Monday, March 02, 2015

On the road to Albia's Grace Church

Bishop Alan Scarfe confirms Rick Clark, assisted by the Rev. Fred Steinbach.

St. Andrew's hit the road Sunday, since the bishop (the Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe) was making his regular visit to our sister parish, Grace of Albia, and one of our own (Rick Clark) was to be confirmed --- only bishops confirm in the Episcopal Church, so one way or another he or she has to be rounded up for the occasion.

The service, the food, the fellowship --- and the homily --- were outstanding; only one minor glitch. The bishop had misplaced his red mitre (that pointed hat) which ordinarily would have been worn for a celebratory occasion, even during Lent. He figured it must have been left behind in Mason City the previous Sunday when he visited St. John's.

Grace Church's Van Hunt (left) and the Rev. Frederick L. Steinbach.

I was happy, too, because it gave me good reason to visit little Grace Church, which is a favorite building of mine and one of the oldest church buildings in continuous use in the south of Iowa. Built about 1869, it is older than any Lucas County church and, in Monroe County, second only to St. Patrick's of Georgetown, that magnificent stone building on the prairie midway between Russell and Albia.

How about that Ogee arch?

I'm especially fond of the ogee arch that divides nave from chancel. You just don't see many of these. If you look carefully, you'll see that the nave still has it's original beadboard ceiling, too.

The chancel may be a later addition and certainly the original building would have had clear glass windows rather than stained glass --- what's in place now probably dates from the first decade of the 20th century. But the building is very similar to what was built nearly 150 years ago.

The pews, bishop's chair and double chair that provides seating for priest and lector came to Grace Church, perhaps during the 1960s, from St. John's Episcopal Church in Garden Grove, which by that time had closed and was scheduled for demolition.

The Grace building also has the distinction of of being the first home not only of Albia Episcopalians, but also of what now is the St. Mary's Catholic parish, estabished during 1874 as a mission of Georgetown St. Patrick's.

The man largely responsible for the Grace building was the Rev. Isaac Peter Labagh, who had been booted from his native Reformed denomination and found a home among Episcopalians. An astonishingly energetic man, he had built Episcopal churches in New York City and Illinois before taking charge of the episcopal parish in Fairfield, Iowa, during the early 1860s.

After the Civil War ended, he set to work along the route of Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, then being built west from Ottumwa (later the C.B.&Q, now Burlington Northern & Santa Fe). Grace Church was first, then St. Mark's in the brand new town of Russell, then St. Andrew's of Chariton, organized during 1867.

Labagh also was astute financially and had considerable resources of his own, which he tended to pour into his mission work. He advanced much of the money needed to build Grace Church and built St. Mark's in Russell in partnership with the redoubtable Elizabeth E. Fulkerson Hammer. Of the three, only the St. Andrew's building was funded by its own parishioners, who included the legendary Smith H. and Annie Mallory.

Unfortunately, the Rev. Mr. Labagh died unexpectedly during December of 1869 in Fairfield, where a son lived, and his heirs were less generous. St. Mark's in Russell closed and the property was sold off.

In Albia, the parish mortgaged itself to the hilt to pay off the heirs and some years later, about 1873, "the organization succumbed to financial embarrassment," as one of the old Monroe County histories put it. In other words, the mortgage was foreclosed upon.

During 1874 the building was sold to organizers of the Catholic mission and eventually became St. Mary's. St. Mary's occupied the building until after the turn of the 20th century, perhaps adding the chancel and almost certainly the stained glass. Then a new and larger church was built nearby and Albia's Episcopalians, who had been meeting in public halls since the 1870s, bought their old home back.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Klondike Gold (Part 3); Starling B. Riggins' hard luck

Prospectors ascending the final approach to Chilkoot Pass in 1898.

This third installment of "Klondike Gold," which began with a post entitled "The Klondike, gold fever, foolhardiness and disaster," picks up where Part 2, "John Bentley's homecoming," left off. Prospecting partners Charles W. Rose and Starling "Starl" B. Riggins had just returned to Sheep Camp, Alaska, after placing the remains of their friend, John E. Bentley, aboard the steamer City of Seattle, bound for Seattle, then Chariton. John had died of meningitis on March 23, 1898, at Sheep Camp.

As always, much of the detail here is taken from a series of remarkable letters written by Charlie and sent to his wife, Jennie, in Chariton, and to his sister, Jessie (Rose) Myers, of York County, Nebraska. Many of the letters to Jennie and others were published in Chariton newspapers from 1898 through 1900. In 1916, a collection of letters written to Jessie was shared with Henry W. Gittinger and published as a unit in two issues of his Chariton Leader. Rose was a fine writer and a brilliant observer; these letters are just astonishing. But Charlie spent six years and some months in the Klondike, many frustrating and the the final ones almost obsessive. As the years passed, his idealism diminished and fewer letters suitable for publication were sent home.


Rose and Riggins returned from Skagway to Sheep Camp on the 26th of March after seeing that John's remains, accompanied by Stephen Knight, were safely aboard the City of Seattle. On Sunday, most likely, they sold their late friend's gear --- it had been agreed between them that they would do this, then forward the proceeds to Theodosia in Chariton.

On Monday, the 28th, the men broke camp at Sheep Camp and began the four-mile trek to the summit and Chilkook Pass. Each had approximately a ton of gear. Most likely, a small amount of it was carried in their packs. Some may have been loaded aboard their recently acquired sleds and the six dogs brought from Chariton --- still fit and ready to go --- hitched, three to each. Most likely a pack service, and there were many of them, was employed to transport the rest.

Once at the base of the pass, gear would be reassembled and transported by aerial tramway over the summit (two tramways were operating in March of 1898), then dumped to await the arrival its owners.

The steady ant-like stream of stampeders over Chilkook was one of the wonders of the 1898 world, often photographed --- the view at the top here is half of a stereoscope view copyrighted 1898 by the Keystone View Co. of Meadville, Pennsylvania, and St. Louis, Missouri. And here's how Charlie described Chilkoot in a letter to his sister, Jessie:

"The trip, and the view, along with the busy people met with on the trail going and coming like so many busy bees, is worth all it costs one to get there. From Sheep Camp to the summit is four miles. The first three miles the ascent is gradual, but is quite steep. After passing the 'store house' a short distance, the foot of the Scales is reached; here the ascent is very abrupt. There are just two steep hills comprising the Scales. Just why they are called so I never learned.

"We then come to the foot of Chilkoot Pass. From here the ascent is in an angle of about 45 degrees for a distance of about 800 feet. The scene here is indescribable, and must be seen to be comprehended. If you have ever seen an army of ants marching to and from their mound carrying provender, you may be able to form some idea of what the scene is on the trail going over the Pass. There are so many thousand people on the trail this spring that it seems like a crowded street in some large city. The trail to the summit is in a direct line, and is so steep that a succession of steps are cut in the snow and ice like one long stairway. There is a rope to hold to in climbing from the base. In fair weather the line of packers on this trail is unbroken, and each man must fall in and take his turn. I have seen the trail when there was a man on each step from the base to the summit."

