Museum 75th Anniversary

Saturday, March 23, 2013

George Allen

Thursday evening at Wayne County Historical Society's Annual Meeting, Enfys McMurry gave highlights from her latest book, Centerville A Mid*American Saga. Although the book is the story of Centerville, Iowa and its inhabitants from its founding up through World War II, there are some Wayne County connections.

One of the connections that Enfys highlighted in her speech Thursday evening and in her book, is of George Allen, an African-American gentleman who lived and worked and is buried in Wayne County. 

In Chapter 26 entitled Centerville's African Americans, McMurry wrote about the "earliest permanent County residents of African descent". The first was a child, Frank Wells, who was brought from Texas to Appanoose County.

According to McMurry's book, "The second permanent resident was also a boy brought north from the South. He was unsure of his age, estimated to be six, but sure of his name---George---and that of his family's owner, Mr. Allen. George Allen became his name. For the slaves of Jackson, Mississippi, emancipation reached them five months late. In the melee following that city's fall in May 1863, in the chaos of slave fleeing owners and jostling and wounded soldiers making for the river, George became separated and lost from his parents.

Appanoose County's Dr. Nathan Udell, an early Democrat but a convert to Republicanism and then a surgeon with Iowa's Seventeenth Infantry, found him crying and brought him to Centerville. George was passed on to several local families before being raised by John Conger, one of the County's earliest abolitionists. When Conger moved west into neighboring Wayne County, George went with him. Always hardworking and well-liked, George appears in a photograph, presented to the Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County by Mose Sager of Seymour, with his white friends sitting at the front of a porch in full sunshine. George stands alone behind them..." 

In this photo from the Prairie Trails Museum, the caption reads:
Clyde Greenlee, Vanch Nelson, Ed Hart, Wm. Miles, Bertha Harper, Floy Freeland, Stella Mardis, Eva Tedford, Clarence Cark, Charles Miles, Bert Miller, and N----- George

According to a story published on June 14, 1934 in Centerville's Daily Iowegian and Citizen newspaper, "George Allen began farming for himself on the Jerry Evans farm 3 miles north of Seymour, Iowa. From here he farmed a few years on the Lew Donald farm northeast of Promise City, Iowa, then rented the Davis farm near-by and continued farming here until about 1921. Affliction overtook this generous colored man. He then made his home at the Wayne county poor farm. Here he was made superintendent over the gardens and truck patches, and made his time self-paying to the taxpayers of his county.

Geo. Allen passed out of life in February, 1934, and his body was layed [sic] to rest at his request, in the Promise City cemetery, along with the white people who had passed on before, to the unknown world."

 It was reported in September of 1960, that a group of Promise City women collected money to buy and place a stone at George Allen's grave, nearly 27 years after his interment in that cemetery.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Recycling an Old School

When this old Corydon school was torn down, the brick was salvaged and used for three new building projects. According to a retrospective photo and article in The Times Republican back in December, 1974:

This is the brick that built a tunnel, a campanile and a gymnasium for the Seymour school.

The school building pictured above, before 1913, was Corydon's elementary building and was once its high school as well. It was razed in the 30's by W.P.A. labor (Work Projects Administration). The heating plant, located in a separate building, furnished steam heat for the building above and for a second school building. 

Brick from the razed structure was used to build a heating tunnel from the then near new high school building to what was to become Corydon's grade school and a campanile to house the old school bell. Most of the remaining brick was given to Seymour for a gymnasium.

Times Republican, December 26, 1974

Monday, March 11, 2013

History of Corydon's Friday Club

Friday Club is Corydon's oldest club. Present day members still meet once a month in each other's homes for dinner and a program. 
From previous research that I had done about Corydon's history, I knew that Friday Club had been meeting for many years because I had seen it mentioned in old newspaper clippings, but I had never determined exactly how old the club was and who the charter members were. I had asked members of the present day Friday Club, but no one could give me the answers. Last Friday, while I was trying to find information on another topic, I came across a newspaper clipping with the information I wanted. In October of 1951, Friday Club celebrated its 50th anniversary. Friday Club has existed in this town since 1901!  

The caption below this photo reads, "Above: Three former members are served by Mrs  Merle Meacham, president of Friday club. Mrs. Eva Miles, Mrs. Margaret Walker and Mrs. Winifred Carter. Mrs. Walker was a member of the club for forty years."

The article reported, "Observing its 50th anniversary, the Corydon Friday club entertained at a reception Sunday afternoon Oct. 7 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Homer Grismore.

The club was organized in 1901 and Dr. W.C. Martin, a retired Methodist minister who then lived in Corydon, is credited with having planned the organization. Charter members were: Mrs. H.K. Evans, Mrs. H.H. Hamilton. Mrs  R.W. Halpenny, Mrs. C. Holliday, Mrs. C.F. LeCompte, Mrs. W.C. Martin, Mrs. Lewis Miles, Mrs. E.A. Rea, Mrs. A.M. Shea, Mrs. F.M. Smith, Mrs. John Stiriling, and Mrs. F.D. Waynick. 

