Farmstead Tour

Hickory Hills Farmstead offers a self guided tour of the area. Please see below for a narrative of the tour and a tour map.


Welcome to Hickory Hills Park. This tour explores the history of the area from the early to mid 1900s. My name is John Crisman. I’ll be your host as we step back in time to look at the way people lived many years ago.

I’ll begin by telling you a little bit about myself. I was the road maintainer for twenty years in this part of Warren County. Jack and Joe, my mules, used to pull the old maintainer for me. My dog, Ring, would also join us as we graded and cleared the county’s roads.

Hickory Hills is a special place to me. As the road maintainer, I learned to love this land and the people of the rolling countryside. I was the last person to live at Hickory Hills. The land changed ownership many times in recent history. Why, if you want to, you can find evidence of Indians in the park. The Indians were a people with a special feeling for the land and their surroundings.

To me, Hickory Hills reflects days of years gone by. History has a way of teaching a lot about our way of life and us.

Join me in an adventure into the past. Bring along your sense of curiosity and let’s begin. You’ll notice, on the following pages, activities and areas of interest. Please take the time to involve yourself in the activities. By the time you finish, Hickory Hills may take on a new meaning for you. Are you ready? Now, set your time clocks back and let’s go!

Here is a Tour Map that can help you locate the different stops we’ll make during our tour.


A farmhouse once stood on this site, but all that remains is the foundation.

Late one cold, December evening, a truck driver was passing by the house and noticed flames coming out of the roof. The truck driver immediately stopped and informed the people in the house about the fire. The entire Bill Fry family hurried out of the house just in the nick of time. They lost all their belongings as their house burned to the ground. They never knew what started the fire, but some people thought it might have started in the chimney. I guess Mrs. Fry had been baking goods for the holidays on their wood-burning cook stove all day and into the evening. The chimney became real hot and, while the Fry family was sleeping, it started a fire near the roof. If it hadn’t been for the truck driver, the Fry family may not have escaped the raging fire.

Let’s take a look at the house site. Look at the trees growing inside the foundation. Obviously, these trees weren’t in the house while it was here, so the trees can give us a clue to when the house burned down. Look at the trees and guess their age. Take your guess and subtract it from this year.

Wood burning stoves were major fire hazards for people living in the early 1900s. What do you use in your home that might be safer?


Glance at the foundation of the house. Pretend that you are an archaeologist. An archaeologist is a person that studies the remains and artifacts of people that once lived in an area. That way, they can learn about the people and their way of life. As an archaeologist, you can learn more about the Hickory Hills farmstead and the way people lived here years ago. Walk around the entire foundation of the house. Take special note of the materials that make up the foundation. Why would there be different types of foundation materials?

As the land and farmhouse changed hands, the owners had different needs for their home. Additions to the house were put on when larger or growing families occupied the house. Materials for the foundation changed due to their availability at the time of construction. Did you find the different materials that make up the foundation? There should be fieldstone and mortar, brick and mortar and concrete. What materials are commonly used for house foundations today?


Let’s tour the house! Go to the northeast corner of the house, (the one nearest to the cave). Look for the brick path that goes into the house. Go inside and stop at the brown colored brick. You are now standing in one of the three porches of the house. To your right is a pantry. Walk to the second brown brick and you’ll be in the kitchen. Look at the foundation of the walls to get a better idea of the room sizes. Turn to your left around the large cottonwood tree.

If you had walked straight (into tile blower bed) you would have been in another porch. The third brown brick takes you into the dining room. Directly east (toward the shelter) is a small bedroom, maybe an infant’s room. Continue on the walk to the next brown brick. You are now in the living room. Look for a small, square group of bricks in the ground, This may be where a wood burning stove was. The last brick marks a larger bedroom — possibly the master bedroom. Just west of this room is the third porch of the house.

What did you notice about the sizes of the rooms? Were there many closets? Why didn’t they use closets the way we use them today? What did people use for bathrooms? Which way was the house facing? Yes, the rooms in this house were pretty small, especially if we compare them to the rooms in today’s houses. Closets were not very common in older houses. People just didn’t have as many clothes as people do today. What about bathrooms? If you look past the shelter, you can see a sample of what people used years ago before plumbing was common.