Upon reaching the summit, paying duty to Canadian authorities on their gear and reassembling everything hauled by tramway from the other side, Charlie and Starl loaded the first of several loads aboard their sleds and began the steep descent to Crater Lake. The Yukon sleds, as Charlie described them, were 16 inches wide and 5 feet long, capable of carrying anywhere from 100 to 600 pounds --- depending. The descent was too steep to endanger dogs, so the men guided the sleds down the slope, relying on gravity and doing their best to avoid crash landings. At Crater Lake, the dogs were hitched up and did the heavy lifting along the trail to Lake Linderman, then along Linderman to Pleasant Cove Camp on Lake Bennett.

Pleasant Cove Camp was some 10 miles down from the summit, and once there a spot was found, tent erected and dogs and men alike fell asleep, exhausted. As weather permitted during the next few days, men and dogs headed back to the summit and made as many daily trips as it took to get all of their gear into camp.


Charlie and Starl remained at Pleasant Cover through April and May, until the 1st of June. The remainder of the trip to Dawson City in Yukon Territory, roughly 500 miles, would be made by water. And so they built a boat --- or a glorified raft --- equipped with both oars and a sail. And that took time. They named it "Chariton of Iowa."

The two men set sail --- or set oar would more accurately describe it since they did not yet understand how use their sail --- on the 1st of June and reached Dawson City just after noon on the 17th after navigating Lakes Bennett, Tagish, Marsh and others, then a series of rivers feeding into the Yukon and finally the mighty Yukon itself. There were rapids, rough water, encounters with rocks and all sorts of other incidents during the trip through beautiful territory --- all described eloquently and in detail by Charlie in his letters. I wish there were time to transcribe these in full.


Shortly after their arrival in Dawson City, Riggins set out to find his younger brother, Herbert L., who had reached the Klondike some months earlier and was working a claim. Although Riggins and Rose remained close and often shared quarters, Riggins' business and prospecting relationships hereafter were with his brother --- until Herbert got restless during 1899 and sold his stake to Starl, who then went into partnership with a Mr. Lucas.

Rose, along with countless thousands of others, had arrived in the Klondike too late to secure a good claim --- although he kept trying. Herbert seems to have arrived early enough and had had better luck. Although the Riggins brothers didn't by any measure get rich, they were in a position to employ other miners --- often Charlie.

Much of the time, Rose worked for others --- usually in the early days for a wage in the neighborhood of $8 a day, which wasn't that bad.

A couple of weeks after arriving in Dawson, Charlie ran into Will Smith, a cousin of his wife, Jennie, who was affiliated with a consortium that had its fingers in a number of enterprises. He went to work for Smith during mid-July, first outfitting a building the consortium had purchased, then cooking for consortium workers (Charlie had operated a restaurant in Chariton, so he knew what he was about in the kitchen) --- at $8 a day, plus board. The Smith party had secured a contract to cut firewood and saw logs along the Yukon between Dawson City and Fort Selkirk --- gold of another sort in this cold climate.

When there was time, he prospected --- and by November wrote home that he had located a claim. Whenever he needed it, however, he was assured a job with the Riggins mining enterprises. He signed on to work for them during the winter of 1898-99 and again during 1899-1900. During prime prospecting months, he often was in the field.

At some point during mid-1899, Herbert Riggins decided that he'd had enough of the Klondike, sold out to Starl and headed for California. Once there, he married Laura Pitzer on Dec. 30 in Los Angeles County and They settled down to grow walnuts and citrus near Whittier, an occupation he followed for the remainder of his life.


Starling, whose full name was Starling Beuchamp Riggins, and Herbert were the only surviving children of James and Mary Riggens, who had come from Indiana to farm near the tiny settlement of Andover in Harrison County, Missouri --- just across the Iowa-Missouri state line southeast of Lamoni. Starling was born in Harrison County about 1867 and Herbert, during 1871. A little sister, Maggie, was born and died at age 3 months during 1870.

James Riggins died during February of 1877 at age 35 leaving Mary to raise their sons alone, which she did on the family farm.

Noah H. and Catharine Riggs and their much larger family lived at the time on the Iowa side of the state line south of Lamoni and as the years passed, Starling and their daughter Mary Ellen, always known as Nellie, became acquainted. About 1890, Noah and Catharine --- quite prosperous --- moved their family to Indianola so that the children could attend Simpson College.

Starling and Nellie were married in Indianola on the 17th of November, 1891, when he was 24 and she was 23.

They then returned to Missouri, perhaps to the Andover farm, where their two daughters were born --- Marie during September of 1892 and Ruth, during November of 1896.

It is impossible to say now how Starl became acquainted with Charley Rose and John Bentley. It appears that Starl did move his young family to Chariton, but that may have been only as preparations for the Klondike expedition accelerated. Once the men left Chariton on Feb. 1, 1898, Nellie and the girls moved to Indianola to live with her parents. She developed a relationship with Theodosia Bentley and Jennie Rose that endured for years, however.

It's impossible to characterize Starling --- no one remains to tell his stories. So we'll  have to accept Charlie Rose's word --- and he described his friend and companion on more than one occasion as honorable, scrupulously honest and kind.


Word of Starling's death at age 33 on Nov. 22, 1900, reached Chariton during early December. The brief report, published in The Democrat of Dec. 13, reads as follows: "Word was received last Friday by friends in this city announcing the death of Mr. Starl Riggins, which occurred near Dawson City, Alaska, on Novemer 22. Mrs. Riggins resides with her parents at Indianola and the message received by her announcing his death was sent by his partner, Mr. Lucas. He gave no particulars but stated that the body had been embalmed and that they were awaiting orders. An effort will be made to have the remains brought back to Indianola for burial."

Later in the month, a letter from Charlie, datelined Dawson, Yukon Territory, Nov. 3, 1900, reached Jennie in Chariton and offered more details. Charlie had been working that fall for Riggins and Lucas and they shared a cabin.

"My dearest Jennie: This is the evening of a very sad day to me, and the intelligence I have to impart will cause you as much sadness as it has me. Oh, how my heart bleeds for poor Mrs. Riggins. This time it is she whom the Lord has seen fit to chasten, for the angel of death has laid his hand upon the one most dear to her heart, and bid him come and reap his reward.

