The Attic is a set of articles, written by members of our community, sharing a wide range of historical records, stories and events relating to the Museum.

Making Thelma Ferrel’s Dream a Reality- Part One

posted by James Nennemann

By Evelyn Birkby
One of Fremont County’s most important historical landmarks is Randolph’s Ferrel House, constructed in 1871. The last owner of the house, purchased in 1936, was Thelma Theresa Ferrel. Thelma was a Randolph native who taught school and remained single to care for her parents in their old age—she remained in the house for 58 years. A sustaining member of Fremont County Historical Society for many years, Thelma made it clear that she would will her Victorian house and its contents, an adjoining washhouse, carriage house, and a small stretch of native land to the society.  As well as historically preserving the structures, located on 13 acres, she dreamt of turning the land into a wildlife refuge, complete with native grasses and wild flowers.
Thelma passed in 1994 but before accepting her bequest, the society asked Jerome Thompson from the Iowa State Historical Society to inspect the property to assess its potential as a museum—after a professional evaluation he was very enthusiastic about its potential to become an important part of the county’s historical complex. The society stepped up to the plate. 
Many tasks awaited a committee of volunteers in bringing the property into the society’s fold: First off, an accounting firm was chosen to manage the trust, which included a small farm, proceeds from which would support restoration and maintenance. Next on the list was conducting an inventory, a daunting task considering the size of the home and the numbers of antiques and other items it contained. Those who participated in the inventory said it felt as though they were on an extended treasure hunt.
With a complete list of items in hand, the society then had to determine what to keep—items and furniture that didn’t fit into a Victorian-era motif would be culled. A curator was hired who assisted in transforming the house by identifying what could be saved and what needed to go, a process that included disposing of four of five davenports. Some things, like antique light fixtures, would need to be acquired from outside sources. When original items weren’t available, replicas were ordered from companies that specialized in vintage furnishings and fixtures.
The wall coverings were an important consideration requiring the services of a company in Shenandoah that knew how to find period-correct wallpaper patterns. They carefully peeled off layers of paper in the house until the original (oldest) was exposed. At that point, expert eyes searched catalogs for similar patterns that could be applied with modern techniques to bring out the proper atmosphere for each room. The home’s new entry hall paper was almost identical to the original. 
Craftsmen were found to do the wallpapering, painting, metal polishing, and carpentry. Wayne Hardy worked outside and Greg and Ellen Stultz worked on the inside. No detail was too small and windows, locks, hinges, and door knobs all required attention. Slowly but surely, the home took shape and was reborn in its turn-of-the-century glory.
The next Attic will share some of the special challenges encountered to fulfill Thelma’s dream.  

Recruiting for Tabor College

posted Apr 4, 2018, 3:02 PM by James Nennemann   [ updated Apr 4, 2018, 3:09 PM ]

By Harry Wilkins

Tabor College, founded in 1866, prided itself on being an accessible and affordable choice for young men and women who wanted a Christian education. Although many students hailed from the local area, a sizeable number came from out-of-state, some from foreign countries. To attract new students the school relied on traditional advertising, like newspapers and flyers, but students and graduates were sometimes asked to help as well. One such recruiter was Ralph Ellis Todd, a 1905 graduate and grandson of Reverend John Todd. Ralph was headed to the University of Nebraska to study civil engineering, but before leaving Tabor he traveled through southwestern Iowa and eastern Nebraska talking to prospective students. He also took the time to write. 

On September 5, 1906, Ralph penned a letter using college stationary to Shirley “Shirl” Clayton Lincoln, son of a farming family that had settled near Pacific Junction in the early 1880s.  Ralph reached out to Shirley after hearing the young man was interested in attending Tabor College Academy because he was thinking of qualifying for admittance to law school. Ralph was proud of his alma mater and he told Shirley the school was “up-to-date in every respect.”  The catalog Ralph enclosed showcased the 14,000 volume library, gymnasium, chemistry lab, natural history museum, herbarium, and an $11,000 steam heating plant containing two 80-horsepower boilers, “with provision for an electric light plant.”

