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Iowa All Over: 'All of our history'

Farms span 300 years

The Flynn Mansion sits in the 1875 Town of Walnut Hill at Living History Farms in Urbandale on Monday, June 1, 2015. The Italianate Victorian home was built in 1870 by Martin and Ellen Flynn on the site that became the Living History Farm. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The Flynn Mansion sits in the 1875 Town of Walnut Hill at Living History Farms in Urbandale on Monday, June 1, 2015. The Italianate Victorian home was built in 1870 by Martin and Ellen Flynn on the site that became the Living History Farm. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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URBANDALE — In just a couple hours, visitors to Living History Farms in Urbandale can walk through the past few hundred years of Iowa’s agricultural history.

Set on 500 acres in Urbandale in Polk County, the farms are an interactive site that allows visitors to explore Iowa’s rural and farm history with activities and exhibits.

The farms are moments away from a busy interstate running past the Des Moines suburb. But once the tractor that takes visitors through the site stops at the drop-off point, guests step back in time to an authentic 1700 Iowa farm.

Here, visitors see the early way farmers did their work and some of the tools of the job. They can use a scraping tool to clean a bison hide.

“Interpreters” in period attire provide families with an explanation of the site and farming during the period.

Beyond the exhibits, it’s a picturesque walk down a path surrounded by green to the 1850 pioneer farm, where there are pigs and other animals to be fed. Children can card wool and see a pork smokehouse.

The third site is a 1900 site. Here, historical interpreter Kendall Stroeh, dressed in overalls, explains how horses were used for farming during the era.

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He gets the attention of two gigantic pigs by bringing out their feed. A baby cow rests in a barn.

Another interpreter churns butter on the patio of the house.

In addition to the three farm sites, there is an entire recreation of a fictional 1875 town, called Walnut Hill. There is a general store, drugstore, blacksmith, print shop and a church.

Last year, Living History Farms had more than 100,000 visitors from 50 states and 32 countries, said Jennie Deerr, vice president of marketing. This year, the site marks its 45th anniversary.

The farms have 37 full-time equivalent employees who work year-round and 110 during the regular season. The site is open daily from May 1 to Aug. 27.

“This really — between the school tours and people coming out — brings history to life,” Deerr said. “It’s experiential.

“It’s really all of our history, from all of Iowa. We have a very unique museum in that we represent 300 years. People really can visually see the changes in technology and crop growth.

“It’s a chance for people to understand how we got to where we’re at today.”

If you go

What: Living History Farms

Where: 11121 Hickman Rd., Urbandale 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday; noon to 4 p.m., Sunday during the months of May 1 to Aug. 27

Admission: $14.75

Call (515) 278-5286 or go to www.lhf.org

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