"Mr. Riggins was taken six three weeks ago last night with severe pains in his right side which was the forerunner of a severe attack of Pneumonia, and for nearly a week we thought he could not live, but after the eleventh day he took a turn for the better, and from all appearances seemed to be recovering rapidly until yeasterday, the 22d, he was seized with severe pains in the region of his kidneys and suffered untold agony for three hours and then quietly passed away without a struggle, seemingly falling into a peaceful slumber. The complication of several diseases was more than his constitution could withstand. Inflammation of the kidneys was the immediate cause of his demise.

"Nothing was left undone that could be done to give him relief during his illness. The best medical talent to be had was summoned, but of no avail. As to nursing, never has sickness been supplied with better or more efficient attention. His partner, Mr. Lucas, would not leave him for a moment and was beside him almost night and day. A lady living near us was also called in to assist in nursing him, and no pains were spared to make him comfortable. He retained his full senses until the last moment, but I do not believe he realized the end was near.

"We will go to Dawson tomorrow with the remains and upon reaching there will telegraph to his brother in California. He can then communicate the sad intelligence to Mrs. Riggins and wire instructions to us as to what disposition they wish to make of the remains.

"I have written to Mrs. Riggins and have told her I would urge you to pay her a visit and extend to her your sympathies and words of consolation which you know so well how to express and I wish you would go to her just as soon as the information reaches you, for I do think you are better fitted to convey the sad news to her than any one else in the world. I have thought of sending you a telegram but I remember how you are so frightened at only the sight of a message that I hesitate to do so for fear of harm to you.

"Your letter written Sept. 28 just reached me last Sunday. Nearly two months since you wrote it. I am looking for more letters soon. Give my love to Bert and Kate (The Roses' son and daughter-in-law) and tell them to take good care of the babe. Good-bye, love. Yours affectionately, C.W. Rose."


Starling's remains were claimed by his brother, Herbert, but were transported to Whittier, where Herbert lived, rather than to Iowa. It's not clear when this occurred, but the death certificate that accompanied the body from Canada to the United States was recorded in King County, Washington (Seattle) at the end of July 1901. This may have resulted from delayed transfer of documents from another department --- July-August would not have been, in 1901, an auspicious time to transport remains long distances. Pneumonia was the cause of death given on the certificate.

Whatever the case, he was buried in Clark Cemetery, later known as Broadway, which was Whittier's oldest burial ground and contained the remains of many of its pioneer citizens.


Nellie, Marie and Ruth moved from Indianola to the greater Los Angeles area some time prior to 1909, when fate had another hard blow in store for the family.

Ruth, then 12, was riding a pony --- apparently at her uncle Herbert's farm near Whittier --- on April 1, 1909, when she fell. Her foot caught in a stirrup, she was dragged a considerable distance and kicked several times by the pony. Critically injured, she died a half hour later. Her remains were buried at Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach rather than in Whittier, however.

Daughter Marie grew up, married twice and lived long, dying during 1980 at age 88 in Durham, North Carolina, where she perhaps was living near a child. Her body was returned to Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier for burial.

Herbert L. Riggins died during September of 1950 at Whittier and was buried at Rose Hills. Nellie survived until October of 1952, when she died in Orange County. I have not been able to find a burial record for her.


Even Starling's burial place ran into bad luck at the end. By 1958, the Clark/Broadway Cemetery and its neighbor, Mount Olive, contained between them 1,281 documented burials (and most likely undocumented burials, too, since no one was sure how long Clark and been used for interments). What was certain was that it contained the remains of many of Whittier's founders, but had become unkempt and was subject to occasional vandalism.

Rather than fix the cemeteries up, the city declared them a public nuisance in 1958 and decided to clear them. Years were spent attempting to contact relatives of those interred, offering opportunities to remove the remains of their loved ones to other cemeteries. Some bodies were moved, but most were not. Finally, all of the tombstones were removed (families were given five years to claim these rather weighty souvenirs) to storage.

State law prevented disinterment of unclaimed remains, so a majority of those buried here remain. But fill dirt was applied to smooth the grounds, original walking paths through the cemeteries were repaved, landscapers were called in and, during 1977, Founders Memorial Park was launched.

Find a Grave photo by "Sunny"

It's very pretty, but it seems likely that the founders themselves would have preferred that their graves and those of their loved ones be left intact.

Whittier Museum photo

The tombstones themselves are currently stored, stacked, in a fenced enclosure at the Whittier Museum. They have never been inventoried. There are reasons to believe that Starling had a stone and that it is among them.

"Starling B. Riggins," and the names of everyone else now resting anonymously under manicured turf, were recorded in bronze on a "Founders Memorial" within the park grounds. During 2012, however, the bronze plaques containing those names were stolen and the monument further vandalized.

There is some good news, however, for Starling and his eternal companions. The City of Whittier approved a new monument for the park during October of 2014, this time in granite rather than concrete and bronze. That project was scheduled to be completed early this year.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Klondike Gold (Part 2): John Bentley's homecoming

This installment of Klondike Gold picks up where Part 1, "The Klondike, gold fever, foolhardiness and distaster," ended --- just after three Chariton men and six dogs had boarded a train at the C.B.&Q. depot at midmorning on Feb. 1, 1898 --- a Tuesday --- bound for the Yukon to seek their fortunes. They were Charles W. Rose, age 43; John E. Bentley (left), 35; and Starling "Starl" B. Riggins, 31.

They were bound for Seattle, then planned to board a ship for Victoria, B.C., and the trip up the Inside Passage to Skagway, Alaska.

The Lucas County men were very heavily equipped --- soon after the Klondike gold rush commenced, it became evident to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that many of these hapless Americans were not going to survive because they had no idea how to equip themselves or of the hazards awaiting them. As a result, a rule was imposed that no prospector could enter Canada unless he carried with him enough supplies to last a year --- about a ton of miscellaneous goods. A suggested list of supplies may be found here.

There were some economies of scale when prospectors planned to travel and work together. The Chariton men believed that they carried between them enough supplies to last two years. What's not clear is how much of this was purchased in Chariton and then shipped to Seattle, but most likely much of it was. Railroads were equipped to deal with this sort of thing. As 1897 advanced, thousands of prospectors were headed by rail to Seattle --- in some East Coast cities, special trains were commissioned to haul just prospectors and their equipment across country. Many of these trains passed through Chariton.

A report in The Chariton Democrat of Jan. 28, 1898, gives a fairly comprehensive idea of how Rose, Bentley and Riggins were equipped:

"The clothing which they will take with them from here and which they will wear after leaving Skagway consists of a suit of silk underwear over which will be worn a heavy fleece lined suit, then a sweater. The outer garments consist of a corduroy suit, leather lined, which may be worn either side out, and a duck overcoat with a hood attached to it for the propose of protecting the head. Their footwear consists of a pair of silk hose, over which is worn a pair of ordinary wool socks, then a pair of heavy German socks. For mining purposes they have a pair of heavy rubber boots which reach to the thigh and have thick leather soles. They also have a pair of common rubber boots and when they reach the coast they will purchase a pair of stout walking boots which have heels on the back as well as on the bottom. Their hands will be kept warm with a pair of silk gloves and a pair of heavy German mittens. Each will take a Marlin safety long distance rifle of 38 calibre, with which they will shoot game along the road.

"For reading matter they will take the Bible, Shakespeare, Virgil, Caesar, and perhaps a few other books. Each will be supplied with a good pocket compass, a very necessary adjunct. A good supply of medicine, all labeled and with proper directions, forms a part of their outfit.

"They will take a good tent which with their blankets which weigh ten pounds each, their rubber sleeping pads and other bedding will afford them shelter and a comfortable place of rest. Their provisions will consist mostly of canned goods, tea, coffee, sugar, rice, etc."


Charley, John and Starl reached Seattle at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 4, awed by the scenery of the high Rockies and Cascades, after four days and three nights of travel. They had changed trains twice, once in Lincoln and again, to the Northern Pacific, in Billings.

Once in Seattle, the men made necessary purchases and did a little sight-seeing before boarding the ship City of Seattle for the journey up the Inside Passage to Skagway on Wednesday evening, Feb. 9. Then there was a major snag.

An inspector determined that the vessel was too heavily loaded and some of its cargo --- including the Chariton party's dogs and a portion of its freight --- had to be offloaded. "We could not think of going off and leaving the dogs behind," Charlie wrote to his sister, "so one of us had to stay behind, and of course it fell upon me to stay, while Bentley and Riggins went on," Detect just a hint of annoyance here?

Charley was able to book passage for himself, the dogs and the equipment on a small steam schooner, the Hueneme, and boarded at noon on Sunday, the 13th, but the voyage did not begin propitiously. Immediately after finally pulling away at 5 p.m., the schooner bumped into a large Japanese freighter, then when backing away got its propeller tangled in the line of a smaller boat and careened into a couple even smaller wooden craft, splintering them. The trip began, finally, at 9 the next morning.

The voyage north was rough and the weather deplorable, resulting in many delays and close calls. A trip that should have taken five days took 12. But finally at 11 a.m. on the 24th, the Hueneme arrived at Skagway. Freight, dogs and passengers were offloaded onto a scow and at 2:30 a.m. on the 25th, the scow was pulled by tug to Dyea, the launching point for the long trek up canyon on the Chilkoot trail then over the pass to the interior of Canada. Bentley came down to meet the tail end of the Chariton party at 8 a.m.

On the 26th, the reunited men made the day-long 16-mile trek up canyon to Sheep Camp, the last and largest staging area before the steep ascent to Chilkoot pass. This was for the most part a tent city although there were a few semi-permanent frame buildings.


A few days later, during early March, John became ill with what seemed at first to be a severe cold after climbing to the top of Chilkoot to talk with Candian authorities about the procedure for moving men, dogs and equipment over into Canada. As his condition deteriorated and it became obvious this was more than a cold, Charley and Starl moved John from their tent to the hotel in Sheep Camp and on March 8 spinal meningitis was diagnosed. Meningitis was running rampant in the prospector camps at the time and had claimed many lives.

John was treated by two physicians and nursed at the hotel by Rose and Riggins as well as other young men who volunteered to help out. His condition seemed to improve, then it deteriorated. He was delirious much of the time --- and at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, he died peacefully with Charley and Starl at his side.

There was no way to get messages into or out of this part of Alaska at the time, other than U.S. Mail --- and that was sporadic. Rose and Riggins could not make an emergency telephone call or send a telegram to Chariton. They were determined, however, to ensure that the remains of their friend reached home. There were no undertakers at Sheep Camp, so the men prepared the body as best the could for transport, then carried it down from Sheep Camp to Dyea, then Skagway, and on the 26th placed it aboard the City of Seattle for the voyage to Seattle.

They had recruited Stephen C. King, a desk clerk at the Sheep Camp hotel who was anxious to return home, to accompany the body --- and paid his passage. King was instructed to telegraph Frank Crocker in Chariton upon reaching Seattle. Starl wrote a moving letter to the widow, later published in Chariton newspapers, which King was instructed to hand-deliver when he reached Chariton.

Having done what they could, Charley and Starl then returned to Sheep Camp to prepare for the trek over Chilkoot Pass.


King and John's body reached Seattle early on March 30 and as instructed, Stephen immediately telegraphed Frank Crocker in Chariton. It fell to Frank to inform John's wife, daughters and parents of his death.

Both Frank and John were Knights Templar, members of a Masonic order --- and Frank, a widely respected banker, had many contacts. So he next telegraphed, N.H. Lattimer, a Seattle banker and high officer in Seattle Commandery No. 2, Knights Templar, and requested his assistance.

Lattimer responded immediately, collected John's body, which was taken to a Seattle undertaking establishment, and offered Knight his hospitality.

In Seattle, John's remains were prepared as well as they could be for the cross-country trip and placed in what was described as a "handsome casket," purchased by the Knights. When the time came to transport the body to the train for the final phase of the journey home, 30 Seattle Knights Templar in full uniform turned out to serve as escorts.


Meanwhile in Chariton, planning began immediately for a suitable funeral. It would be imperative to bury the remains as soon as possible after they arrived, but not without considerable ceremony. John had been an extremely popular and widely known and liked young man and this great adventure of his to the Klondike had for reasons that may seem elusive now captured the imaginations of Lucas Countyans far and wide.

As soon as it was known that the body, escorted by King, would arrive at the depot in Chariton on Tuesday morning, April 5, everything was put into motion. Here is an account of the day's events, published in The Chariton Patriot of Thursday, April 7:

"John E. Bentley, who died at Sheep Camp, Alaska, March 23, was buried in the Chariton cemetery, Tuesday, April 5. With one exception the throng of people who gathered to do him honor was the largest that was ever together for a funeral in Chariton. Friends and relatives from surrounding towns; fraternal brothers from neighboring lodges came to our city and joined with what seemed to be the entire population, to pay their tribute to the memory of this good citizen. Nearly all places of business were closed from 1:30 to 4:00 o'clock. (Schools were dismissed, too.)

"The casket containing the remains arrived on No. 1 Tuesday morning, in charge of Mr. King. The train was met by a large delegation of friends who escorted the body to the undertaking establishment of N.S. Melville. Shortly afterwards it was taken home to his sorrowing family.

"At 2 o'clock a marching column of over 200 representatives of the Masonic, Odd Fellows and M.W.A. fraternities and the Fire Department proceeded to the family residence. The casket was carefully carried out by the pall bearers, six brother Knights Templar, and placed in the hearse, which was drawn by six white horses led by the working team of Chariton Camp 272, M.W.A., in full camp regalia. Immanuel Commandery No. 50 K.T. acted as escort and led the sad procession to the Baptist church.

"The board of health objecting, the casket was not taken into the church and remained outside in the hearse throughout the long services. Quite a crowd had already congregated and a large number who formed the procession, together with many others, were forced to remain outside, so great was the gathering.

"The choir was composed entirely of men --- his friends. Mrs. Jessie M. Thayer presided at the organ. The opening hymn was "Rock of Ages," and was sung with much feeling. Rev. H.P. Jackson of the United Presbyterian church pronounced the benediction and Rev. H.W. Tate began the services with a reading of the Scriptures. Rev. W.V. Whitten of St. Andrews Episcopal Church preached the sermon and Rev. Tate followed with a few words on Mr. Bentley as a man. Two other beautiful renditions of the choir and Rev. Whitten closed the service with prayer. 

"During the service many heads were bowed in grief and sympathy and tears glistened in the eyes of not a few of the men. On the altar were many beautiful floral offerings (including) a monument and a fireman's helmet with the word "chief" on the front, both made of flowers. Above the altar hung the chief's trumpet, draped in mourning.

"The funeral procession again formed and proceeded to the cemetery. Here with sorrowing loved ones and friends gathered around the grave, with the beautiful and impressive ceremony of the Masonic order, the last said rites were performed and he was lowered to his last resting place by his brother Knights. The different orders, in turn, passed around the grave, deposited their offerings of evergreen on the casket, which was already covered with beautiful flowers, and turned their faces homeward, feeling that they had lost a friend and a brother."


John, born in Chariton on April 21, 1861, was the only son of pioneer Chariton blacksmith John A.J. Bentley and his wife, Anna M. (Scott) Bentley. He had two sisters, Mary Anna (Dr. Tom M.) Throckmorton and Miss Carrie.

He had married Theodosia Larimer on March 29, 1882, in Chariton, and they became the parents of two daughters, Maude, 14 at the time of her father's death, and Theodosia, age 13.

John followed his father's footsteps into the family business, working as a blacksmith and becoming, as one of his obituaries described it, "one of the best mechanics in the state."

He was deeply involved in his community, serving as chief of the Chariton Volunteer Fire Department, on the City Council and as a School Board member, resigning the latter position in order to go to Alaska. His fraternal affiliations included the Knights Templar (Masonic), Odd Fellows and Modern Woodmen of the World.

The Chariton Democrat of April 8, 1898, characterized him as "a noble man, whose kindly ways and courteous manners won for him the friendship and regard of all with whom he came in contact. Especially in this community where he had always resided he was most highly respected for his excellent qualities of head and heart."

Newspaper reports published before the Chariton men left for the Yukon suggest that John had dreamed of making enough money there to ensure that he and his family would be able live in comfort for the remainder of their lives, but that was not to be.

John's window, Theodocia, outlived him by more than 50 years, dying during 1949 in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where she is buried. Daughter Maude married Ed E. Pickerell and survived until 1973, when she died at age 90, also in Muskogee. Daughter Theodosia married Horace M. Russell and died during 1920 in Potter County, Texas.

John and Theodosia reportedly posed for the photo below during late January, 1898, just before John began the journey that would end with his death.

This narrative will resume another time with Charlie Rose and Starl Riggins at the base of Chilkoot Pass.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Klondike, gold fever, foolhardiness and disaster

This is a tale of gold fever and foolhardiness, high adventure and death --- encapsulated as it was beginning in this photograph taken most likely during January of 1898 on South Main Street in Chariton. The photographer was standing in front of the big Gibbon-Copeland home, then almost new, and shooting to the northwest. In the far distance is the home of Frank and Minnie Crocker, now Fielding Funeral Home.

The small photo album in which this photo was found came to the Lucas County Historical Society a couple of years ago as a gift from Hubert and Mary Lou Pierschbacher. The album has an interesting provenance, but since I'm going to come back to it another time I won't go into it now.

None of the people in the photo are identified, but I'm willing to bet that the three in the foreground, outfitted for heavy duty winter travel, are (in no particular order) the three major characters in this drama --- Charles W. Rose, whose home was out of the picture to the right, northeast of the Crocker house; John Edwards Bentley, scion of one of Chariton's oldest and most respected families; and Starling B. Riggins, called "Starl," about whom relatively little is known.

All were married men, two with young children --- and all were old enough to know better. But gold fever was a powerful thing. It would cost two of the three their lives.


To understand what was going on, you need to know that gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon in northwestern Canada during the fall of 1896. Early the next year, news of the discovery reached Seattle and San Francsciso and spread like wildfire across the United States in newspapers and other periodicals of the day.

That set off a stampede of an estimated 100,000 prospectors --- or more --- who flooded into a primitive area of unimagined hardship in search of riches. The Klondike gold rush continued until 1899, when the precious metal was discovered near Nome, Alaska, and the stream shifted in that direction.

Lucas Countyans were not immune. The world passed through Chariton daily on the C.B.&Q. line. Special trains loaded with supplies and men bound for the Klondike were noted and reported upon. Some Chariton merchants were offering to outfit potential prospectors with the gear they would need --- for a price, of course.

Into this developing situation during late 1897 stepped several Chariton men, some anxious to seek their fortunes, others interested staking a prospecting expedition most likely in return for a cut of the proceeds. Webb Hultz, prosperous long-time traveling representative of the Tone Brothers Spice Co., seems to have been chief among them. Frank Crocker, always a chancer, was involved, too.

Those who volunteered to make the trip were men in their 30s and 40s, decidedly respectable, but for one reason or another at loose ends. C.W. Rose, age 43, was the oldest. Bentley was 35 and Riggins, 31. Rose was married to Jennie and had a grown son; John was married to Theodosia and had two teen-age daughters; and Riggins, married to Nellie, had two very young daughters.

Bentley seems to have taken the lead in organizing the expedition. Riggins' brother already was prospecting in the Yukon --- at El Dorado No. 2 --- so he had useful contacts. But the old man, Charley Rose, was hard-core --- really hard-core. He would be the rock and the reporter and would outlast them all.

The men equipped themselves in Chariton with some of what they would need, including all their clothing other than hiking boots. There were nine dogs, although they planned to take only the top six with them and would need to acquire three more elsewhere. The Chariton Democrat of Jan. 28, 1898, reported that "The gentlemen have been training them for a few weeks past and they have attracted a great deal of attention."

No doubt the photo above was taken during one of those training exericises. Sleds would not be built or bought until farther along, so a sleigh was substituted. Chariton harness-maker A.C. Reibel built the dogs' harness.

The departure date was set for Feb. 1, 1898, and a farewell party for the intrepid three was hosted by Webb and Ida Hultz at their grand home on South Main Street.


