Fairfield Iowa homes

Pioneer Log Cabin c. 1839

September 28, 2011


“A local historian alerted the Fairfield Ledger that this old cabin in New Sweden in Lockridge was about to be torn down. The Ledger reported on its possible destruction — they said the log cabin was “Logging out.” My instinct is to save our precious rare pioneer history, if we can, so I did what I could to take steps to save it from destruction. The new owner is open to adaptive re-use if there is a way to renovate the cabin and preserve it, if it were not a tax burden. Second-best is to have the historic dwelling carefully separated from the later additions and moved to someone else’s land to be used as a garden house, office, or some other creative use. Once set on new property it could be renovated and filled in with new mud. I believe it to be worth the effort!” Update: the cabin was dismantled, logs labeled, and eventually was moved to Colorado.

SE ¼ of the SE ¼ of the NE ¼ of Section 21, Lockridge Township: NW corner of 195th and Velvetleaf Sts.

Historic log cabin in New Sweden, Lockridge.

We don’t know for sure, but we believe the original 14′ x 24′ portion of the New Sweden cabin, photo, right, was the original log cabin built around 1839 by Irish immigrant William Montgomery, and purchased in 1848 by Swedish immigrant Peter Smithburg. Local rumors in Lockridge and Brighton say it was. If in fact it is, this log cabin is now the second oldest structure in Jefferson County–second only to the Bonnifield cabin museum in age in Jefferson County, and worth saving.

On April 19, 1839, William Montgomery, a 26-year-old immigrant who had come to Iowa from County Down, Ireland by way of Pennsylvania, bought the 160 acres of the NE quarter of Section 21 in Lockridge Township from the U. S. Government. (The deed was recorded December 1, 1841 in Jefferson County Deeds Book F, p. 207. William also bought 80 acres in Section 3, 80 acres in Section 9, and 120 acres in Section 10 at the same time.) William probably built a cabin on his land when he purchased it that year, if not even earlier. Because there were no government land offices until 1838, Iowa pioneers often cleared their selected land and built houses before obtaining a deed. They trusted that as squatters they’d have the first right to purchase their land once the land office opened.

Early Jefferson County log cabin.

William was already farming in Jefferson County in the 1840 U. S. Census, which listed his household as containing one male in his twenties (William himself), one female aged 15-19, and one boy under five. Perhaps he was already married; if so his wife probably died soon afterwards. He returned to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to marry Harriet Richmond in 1842 and brought his new bride back to Lockridge, Iowa, where over the next 11 years they raised six children: James (who may have been the son of his first wife); Jane, who married a Mr. Bosworth; Mary, who married Fairfield farmer and stock-man George W. Shriner; John; Isaac R., who married Minnie C. Howard (older sister of Fairfield shoe merchant Elmer Addison Howard, who became vice president of the Iowa State Bank and vice president of the C. B. & Q. Railroad); and Henrietta, who married Fairfield druggist George D. Clarke. (In 1902 George D. Clarke leased his drugstore at the north corner of the east side of the square to his nephew Frank S. Shriner, son of George W. Shriner.) Though he sold the 160 acres of Section 21, including his farm of thirty cultivated acres and old cabin, to Peter Smithburg in 1848, William Montgomery continued to live and farm in Lockridge, where the Iowa State Census enumerated his household in 1856: the year before William died. (The 1856 Census describes his farm as 5 acres in meadow yielding 25 tons of hay, 10 acres of spring wheat with 140 bushels harvested, 10 acres of oats yielding 500 bushels, 25 acres of corn yielding 1250 bushels, ¼ acre of potatoes yielding 50 bushels, selling 42 hogs valued at $460, 8 cattle valued at $470, 500 pounds of butter manufactured, 20 pounds of cheese, 40 pounds of wool, $31.50 of domestic manufactures.)