The house was facing west. Look for the two pine trees; these would be in the front lawn. The pines are the focus of our next stop. Please walk to the evergreens.


Can you identify these two evergreen trees? Walk up to one of the low hanging branches and we’ll take a closer look.

Take hold of a branch and look at the needles (Be careful not to break off a piece). Notice that the needles are arranged in pairs, are a little twisted and are bluish-green in color. The needles are almost three inches long. Now, stand underneath one of the large branches and look up. See the scaly, bright reddish-orange bark? All these clues tell you that these trees are Scotch pines.

The Scotch pine is not native to Iowa. It is a tree that was brought from Europe. In Europe, the Scotch pine is an important timber tree. These two pine trees were probably planted here. Why would people plant trees like these in their front lawn? Some of the reasons might be for shade, for a windbreak or to beautify their yard. Can you think of more reasons?

The next stop on our tour is at the cave.


As I mentioned at the beginning of our tour, I lived at Hickory Hills for about two years. The farm had been abandoned after the house burned down. I packed up my belongings and moved into this root cellar. Now, root cellars weren’t actually built to live in. They were used for food storage and sometimes as a storm shelter. I really liked this old root cellar so I moved in and made it nice and cozy. I furnished it with two chairs, a trunk, a gas stove, and a kerosene lamp. Now, let’s go down into the root cellar and try to imagine all my belongings in there.

As you walked down into the root cellar, did you feel a change in temperature? Did the temperature feel warmer or cooler? If you happen to be in the cave in summer, it would seem cooler. During the colder months of the year it would feel warmer. The soil around the root cellar helps keep the temperature rather constant. This kept me cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

The cellar’s temperature was such that it was used as a refrigerator. How would you like to use a root cellar instead of a refrigerator? What are some advantages and disadvantages of using a root cellar?

As you leave the root cellar, turn to your right and head for the big red barn.


Barns were an important part of the early farmstead. They provided a place to store farm machinery, equipment, livestock, grain, hay and other necessities of farming.

Barns also provided shelter. Just as you need a house or place to stay, farm animals also need a place to get out of the weather.

Walk around the outside of the barn and look at the construction. What is it made of and how is it held together? Have you noticed that you don’t see many old wooden barns like this one anymore? This barn was built here in about 1914.

The wooden barns of years ago are being replaced with large metal buildings.

Can you imagine building a barn when this wooden barn was built? Remember, all you would have had to build with was handsaws, hand drills and all the other tools that were not powered by electricity. A lot of your work would have to be human powered, like cutting down trees for lumber and digging foundations for buildings.

Many times when a barn was being built in the early 1900s, neighbors would pitch in and help the farmer raise his barn. How are barns constructed today? Do farmers today use the barns for livestock and hay like they did years ago?


Now, let’s go in and explore the barn! This is where Jack and Joe, my two mules, and my dog, Ring, used to live.

Go to the center of the barn and look up toward the roof. Find the nails. Can you count them all? Guess how many. Why so many? Any ideas as to why they weren’t pounded in all the way?

Well, as you might have guessed, the nails were used to hang things, like seed corn. Before a corn crop was harvested, the farmer would pick out the best cobs to use as seed for next year’s planting. The cobs were placed on the nails above your head to dry. Farmers back then didn’t have the seed sources we have today to plant their crops, so they produced their own seed.

The upstairs of the barn is one big room that was used to store hay to feed the cattle, cows, mules, and other farm animals.

How did they get the hay up there? Do you think they had their hay in small square bales, big round bales or just loose?


Try to figure out what animals used this barn. The long wooden box might provide a clue. Look inside it. What do you think this was used for?

This was a food bunk. Do you think all the farm animals could eat out of this?

Look for five holes along the east side of the feed bunk. They are about 2″ wide and 1″ tall. How did these holes get there and what are they for?

The holes along the feed bunk were used to tie animals to their feeding stations. If you look inside the bunk, you will notice a shallow tray above the deep areas. The shallow feed areas were used for grains and the deep areas were used for hay. What kind of animal do you think this bunk was designed for?

If you guessed horses or mules, you were right. A horse or mule with its long neck can easily reach the shallow and deep food areas. Could a cow reach both areas?

