Friday, January 30, 2015

Our Ladies of Perpetual Effort ...

One thing you notice while reading vintage newspapers is that from the beginning women of Chariton's various churches seem to have been in perpetual motion, raising money for this or that good cause --- ranging from entire buildings to missionary and benevolent efforts.

That certainly was the case at the Methodist Episcopal Church during the first decade of the 20th century when not only was there a mortgage to pay on the new building, but it also had to be outfitted --- and then in 1906, along came the pipe organ.

The Chariton Leader, in its edition of Nov. 15, 1906, asked under a headline that read "The Church's True Friends" --- "What would the churches do were it not for the women? The ladies of the M.E. church have raised about $4,000, which was used in the building of the edifice, since the new church was built and have in hand now the raising of about $800 necessitated through the purchase of the pipe organ and remodeling the building in order to make room for it."

A couple of years later, during January of 1909, Mira McFarland was retiring as president of the M.E. Ladies Aid. She was able to report, according to The Leader of Jan. 21, 1909, that during 1908 the women had raised $727.11 to help pay off the mortgage and bills related to the new organ. (A check from Andrew Carnegie paid half the organ's cost, more about that later.)

She then read --- according to The Leader --- the following poem, entitled "Perpetual Effort," which probably still is appropriate even though the role of women in various churches has expanded dramatically during the last century.

We've got an organ in the church --- very finest in the land.
    It's got a thousand pipes or more; its melody is grand.
And when we sit in our easy pews and hear the master play,
    It carries us to realms of bliss unnumbered miles away.
It cost a cool three thousand and it's stood the hardest test.
    We'll pay a thousand on it (men say) --- the Ladies' Aid the rest.

They'll give a hundred sociables, cantatas, too, and teas.
    They'll bake a thousand angel cakes and tons of cream they'll freeze.
They'll beg and scrape and toil and sweat for seven years or more.
    And then they'll start all o'er again for a carpet for the floor.
No, it isn't just like digging out the money from your vest.
    When the Ladies' Aid gets busy and says, "We'll pay the rest."

Of course we're proud of our big church from pulpit up to spire.
    It is the darling of our eyes, the crown of our desires.
But when I see the sisters work to raise the cash that lacks,
    I sometimes feel the church is built on women's tired backs.
And sometimes I can't help thinking, when we reach the regions blest, 
    that men will get the toil and sweat, and the Ladies' Aid the rest.

This poem is not original to Mrs. McFarland, by the way, although she had modified it to fit the circumstances in Chariton. Versions of the poem were published widely in church periodicals during the opening years of the 20th century, many tracking its original publication back to The Reformed Church Herald, published for a few years in Lisbon, Iowa.


I wrote yesterday about the reed organ, now housed in the chapel at First United Methodist. A predecessor to that instrument had been purchased more than 30 years earlier, not long after dedication in 1864 of the congregation's second building --- a brick structure that was the first to stand at the Corner of North Main and Roland.

At that time, it was considered inappropriate in some Protestant denominations, including many Methodist churches, for men and women to sit together --- a practice called "promiscuous" seating. And the thought of a musical instrument in church was enough to cause less hardy members of a congregation to swoon.

Here's a relevant paragraph written by church historian, Mrs. J.H. Hickman, for the centennial booklet of First United Methodist, published in 1951:

"Soon after moving into the new edifice (in 1864), some members began clamoring for a choir and an organ, also promiscuous seating. Mrs. W.O. Parmenter and Miss Nan Mitchell walked all over town soliciting money for the organ, and having succeeded, the organ was purchased and placed in the church. One dear old brother decided if he did not have to listen to the voluntary he might be able to stand the organ with the people singing, so he always waited and came late. Some of the older members thought his Satanic Majesty would swallow up the church. Miss Nan Mitchell was elected organist and D.D. Waynick, chorister."


The illustration here is from a panel in the big west window of First United Methodist honoring "Our Christian Mothers." I'll be back over the weekend with more about the pipe organ --- and the stained glass.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The little organ the could, did and still can

I had a wonderful time Wednesday afternoon at First United Methodist Church (thanks to Pastor Allen Wiese) taking photos of pump organs, pipe organs and stained glass --- three favorite things. 