On August 15, 1848, William Montgomery sold the 160 acres of Section 21 to Peter Smithburg, a well-to-do coppersmith who had just emigrated from Sweden with his wife and six children. (Deed recorded June 6, 1849 in Jefferson County Deeds Book F, p. 309.) In coming to Lockridge, the Smithburgs were part of America’s earliest surviving Swedish settlement: New Sweden, founded in 1845 by Peter Cassel. At the time Peter Smithburg bought William Montgomery’s land, it contained 30 acres under cultivation, along with Montgomery’s old log cabin, by now somewhat out of repair. Two weeks later Peter drowned while attempting to cross the heavily-flooded Brush Creek to bring lumber from the sawmill to repair the cabin. His oldest son Charles, then seventeen, made the trip with him and survived the accident, but he himself died four years later in 1852. Peter’s widow Anna Catherine persevered on the farm with her family. Philip L. Anderson, a minister as well as a good farmer and mechanic, became the caretaker of her farm, and on July 17, 1850 she married him. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 her two remaining sons, Andrew David and Gustaf Adolphus Smithburg, enlisted in Company M of the 4th Iowa Cavalry, and served throughout the war.

New Sweden Log Cabin

On January 10, 1863, while the Smithburg brothers were still at war, their sister Sophia sold her one-fifth interest in the 160 acres to their brother-in-law Eben Peck, who had married their oldest sister Inga on February 22, 1855. (Quit Claim Deed, recorded June 6, 1863 in Jefferson County Deeds Book 1, p. 540.) Eben and Inga Peck sold their two-fifths interest in the land to Andrew G. Anderson on January 27, 1864, the year the Pecks moved to Wapello County. (Quit Claim Deed, recorded February 8, 1864, Jefferson County Deeds Book 2, p. 108.; obituary of Inga Smithburg Peck, Blakesburg [Wapello Co., Iowa] Excelsior Newspaper, Vol. 29, No. 49, Thursday, Jan. 2, 1925, p. 2, online at archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/IAWAPELL/2001-08/0998971306.) How or whether Andrew G. Anderson was related to the Smithburgs remains as yet unclear.

On April 15, 1864, Andrew G. Anderson and his wife Christena S. sold their two-fifths interest in the land to the two veteran Smithburg brothers, Andrew D. and Gustaf A. (Quit Claim Deed, recorded January 13, 1865, Jefferson County Deeds Book 3, p. 1.) On August 26, 1864, their youngest sister Albertina sold her one-fifth interest in the land to Andrew D. Smithburg. (Quit Claim Deed, recorded January 13, 1865, Jefferson County Deeds Book 3, p. 1.)

On August 28, 1866, Andrew D. Smithburg and his wife Emeline, Gustaf A. Smithburg, Philip L. Anderson and his wife Catherine sold the 80 acres of the east half of the northeast quarter of Section 21 to Andrew G. Anderson. (Warranty Deed recorded September 6, 1866, in Jefferson County Deeds Book 5, p. 601.)

On June 23, 1868, Andrew G. Anderson and his wife Christena in turn conveyed the south 40 acres of this land, being the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 21, to Gustaf A. Smithburg. (Warranty Deed recorded June 24, 1868, in Jefferson County Deeds Book 7, p. 513.) On December 27 that year Gustaf married Christena M. Anderson, daughter of Andrew M. and C. Louisa (Johnson) Anderson, and perhaps related to Andrew G. Anderson. Gustaf’s mother died less than four months later, on April 2, 1869. It was probably about this time that Gustaf built his one-story cabin to the west of the New Sweden log cabin. Gustaf’s grandson Everett Smithburg has a photograph of this later cabin, (with the newer two-story house in the background to the left), which he recollects Gustaf built after he returned from the Civil War — most likely for his new wife and growing family. Over the next eighteen years the couple would have eight children. This cabin’s remains might be those visible on satellite photos around 1000 feet west of the Montgomery cabin and about 500 feet east-north-east of his more modern two-story house at 3073 195th Street, built closer to the turn of the century: however, the newer house is to the left of Gustaf’s cabin in Everett’s photo, and looks closer than 500 feet from the cabin. While clearly primitive, Gustaf’s post-Civil-War cabin appears to be constructed of clapboard, with no logs visible. It is a one-story structure with two south doors, the easterly one under a simple extended-roof porch; a center chimney on the north roof and also a saltbox addition on the north. At least one of the two windows in the south wall and the window on the east wall appear to be six-over-six, with a smaller attic window in the east gable.

