The Perry Sales Pavilion has changed the history of Perry and most of Iowa since it was originally built in Perry during the 1920s. The opening of the Perry Sales Pavilion was the result of traveling abroad much as business is conducted today. Clarence and Howard Hill of Minburn had been to England and traveled on into Scotland where they found community auctions being held. These community auctions in Scotland provided a place for farmers and local town gardeners to bring excess product, livestock, or miscellaneous items to a vacant lot to be sold. Upon returning to Iowa the Hills contacted the Conway Brothers (dominate auctioneers in Perry) to see if they would have an interest in opening a business like that in Perry. It appeared that such a system might be adaptable to selling horses. Horses were very much in demand, furnishing all of the power to do farming. Beginning the Perry Sales Pavilion was a brave step as the first pavilion opened in 1928 just prior to the stock market crash.
While most of us attended the weekly sales with our parents at the pavilion located at 18th Street and Willis Avenue. I was surprised to learn that the first sale barn was located about 2 blocks west of the former Workman-Timeon Funeral Home along the M & St. L tracks. For a brief period the sale barn was located on the south edge of Perry and in 1932 the Perry Sales Pavilion that most of us remember was constructed.
Charles Paist, who was also the contractor for the “old junior high school building” drew the plans for the Perry Sales Pavilion. The exterior and dimension lumber for the building were hauled in by rail and then moved to the building site by team and wagon. Both the Milwaukee round house and the light plant that used coal at the time provided the cinders that were used inside the barn. The interior pens and gates were made from cottonwood trees, sawed in local mills. When the sale barn that many of us remember was officially opened on the first Saturday of September 1933, the crowd was so large that they broke down the east side of the bleachers! Perry merchants designated Saturday as shopping days for the farmers.
The most recent location of the Perry Sales Pavilion was a little east of where the Perry Lutheran Home is located today. The area was on an old lake bed. Many of the men in Perry and the surrounding area used to tie boats up and shoot ducks at the present site of Orschelns and Peter’s East Car Wash.
To me there was always a smell unique to the sale barn. At first when we unloaded our feeder pigs with my sons, you smelled manure of course and then the scent became that of the bedding straw. Then there was always the smell of popcorn, cigar smoke and the pleasant smell coming from the café which was located in the front of the building. Doris Hensen told me she made 10 pies every Saturday. It was a very busy café because in the early days the sales began early with the sale of cattle, pigs, horses and sheep. Many times sales lasted until midnight because there was so much to sell.
The idea of selling things other than livestock started, making Wednesdays the day designated to sell excess inventory such as fruits and vegetables. Many people butchered their own animals and would carry half of a hog or quarter of beef into the ring where the meat was sold. At the time the crowds were larger on Wednesdays than on Saturdays. This auction continued twice a week until 1940. Then the two sales were combined with the sales being held on both Saturday mornings and afternoons.
Max Conaway told Louie and Doris Hensen that most of the money taken in from sales was in the form of cash so it was Max’s job to carry the money home. In those days no night depositories were available. Max explained to Louie and Doris that in those days nobody would expect a kid to have that kind of money so he felt safe carrying it home. He said that the money was kept in the oven at his home for years.
The variety of things sold at the Perry Sales Pavilion again changed as the need for hay and straw increased. The bales were sold outside the sale barn and were of particular interest to many of the horse people around town who came to buy this product.
Another change came about because of the USDA laws. The sale of fruits and vegetables slowed down and the selling of butchered hogs and cattle was eliminated due to those laws.
It is my opinion that the outside sale on the west side of the sale barn turned into a large yard sale. At times all the things from home weren’t sold and were just left there. Bernard Thogmartin was always there to haul away the junk.
As time went on older farmers were being replaced by the younger farmers. These younger farmers weren’t interested in livestock so this was the end of the Perry Sales Pavilion as we knew it.
The building was demolished by the then owner of the property Bob Rosene in August of 2009. Thus, after 76 years of service to Perry the Perry Sales Pavilion ended.
Thanks to the helpful information provided by Perry Sales Pavilion owners Louie and Doris Hensen.
Mike Kanealy, Perry Historic Preservation Commission