Iowa State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Celebrating 150 Years of Excellence in Agriculture at Iowa State

Prairie Farmer

It is not hard to believe what is now known as Iowa State University was a beacon of good practices, fine learning, and prestige even back in 1884.  It appears as though The Prairie Farmer, a weekly journal based out of Chicago, Illinois found many reasons for supporting Iowa State College.  This article was featured on the front page in November 1884 and describes important research and professors at Iowa State College, as well as buildings and living arrangements on campus.  This article is a wonderful piece of history reminding us of what great foundations we have built upon and the roots Iowa State University has in agriculture and excellence.

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Iowa Agricultural College of Agriculture
An Editorial Visit to the Institution – Its History, Work, Buildings, Facilities Etc

Going 325 miles directly west from Chicago towards Omaha, over the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, at a point 188 miles beyond the Mississippi, one reaches, in the central county of Story, a little village of some 1200 inhabitants, called Ames.  It is 37 miles north of Des Moines, by the railroad running up towards Minneapolis.  The name of this town is familiar to most farmers of Iowa, and it has already a reputation beyond the boundaries of that state.  It is destined, at an early day, to become far more widely known, from within and without this great agricultural commonwealth.  The work being done and to be done in Ames, will tell more about the advancement of the agriculture of Iowa than any other single influence now in operation lying a little west [text illegible] large number of [text illegible] extensive experimental grounds, laboratories, schoolwork shops, improved livestock of various kinds, many acres in test plantations of trees, shrubs. etc., and about a score of earnest, intelligent men and women, actively engaged in efforts to develop the agricultural interests of the state by instructing the quarter of a thousand or more of young men and maidens constantly gathered here in those branches of practical science which directly and indirectly relate to farming, farm life, and farm homes.  That the state has invested here nearly half a million dollars in lands, building, and appliances: and that, besides, it has husbanded the national gift of public lands so well that these have become a permanent income-yielding fund of nearly $700,00—making an aggregate of full million dollars of property and endowment funds.

When the people of the state become fully alive to the importance of the actual work in progress at Ames, there will be no hesitation in supplying another million, or two, or three of them, as fast as the funds can be used.  Every dollar thus invested will soon come back ten-fold, directly to the farming interests of the state, and indirectly to all other interests.

The College and Its Work
Among other aims, in entering upon our new Western field, it has been our purpose to visit from time to time, and examine and report upon, the leading educational institutions directly connected with agriculture.  The great industrial University of Illinois was set forth at some length in the Prairie Farmer of August 23.  In our September visit to Iowa, we gave some time to looking through the grounds, the buildings, and the work at Ames, and now take the first opportunity to record a general outline of the institution, so far as we have notes gathered.

A Brief History
Twenty-six years ago, (1858) the Iowa Legislature passed an act “to establish an Agricultural College.”  Its purpose as stated being – “to give a higher education to the Industrial Classes.”  Liberal appropriations were also provided.  In 1859 a farm of 640 acres was purchased in Ames.  In 1862, Congress donated to the several states a considerable amount of public lands, “for the endowment of colleges for benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts.”  Iowa accepted the donations with all its conditions, and, unlike some other did not attempt to divert it to fostering old or new institutions not wholly within the intentions and objects of the national bestowment.  It seems to have been very wisely managed.  Instead of throwing the lands into market at whatever prices they would bring, upon their selection and location they were appraised at what was then perhaps considered a somewhat high valuation, and in part leased for ten years, with the privilege to the leasers of purchasing on the expiration of their leases.  The last biennial report gives these figures:

  Acres Value
Endowment fund lands, now leased 134,634 $456,402
Endowment fund lands, unleased 169 $1,669
Endowment fund lands thus far sold       49,094 $114,316
Land bought with interest, leased 11,333 $48,320
Land thus purchased, and then sold 3,680 $7,300
Interest accumulated and reinvested   $4,000
The Total Permanent Endowment Fund....          $647,307      


The unsold and leased lands belonging to this endowment fund will doubtless be worth much more than the appraised value stated above, so that there will be no shrinkage of the magnificent endowment of $637,606, but rather an increase.  It is now yielding an annual income of some $42,000 for the use of the College.  The Congressional law prohibits the diversion of any of this endowment or its income to buildings or repairs.  The state has already expended over $300,000 upon buildings, and, by legislative appropriations, adds to the general income what may be needed for current expenses, for the increase of buildings, and for incidental purposes.  