Pioneer log cabin section of New Sweden Lockridge house.

Finally, on December 6, 1870, Gustaf and his wife Christena sold the nine acres in the southeast corner of the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 21, to Jonas P. Ehen: also variously spelled John Ain, and John P. Ane. (Warranty Deed recorded December 27, 1870, in Jefferson County Deeds Book 12, p. 27.) Newly arrived from Sweden, Jonas was a cabinet-maker or carpenter, and probably he built the northerly addition (with surviving six-over-six windows) onto the original log cabin: with the assistance perhaps of Lockridge house-carpenter Charles Ehen, who may have been his older brother. (The 1870 U.S. Census for Lockridge lists John Ain as a cabinet-maker; the 1880 U.S. Census for Lockridge shows him as carpenter and farmer; the 1885 Iowa State Census lists John P. Ane as farmer.)

Is the New Sweden log cabin the original structure built around 1839 by Irish immigrant William Montgomery, and purchased in 1848 by Swedish immigrant Peter Smithburg? Local rumors say it was. The 95-year-old Everett Smithburg, however, believes that his great grandfather’s original cabin lay about three-fourths of a mile northwest of the Montgomery cabin, close to a spring, and remembers seeing pottery shards and ruins there. We have not yet visited the site or found evidence of these ruins on the satellite maps of the area, other than the remains of what may have been the post-Civil-war cabin of Gustaf’s, about 1000 feet west of the Montgomery cabin. Perhaps Everett is remembering the ruins of this cabin. Everett does not know the history of the New Sweden log cabin, beyond saying it has been there as long as he can remember; he thinks it may have been connected to the Baptist Church, which lay just east across Velvetleaf Road in Section 22, but adds this is an unsubstantiated theory. The New Sweden Baptist Church was built in 1854 as a one-story log cabin; the 1871 township map appears to show the Baptist Church squarely in Section 22, where the cemetery is now: not in the New Sweden log cabin’s Section 21. The Smithburgs were Methodists, not Baptists; as yet we do not know the religious affiliation of the Ehens.

In some ways the New Sweden log cabin appears to date from the earliest pioneer period, circa 1839. Its logs are clearly hand-shaped with prominent adze marks, and some of the logs measure as much as 14 to 16 inches across. The single interior wall’s exposed studs are small unshaped tree-trunks, and much of the lathing appears hand-cut and irregular. The interior brick chimney, built against the cabin’s original north wall, probably dates to later than the earliest period – say about 1860. The east part of the cabin sits atop an early cellar, probably used as a root cellar, the pioneer form of refrigeration. Looking up from the cellar you can see that the subflooring of the cabin was created with a circular saw, which would only be from the 1850s or later. We wondered: why would the subflooring be more modern than the log cabin? According to about.com the final step in building an authentic frontier log cabin was to “rake the dirt and gravel floor smooth.” If this log cabin was typical, the floor would have been updated to wood flooring at a later time. The building appears integral to the site, which it commands nicely, and we see no convincing evidence of its having been moved here at a later date. It does not, however, sit immediately adjacent to a stream, as did most of the early pioneer homes; a well is sited just north of the north addition. In the absence of an examination of the ruins mentioned by Everett Smithburg, our current tentative theory is that the New Sweden log cabin is indeed the original William Montgomery cabin of ca. 1839, repaired in 1848 and afterwards by Peter Smithburg and his family, and that Gustaf built his newer cabin to the west around 1868-1870, when he sold the nine acres and the earliest cabin out of the family to Jonas Ehen, who probably added the northerly addition shortly after 1870 to the original log structure. Gustaf then moved still further to the west when he built his two-story house at 3073 195th Street closer to the turn of the century.