If Shirley Lincoln had enrolled in the academy, he would have been in a preparatory school designed for those who wished to hone their academic skills for college or to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. Based on the philosophy of a “standard school,” the academy required students to learn classical languages and mythology (Homer’s Iliad was read in the original Greek), physics, botany, geometry, history and the Bible. In 1906, the prep school graduated 15, seven of whom were women; ten of the students were from Tabor, while others hailed from as far away as Idaho, Illinois and Texas.

Tuition and “incidental” expenses were $15.00 per semester, with a fifty-cent lab fee, low even for the time. Another important consideration would have been living expenses, since dormitory space was limited.  Ralph highlighted one option for Shirley, telling him he could find room and board on a farm 1½ miles from town for $2.50 per week, and might be able to work off half of the charge.  The host family would let him use a horse for his trips into town.

Shirley Lincoln decided to pursue other opportunities and never went to Tabor College.  As for Ralph Todd, he landed an engineering job with the North Western Railroad in Madison, Wisconsin, married and bought a home in Riverside Park. Tragically, he suffered fatal head injuries in 1918 while swimming with his wife at a lake near his home.  He was 34 years old.  He was brought home to Iowa, with funeral services held at his parents’ home before interment in Tabor Cemetery. 

Storytellers and Story Keepers

posted Jan 17, 2018, 10:28 AM by James Nennemann

By Sherry Perkins

It is a new year, 365 days lay before us with each and every day creating history. Everyone has heard “history repeats itself”. How do we know what ‘History “was? Every person, every town and every situation has a story to tell. How do these stories get told? How does it get saved for future generations? And does anyone care?

Keeping history alive and well should be important to every person.  We can’t leave it up to our schools telling the stories of the counties, state and country.  It is up to each all of us to make sure history is not shoved under the rug. We mustn’t forget our ancestors, the settling of the country, the wars fought and why, floods, droughts, the Depression, etc.   And who or what does this?  MUSEUMS!!   National
museums are well known with thousands of visitors. Museums at the local level are just as important as the Smithsonian---- maybe more so because most of us will never visit it. 

Southwest Iowa has a gold mine of museums. The four corner counties of Iowa- Mills, Fremont, Page and Montgomery all have stories of both national and local interest that must be preserved.Here in Fremont County, we have the Fremont County History Center and Iowa’s Championship Rode Museum in Sidney that is dedicated to telling the stories of the entire county.  Randolph has the Ferrel House, a furnished 19th century home, and the 1878 Train Depot Museum. Tabor has the Todd House that celebrates the rich history of that community. Farragut and Hamburg are creating museums to tell their stories. Between them, these museums insure we will not forget the Underground Railroad, Orphan Trains, Iowa’s Championship Rodeo, the disastrous floods, how railroads tied us to the rest of the country and the famous people whose footsteps left a mark in the County such as Lewis & Clark.

Not only do our local museums tell these stories that are of national interest but they fill in the blanks for us and our own personal history.  The Fremont County History Center has a robust genealogy department with a treasure trove of family histories. You can find our when you ancestors bought the family farm and learn if it is a “Century Farm of Iowa”. Learn if your great, great grandfather fought in the Civil War. Learn when your family came to Fremont County.  Find letters actually written by your ancestors or personal accounts of local folk’s interaction with the Native Americans in the early years.

Not all history is old and we cannot just preserve what happened a 100 years ago.  Each and every day there are stories happening that will be important to those following us. Just last year we were the only county in Iowa to see the total eclipse of the sun. Today there are new families moving into the County and their ancestors will want to learn about them. All the new homes being built around the County suggest we are on the verge of change. How will we compare the changes in the future without knowing where we started.

The local museums exist because of the generosity of volunteers and donations. It is the only way they stay open. These volunteers who have a keen sense of the importance of history are so necessary for the preservation of museums.

This is the time when the museums are soliciting volunteers and memberships. Please volunteer and /or donate to these important entities.   Share your story---- it is more important than you think. 

Remember “You can’t know where you are going, if you don’t know where you have been. Just as museums need your support, you and future generations need the museums.  

Letters to Santa, 1933

posted Dec 7, 2017, 7:50 AM by James Nennemann

Harry Wilkins
On December 14, 1933, the Hamburg Reporter published a page of Letters to Santa from area children who were anxiously anticipating the arrival of Saint Nick. The kids were exceedingly polite, with most beginning their letters by asking about the health of Santa, Mrs. Claus and even the reindeer, wishing them all the best. The letters reflected the desires of children typical for the era: boys were interested in cowboy suits and guns, electric trains, rocking horses, footballs, marbles (and the sack) and bikes.  Girls wanted dolls, buggies, tea sets, sewing materials, electric irons and clothes. Requests for fruit, especially oranges, were also common. All the children wanted anything related to Mickey Mouse, the Disney character having been engrained into the culture since 1928. The little mouse adorned watches, pop-up books, figurines, furniture and jewelry. 
Several boys asked for toy guns, but Royal Thompson hedged his bet by asking for a BB gun and a .22-caliber rifle. Mona Nixon wrote that Santa could surprise her with a gift of his choosing but asked for a “little car” for her brother. Some requests were a little unorthodox. Wendell McNabb wanted a wagon and a billy goat “that would work.” He didn’t ask for the harness. Wendell’s sister Wanda reminded Santa, in case he didn’t know, that she wanted a doll and her mother needed new dishes. Carroll Propp requested a Bible, a football and a Ouijaboard, presumably to communicate with departed spirits. Dawn Culley said she would like to go to Santa’s “house for dinner” but knew it was impossible. Instead, she would settle for a doll with long curls, a fountain pen set and books and promised she’dtelephone. Edgar Johnston needed a harness for his little dog Trixie and asked Santa to be sure to remember his friends Buddie, Bobbie and Norma Jean.
In 1933 the United States was in the depthsof an economic depression and sadly, some of the children’s letters reflect the harsh reality of the time. Several writers asked Santa to remember the poor children and orphanswhile others asked for life’s necessities only, things like underwear, socks and overalls. Donald Jensen said he would hang up both his shoes and stockings Christmas night, not because he was greedy but “to be sure to have my mother get something.” Anna Halley wrote simply: “I want you dear Santa to bring my grandmother a pair of bedroom slippers.” Margaret White asked for stockings and overshoes but avoided appearing frivolous by saying: “I want some other things but guess I won’t get them.”
At least one child wasn’t at all shy about asking for everything he wanted. Dale Anderson’s wish list included a Mickey Mouse watch, cowboy suit, sled, two pairs of boxing gloves, bicycle, electric train, toy gun and holster, car with electric lights and a football. We hope the children’s wishes, then and always, came true.

Christmas Dinner 1900-2011

posted Nov 28, 2017, 5:14 PM by James Nennemann

By Emily Bengtson

One of my past times is reading through old cookbooks to compare how we eat today compared to yesterday. A favorite cookbook of mine is the White House Cookbook printed in 1904, written by the White House cook, with the first printing in the 1880s.

I am always interested in what meals are called. Back in those early days, on Sundays and holidays, the meals were breakfast, dinner and supper. The rest of the year it was breakfast, lunch and dinner. Growing up in Fremont County, it was breakfast, dinner and supper all the time. We understood that dinner on Sundays, holidays and birthdays was going to be special. Today we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner or supper.

The holiday menu listed in the White House Cookbook is as follows:

Oysters on the half shell
Game Soup, Boiled White Fish in Sauce
Roast Goose & Apple Souse
Boiled Potatoes, Mashed Turnips, Creamed Parsnips, Stewed Onions
Boiled Rice, Lobster Salad, Canvass Back Duck
Christmas Plum Pudding with Sauce
Vanilla Ice Cream, Mince Pie, Orange Jelly Delicate Cake
Salted Almonds, Confectionary Fruits

Each item in the menu had the accompanying recipe in the cookbook. An interesting one is Canvass Back Duck described as follows: "The epicurean taste declares that this special kind of bird requires no spice or flavors as the meat partakes of the flavor of the food that the bird feeds upon, being mostly wild celery."

Some of the foods listed above would make it to our holiday menu in the 1930s. What I remember is how hard it was to get them ready for eating. When I was about 11 years old, Dad bought a live turkey at the local sale barn on Saturday before Christmas and we had to help Mom get it ready to eat. Once it was killed, we pulled off the feathers including the pin feathers. What a job to get it ready to cook. Plus the length of time it took to cook in a wood stove seemed endless as we worked to keep the heat high enough for baking. As far as I was concerned I preferred Grandma's fattened old hen to turkey. To this day I would rather have baked chicken then turkey.

We had baked goose for Thanksgiving. Mom saved the feathers to make pillows. Grandma saved the goose grease to make a rub to help with colds and dry skin. Very little of the bird was wasted. All the vegetables--carrots, turnips, potatoes and onions--came from our cellar with apples stored wrapped in newspapers to keep them fresh. There were not as many items as at the White House but the food was all good, just as life was.

Today our holiday menu includes:

Roast Turkey, Baked Ham
Stuffing with oyster and one without oyster
Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Sweet Potatoes
Green bean casserole, apple salad. Chinese cole slaw, three kinds of cranberry salads
Stuffed celery with pineapple cream cheese, pickles and olives
Hot rolls
Pumpkin, cherry, and pecan pies, vanilla cake

Time has changed the vegetables and meats that we eat, but the biggest change is in how we prepare the meal. No more plucking the turkey, just a trip to the store and we are ready to cook. What has not changed is the good time.

The Great Pontoon Drawbridge

posted Nov 1, 2017, 6:41 PM by James Nennemann   [ updated Nov 1, 2017, 6:43 PM ]

By Lona Lewis

The title of this View is a typical headline describing the pontoon bridge that crossed the Missouri River at Nebraska City. The bridge itself affected two states- Fremont County, Iowa and Nebraska City, Nebraska. Although it garnered great attention because it was unique, the reality was the bridge was a response to having limited funds to build a crossing for pedestrians and horse drawn transportation.

Railroad bridges were spanning the Missouri River in the late 1800s but the railroads did little to help with horse and wagons or people crossing the river. Congress chartered the Nebraska City Bridge Company in the early 1870s. However, the only result was a Burlington railroad bridge. As late as 1888, there was no reliable way to cross the river for any other form of transportation 

Pontoon bridges had been used for centuries to ford a river. They were usually temporary and worked best in an area that did not have a swift current. Col. S. N. Stewart of Philadelphia approached the Nebraska City leaders with an affordable proposal to build a pontoon drawbridge, provided the town subsidized the construction. The offer was accepted. Construction was completed by August 23, 1888. The cost of the bridge was approximately $18,000.

Pontoons came straight out from both shores with a 'v' in the middle. The pontoon potion of the bridge was 1,074 feet long. An additional 1,050-foot approach spanned a channel from the Iowa side to an island in the river where the pontoons began. The crossing was 24.5 feet wide allowing for two pedestrian crossings as well as a horse drawn path. The "v' area could swing open for boats and floating ice. The span when open was 528 feet. Local carpenters including James Stanley, a resident of Percival, worked on the flat boats for the pontoons. He later collected tolls. Tolls were 50 cents for a double-team; 25 cents for a horse and rider, round trip; 5 cents for a foot passenger; 10 cents for a loose horse; 5 cents for cattle and 2 cents for hogs. 

If the Missouri River was a grand old river with a steady current, the bridge may have had a long history. As it was, the River soon created problems. Ice was the biggest culprit. It caused pontoons to sink or carried them away. The ice also destroyed parts of the structure meant to be permanent. Heavy thunderstorms in the summer caused the River to raise creating problems and the winds tore at the structures. In the summer of 1890, high water closed the bridge for 35 days. The decision was to begin to look at a structure to replace the bridge. Stewart, the bridge owner, sold the bridge to parties in Atchison Kansas and in November 1890 floated it down the river. The end of a two-year, three month interesting experiment in crossing the Missouri River.

Some of the information for this article came from "Spans in Time: A History of Nebraska bridges"

