DES MOINES – A new addition to the National Register of Historic Places offers a glimpse into the state’s past.
The Gary J. and Matilda Vermeer Farmstead has been added to the National Register as the birthplace of Vermeer Manufacturing Company (now called Vermeer Corporation) and for the family’s rural lifestyle of “Plain Living and High Thinking.”
“Congratulations to all who worked so hard to successfully nominate the Vermeer Farmstead to the National Register of Historic Places,” State Historian Laura Sadowsky said. “This recognition marks an important milestone for Mahaska County and the Pella area as they continue to preserve its history for future generations of Iowans to enjoy.”
Located in Mahaska County near Pella, the farmstead’s period of historic significance begins in 1948 when Gary Vermeer founded the company to manufacture his new invention – a mechanical hoist that could raise the bed of a farm wagon to transfer corn to storage facilities.
The period ends in 1972 when Vermeer invented a round hay baler, a machine that established the company as one of the top agricultural equipment manufacturers in the country. During the intervening years, the company also produced other equipment cited in the National Register form, including:
- The Pow-R-Drive in 1949, a machine that could transfer power from a tractor to other kinds of machines, such as hammer mills and corn shellers.
- The Vermeer Model 12-PTO in 1951 that could dig trenches efficiently to lay tile and pipes that drained wet spots in farm land.
- New products in the 1960s such as trenchers, stump cutters, sprinklers and tree spades that gave the company a decade of prosperity as it broadened its reach beyond agricultural equipment.
While achieving success with the company, the Vermeers exemplified the virtue of a “Plain Living and High Thinking” lifestyle in their 1953 ranch-style home. The lifestyle is historically significant under National Register criterion that emphasizes social history.
“Although (the Vermeers) could have afforded any opulence or domestic comfort, they practiced thrift and economy while living in this modest house most of their adult lives, engaging at the same time in philanthropic generosity across the nation and around the world,” the nomination form said. “While the principle of ‘Plain Living and High Thinking’ is not unusual historically among Iowa farm families, (the Vermeers ) exemplify these traits of American character writ large.”
The couple moved to the farmstead in 1941 and eventually built their one-story, ranch-style home on the property in 1953. The farmhouse is listed as a contributing resource for the National Register nomination along with two barns built in 1939 and 1940, respectively, and a third barn built in 1910 that was moved to the property in 1963.
Gary Vermeer lived in the farmhouse until he died in 2009 at age 90. Matilda Vermeer remained in the farmhouse for several years after Gary’s death. She died in 2014 at age 94.
Today, the Vermeer Corporation is a privately held company owned and operated by the Vermeer family and its shareholders. The farmhouse recently underwent rehabilitation as a gathering place for company events and as a museum to showcase the history of the Vermeer family.
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.