This all started with the somewhat obsessive wish to submit photos of the magnificent United Methodist pipe organ (Henry Pilcher's Sons, Opus 543, 1906) to the Organ Historical Society's nationwide pipe organ database. I'll come back to the pipe organ another day.

I started Wednesday in the chapel, located in the northwest corner of the original church (behind that big bay of the 1899-1900 Bedford stone building that projects west toward North Main Street), admiring this beautifully restored and maintained Lakeside pump organ, an early instrument of the congregation.

There are a couple of stories about the organ, but because of the near-amazing survival of its 10-year guarantee, dated June 3, 1901, and now framed and displayed with the organ, we know it was purchased during that year from the Geo. W. Pickerel & Son Music Store, then located on the south side of the square. The Pickerels also sold pianos, other musical instruments, sheet music, books and anything else an aspiring musician might need.

Most likely this was a transitional instrument for the congregation. The big stone church was completed in 1900, but the pipe organ was not installed until 1906. And while an instrument probably was brought to the new building from the older church, demolished to make way for the new one, it may have failed.

Whatever the case, the organ eventually was retired to the church attic where it rested until 1985 when at the urging of Pastor Lynn Ryon, according to a church history, it was brought down, restored by Duane Anderson and returned to service.

The little reed organ, bellows filled with air by the organist pumping foot pedals, has had a far longer life than the company that manufactured it. According to online resources, the Lakeside Organ Co. originated in 1899 in Chicago after a split in the Tryber & Sweetland Organ Co., which already had been producing a "Lakeside" model. Lakeside Organ Co. transitioned before 1904 into the Lakeside Piano Co. which became the Fayette S. Cable Piano Co. during that year. Although Lakeside pianos were manufactured under that name into the 1940s, organ production apparently was suspended.

Whatever the case, it's a beautiful instrument and I'd like to hear it in action someday.

I also ran into some old friends in the chapel on Wednesday, memorialized in stained glass. The windows here are the least complicated in the building, flooding the room with warm light.

One is dedicated to the memory of Amanda E. Collins, wife of Chariton physician David Y. Collins, who died during 1890. He survived until 1916 and although both are buried in the Chariton Cemetery, their graves are not marked. So this window remains as the only known reminder of Amanda in her hometown.

I've written before about the S.B. St. John family. In fact, one of the stops during last fall's Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour was at the St. John gravesites --- so you can read more about that interesting family, memorialized too in the United Methodist Chapel, here and here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hairy Wild Petunia

Photographed 20 August 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa.

Ruellia humilis. This diminutive (usually less than a foot tall) member of the Acanthus family is native to Lucas County's dryer prairies; ranges east and south from southeastern Nebraska, central Iowa and southern Wisconsin.

Stems are squarish, branched and hairy with several pairs of opposite leaves usually about an inch wide and two inches long.

Stalkless flaring blossoms with five broad purple lobes arise in small groups and often are marked on the inside with darker purple lines. Blooms late spring through early fall.

In need of interpretation?

The walk Tuesday was along this "interpretive" stretch of the Red Haw loop that wraps itself around the inlet at the base of the campground bluff. This sign is at the far east end of the campground but be warned, the descent to the first marker is steep. I wanted to walk here when snow was on the ground, started skidding sideways down the hill --- then didn't.

Once at trail level, the grade is mild --- grassy on the west side of the lake but because of our recent mild days, a little muddy after turning to follow the south shoreline because it's more deeply shaded there.

There's nothing dramatic along the trail --- it's just amusing to play treasure hunt with the markers and test your knowledge.

This is my favorite interpretive station. Do they replant the poison ivy if it winter-kills?

A little farther along --- one of our more intimidating trees, honey locust, with its fearsome spikes.

Running water was making music at a point where concrete has been poured to allow trail users to cross a tiny stream with out getting wet feet.

The big sycamores are among my favorite trees in the park and there's a good example just beyond.

Because the trail is sheltered and there's been snow on the ground, small patches of green grass show through the fallen leaves --- but most of the green is provided by moss.

Keep walking and you'll come out here, where park staff began the task of re-establishing native grasses a few years ago.

A woodpecker appeared here and there along the trail as I walked along and I was accompanied by an accomplished musician up in the canopy that never showed him- or herself.