A farewell article was published in The Chariton Herald on Thursday, Feb. 3, two days after the men had embarked. Had the author known what was coming, he most likely would have chosen some of his words more carefully:

With Its Glittering Promises of Wealth and Adventure
The Journey to the Land of Snow and Gold Begun

The much talked of expedition of the Chariton band of fortune hunters was launched last Tuesday, and we bade farewell to Chas. Rose, John Bentley and (Starl) Riggins forever. We never expect to speak to them again. When they return with all their wealth they will be so puffed up that they won't know any of their old friends who followed them to the depot to wish them a safe journey.

We base this opinion on our experience with human nature as it has come under our observation. As to whether the boys would prove exceptions to the rule, should they strike it rich, we don't know, but we wish them abundant success at any rate.

From Chariton they go direct to Seattle, where they will buy the remainder of their outfit, and from there they will proceed to Dyea (Alaska) by boat. Here they will procure sleds and face the most difficult part of their route, Chilkoot Pass, which to traverse one must travel 26 miles of the most arduous road known to man.

Having made the pass in safety they will have comparatively smooth traveling almost all the way, as Lake Linderman, a part of the head waters of the Yukon, is encountered at this point and its glassy surface will afford a convenient road bed by which they can go.

At Tagish, there is a government station where revenues are collected and here the boys will have to submit to the inevitable and pay the duty on their dogs and provisions.

Claim No. 2 Eldorado will be their final destination and Dawson City will be their post office address.

Their outfit will be largely the same as we described some weeks ago. They will take only two dogs apiece from Chariton, as their tickets limit them to that number, and to express a single dog to Dyea would cost about $36.

Their provisions, which must of necessity be plain and substantial, are taken from here. Their clothing is made of the most durable and heat retaining substance to be had. They will wear a suit of silk underwear outside of which they will wear a suit of fleece lined flannel. Their coats and trousers will be reversible, one side being of leather and the other of corduroy. Footwear of every description will lend comfort to their chillblained members and countless other articles of utility will be stowed away in the odd corners of the packs. They will take 38 caliber Marlin repeating rifles, hunting knives and fishing tackle.

They expect the journey will occupy two months, a greater part of which time will be spent on the last 600 miles between Dyea and Dawson City.

With last Tuesday began an epoch in their lives that will probably be the most marked of any they ever have or ever will experience. A pilgrimage of 3,500 miles under the conditions that confront the prospective tourist to Alaska is in itself an undertaking that is calculated to make a man hesitate, and every day spent in that desert country adds so much to its immensity. That they may return sound in health and strength, and rich in experience and the pocket is the sincere wish of the Herald.

We'll pick this story up another day, after the three men and their dogs have reached Seattle. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

See redbud, think spring, stay warm

That fresh layer of snow on the ground plus a predicted overnight low of minus-11 or thereabouts suggests that this might be a good morning to pull out the big guns --- some photos of redbud season at Red Haw State Park. Even the Iowa Department of Natural Resources tweeted something similar a couple of weeks ago.

Red Haw's redbuds are naturalized and not native, but the concentration out there does produce one of the best natural shows in the south of Iowa.

I took these photos during late April, but there's really no way to predict exactly when the redbuds will bloom --- as early as late March, as late as early May; it all depends ....

That issue plagued attempts to hold a Redbud Festival in Chariton --- a worthy idea now laid to rest. Something like this has to be planned a year out and the planners' schedule rarely coincided with the redbuds' schedule.

It's always useful to point out that the redbuds have nothing to do with the "red" in Red Haw --- originally named Red Haw Hill State Park. Instead it was named for the hawthorn trees that bloom white and produce a fruit that ripens to red, called a "haw." Hence red haw tree.

Whatever the case, spring will come. In the meantime, stay warm.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kirk Jones and the awful costs of war

Kirk Jones, captain and coach of the 1913 regional football championship Chargers, was mentioned briefly yesterday in a post about the team. But of course there is more to his story.

The photo here is taken from the 1914 Chariton High School yearbook, the earliest we have in the museum collection. Kirk graduated with the class of 1914 and here's the copy block that appears under the photo:

"Captain Kirk Jones wound up his High School athletic career in a blaze of glory Thanksgiving day. It was a fitting close to the four years of service to his school in which he attained and merited popularity that is accorded few athletes.

"Jones' record as an athlete is second to no other High School student of Chariton as far as is known.

"He has been a mainstay on the football team, for three years serving as captain. During the seasons of nineteen-twelve and thirteen, he proved conclusively that an athlete could be efficient and yet keep strictly within the rules. His service will be missed next year, but his record will be an inspiration to future high school athletes."


Kirk, whose given name was Byron Kirk, was the only child of Edward S. and Ida May (Branham) Jones, born in Chariton Aug. 5, 1894. His father was a pharmacist who worked on the square for more than 60 years as a drug store employee, co-owner and owner. The small family lived on South Grand Street.

After graduation, Kirk apparently went to work in the family drug store in Chariton and at some point during the next couple of years began courting Genevieve Argo, who was a year older and had graduated from Chariton High School with the class of 1911. Genevieve was a talented musician, who attended the Drake University Conservatory of Music for a year before enrolling at Monmouth College, Monmouth, Illinois. While a student there, she toured for two seasons as a soloist with the Monmouth College Glee Club.

As war clouds gathered in Europe and U.S. involvement became inevitable, Genevieve and Kirk were married secretly in Galesburg, Illinois, on Sept. 2, 1917. Later accounts maintain that neither family nor friends were told and that the impending war and his likely service were a factor in the decision to marry.

Kirk had registered for the draft in Lucas County and on Jan 8, 1918, enlisted in the 339th Field Artillery, headquartered at Camp Dodge, and soon thereafter was called to active duty. He subsequently was transferred to Company C, 326th Infantry, and moved to New York for further training and to await deployment to France. He last visited in Chariton during March.

Although the marriage still had not yet been acknowledged publicly, Genevieve gave birth prematurely to the couple's daughter, named Betty Jane, in Chariton on April 17, 1918. The infant died two days later, on April 19. There was no possibility that Kirk could return home when this occurred. He and his unit left New York for France 10 days later.

Genevieve did not recover from complications related to childbirth and by early May she was desperately ill. It was then that her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Argo, publicly announced the marriage in both The Chariton Leader and the Herald-Patriot. Genevieve died of pneumonia on May 19, 1918, shortly after Kirk had reached France.

So far as I know, there's no way to make sense of this sequence of events nearly 100 years later. 


Once in France, Kirk served with his unit during the September Battle of St. Mihiel and in the decisive Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Although not wounded, he was seriously gassed and emerged with what then was called shell-shock, the equivalent of today's PTSD. As a result, he was in and out of military hospitals during the final months of his time in service. The gas seriously compromised his respiratory system and eventually would kill him.

