Iowans take great pride in Living History Farms. The popular attraction showcases 300 years of Midwest prairie life on an interactive 500-acre outdoor campus in Urbandale. It is a must see for residents and visitors to central Iowa.
The family-oriented museum educates, entertains and connects visitors of all ages to the Midwest’s agricultural heritage. Set in the 1876 town of Walnut Hill, the campus features an education center, barns, the Flynn Mansion, historical farmhouses, farmland and a prairie gothic designed church, The Church of the Land.
It offers a wide range of year-round events, including day and summer camps for kids, harvest celebrations and special historical events, and farm chores working with the sheep, horses, cattle, and other barnyard animals. Visitors enjoy skills classes in blacksmithing and sewing and cooking classes using hearths and wood stoves.
Living History Farms’ popular historic dinners feature horse drawn carriage rides to the farmhouses for family style candlelit dinners around the hearth. The dinners and teas offer a glimpse into rural Midwest life in prairie towns. Families set up lawn chairs during the summer to catch an 1870s Walnut Hills Bluestocking baseball game following gentlemen’s rules. More modern amenities such as an exhibit center, rental venues, snack bar and gift shop provide additional tourism revenue.
Living History Farms famously hosted Pope John Paul II for a historic outdoor mass during his 1979 visit to the United States. More than 350,000 people from around the world attended the monumental event, putting it on the world stage and in the history books as Iowa’s largest crowd ever.
Like many other attractions and local businesses, Living History Farms closed its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was forced to cancel numerous events in its rental venues that generate operating revenue for the museum. An SBA-backed Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan through Bankers Trust provided critical cash-flow to support the staff who take care of the livestock, as well as other professionals that oversee programming and operations. During the shutdown staff continued to educate and entertain children and visitors of all ages virtually.
“The PPP loan enabled us to continue to provide unique agricultural experiences and connect people to Midwestern rural life, while retaining our staff who are the essential ingredient in those experiences, “ said Ruth Haus, president of Living History Farms
National survey data show the public is most likely comfortable visiting an attraction like Living History Farms during the recovery period due to its expansive 500-acre outdoor museum campus. Haus credits the PPP loan for maintaining the popular venue as it re-opens this month in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Photos:Suffragists march at Living History Farms during a historical re-enactment event.
Pope John Paul II at the historic outdoor mass in 1979 attended by 350,000 people at Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa.