Plagman Barn receives charitable gift

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Northeast Iowa Antique Farm Association volunteer members Larry Moser, left, and Ron Hyde hope to utilized William N. Collings' generous gift for continued maintenance of Plagman Barn and its surrounding structures. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Northeast Iowa Farm Antique Association is dedicated to the historical preservation of early farm and home practices, techniques, and the education of area youth through demonstration efforts. The volunteer group recently received a charitable gift to help offset the cost of maintaining Plagman Barn and its surrounding outbuildings. 

Plagman Barn history

Bill and Emma Plagman built Plagman Barn, located at 28384 Garber Road, Garber, as a dance barn in the 1920s. The balloon frame barn measures 136 feet long and 30 feet tall from floor to roof peak. The first dance was held in the historic barn on Sept. 11, 1925. Plagman Barn continued to provide a dance floor for area residents for over a decade. Arnold Plagman, son of Bill and Emma, held the final dance in October 1939. In the fall of 1981 area farmers and local historians became interested in restoring the barn to its former glory.  

Plagman Barn Show Days

Each year students from area schools make a pilgrimage to Plagman Barn to learn more about their rich agricultural history. Association volunteers demonstrate steam-powered engines, single cylinder engines, horse-drawn equipment, threshing oats, chopping silage, baling straw, cutting wood from logs, a working grist mill, blacksmith shop, print shop, butter churning, and a horse and antique tractor pull. Also on hand are numerous pieces of old machinery, household appliances, and memorabilia from the past. 

William N. Collings gift

The Northeast Iowa Antique Farm Association has been gifted a sizeable portion of the late William N. Collings estate. William was the son of William H. Collings and Maud E. (Nieter) Collings of Dubuque. He earned a Baccalaureate and Law Degree from Northwestern University in Chicago, and served in the U.S. Navy as a Navy Air Intelligence Officer aboard the aircraft carrier Coral Sea. William enjoyed a long, successful career with Chicago Title Insurance Company as a title examiner. 

He had a passion for Christian music and Bible study and juggled a dual residency between Chicago and Dubuque, returning home each weekend to serve as organist for First Congregational United Church of Christ for 39 years.

Bill touched the lives of many people and will be remembered for his unique gifts, talents and interests. He was a devout, scholarly man and prided himself on living a very healthy lifestyle. 

Family connection to N.E. Iowa

Burnell Smith, a close friend and second cousin to William, explained, "William and I had been friends for the past 35 years. His great-grandfather, John Nieter, was from Garnavillo and was employed by the Garnavillo Mill. William's grandfather, John Nieter, was a successful businessman in Garber and was the bookkeeper for Coney, Schnet. He met my great-aunt Lillian Smith, connecting our families. I enjoyed a 35-year friendship with William and was his power of attorney. William wanted to somehow recognize Clayton County and the Garber/Garnavillo area in his final wishes. I suggested Plagman Barn as an option and he agreed."

Restoration projects

"We will be using William Collings' generous gift on a variety of projects," said Larry Moser, Northeast Iowa Farm Antique Association member. "The charitable gift is set up in an IRA through a brokerage firm in Dubuque. We are using the profits made from the IRA on projects associated with building maintenance." 

The association applied some of the money toward replacing 23 windows and a few doors on the lower level of Plagman Barn. "We have to keep the barn in tip-top shape," commented Moser. "The barn is used for weddings and wedding receptions. We laid a nice pad of cement – approximately 125 cubic feet in front of the barn. It makes the entrance into the dance hall more handicap-accessible and cleaner during rainy weather."

"Plagman Barn also has an endowment fund set up through The Foundation of Greater Dubuque," said Moser. "It takes a considerable amount of money to keep up these old building. We normally rely heavily on the money we take in during Plagman Barn Show Days, but because of the pandemic we had to cancel. That really cut into our bottom dollar." 

"William's generous gift was a life-saver," said association member Ron Hyde. "It is a win-win situation. We leave the money in the IRA and use the profits. It will be an asset to our organization for many years."

Bob Griffith, association member and print shop curator, noted, "Some of the money will be used to purchase paint and staining supplies for ongoing maintenance. We hope to be able to take advantage of the funds for larger projects in the future." 

Plagman Barn is utilized throughout the year for weddings, wedding receptions and vendor shows. "Our insurance limits the barn's capacity to 200. Lorna Moser, my sister, manages all aspects of the barn and the kitchen. We jokingly call the week before Plagman Barn Show Days 'Hell week,'" he laughed. 

The Northeast Iowa Antique Farm Association is always looking for more volunteer members. "We couldn't do any of this without our dedicated volunteers and organization members. We are doing pretty good financially and the big white barn is in pretty good condition, but we could always use more volunteers," encouraged Moser. 

For additional information, or if you would like to volunteer, call 563-252-2056 or find them online at plagmanbarn.com.

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