Although organized as a woman's club, it had from the beginning the unusual feature of including the husbands of members at a dinner following the afternoon study, with a concluding study in the evening conducted by the men. 

Of the charter members, three are still living, although none was able to attend the anniversary Sunday. They are:  Mrs. H.K. Evans of Des Moines, Mrs. E.A. Rea of Oak Park Ill., and Mrs. A.M. Shea of Pennsylvania. Only surviving husband of a charter member is Mr. Shea.

The Grismore home was beautifully decorated Sunday with cut flowers. Two lovely bouquets were presented to the club. One of yellow mums was from Mrs. H.K. Evans and her two daughters, Mrs. Portia Cooney and Mrs. Genevieve Starzinger. The other of gladioli, was from Mrs. Eva Miles and Miss Miriam LeCompte.

The reception table was set in silver and crystal. The centerpiece being an attractive arrangement of grasses and harvest grains painted in gold color. 

Mrs. Elwood Johnson and Mrs. Archie Bridges presided at the punch table. Mrs. John Warren, Mrs. Allan Minger, and Mrs. Harold Bishop were dining room hostesses, taking their turn presiding at the table.

Mrs. Laurence Fry, Mrs. Robert White, Mrs. Kenneth Hayden, and Mrs. Gilbert West were parlor hostesses.

During the afternoon, short talks were made by Mrs. Eva Miles, Mrs. Winifred Carter, Mrs. Eleanor Carris, Loren E. Lair, and Homer Grismore.

Mrs. Merle Meacham, the club's president, read an early history of the club written by Mrs. E.A. Rea. Mrs  Kenneth Hayden gave an original poem representing the attitude of the younger members toward the founders of the organization.

Letters and greetings from distant former members were read.

The guest list included all former members. Four daughters of charter members were present: Mrs. H.H. Carter, Mrs. Fred Jackson, Mrs. John Morrison, and Miriam LeCompte. Out of town guest present included: Dr. and Mrs. F.C. Edwards of Centerville; Rev. and Mrs. Loren E. Lair of Des Moines; Mrs. Margaret Walker and Mrs. Eleanor Carris of Des Moines, and Mrs. Jackson of Pasadena, Calif. All present members of the club were able to be present except Mr. and Mrs. Ben Grismore."
Four daughters of charter members were present at the anniversary. From the left, Mrs. Lois Jackson and Mrs. Winifred Carter, daughters of Mrs. Lewis Miles; Miriam LeCompte, daughter of Mrs. C.F. LeCompte; Mrs. Hattie Morrison, daughter of Mrs. John Stirling.

It was the fifties; notice the hats and white gloves. 

I was intrigued to find answers to questions that I have had about this club. In the article I recognized the names of many of our prominent founding citizens. Do you recognize any of the names?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hair Wreath

One of the more unusual pieces at Prairie Trails Museum is an intricately crafted wreath made of human hair. 

It was crafted by Susan Lee and donated by her daughter Harriet Draper.

The wreath must have been made from several tresses from different people as there are assorted colors of hair in the piece.

Following is an article published online about hair wreaths. After reading this and several other articles online, I determined that we are displaying the wreath at our museum upside down. Read on to see why.

Hair and Gone
By Karen Livsey and the Fenton History Center Staff

Hair has long been a keepsake by which a loved one or a friend is remembered. Even a
favored pet such as a dog, cat or horse can be remembered by a lock of hair or something
made from the hair. Lockets held not only a photograph or a small painting of a loved
one but often contained a lock of their hair.

Hair wreaths, hair pictures and hair jewelry were widely seen during the 19th century.
Instead of a painting or photograph of the family, a hair wreath could be made using hair
from various family members. This gave the assorted colors seen in a hair wreath.

Wreaths were constructed using crocheting or tatting techniques around wire. They were
also braided or woven around tubes or knitting needles. The tubes would then be boiled
and dried. The needle or tube would then be removed and the molded hair could be
fashioned into jewelry or used in a hair wreath. The hair around the wire could be bent to
make intricate flowers and leaves. Wreaths were often constructed in a horseshoe shape
leaving the top open-maybe to keep the family’s good luck-or if a memorial wreath, to
give the impression of ascending heavenward. If it was a memorial wreath, the hair of the
deceased was added to the center and would be moved to the side when the next person
passed away.

Not all hair wreaths were memorials. Some were keepsakes of family members who may
have moved away or a wreath could be made for a family member who was moving
away. They could also be made of hair from members of a church, a school or a similar

A less elaborate hair keepsake was a woman’s bracelet, brooch, and earrings. The hair
was made into the form of a flower or a lock of hair was intricately braided and could
then be encased in the brooch. Men could have vest chains made with fine ribbon and
braided hair. 

