George Ashbacher to share his Barn of Memories with the public this weekend

Collection of local history will be open to the public ... Longtime auctioneer George Ashbacher sits near his display of vintage washing machines that, along with many other things, he has collected throughout his 60 years of auctioneering. Ashbacher will open his six buildings he has filled with northeast Iowa history and memorabilia to the public this Saturday and Sunday, October 13 and 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Photo by Kristin Kopperud-Stinn.

Historical hairdressing ... Pictured above is a vintage “perm” machine used back in the day to give hair permanents. The machine is just one of the many pieces of local nostalgia that George Ashbacher of rural Harpers Ferry has collected over the years and now has on display in the former Rossville Barbershop that is part of six buildings he will be opening to the public this weekend for open house viewing of local history. Photo by Kristin Kopperud-Stinn.

by Kristin Kopperud-Stinn

George Ashbacher has one of the largest collections of memorabilia in northeast Iowa. Most of the items on display at his Grandpa George’s Barn of Memories are from a radius of 60 miles or less from Harpers Ferry where Ashbacher calls home. In total, there are six buildings, seven if you count the second floor of the main building.

Ashbacher credits 60 years of auctioneering for his impressive collection, which ranges from small souvenir spoons and plates to five vintage tractors. Originally, Ashbacher had 48 tractors in his collection. He also owns more than 200 pieces of chalk ware, 40 lamps and a host of commemorative items from towns such as Waterville, Waukon, Rossville, Elkader, Harpers Ferry, Marquette and McGregor.

Ashbacher owns a Cloverleaf No. 4 manure spreader, one of his favorite pieces, along with a menagerie of other farm implements, a washing machine collection and an impressive display of vintage butter containers from dairies throughout Iowa. Ashbacher also has a plow that was found on Luther Nichols’ homestead and which was purchased in 1857 from a blacksmith’s shop in Rossville. Many of the wooden pieces that Ashbacher owns are in pristine shape, due to his careful diligence of keeping items out of the rain and sun.

Ashbacher enjoys Native American art and has a display dedicated to Emma Big Bear of the Winnebago (now Ho-Chunk) tribe. Along with collecting the history of northeast Iowa, Ashbacher has also collected his own family history. He has a display dedicated to his great uncle and aunt, Ernest and Mabel Tischhauser, who owned a Maxwell car dealership in Dubuque. The Maxwell automobile brand was absorbed by what is now Fiat Chrysler in 1925. Ashbacher says that Ernest and Mabel did not have children, so he became “like a son” to them.

He has an area set up like a vintage schoolhouse, which displays his mother’s teaching degree and licenses. Ashbacher shared that his mother taught him and his siblings in a one-room schoolhouse when they were growing up.

In a separate building, Ashbacher holds an impressive collection of local church cookbooks and North Western Reporter law books, donated to him from a local attorney. In a small building, referred to as “the doll’s house,” Ashbacher displays a doll that his aunt once owned, which he estimates is over 100 years old now.
The old Rossville Barbershop sits atop Ashbacher’s property, set up inside to reflect what it might have looked like back in the day. There’s a barber’s chair, a vanity full of hairstyling tools, a vintage perm machine and a bench from the Rossville Presbyterian Church.

Ashbacher credits the organization of his collection to his wife, Belva Ashbacher, and his friend, Elmer Miller of Waterville, who works with the displays. He hopes that his collection helps preserve what life was like in northeast Iowa for generations to come and brings nostalgia and joy to longtime residents of the area.

George Ashbacher’s display of local memorabilia and antiques will be available to the public for viewing this Saturday and Sunday, October 13 and 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Grandpa George’s Barn of Memories is located at 306 Antique Lane, just off of State Highway 76 south of Harpers Ferry. The main floor of the largest building is wheelchair accessible. A free will donation can be made at the door.

Those unable to make it to this weekend’s open house can call Ashbacher to arrange for their own tour by appointment at 563-586-2721. For additional information about this weekend’s open house, see the advertisement on Page 11A of this week’s issue of The Standard.

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