And we may say here that, looking upon the objects and aims of the Institution, the influence it is exerting, and the work in progress, the people of the state should give it the most cordial sympathy and support, and supply the ways and means with unskilled hand.  While its work and influence may be quiet and not fully patent to popular comprehension, they are nonetheless important and there is hardly a farm in the whole state that is not deriving more or less benefit.  A single good ear dropped from every twenty bushels of this year’s Iowa corn crop, and sold at present low prices, would more than double the total sum now expended in carrying on the Agricultural College at Ames.

The term college, in its usual acceptation, does not quite convey a correct idea of an institution like this, for while it furnishes intellectual learning to its pupils, as do the purely literary institutions, its aims and its work are wider.  Here is an extensive farm embracing within its borders a considerable variety of sod, from upland to marsh meadows, watered, and in some cases overflowed by streams.  The operations common to the farming of the state, the cultivation of various field crops, draining, the growing and feeding and testing of farm animals of different improved breeds, are here carried on under the direction of expert, scientific as well as practical men, with the appliances for accurately noting results, and thus helping to diminish the uncertainties that attend ordinary agriculture.  The same thing is being done in the line of gardening, fruit culture, useful and ornamental trees shrubs, and plants, in the observation and treatment of diseases of animals, in the daily operations of the household, as relating to food, clothing, etc.  Mechanical construction, machinery, implements, engineering etc., form part of the practical and intellectual instruction engaging both hand and mind.  The students gathered here, who are mainly the sons and daughters of farmers, witness and take part in these various operations, under the eye and instruction of competent teachers.  They are thus not only learning improved practice, but are learning to observe, to study underlying principles and how to apply them.  Along with these practical studies, a portion of the time of the students is given to those branches of education that will get them to act their part well as intelligent citizens of the commonwealth.  Provision is made for the study of political economy book keeping, English literature, the modern languages, mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, modern languages, etc., etc.

The College Domain consists of 900 acres, including the original purchase and subsequent additions.  It is in one body extending about a mile north and south, and 1 ½ miles east and west. (See page 291).  The Montgomery Creek winds about in the eastern border, and Clear Creek crosses its northwestern corner.  Some low meadows occupy considerable space along the streams and the general lay of the domain inclines toward them, with undulating surface.  The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad enters near the middle eastern boundary, and runs to the northern side, a little east of the northwest corner – the station being a mile or so east, at Ames village.  The farm proper occupies 780 acres.  120 acres of the higher southwestern portion being devoted to the buildings, and the experimental and ornamental grounds.  The location is one of considerable natural beauty, made more attractive by art.  The surrounding country, like much of the state is rolling prairie.

Description of the Buildings
These number some thirty-five or so of all kinds, including the educational structures proper, experimental buildings, dormitory and boarding halls, dwellings, various barns, etc.  With the exception of two or three dwellings and farm barns, they are situated on the high ground, on the south side of the college domain, west of its middle.  They are grouped around the main or largest structure at various distances, but convenient to it.

The Main College Building, as seen in the engraving (Fig.1) is 158 feet long, 112 feet deep through the wings, and is four stories high, besides the high basement nearly above ground, which contains dining-room, kitchen, laundry, office, and armory.  The mansard roof, with abundant dormer windows, makes the upper story as ample and useful as those below.  On the first floor proper, are the spacious chapel, or general assembly room library, and the offices of the president and treasurer.  The second floor contains several recitation rooms, and rooms for students.  The third and fourth floors have geological and zoological museums, and students’ rooms.  About 200 students can be accommodated in the building, and take their meals here.  All the rooms in this building are now heated by steam, and lighted by electric lights, which reduce the danger from fire to a minimum – an important item.  Water is also supplied to all the stories.