Kirk returned to Chariton during February of 1919 and a place in the family drug store was made for him. During late June of 1919, he married as his second wife Iva Belle McKinney, of Avoca, who had operated a millinery store in Chariton prior to the war.

In the years that followed, Iva and Kirk became the parents of two sons, Byron Kirk Jr., born during 1920, and Robert Edward, born during 1923. 

They left Chariton not long after their marriage, living in Des Moines, Burlington, then Chariton again, and finally Des Moines. Kirk seems to have worked most of the time in drug stores, but always was in need of medical attention. During periods of severe illness, he went to the St. Louis veterans hospital for treatment.

By late fall 1934, his illness had reached the critical point and the couple had broken up housekeeping. Iva had taken their sons to Avoca to live with her parents, traveling between there and Chariton, where Kirk was being cared for in his parents' home. His was reported to be critically ill during early December.

During mid-month --- apparently --- the decision was made to take him to the veterans hospital in St. Louis for treatment, most likely by car with his father at the wheel. They made it only as far as Macon, Missouri, however, when the situation became dire. He was admitted to the Macon hospital on Dec. 17 and died there on Christmas Day, age 40, with his father at his side.

The remains were returned to Chariton for funeral services and burial on the Branham family lot, a considerable distance from Genevieve and their infant daughter, Betty Jane.

Kirk's parents continued to live in Chariton, where Edward was able to mark 60 years as a pharmacist, until both died during 1958 and were buried by Kirk's side.

Iva lived a majority of her life in Avoca, then moved to California to live with her sons and died there during 1973, age 83, never having remarried. Son Byron Kirk Jr., known as Ted and as Kirk, served as a U.S. Army sergeant and photographer during World War II, then went to work as a photographer for Warner Brothers Studio. He died during 1984 in Granada Hills, California, age 63. Robert Edward, who also served during World War II, married in Iowa Lavira Kohlsheen and their son, Larry, was born in 1946. The couple later divorced.

Robert worked as a ranger at Shasta National Forest in California and died at Redding during 1976, age 52. Iva and her two sons all are buried at Lawncrest Memorial Park in Redding.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Those championship 1913 Chargers

I'm going to write one of these days about Maceo Richmond (upper left in this photo), one of the top student athletes Chariton has produced as well as a pioneer in other fields --- which is why I took a shot yesterday of this framed photo that hangs on a wall at the museum. But that will take a while.

So here's a look at the entire team, declared 1913 South Central Iowa Football Champions after its Thanksgiving Day win over the Simpson College freshmen. The team brought home a six-foot pennant that acknowledged its prowess.

High school football then was in its infancy in Iowa, so things were a little different. The Chargers were scheduled to play eight games, meeting Knoxville and Corydon twice with the Graceland College varsity and Simpson freshmen thrown into the mix. Corydon simply didn't show up for its second match, thereby forfeiting, so only seven games were played. Chariton lost a hard-fought match to Indianola, 0-6, but otherwise won all its games.

The season opened with a 12-0 win over Knoxville, followed by an 18-0 triumph over Corydon before the fail at Indianola. The chargers went on to defeat Albia, 14-0; Graceland, 8-0; Knoxville again, this time 18-0; and the Simpson College freshmen on Thanksgiving Day, 9-6.

The idents for this photo are in a long list, but because Maceo tops the list and I recognize Kirk Jones in the middle row, I'm assuming whoever wrote it began in the upper left hand corner, then proceeded left to right, row by row. I can work this all out, and will, but don't place too much reliance for the time being on the names I've attached to the faces.

Starting from the upper left in the back row --- Maceo Richmond, Earl Lowe, Kenneth Bown, (?) Clawson, John Lukens, George Yocom, Neil Fuller and Fred Culbertson.

Second row --- John Hess, Edwin Curtis, Cecil Ream, Olin Miller, Kirk Jones (Captain) and John McGinnis.

Front row --- Earl Wright, George Artley, Dayton Piper and Deo Fuller.

Just to give you an idea of how different things were in 1913 --- if not enough players showed up to field a team, coaches suited up, too, and joined the fray.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Crown jewels along the Red Haw trail

I'ts minus-2 here this morning, that blue wind chill advisory has drifted over the Iowa weather map and down into Missouri --- even my friends in Oklahoma and Texas are under winter storm watches and warnings (although a 20-30-degree winter storm seems from an Iowa perspective more of a tropical tantrum). On the other hand, it's minus-11 in the Twin Cities --- a cause to count southern Iowa blessings.

Whatever the case, it's a good morning to chase native plants --- from a chair behind the screen of a computer loaded with thousands of images taken over the last few years.

So here, from alongside the lakeside trail at Red Haw, is Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) --- "weed" seems unnecessarily harsh for these brilliant spots of color in an environment that by late summer can seem almost oppressively green.

Look for it in moist openings (a little sunshine required) along the trail, often in drainages coming down to the lake from the surrounding hills. There's also a yellow variety, Impatiens pallida.

Jewelweed is an annual the reseeds itself, and how it does that explains the first half of its formal name, Impatiens, derived from Latin and meaning impatient. Mature seed pods spread the seed by exploding, often when touched, so this is a member of the Touch-me-not family, too. Don't worry about the explosions --- the pods are tiny, under an inch --- and I'm told the seeds are delicious and nutty, if you can catch them.

The small jewel-like flowers (generally about an inch or slightly longer) are suspended from tiny stems and appear to dangle like charms from a bracelet. The funnel-shaped blossoms end in a curved spur where the nectar --- popular with hummingbirds and bumblebees --- is.

The plant itself can grow up to five feet tall, but its stems are leggy and weak so it often presents when collapsed into a heap.

This is a plant that's had folk medicine uses, most likely for as long as humans have been roaming around here. My source is "Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands" by Sylvan T. Runkel and Alvin F. Bull with illustrations by Larry Stone (University of Iowa Press, second edition, 2009).

According to that book, the Potawatomi --- and EuroAmerican pioneers --- used jewelweed juice to relieve the itch of poison ivy and the Omaha and other tribes relied on it to treat a variety of skin problems. Pioneers used the leaves as the source for a general tonic and fresh jewelweed juice was rubbed on foreheads to relieve headaches.

Somehow I've managed to strain my back a little --- probably while hauling tables around the other day. I wonder if a little jewelweed juice would help.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Trucks, trains and the Court Avenue Subway

Our forebears knew this ugly sucker as the Court Avenue Subway, though it's neither a sandwich nor an underground transportation system. We call it an underpass these days and it has four mates in Chariton, allowing traffic to flow under both the east-west Burlington Northern & Santa Fe and the north-south Union Pacific rail lines.

But this is the devilish one --- waiting like a giant concrete cat to pounce on the unwary trucker hauling a giant semi-trailer who either ignores or misses signs down the road, glances up at the clearance notice, "13 feet and NO inches," then says to himself or herself, "aw shucks, I can make it." Alas, not so.