Some soldiers during the Civil War had watch fobs made from their wife’s hair.
Mourning rings which were given to family members and close friends after a funeral
often contained hair of the deceased. Hair wreaths and some jewelry could be made at
home or the hair could be sent to a professional hair weaver to construct the wreath or
jewelry. Peterson’s Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book, two of the popular magazines
of the mid-1800s, included instructions for making flowers and other items from hair.
Throughout 1861 Godey’s illustrated the types of hair work available by mail-order.
Prices for earrings varied from $4.50 to $10 - very expensive for the time. Hair jewelry
was the most popular item ordered in 1859.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Author Enfys McMurry to Speak at Annual Meeting

The annual meeting and banquet of the Wayne County Historical Society will be held Thursday, March 21. Members and non-members are invited to attend. The event will be held in the west wing of Prairie Trails Museum. Doors open at 6 PM, and the only cost to attend is $12.50 for the meal. 

The meal will be catered by Denise Goben, and serving will begin at 6:30 PM. A short business meeting will follow sharing the highlights of activities at the Prairie Trails Museum during the past year and plans for the coming year. 

Local author, Enfys McMurry, will be the guest speaker sharing highlights from her recently published book Centerville A Mid-American Saga.

Enfys was born and raised in Wales but has been a resident of Wayne County since the early 1970's. She was educated at the Universities of London, Arizona, and Missouri's Truman State and has done post-graduate work at Iowa State and the University of Iowa. For seven years she taught in London and in Wales, and for twenty-three years she was one of the english instructors at Indian Hills Community College, Centerville Campus. She does much public speaking and has written articles that have appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, the Christian Science Monitor, the Daily Iowegian, The Des Moines Register, two Welsh newspapers; the Western Mail, and Ninnau, and she is the author of Hearst's Other Castle, a book which became a BBC documentary. For the last ten and a half years, Enfys, working here in Corydon, has written an in-depth history of Centerville and Appanoose County. The resulting book: Centerville A Mid-American Saga was published by History Press in late November of 2012. Her research occasionally coincided with significant stories involving Wayne County. The story of Centerville and those Wayne County coincidences are the subjects of her speech.

I have heard Enfys speak over many topics, and she is always interesting and engaging. If you would like to attend, reservations are needed by March 18. Remember, members and non-members are invited to attend.

To read more about Enfys McMurry and her book Centerville A Mid-American Saga, go here and here.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

High School Built in 1924

The following article is from January 3, 1924 Times Republican:
Corydon's beautiful new High School building is nearing completion and will soon be ready for occupancy. The building is three full stories in height, one hundred thirty-six feet in length by sixty-six feet in width. It is built of cherry-vale mat brick laid in white mortar and certainly makes a handsome appearance.

The first floor which is in reality the basement is occupied by the Gymnasium and Shower Baths. A feature of the Gymnasium is the spring floor composed of maple wood under laid with layers of felt. Bleachers will be placed around this room while the surrounding balcony will be furnished with folding chairs.

On the second or ground floor will be found the Assembly Room, the Domestic Science, Manual Training Departments and teachers rest room, as well as several recitation rooms.

The office of the Superintendent, board of Education, and the Music Supervisor, besides the spacious Auditorium are found on the third floor.

The Auditorium will have a seating capacity of  approximately five hundred and in it will be held all entertainments to be given by our schools. About one thousand dollars worth of scenery has been provided for the stage settings, thus giving the patrons of our high school plays the benefit of such scenic features as can seldom be found outside of such cities as Des Moines.

To the pupils this magnificent Auditorium will be an inspiration to high endeavors and the community may rest assured that it will witness productions of real merit in the dramatic entertainments to be provided by the high school.

The decoration of the auditorium is a delicate cream color bordered by a Grecian Lotus design which extends to the stage. 

Probably the most remarkable feature in the equipment of the building is the clock which is of Standard Electric design. This is a timepiece which is almost human in its various contrivances. It not only keeps the time and indicates it in every room of the building, even to the furnace room, but it also rings bells for calling to school  tardy bells, recitation bells. It stops at four o'clock on Friday afternoon and starts at eight forty-five o'clock Monday morning. With its many bells added to the bells on the faculty and the belles among the student body the town will have more bells than ever before in its history, even though it has always been noted for belles.

The plumbing and heating system were installed by the Bailey Plumbing and Heating Company of Des Moines. The lighting system was installed by the Electric Equipment Company of Des Moines. 

The contract for construction of the building was let to Hannon and Rogers of Newton, Iowa.

Too much cannot be said in commendation of the School Board upon whom has rested the responsibility of spending the large sum of money necessary for the erection of this building.

When the bonds were voted and sold and it was found that the building could not be erected with the money provided they wisely decided to with-hold the letting. The wisdom of this course has been demonstrated by the fact that the present contract calls for about forty thousand dollars less than low bid at the first offering.