Boarding Cottages – We were favorably impressed with the two of these already constructed and in operation, and speak of them more particularly as suggestive to other like institutions.  They are very neat modern looking houses or cottages (Fig. 4) located apart; contain some twenty rooms for two students each, with dining room and kitchen.  Each is carried on independently under the care of a matron or housekeeper.  The food and fuel supplies are drawn from the general stock, an account being kept with each.  These structures cost some $6,000 or $7,000 each.  They are under the superintendence of the general steward.  The experience at Ames seems to indicate that while these separate dormitories group the students more as families, lessen the risk of fire, and are more easily escaped from in case of such disaster, than from a great building.  The cost of superintendence and care is less per occupant.  A matron or housekeeper of sufficient skill and ability to care for these smaller establishments can be always readily obtained at moderate expense, while the executive skill and talent needed to manage a large establishment well, is costly and not always available in case of disability from any cause, especially at places remote from large cities.  We notice in the catalogue that at Ames the price of board which is based upon cost, is $2.10 per week in these cottages, as against $2.65 in the main building, including heating and lighting.

The Chemical and Physical Hall (Fig. 2) is 70 feet front and 44 feet deep.  This and the Engineering Hall, shops, and gasworks, are near each other, a few hundred feet southward of the main building.  This hall contains in the basement a large recitation room; on the first floor the chemical laboratories; on the second the Physical or Natural Philosophy laboratory, apparatus and lecture room.  Two draughting rooms occupy the attic.  This building is heated by steam, and supplied with water and gas.
North Hall (Fig. 4) is a two-story brick building, 40 by 70 feet, some 600 feet north of the main building.  On the first floor are rooms for the departments of agriculture and veterinary science; on the second the microscopical laboratory, and here are also the rooms for the botanical department.

The Horticultural Building near the above is a wooden structure containing on the first floor a lecture room, professor’s room, and seed room; in the second story the horticultural museum.  The cellar has two large rooms, one for storing garden products, the other for the nursery-propagating department.  A grafting room, and propagating house are attached, heated with hot water pipes.  Adjacent to this and North Hall and extending to a considerable distance, are the grounds where Prof. Budd is carrying on a portion of his very important tests and experiments with fruit trees, shrubs, etc.  Though we heard no word or hint from the professors, we think the state should supply at once, ample funds for greatly enlarging these two structures, or rather for erecting large fireproof buildings.  The work done here by Profs. Budd and Bessey is of great importance, not only to Iowa but to the whole west and northwest.  The very valuable collection of woods, of illustrative specimens in botany and in veterinary science should not be confined to the limited rooms in any such wooden structures.

South Hall (Fig. 4) is a two-story brick building rented for a boarding hall, and for the department of Domestic Economy – five substantial dwelling houses upon the college grounds are occupied by professor’s families.  The shop for woodwork is a two-story frame building, fitted up with machinery and tools for the prosecution of repairs and for useful practical instruction in mechanical work.

The College Creamery is a frame building just east of the farm house.  The farm barns are adjacent – one of brick, for horses, and one large frame barn in the basement of which is a stable for one hundred head of cattle.  The feeding barn, 52 by 56 feet, and the piggery, 36 by 96 feet, are models of handiness.  Both occupy sites east of the other farm buildings.
A new building for the schools of Mechanical and Civil Engineering costing $12000 nearly completed, will furnish ample present accommodations for the schools.
An important structure, south of the main building, is a small new one for the offices of the president, secretary, and treasurer, where are kept valuable records and vouchers, etc.  It is certainly wise to have such matters in a special building by itself, to avoid any possible accidents from fire. ---Two new buildings for the veterinary department, one for offices and recitation rooms, and one for a clinic hospital, now being erected at a cost of $10,000, will meet the wants of this important department of the college work.  Every student should be well instructed in the diseases and care of farm animals.  A single household of such persons scattered through the state will be of far more benefit than the expense of carrying on the entire college—perhaps we might say this of even a hundred of them, one in each county.  The value of such animals in the state amounts to nigh on to one hundred and fifty millions of dollars, and competent persons to watch for and check the spread of disease may very often save many million of dollars in a single year.