At this point I stood very still, pretending to be a tree trunk, and soon the finches and a blue jay appeared.

This short stretch of trail is a great place from which to view the red buds that line the inlet during late spring.

And walking here one fall evening several years ago, during migration, the air around me was filled with wings. As as it turned out I'd walked into the the largest and most varied assembly of songbirds of many species I'd ever seen, or have since. It was like walking through an aviary. I have no idea why and don't expect it to happen again --- but it was magical at the time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rattlesnake Master

Photographed 28 July 2013, Cinder Path prairie remnant north of Humeston, Iowa.

Eryngium yuccifolium. This distinctive member of the carrot family is native to Lucas County's moist to slightly dry black dirt prairies. It can be grown with few issues and thrives in re-established prairies, but rarely establishes itself unassisted in disturbed ground. So finding it in the wild signals that the ground around it has not been disturbed. Rattlesnake Master is found in most if not all of Lucas County's prairie remnants.

Photographed 17 July 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa.

Plant grows 2-5 feet tall, preferring full sun, as a stout central stem unbranched except near long-stalked inflorescence. Long strap-like leaves near the base of plants resemble those of yucca. Prickley balls of five-petaled tiny white flowers, each surrounded by a bract, develop mid- to late summer, generally a half to an inch across, and remain attractive in dried condition into winter.

Photographed 17 July 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of  Derby, Iowa.

The name Rattlesnake Master apparently results from mistaken EuroAmerican pioneer belief that Native Americans used the plant's root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. Although the root was used medicinally, it has no effect on rattlesnake venom.

Photographed 28 July 2013, Cinder Path prairie remnant north of Humeston, Iowa.

Attention to detail at the Lucas County Courthouse

As it happens, I love the Lucas County Courthouse and always have --- although my earliest memories of it involve being led by my dad down the ground floor hallway to the men's restroom through a gauntlet of old men sitting in big chairs gossiping and spitting tobacco into strategically placed spittoons. I don't recall anything about the restroom, but I do remember the spittoons.

I'm fairly sure that most of us who live here really don't look at this wonderful old building's interior detail and appreciate just how special it is. So I took a closer look Monday afternoon.

Although exterior doors into both north and south lobbies now are glass, identical sets of swinging paneled oak doors have provided access to the interior of the building since 1894, opening to the bottom of the first flights of stairs from both directions.
OK, so is a little shabby here and there now and I'm not a big fan of the lowered ceilings, profusion of plastic paneling and huge air conditioning ducts --- all that were available years ago when it was decided to cool courthouse workers down during the summer months.

Both north and south lobbies are large, but not large enough to provide back-up room if you'd like to take photos of the interior doors and the fanlights above them together.
But how could you not love the worn woodwork of the soaring old staircases --- smoothed by 120 years of hands sliding along their rails, then grabbing elaborately turned support posts when shifting direction on a landing?

But you can always climb to the top of the first flight of stairs, turn around and look back.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the elevator --- lobby tucked discreetly off to the side just inside the south doors --- when a trip to the county treasurer's office on the top floor is required. But the grand processional route (top) from north entrance up three flights to the courtroom floor remains the way to go.


I found this article, published in The Chariton Herald on March 1, 1894, while doing some courthouse clock research earlier this year. Although the courthouse was not dedicated until May of that year, the supervisors had informally accepted the building during late February and county offices had moved in from scattered locations around the square where they'd been located since the 1858 brick courthouse was condemned, then torn down.

The processional route to the top floor continues in two flights from the first-floor hallway. Glassed windows into an office on the landing now are blocked by plastic paneling upon which someone has posted truly ugly warning signs of some sort. The effect is so horrifying I neglected to read them.
The references to hand-carved elements of the woodwork caused me take a closer look on Monday.

Just look at the turned spindles, carved finials and gorgeous paneling.
And I did not make it into the courtroom. I believe court had been and perhaps may still have been in session. So I'll go there another day. Here's the article:


"Lucas county's new fifty thousand dollar courthouse is practically completed. There are a few minor details to arrange yet in the fitting of furniture, and finishing of basement, but this will all be completed in two or three weeks.

