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State Historical Society of Iowa

Audubon County's Ross Elevator Added to National Register of Historic Places

Jan 4, 2019

DES MOINES – As Iowans look toward the New Year, a new addition to the National Register of Historic Places offers a glimpse into Iowa’s past.

In Audubon County, the Ross Grain Elevator was recently added to the National Register as a prime example of a historic cribbed-constructed wooden grain elevator that can help visitors understand and appreciate the area’s agricultural history.

"We're pleased the Ross Grain Elevator has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and we commend all the stakeholders who worked so hard on this successful nomination," Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Steve King said. "This recognition marks an important milestone for Audubon County as it continues to preserve the legacy of its past for future generations of Iowans to enjoy."

Believed to have been built in 1881, the elevator along with an annex and office stand on the western edge of Ross, next to the abandoned Chicago and Northwestern Railroad that borders Blue Grass Creek.

The nomination cited the Ross Grain Elevator for its role in sustaining local agriculture and commerce, and it remains a relatively intact example of grain-elevator construction from the late 19th century. Its overall period of historic significance began with its construction in 1881 and stretched to 1970, when it was abandoned due to high maintenance costs and the development of modern stand-alone grain bins with integrated dryers.

All three buildings at the site remain at their original locations, and the 70-foot-tall elevator can be seen for miles. At ground level, it has a limestone foundation and is noted for its cribbed construction, where the lumber is stacked flat with each board spiked down on top of another.

Over the years, the elevator complex suffered from deterioration and vandalism, according to the National Register nomination. The roofs on the annex and elevator fell into disrepair, and most of the windows and doors disappeared, which caused parts of the structure to rot. All below-grade portions of the elevator’s limestone foundation had collapsed and over half the bricks from the office had fallen.

“Vandalism occurred with spray-paint on the walls inside the elevator and the office bricks, and the interior and exterior of the office was damaged with the use of sledge hammers,” according to the nomination form. “The elevator complex exterior has been shot an untold number of times with an assortment of firearms, and raccoon hunters had chopped holes in exterior walls.”

Over the past few years, local individuals launched a fundraising effort to rehabilitate the Ross Grain Elevator with additional support from an Iowa Barn Foundation grant. Today, the elevator and annex are nearly complete and workers have begun rehabilitating the office. Most of the materials used in the project were salvaged from other structures of the same era.

While the Ross elevator was built around 1881, the first grain elevators in North America started to pop up in the late 1860s, according to Bruce Selyem of Montana. He is the founder and president of the Country Grain Elevator Historical Society and is a vintage grain elevator expert.

“The Ross elevator is from this era,” he said. “It may be the oldest example in Iowa with few left in the United States.”

The State Historic Preservation Office oversees the National Register of Historic Places program in Iowa in conjunction with the National Park Service. The State Historic Preservation Office is part of the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.