Equipment, etc.—The state pays the expenses of the trustees for care of lands, investments and funds for repairs of buildings and for experiments, some $6,000 a year.  Just here we wish to urge a large appropriation for carrying on various experiments.  Nothing was said to us on this point by the faculty; but we think the sum of $25,000 or even $30,000 would be used annually in this line, to the great benefit of the state.  The higher sum would amount to less than one-seventh of one cent per acre.  Experiments with grasses various crops, implements, and especially in feeding animals, etc., are of the highest practical importance.

For example, suppose there were on at Ames, an extensive system of feeding experiments so thorough that the knowledge gained and spread abroad in the state, would result in an economy on the average of a single penny a bushel in the use of the corn crop of Iowa.  The result would be a gain to the farmers—to the aggregate income or wealth of the state of $3,000,000—three million dollars, every year.  And such a result is not at all visionary, but one very probable.  A hundredth part of this sum would suffice for more extensive, complete, exhaustive, experiments than have ever yet been made anywhere.
Again, take the experiments of Prof. Budd on fruits.  As many thousands as there are no hundreds of dollars expended in this line, would very soon bring forth information that would be worth many millions to Iowa, besides being of inestimable value to neighboring states.  To secure and introduce good apples alone that will survive the rigors of the wind-swept prairie regions is a matter of the highest interest.  Ample funds to collect hardy trees, of good sorts, from European and Asiatic Russia and elsewhere, to test on a large scale, and to distribute the elected varieties free through the state, could hardly fail to return a thousand percent upon the cost.  The same, in a less economic but scarcely less important view of the subject, may be said of the testing and distribution of small fruits, of ornamental shrubs and plants.  We could go on much at length had we space, and speak of the research of Prof. Bessey, and of the importance of the entomological department, that looks after the insects which destroy millions of dollars worth of grain and other crops every year; also of road-making, of land drainage, etc., all proper subjects of investigation and of study by the future farmers of the state.

Another Suggestion here; “The best is the cheapest.”  Not a word have we heard from any one at Ames, and our only knowledge of the salaries paid there is from the state official documents.  But, judging from these and from what we have seen elsewhere, some of the salaries paid here will not tempt, secure, or retain the best men, such men as Iowa should have, and, if the state is wise will have at any cost.  Fifteen to twenty-five hundred dollars a year will not secure the highest talent in the present great and unsupplied demand for such thoroughly competent instructors as are needed in institutions of this kind.  Owing to the comparatively recent development of agricultural science, the number of thorough equipped men in this line is lamentably small, and is likely to be for some years to come.  Let Iowa make a note of it and secure her share of them.  She cannot afford to do otherwise.

Still Another Suggestion we throw in here, which possibly the professors and some of the trustees will not thank us for, but we deem it important.  There should be provided a large contingent fund for various unspecified uses, under the direction of the trustees, during the biennial interregnum of the legislature—for making experiments, purchasing works of art, of mechanism, etc., for special investigations, and particularly to send members of the Board of Trustees and of the faculty to different parts of our own country, and even abroad for observations and study.  There are kindred institutions in many other states, each having some special line of investigation, and certain peculiarities of management, and unique facilities.  The president and members of the faculty, and the trustees as well, should visit these other institutions, as observers and learners, and to bring home new ideas.  The people of Iowa have abundant reason for their large amount of self-complacency; yet there are good things in other states, not yet found even in this magnificent commonwealth.  It would do every trustee and especially every instructor at Ames good to visit Champaign, Ill, Lansing, Mich., Cornell, N.Y., and many other institutions of like character and would be of great benefit to Iowa.