Horses were very important farm animals for the farmer in the early 1900s. They were used to clear and plow land, plant and harvest crops, and, of course, horses were the major source of transportation. Mules were also helpful, especially my mules, Jack and Joe, in helping out with farming and in other work.

Before leaving the barn, take a look at the east wall and find the large metal hooks. They were used for hanging up heavy pieces of leather, like harnesses. The sliding wooden windows are also worth examining.


Whoa there! As you leave the barn, walk west of the pine trees to a long, cleared lane (See map). You are standing on what was once the main road between Osceola and Indianola. What was used for transportation on this old roadway? Before the invention of cars (or before there were many cars around), horses were used to transport people and goods. This roadway is called the Stagecoach Trail. Take a look at the construction of the trail. Notice the ridges on each side of the trail. How does this differ from the roads we use today? Today, our road beds are raised and have ditches alongside instead of ridges. Transportation systems have changed since the early 1900s—I should know, I’ve seen many of the changes.

I have a question to ask about travel. How long do you think it would take to ride from Hickory Hills to Indianola?

80 years ago? It’s about 13 miles to Indianola. Remember, you’ll be using the transportation of 80 years ago, which is by horse. I would think it would take you about 3 hours if the road was in good shape and you had a good horse. What about today? How long would it take you to travel from Hickory Hills to Indianola? This question I’ll let you answer yourself.


Head down the trail and find a large silver maple tree on the left side. Walk around the tree and notice the size of its trunk. Also take a look up at the wide crown that the branches form. Stand close to the tree and see if you can reach around it. If there are several of you, join hands and attempt to go around the whole tree. What do you think the distance around the tree is?

The silver maple is one of my favorite trees because it is a fast growing tree that can reach over 100 feet high! The leaves are deeply lobed and have a silvery color underneath. The seeds are winged and children called them helicopters. The wood is soft and light colored. The sap is sweet and people use it to make maple syrup.

Years ago, almost every homestead had a wooded area to harvest trees for fuel, since we didn’t have gas or electricity to heat our homes. Trees were also used for making furniture, cooking, buildings, fences and much more. Do you use trees in the same way that people did in the early 1900? See if you can think of five ways that you use trees today.

Well, that about ends our tour of the Hickory Hills farmstead. I hope you enjoyed your trip back in time. While you’re at Hickory Hills, you may want to explore some of the other areas of the park. The park has several outstanding features, including Indian mounds, a reconstructed tall grass prairie, campsites, a pond and a network of hiking trails.


Continue down the old roadway to a wooden bench on the right side. Sit down and relax for a few moments. Close your eyes and try to imagine riding in a horse drawn wagon through this Shady lane on a hot summer’s day in 1900.

The smell of horses is in the air. You can hear the rhythm of hoof beats pounding on the hard, dry, mud caked roadway. Your horses kick up little puffs of dust with every step.

The air is heavy and humid, but the breeze from the ride keeps you comfortably cool.

The flat wooden seats of the wagon seem to get harder with the length of your trip. You better stop soon because your horse is getting thirsty. Medora, a small community just north of here, is a good resting place for you and your horse.

Horse powered vehicles were a major form of transportation in the early 1900s. What powers the vehicles that we use today?


A common sight on most farms in the early 1900s was an orchard. Orchards provide fresh fruit in season and hopefully plenty of extra for canning, jellies and drying.

I loved the sweet taste of tree-ripened fruit. Do you have a fruit tree or orchard in your yard? If not, where do you get your fruit? Fruits, vegetables and other goods are available in grocery stores and markets. Transportation systems have made it possible to bring goods from all over the world to your local grocery store.

Years ago, people grew most of what they needed on their farmstead. They were considered self-sufficient and didn’t need to rely on grocery stores like we do today. Can you think of any advantages or disadvantages of being more self-sufficient than you are today?

This orchard contains several varieties of apples and cherries. As you walk through the orchard, imagine what it would be like to live on a farm in the early 1900s, where you grew a large garden, raised animals, grew an orchard and tried to be as self sufficient as possible.

When this farm was in operation, it had a number of other buildings including: cattle shed, chicken house, hog house, granary, corncrib, cave and privy. Would you consider this farm to be self-sufficient?