(Additional sources: Biography of G. A. Smithburg in Portrait and Biographical Album of Jefferson and Van Buren Counties, 1890, p. 519; also in C. J. Fulton, History of Jefferson County, Iowa — A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Vol II, Published 1912, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, Pages 54 and 58; Pioneer Family Recollections by Mrs. Alberta MENDENHALL in 1927, http://iagenweb.org/boards/jefferson/documents/index.cgi?read=351432) — article by Rory Goff.

The most famous Victorian home in Fairfield, the James A. Beck house (Beck/Ball/Sloca/Woodruff home) is also renowned throughout the United States and the world for being a home designed by Victorian architect, George Barber. Mr. Barber published pattern books cataloging his exuberant house designs for his customers to pick from, and there are hundreds of his designs still in existence in the United States and around the world. In many small towns in America you will see one Victorian home that stands out from the rest because of the ornate gingerbread details, porches, balconies, and towers. That home, too, is probably a Barber-designed home as is Fairfield’s James A. Beck house.

Who is George Franklin Barber? (July 31, 1854 – February 17, 1915) Geo. Barber was an American architect best known for his residential designs, which he marketed worldwide through a series of mail-order catalogs. One of the most successful domestic architects of the late Victorian period in the United States,[4] Barber’s plans were used for houses in all 50 U.S. states, and in nations as far away as Japan and the Philippines.[4] Over four dozen Barber houses are individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and several dozen more are listed as part of historic districts.[5]

Barber began designing houses in his native DeKalb, Illinois, in the late 1880s, before permanently moving his base to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1888. His first widely-circulated catalog, Cottage Souvenir No. 2, contained designs and floor plans for fifty-nine houses, mostly in the Queen Anne style, as well as Barber’s architectural philosphy and tips for homebuilders. Later catalogs contained more Colonial designs.[4] By the time his catalog business ended in 1908, Barber had sold upwards of 20,000 plans.[4]

Barber was the father of Charles I. Barber (1887–1962), who went on to become a successful architect in his own right, and designed a number of notable buildings in the Knoxville area during the first half of the 20th century.[4] Barber McMurry, an architectural firm cofounded by Charles Barber in 1915, still operates in Knoxville.[6]

George Barber’s Life
Barber was born in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1854, the son of Lyman and Cornelia Barrett Barber.[3] While still a young child, he moved to Marmaton, Kansas, where he lived on the farm of his sister, Olive, and her husband, William Barrett.[4] By the 1870s, he owned an adjacent farm, where he raised plants which he advertised as “ornamental nursery stock.”[4] During this period, he learned architecture through mail-order books, namely George Palliser’s American Cottage Homes and technical books published by A.J. Bicknell and Company.[3] In 1884, Barber patented a nail-holding attachment for hammers.[4]

Early life and career
By the mid 1880s, Barber was back in DeKalb, where he produced his first architectural designs working for his brother’s construction firm, Barber and Boardman, Contractors and Builders.[3] In 1887 or early 1888, Barber published The Cottage Souvenir, crudely produced on punched card stock and tied together with a piece of yarn, which contained 14 house plans (a revised edition published shortly afterward contained 18).[7][4] The earliest buildings constructed from Barber’s designs included the Charles E. Bradt House (1887) and the Congregational Church (1888), both in DeKalb.[4] The Bradt house was featured in the March 1888 issue of Carpentry and Building.[8]

Catalog business
In late 1888, Barber relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, in hopes that the city’s mountainous climate would be better for his declining health.[4] He briefly partnered with Minnesota-born architect Martin Parmalee, but the partnership proved unsatisfactory.[4] In 1892, he established a firm with one of his clients, J.C. White, handling the firm’s business aspects.[4] Barber also became a partner in the Edgewood Land Improvement Company, which was developing a suburb east of Knoxville known as Park City (modern Parkridge).[4][9] He designed over a dozen houses for this suburb, including his own house, which still stands at 1635 Washington Avenue, and the W.O. Haworth and F.E. McArthur houses, which also still stand on Washington Avenue, and appeared in some of Barber’s catalogs.[10]