Breeding in-and-in too closely is not advisable, even in schools and colleges.  While part of the instructors at Ames have had opportunity for outside observation, perhaps not half of them have been even beyond the state boundaries.  The limited salaries there, perhaps large enough for ordinary support, leave little margin for the expenses of travel to see what others are doing.  There is danger of a feeling that our way is the only good one.  A liberal sum for the purposes indicted, would not be felt by this rich state, while it would be returned many fold.

The Department of Study, Etc.
We have not space to elaborate our notes, or go into details.  These can be learned in the official documents, which can be obtained by those desiring them by addressing the president, S. A. Knapp, at Ames P.O We will give a few items here.

School of Agriculture. —This is one of the divisions of the college work, which provides for such pupils as desire to study the scientific principles that underlie agriculture, with the intention of practically applying them to the diversified industries of the farm.  In this course, particular attention is give to economic production, and to eliminating the elements of uncertainty; to reducing farm management and improvements to a science, as distinct from, but not divorced from pure skill.  This course, which may be pursued in part by the transient student, is planned for four years, including horticulture with agriculture.  In it are comprised the study of animals, their structure, etc., the variety of grades and thoroughbred stock on our farm furnishing the practical illustrations, such as Shorthorns, Holsteins and Jerseys, the leading breeds of swine, sheep, etc.  Feeding experiments give to the student’s opportunity of applying their lessons, as well as supply useful information to the farmers of the state.  Dairying is taught in the schoolroom and in the field, the yards and the barns and the creamery.  Stockbreeding is taught in the recitation room by lectures, and among the herds.  As the student advances, there are the auxiliary studies of botany, book keeping, drawing, composition, rhetoric, algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics or natural philosophy, vegetable physiology, meteorology, farm economy, farm engineering, farm machines or implements, geology, mineralogy, landscape gardening, drawing and drafting and finally political economy and English literature—all of which contribute to making intelligent influential citizens as well as intelligent, successful workers.
The School Year at Ames is arranged in two terms, which allows students to be at home a month during the wheat harvest season (June 25th to July 22nd); and again when there is little-chance for outdoor study on the College farm (November 12th to about March 1st).  This also enables the older students to teach during the winter, as we believe many of them do, and by this means they often earn a good share of the summer’s outlay.

The Expenses of Students are very light.  Tuition is entirely free.  Board is supplied at the cost to the college from $2.10 to $2.25 per week or $2.65 in the main building including lighting and heating with electricity and steam.  Incidentals 21 cents per week.  Room rent $1.50 to $3 per term, and janitor’s fee $3 to $4.  A deduction of 10 cents per week from the board is made to those paying a term in advance.  The rooms have bedsteads, washstands, tables, and wardrobes; the students supplying other needed articles, with bedding and linen, and paying the actual cost of washing.  It will thus be seen that a very moderate sum will carry one through the entire school year.  If the farmers of Iowa properly appreciated the future influence upon their sons and daughters, of spending a year or more at Ames, with its advantages and associations, and the small sum it costs, the institution could not now accommodate one in ten of the applicants.  The present attendance ranges from 250 to 300 students we believe, or scarcely one for every seven hundred farms in the state, which by the last census numbered 185,331.  Particulars as to requirements for entering, etc., can be learned from the president. 