Here's a close-up of one of the carved staircase finials. These come in two sizes, depending up where along the eight flights of stairs they are located.
"The board of supervisors met in committee last Saturday morning, and finding the contract complied with, informally accepted the building, and the several county officials moved into their new home the first of the week.

heavy turned posts support the top level of the courthouse staircase, ideally positioned to be grabbed for support by anyone switching direction on the landing between first and second floors. Obviously thousands of hands have done just that. (Courthouse woodwork never has been painted; anyone who might think of refinishing it to make it look new and shiny would have to be strung up and thrown out a window --- just like Hiram Wilson.)
"When viewing the structure from the ouside, one is impressed with the imposing and massive appearance of the exterior, and on intering is delighted with the beauty of the interior. Everything seems in such perfect harmony. The first impression is in no way changed. One feels that from the smallest particular to the completion of the whole there has been a careful supervision.

Here's a closer look at the wainscoting that lines the first-floor hallway --- this just out side the supervisors' room at the west end.
"Messrs Foster and Libbe of Des Moines were the architects. The general appearance of the building reflects great credit upon these gentlemen. There has not been a serious accident during the construction of the building. The labor has been done by home workmen except the stone work of the superstructure and the slating.

And a closer look, too, at one of the carved elements of the wainscoting.
"The contract was taken by the firm of Stewart & Eikenberry for $50,000, and not a cent has been charged for extras, and not a cent discounted for failure to fill the specifications as covered by the contract, while in fact many additions have been made that have bettered the work. As an illustration, we would especially call attention to the ornaments used for decorating the interior wood-work, which, according to the specifications, were to have been pressed wood, but hand carved ornaments have been substituted. Mr. G.J. Stewart has given his personal attention to the work from first to last, and to his well known executive ability and untiring energy is largely due the completeness of finish and general excellence of work which characterize the edifice. At the risk of financial loss, he has never failed to furnish the best possible material; also to make the building solid and urable from foundation to roof.

The floors of the courthouse foyers, ground and first-floor hallways are wonderfully tiled. Here, on the ground floor, three patterns of tiling come together.
"The work began in the fall of 1892, under the supervision of Mr. D.A. Enslow, who put in the foundation and brick work. Mr. Enslow is an experienced and practical workman, and in no place did his mechanical skill count for more than here, and long after the builders shall have been forgotten, the foundation of the Lucas county court house will stand as a monument to his skill.

A closer view of some of the ground-floor tile work.
"Mr. Wm. Connor of Council Bluffs superintended the stonework of the superstructure, and the plans of the architect were carefully followed as the massive and elegant appearance of the building will attest.

"Messrs. E.H. Best and C.W. Johnson had the supervision of the wood work. These gentlemen, with the assistance of other carpenters in Chariton have exhibited their skills as mechancs and demonstrated the fact that Chariton can boast of as expert workers in wood as any city of its size.

"The heating apparatus was furnished by Thomas Caton of Ottumwa, and the furniture which is in keeping with the rest of the building by Messrs. Harback & Co. of Des Moines.

"The house is brilliantly lighted throughout  by electric lights.

Here's one of the original courthouse chairs outside the county recorder's office. Sadly, earlier county supervisors house-cleaned at one point and sold several of these off.
"On Tuesday when the Herald scribe entered the massive structure from the south entrance, by the grand staircase leading to the floor on which the offices are located, mingled feelings of pride and admiration stole over him, as he thought, have not the tax payers of Lucas county just cause to be proud of their new court house? Everything looking to the public comfort, convenient arrangement of offices for our faithful public servants, and above all absolute safety of public records, vounchers, etc., has been provided.

Back on the ground floor, isn't this a wonderful door? It leads to a storage area under the stairs!
"As one stands within the main hall way in the center of the building and views the general construction and symmetrical effect wrought by the various artisans, he can but feel that every dollar has been judiciously expended. We found the officials all at their post, proud as a boy in his first pair of pants, and busy with the current business of their office and the attendant work of straightening around after moving, but each found time to exchange friendly greeting and congratulations.

And finally, here's an area at the base of the north stair where plaster has fallen away, exposing the fact interior wals of the courthouse are solid brick.
"We rejoice that we live in so rich and grand a county as Lucas, and when the roads become passable, hope to greet every farmer and citizen of the county, with the wife and babies, at the county seat to help dedicate the building of which we are all justly proud. It will be a gala day for Lucas county then. Let's arrange to be there.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wild White Indigo

Photographed 17 July 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa.