In 1890, Barber published The Cottage Souvenir No. 2, which contained 59 house plans, as well as plans for 2 barns, a chapel, a church, 2 storefronts, and several pavilions.[4] This catalog and its subsequent revisions led to an explosion in orders for Barber’s firm. Barber houses built during this period include the Jeremiah Nunan House in Jacksonville, Oregon,[11] the Donnelly House in Mount Dora, Florida,[4] and the J. Hawkins Hart House in Henderson, Kentucky,[12] all of which still stand and are listed on the National Register. He also remained active on a local level in Knoxville, with the Romanesque-inspired Isaac Ziegler House on 4th Avenue,[13] and a house built for Barber’s printer, S.B. Newman, which still stands in Old North Knoxville.[10]

Around 1895, Barber parted ways with White and formed a new firm with a new partner, Thomas Kluttz.[3] That year, Barber began publishing a magazine, American Homes, which advertised the firm’s latest house plans, offered tips on landscaping and interior design, and published a multi-part history of architecture by Louisville architect Charles Hite-Smith.[4] In 1896, the growing firm moved into the Barber-designed French and Roberts Building on Gay Street, with the firm’s thirty draftsmen and twenty secretaries occupying an entire floor.[4]

Later career
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Barber designed a number of elaborate mansions for affluent businessmen, including the home of Carroll Lathrop Post (brother of C. W. Post) in Battle Creek, Michigan,[4] the home of tobacco magnate R. J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem, North Carolina,[3] the home of People’s Bank president N.E. Graham in East Brady, Pennsylvania,[4] and one of his grandest designs, the $40,000 “Mount Athos” for Barboursville, Virginia, tycoon Walter G. Newman.[14] This is the period when James A. Beck, a grocer and hotel keeper in Fairfield, choose a design from the George Barber catalog, ordered the plan and the lumber–pre-cut, numbered, and shipped by rail to be assembled on his corner lot on East Burlington Ave. and D Street in Fairfield.

In the early 1900s, Barber began to phase out his mail-order business and with the help of his brother, Manley, focused on Knoxville-area building projects.[3] The publication of American Homes was moved to New York in 1902, though Barber remained a regular contributor for several years afterward.[4] The catalog business was suspended in 1908.[4] Barber died on February 17, 1915, and is interred with his family in Knoxville’s Greenwood Cemetery.[1]

The bulk of Barber’s business followed the “catalog architecture” model popularized by earlier architects such as Palliser. Barber’s great innovation was his willingness to personalize his designs for individual clients at moderate cost.[4] As he wrote in his Cottage Souvenir No. 2, “Write to us concerning any changes wanted in plans, and keep writing till you get what you want. Don’t be afraid of writing too often. We are not easily offended.”[4] Though his firms’ records no longer survive, it is believed that he sold as many as 20,000 plans in his career.[4] Since he frequently modified his designs to fit his clients’ needs and specifications, his houses are sometimes difficult to attribute with any certainty.[15]

In discussing his architectural philosophy, Barber argued that Nature has “faithfully and accurately adhered to the Divine law of harmony,”[16] and that no place should adhere closer to the fundamental principles of nature than one’s house.[16] Barber considered proportion the most important element in architecture, likening it to harmony in music, “without which all else is a failure.”[16] He described ornamentation as the next most important element, as it gives proportion expression. Lastly was “harmony of form,” or the relationship of curved and straight lines to one another.[16]

Barber’s early designs were modified versions of the Queen Anne style, which Barber liked to enrich with the addition of Romanesque elements.[4] Barber houses constructed in this period are characterized by features such imposing turrets, projecting windows, verandas flanked by circular pavilions, or Syrian arches.[4] In the latter half of the 1890s, Barber began to offer more plans in the Colonial Revival style.[4] These were often characterized by projecting porticos supported by large columns, symmetrical facades, and flat decks with balustrades. Later Barber catalogs contained Bungalow and Craftsman styles, though few of these were built.[4]

Some have suggested that Barber was the first to sell prefabricated houses in crates, but there is no evidence that he was actually engaged in manufacturing.[4] While he occasionally suppled builders with manufactured windows, doors, staircases and other components, and that a number of millwork companies advertised in Barber’s magazine, it is unclear whether entire houses were sold as kits by anyone prior to 1900.[4] Click here for a partial list of homes designed by George Franklin Barber.

