  “Objects” is a similar category, but the things defined in this way have primarily aesthetic value.  They are artistic.  “Sites” are places that are historic whether a building associated with the important historical events that happened there exists or not, or whether it ever existed.  Commonly, these are archeological digs or places where archeologists would expect to find artifacts.

Author Michael Belding is the oral history program manager for the Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives. He previously worked as an architectural historian for the City of Mobile, Alabama’s Historic Development Commission. Currently, Belding is a Ph.D. candidate in Rural, Agricultural, Technological, and Environmental History and is working with Prairie Rivers of Iowa to help assess the condition of the approximately 319 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway (LHHB) in Iowa.

Author Michael Belding