Baptisia alba macrophylla. This member of the bean family, native to Lucas County's moist to dry black soil prairies, usually is found in undisturbed or less disturbed habitats. Because of its deep roots it can sometimes be found after its prairie associates have been destroyed. It ranges widely north and west to southeastern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa, but is uncommon.

Stalks 3-6 feet tall form sparsely branched bushes, Showy flower stalks bearing pea-like blossoms can be up to 2 feet long. Oblong seed pods then form. Blooms late spring to mid-summer.

Photographed 17 July 2104, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa.
Photographed 21 June 2014, Cinder Path prairie remnant east of Derby, Iowa

Bad road stories from English Township

This is another of those items from the "blog stuff" file, set aside because I found it interesting but not because anything of major significance was involved. I'm a little short of time this morning, therefore ....

It's always fun, browsing old newspapers, to happen upon reports involving your own family --- not so much the big stuff, births, marriages, deaths and the like. I already know that sort of thing. But details that shed a little light on personalities and how people lived in the distant, or not-so-distant, past.

Anyhow, this brief report, from The Chariton Leader of May 15, 1919, involves my grandfather, William Ambrose Miller (left). That's the Miller family home (as it looked many years later when occupied by my aunt and uncle) in English Township above.

That house fronted then --- and now --- on the road east out of Williamson (just before Williamson Pond) that I've always thought of as one of the worst roads in Lucas County, when weather conditions were right. Most of the year it was fine, then in the spring or during a particularly wet season the bottom would go out and parts of it would become virtually impassable.

So it was interesting to read in this article that mud had a long history of bogging motorists down in that neighborhood. The author of the piece was Henry Gittinger, then-editor of The Leader.

"W.A. Miller, out at the (west) edge of English township, has a fortune with his grasp if he would only work it. Perhaps if he had a gold lead on his place, or even a mineral spring with extraordinary medicinal qualities, he would aim to reap the havest due him, but in this case he is merely winking at opportunity when he might become opulent with wealth rung from condition. On account of some late fall road work, in front of his premises there is the worst mud hole between Chariton and Knoxville --- and the season for mud has been long. Not only every day but several times each day somebody drops into that hole and gets stuck --- next to lost. It is even more treacherous than the Dismal Swamp. Frequently he is called on to rescue automobiles from the mire, and receives eternal thanks when he could as well as not levy heavy tribute to receive. The opportunity is worth erecting steam derricks and doing rescue work upon a business basis. Our friend Miller has turned down a fortune and might have endowed several libraries and been able to corner the rescue business of Lucas county ere this."

One of my favorite memories of this road, dating from the 1950s when I was pretty young, involves the house that got stuck in about the same spot.

My granddad's uncle, Harry Miller, had retired sometime during the late teens and moved to town --- in this case Williamson, then a coal mining and railroad boom town. He and Aunt Carrie had built a fine new bungalow with big porches --- one of the nicer homes in town actually.

By the 1950s, Williamson had begun to decline and someone (I used to know who, but have forgotten) bought the house and decided to move it some miles to the northeast, where it still sits (minus most of its porches) along Highway 14 just before the highway straightens out and heads north to Belinda and Columbia.

The decision was made to move the house late in the week and somehow it got stuck just east of the entrance to Granddad's driveway, canted partially into the north ditch with just enough room to the south for a car to squeeze by. It was still there on Sunday, when there was a family dinner --- and those of us who were kids had a great time climbing aboard (when adults weren't looking) and exploring.

In 1919, the road east out of Williamson was part of the main road linking Chariton and Knoxville. The angled current route of Highway 14 that bypasses Williamson to the north, crosses English Creek and  comes up south of Belinda, wasn't graded and put into service until several years later.

Those also were the days when newspaper editors frequently left their offices and walked, rode or drove around looking for something to write about. This apparently was what Henry Gittinger was up to during early May, 1919.

His next stop was the next place east of Granddad's, an older family home where my Great-uncle Jerry Miller lived with his mother, Mary Elizabeth. Uncle Jerry had returned home just weeks earlier from service during World War I and Henry visited with him about that. I posted that short piece here several years ago as "Uncle Jerry and the Great War." Although brief, its an interesting account.