The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe tracks are Iowa's busiest and best maintained (although you'd never know it, looking at this scruffy though sturdy bridge) and locomotives hauling thousands of rail cars loaded with everything from coal to Amtrak passengers cross over here daily without incident.

The big rig driver who tries to pass under, however, will end up with his trailer hopelessly lodged, sometimes with its back broken. The police will come, then the big equipment and finally Court Avenue will open again after everything has been hauled, or driven, away. 

It should be noted that most drivers, perhaps led astray by their GPS systems into thinking Court Avenue (also called Business 34) might be a good shortcut linking State Highway 14 and U.S. Highway 34, realize their error as soon as they see the underpass, then turn off onto a side street or, if they've gone too far, back up. I can't count the times I've followed a semi up or down Court trying to communicate telepathically with the driver --- "No. Noooo. Don't do it!" Most don't.

The problem here seems not actually to be the underpass, but the fact Court rises sharply to climb in one block to the southwest corner of the square as soon as you drive east under the tracks. This abrupt shift in elevation changes the whole equation and is the real trailer-killer. And there's no good engineering way to correct it.


The east-west rail line through Chariton has followed the same route at the same grade through town since 1867, entering from the southeast, then turning northwest to form a shallow "s" as tracks pass the square and approach the depot and rail yards to the northwest.

Until 1928, when the subway was built, the rail crossing west of the southwest corner of the square was at grade. Court Avenue descended gradually in the length of a block, crossed the tracks, then dropped away sharply into the old ravine the street still follows west out of town. The area where the big-box stores, fast-food places and various offices now are located on Court Avenue West was low, kind of marshy and not considered especially important. Chariton's main west entrance-exit was at the northwest corner of town.

The grade crossing was not especially safe, however, because of the drop to the west --- so Chariton city leaders began pressuring the C.B.&Q Railroad to install what then was called a subway soon after World War I ended.

Lobbying intensified when what now is U.S. 34 was designated Iowa Primary Road No. 8, linking Burlington and Council Bluffs, with Court Avenue --- straight in from the west, then across the south side of the square --- as the main route through town.

The city and the railroad could never agree, however, on who should pay for what --- so the project stalled again and again.

In 1926, Iowa Primary Road No. 8 was designated U.S. 34, part of an interstate highway system, and federal funds became available to pave it. Imagine that, a concrete roadway all across southern Iowa. 

That grade crossing just west of the square now had to be rerouted under the tracks, one way or another, and negotiations accelerated. First the C.B.&Q. wanted the city of Chariton to remove the dirt, then it wanted other rail crossings in town closed if the subway were built. And so it went during 1926 and 1927.

Finally, with the Iowa Highway Commission and others involved in the negotiations, an agreement was reached about March 1, 1928. This literally was the 11th hour, since paving through Lucas County was scheduled to begin that spring. Because of the underpass delay, the paving project slated to begin at the "Tharp corner" (just west of the current airport) and proceed east to the Monroe County line was reversed.

Although the precise funding formula was not immediately released, the state (using a mix of its own and federal funds) and the railroad split the cost of the subway project, which carried an estimated cost of $50,000. The railroad built the overpass bridge; the state paved Court Avenue from west city limits to the square.

Excavating for the project commenced during the first week of April. This was a complicated project because as excavation progressed temporary bridging had to be put into place to carry rails across Court Avenue until the permanent bridge could be put into place.

Work on the permanent bridge began during early June, with a projected August completion date. There were delays, of course, but on Nov. 9, 1928, The Herald-Patriot was able to report that the subway was virtually complete --- except for rerouting tracks over the permanent bridge, removing the temporary bridging --- and paving. A contract for the remaining 75 feet of concrete roadway had just been awarded to Knutson Bros. of Chariton.

So by Christmas, 1928, trains were rolling over Court Avenue and motor traffic was flowing smoothly under it --- except for the occasional unfortunate semi-trailer.

There's a train rolling by a block and a half east as I write. Hopefully, there won't be a semi-trailer lodged in the "subway" when I head for church a little later.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Drowning my big-old-house sorrows ...

Some turn to strong drink when seeking solace; others, to the Internet. And quite frankly, I'm still smarting over Chariton's loss of the Stewart-Harper house. So I've been drowning my big-old-house sorrows principally at two sites, one (Old House Dreams) that I've written about before. You'll enjoy both if interested in historic domestic architecture.

I've been following Ross MacTaggart's "Restoring Ross" blog since late summer 2014, some months after he purchased the Cross House, a dilapidated 1894 mansion in Emporia, Kansas, a city of some 25,000 souls midway between Kansas City and Wichita perhaps best know because of William Allen White, "the Sage of Emporia."

This vast house had previous champions, Bob and Debbi Rodak, who purchased it in 1999 when it was boarded up, surrounded by a chain-link fence and most likely facing a date with a bulldozer. They did the work needed to stabilize it before circumstances changed --- including Mrs. Rodak's death. The Rodaks were responsible for getting the grand old house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that earlier this year turned out to be vital to its future.

Ross purchased the house during March of 2014 and has been working steadily at restoring it since. You can read blog entries related to his restoration adventures by hitting the "Restoring the Cross House" photo once you've reached the main page. There are other categorized entries that are interesting, too, behind other icons on the page. Eventually, the mansion will serve as MacTaggart's home and the base for his business.

A high point of the process this winter came on Feb. 15 when Ross was awarded a $90,000 Kansas Heritage Fund grant to help fund restoration of the home's exterior, including spectacular stained glass. The grants are funded by a small tax on every mortgage filed in the state. Only buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places or the Kansas Register are eligible.

For what it's worth, the Cross House project is almost a text-book example of what it takes to save an historic structure after its fallen on hard times: Champions, vision --- and the right owners. The "right" owners will have intense dedication, a broad range of skills --- and either lots of money or access to lots of money.

Old House Dreams is a labor of love by Kelly, who started the site during 2009 as "Old House Dreamer." She spends what must be an incredible amount of time doing Web-based research, locating primarily Realtor listings for interesting and/or significant homes of all periods and styles, then creating individual entries for the best or incorporating them into "samplers."

This really is the top of the line among online sites of general interest devoted to historic domestic architecture.

Don't miss the "comments" section, where you'll learn a lot (Ross MacTaggart, of the Cross House, comments regularly and his big old house in Emporia was featured in an Old House Dreams post that still is accessible). The "forums" are interesting, too.

This recent entry for the McCray Mansion in Kendallville, Indiana, is a good example of what she does --- and it has I believe generated a record number of comments --- 130 and rising. So go take a look.

You can use the search engine in the right sidebar of the blog to explore old houses by age, style and location. Grand old Iowa houses appear here frequently, so take a look at the search engine and all it offers, too.