Means of Illustration –The college has already an important gathering of collections for the daily use of students and illustrating the teaching, such as: the farm under actual cultivation.  This consists of a great variety of soil and aspect, including the woodlands and meadows of Montgomery and Clear creek bottoms, and the adjacent high rolling, gravelly, and loamy prairie lands. ---The experimental plats of grains and grasses---the barns of horses, cattle, [text illegible].  Piggery  [text illegible].  Stock consisting of improved breeds of horses, cattle, sheep and swine. —The creamery with appliances---the tools and implements of the farm.  ---The agricultural cabinet of seeds and grasses. ---The horticultural museum. ---The experimental gardens and orchards. ---The experimental nurseries, including many rare fruit and other trees and shrubs recently introduced from Europe and Asia. ---The large experimental small fruit plantations. ---The forestry plantations---the propagating pits, including many greenhouse plants. ---The ornamental grounds and flower borders. ---The collection of wood specimens. ---The collection of wax fruit-models, and set of facsimile fruit casts. ---The workshops, supplied with tools and machines. ---The Instruments used by the civil engineer. ---The veterinary cabinet. ---The experimental kitchen. ---The physical cabinet containing $8,000 worth of apparatus. ---The chemical laboratory with its apparatus, accommodating 100 students at work. ---The herbarium, consisting of 10,000 to 12,000 specimens. ---The microscopical laboratory, supplied with 23 microscopes, and a full set of apparatus. ---The geological and zoological museum. ---The zoological laboratory, supplied with 22 microscopes, and sets of abnormal and diseased growths. ---The college library and reading room, of over 6,000 Volumes, and many magazines and other periodicals.

The Value of the illustrations including apparatus amounts to some $40,000 or more such as horticultural department $6,168; botanical, $3,888; zoological, $3,000; entomological, $2,000; mechanical engineering $7,000; civil engineering, $1,000 etc.

The Horticultural Department at Ames is doing a very important double work of one portion of which we have frequently spoken in the Prairie Farmer.  The students here receive full instruction with practical exemplification or object lessons, in one gardens, nurseries, orchards, horticultural museum, on the lawns, in the flower borders, in the propagating rooms, and greenhouse, in the experimental Forests, etc.
The Experimental Horticulture now in progress at Ames is, and promises to be, of immense practical value not to Iowa alone but to the whole northwest.  The apple, pear, cherry, etc., are not natives to our country; but those which have proved tender and short lived are imported from Western Europe, or are seedlings of such importations.  The present effort at Ames is to introduce hardy fruit trees, shrubs, ornamental trees etc., from the “East plain.” Those whose native habitat hundreds of miles east and northeast of Moscow in Russia, corresponds to the wind-swept prairies of our northwest.  Considerable importations of these are now under test and propagation by Professor Budd, and numerous specimens in small lots are being distributed through Iowa, and to Montana, northern Nebraska, Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba, and elsewhere.  We fully believe that the results of these efforts will be of far more value to Iowa alone, to say nothing of the vast neighboring prairie regions, than the entire cost of establishing and maintaining the whole institution.
We have not space for, and especially not time to condense the numerous details of the different; important departments, the work and description of which might fill a dozen columns more.  We therefore, give for general information, the officers and instructors.  This will show the variety of studies and investigations pursued:]

Board of Trustees:  Hon. G.H. Wrighet, Chairman, Sioux City; Hon. H.G. Graitas, Waukon; Hon. C.S. Stryer, Creston; Ho. S.R. Willard, Fort Madison; Hon. S.J. Kirkwood, Iowa City.
Officers of Instruction:  S.A. Knapp, L.L.D., President, and Professor of Agriculture; C.E. Bessey, M.Sc., Ph.D., Vice-President and Professor of Botany; Prof. W.H. Wynn, A.M., Ph.D., English Literature; A. Thompson, C.E. Mechanical Engineering; T.E. Pope, A.M., Chemistry; M. Stalker, B.Sc., V.S. Veterinary Science; J.L. Budd, M.H. Horticulture; E.W. Stanton, B.Sc., Mathematics and Political Economy; D.S. Fairchild M.D., College Physician, Physiology; C.F. Mount, C.E. Civil Engineering; Martha Sinclair, Preceptress, English, French, German; Herbvert Osborn, M.Sc., Zoology and Entomology; J.C. Hainer, B.Sc., Proctor, Physics; T.W. Shearer, M.Sc., Chemistry; Ermina Athearn, Music; Mary W. McDonald, B.Sc., Librarian, Mathematics and Book-keeping; Mrs. Emma M. Budd, B.Scl, Drawing; Fremont Turner B.M.E., Practical Mechanics and Capt. J.R. Lincoln, Steward.