Barber houses today
A revived interest in Barber’s began in the 1970s,[4] and since then, hundreds of houses built using Barber’s plans have been identified. Over four dozen of these have been individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their architecture, including the Beck House in Fairfield Iowa and several dozen more have been listed as contributing properties in historic districts.[5] At least four Barber houses— the Isaac Ziegler House, the Jeremiah Nunan House, the John Owings House (Laurens, South Carolina), and Roselawn (Natchitoches, Louisiana)— have been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey.[13][11][17][18]

Many extant Barber houses are still used as residences, while others house museums, bed and breakfasts, and office space. Barber houses have provided inspiration for Christmas cards, wall hangings, and at least one dollhouse model.[4] While most of Barber’s work was domestic, several notable non-domestic Barber-designed buildings survive. These include the Congregational Church (now DeKalb Foursquare Church) in DeKalb, Illinois,[4] the Raper Building in Lexington, North Carolina,[19] and Bartlett Hall at Maryville College.[20]


1. ) a b c d George Franklin Barber at Findagrave.com. Retrieved: 3 May 2011.
2. ) a b East Tennessee Historical Society, Lucile Deaderick (ed.), Heart of the Valley: A History of Knoxville, Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1976), pp. 491-492.
3. ) a b c d e f g M. Ruth Little (2009). Barber, George F. (1854-1915), North Carolina Architects and Builders, A Biographical Dictionary. Website maintained by North Carolina State University Libraries. Accessed May 3, 2011.
4. ) a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah Michael Tomlan, Introduction to George F. Barber’s Victorian Cottage Architecture: An American Catalog of Designs, 1891 (Dover Publications, 2004), pp. v-xvi.
5. ) a b These figures obtained by searching for buildings and historic districts with Barber or one of his firms listed as architect at http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com.
6. ) BarberMcMurry – History. Retrieved: 3 May 2011.
7. ) Barber & McMurry Architects, Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, accessed July 18, 2010
8. ) Carpentry and Building, Vol. 10 (March 1888), p. 50. Downloaded from Google Books, 3 May 2011.
9. ) Ann Bennett, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Park City Historic District, 22 June 1990.
10. ) a b Knox Heritage, George Barber Homes Trolley Tour Booklet, 2007. Retrieved: 1 May 2011.
11. ) a b Marion Ross and Christopher Owens, Historic American Buildings Survey for Jeremiah Nunan House, 1971. Retrieved: 1 May 2011.
12. ) Rachel Alexander, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for J. Hawkins Hart House, 1 October 2010. Retrieved: 1 May 2011.
13. ) a b Joseph Herndon, Historic American Buildings Survey for Isaac Ziegler House, 1974. Retrieved: 1 May 2011.
14. ) Jeff O’Dell, John Salmon, and Randolph Turner, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Madison-Barbour Rural Historic District, December 1989, Section 7, pp. 33-34. Retrieved: 3 May 2011.
15. ) Ann Bennett, Historic and Architectural Resources in Knoxville and Knox County, Tennessee, May 1994, Sec. 7, p. 51. Retrieved: 2 May 2011.
16. ) a b c d George F. Barber, Victorian Cottage Architecture: An American Catalog of Designs (Dover Publications, 2004), pp. 3-7.
17. ) Nancy Pittenger and Tracy Power, Historic American Buildings Survey – John Calvin Owings House, 1988. Retrieved: 1 May 2011.
18. ) Cane River National Heritage Area Committee, Historic American Buildings Survey – Roselawn, c. 2004. Retrieved: 1 May 2011.
19. ) Uptown Lexington, Inc., Historic Uptown Lexington, North Carolina – A Heritage Tour. Retrieved: 2 May 2011.
20. ) Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, The National Heritage Area Program and Blount County, Tennessee: A Feasibility Study, p. 13. Retrieved: 2 May 2011.