In the late 1980s, a dedicated group of residents in Manning, Iowa, were the driving force behind bringing an antique German hausbarn from Europe to the rural town in Western Iowa. The group wanted the historic structure to attract visitors and help preserve Manning’s proud German heritage. Today, the next generation of Manning residents is driven by the same goal, but using new methods to reinvigorate interest in the hausbarn and Manning-Hausbarn Heritage Park.
Located behind beautiful, tall trees right off Highway 141, Heritage Park consists of 100-year-old Trinity Church, the 1916 Leet/Hassler farmstead and the German Hausbarn, which was originally built in 1660. Each are packed with history that provides a glimpse into the past of both Iowa and Germany. For more than two decades, everything at the park, from event planning to marketing, promotions and sales, was handled by longtime resident and former Heritage Park Director Freda Dammann. When Freda decided to retire in early 2019, her position was split in two, opening the door for a new generation to preserve and promote the rural community’s German heritage.
“My predecessor Freda is an institution in Manning and was instrumental in making the park what it is today,” said Elizabeth Leo, new tourism and marketing director. “It’s been close to a year since the transition, and I think we are coming into a comfort level of how we combine all that has worked in the past with new ideas and efforts to bring Heritage Park back to the forefront of people’s minds around the community.”
One way of mixing the old with the new has been incorporating regular, diverse and consistent events at the park. “We set a goal to reinvigorate the German pride in Manning,” said Leo. “Through our events, we try to feature different aspects that showcase our ancestry and remind everyone that this is your heritage, this is your culture and this is your past.”
An example of this is taking the park’s German-style tavern, previously used for events like weddings and reunions, and opening it up weekly for Thirsty Thursdays. Food trucks are occasionally brought in, trivia nights and live music shows are held in the beautiful outdoor German Immigration Courtyard near the tavern and during nice evenings, you will often find a game of ‘bags’ going on at the park.
In addition to the new events, Heritage Park festivities like Weihnachtsfest, the nighttime parade and German celebration that takes place each year after Thanksgiving, and the city’s pillar event Oktoberfest, remain staples for the community. But to attract larger audiences, both events now last longer. This year, Oktoberfest will stay open later and stretch out into the courtyard, while Weihnachtsfest will extend from one day to an entire weekend.
Promoting park events and sharing news has also taken a new approach. People still learn about Heritage Park happenings from the newspaper, radio or even posters, but embracing social media has proven to be the most effective tool. “Social media has been huge,” said Leo. “This year we’ve almost doubled our audience, just by being active and present. We’ve also extended our reach through paid social advertising. People engage with our content, ask questions, share photos and videos from their visits and have become advocates of what we have here.”
In the last year, there has been renewed enthusiasm from within, as if a spark in Manning has been relit. “We’ve seen increased attendance at events, and people are taking more tours,” Leo said. “This little bit of success has made us realize the interest and desire people inside and out of Manning have for the park. It just needed to be kickstarted again.”
As the Manning-Hausbarn Heritage Park enters a new decade, Leo added that she hopes it will continue to serve as a place of entertainment for families and people of all ages. “We want the park to be a stationary part of peoples’ routines in terms of what they do for fun,” she said. “While at the same time, being a source of pride for Manning, the state of Iowa and people with German roots.”