Reverend Todd’s Apology

posted Oct 20, 2017, 2:12 PM by James Nennemann

By: Harry Wilkins

On Sunday, May 22, 1864, Reverend John Todd stood in front of his Tabor congregation and delivered a sermon he titled “Confession.” As one of the town’s founders in 1852 and first pastor of the Congregational Church, Todd held a special place among the residents—he had been center stage in virtually every aspect of the Tabor settlement, a true civic and spiritual leader. And on this spring day he was ready to deliver a public apology based on James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another.” But what grievous sin had been committed?
The story, as relayed in Todd’s sermon notes, concerned events that had unfolded the previous Thursday. William Brooks, the principal of the Tabor Literary Institute and good friend of Todd, stopped by after school and asked the pastor if he could take a break from plowing his garden, around 6:00 p.m., to transact some business with a “number of persons.” Todd agreed, and around the appointed time was eating his supper when he looked out and saw to his horror a wagon pulling up with several ladies dressed in finery appropriate for a public appearance. Todd had not expected a formal visit, particularly from members of the fair sex, and was “surprised and indignant” because he was filthy from working in the field and was dressed in what he described as “rags.” In his panic Todd thought he’d been set up, in his words, the victim of a “surprise that was contemplated.” The minister had only two choices: face the visitors or run.  He chose the latter, slipped out the back of his house, collected the horse he’d borrowed from neighbor John Cater for plowing, and took the “shortest and most direct route” out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, Todd’s visitors saw his hasty retreat. To make matters worse, ill-chosen words spoken by Todd after arriving at Brother Cater’s home were repeated and amplified throughout the village.
Todd learned later that there was indeed an element of calculation in the visit: the ladies who alighted at his home were bringing him a monetary donation, to what we don’t know but most likely something for the church or school. But by Sunday, there was a lot of talk about Todd’s behavior circulating around town and it was time to clear the air. The minister told his flock that because of his actions there was “impairment” to the “free flow of devotional feelings.” He acknowledged his “faults of character,” saying: “I would not have it occur again for twice the sum donated.” The grace and humility displayed by Todd during what seems to be an inconsequential or even humorous event to a modern audience put him in good stead with his congregation—the waters were calmed and Father Todd, as he was affectionately known before his death in 1894, continued serving as pastor, a post he held for over 30 years.

Corn Shelling Days

posted Oct 6, 2017, 7:47 AM by James Nennemann

By Sherry Perkins 

Shelling corn at Grandpa’s back in the 1950s’s was a day grandkids relished. But not for the reason one would think. Today, mammoth combines shell the corn as they roll down the corn rows. Then corn pickers picked the corn in the ear and dropped it into a wagon. The ears of corn were scooped from the wagon into elevators that rolled the yellow orbs high into a corn crib where they dropped like rain filling the crib. The corn crib’s sides were boards with space between to allow drying by Mother Nature’s winds. 

Come spring or summer, Grandpa waited patiently (well most of the time) for Hugie and his corn sheller to arrive. I remember the corn being fed into this machine where the kernels were stripped off. We watched the bright red corncobs fly out of its conveyer while the shucks blew out into a pile. We knew eventually we would climb this red mountain. 

The corn sheller itself was an awful, noisy, rattling machine. One couldn’t talk or yell loud enough to be heard over its roar. We knew we were in trouble if we were underfoot while it was operating. When the job was finished, it seemed so still and quiet in Grandpa’s barn lot. When the kittens began to venture out, we knew the fun could begin. 

Grandpa hired extra men on “shelling day” for scooping. So at noon, that meant that Grandma’s dinner table was groaning with a scrumptious noon fare including homemade meringue pies. I think Mom helped with the cooking. Otherwise why would my siblings and I have been there? We certainly were no help but probably in the way. 

When the “sheller” pulled out of the driveway and while Grandpa was settling up with the men, we stood at the base of “Red Cob Mountain” eyeing the side with the best approach. In spite of the scratchy corn cobs, we were ready to climb to the summit. We knew it was only a matter of time until we were discovered scattering cobs and told by Grandpa to “get off those cobs.” Soon the truck would come, load up the cobs and leave for parts unknown. 

The cobs leaving the farm would end up in many different products. But we also had several uses for them. Before they left, we grabbed buckets from the wash house and began the search for the biggest red cobs. Those were for Grandma and her jelly. She would take these and the next few days boil the corn cobs to get juice for making her sparkling Corn Cob Jelly. I always picked a few cobs to create a family of dolls. Some of the cobs went to the cob bin in the wash house to use as a starter for fires in the wood stove for summer canning.


posted Sep 26, 2017, 1:14 PM by James Nennemann

By Sherry Perkins

They live in museums and libraries across America, in dusty attics, in dresser drawers and old shoe boxes and velvet covered photo albums.  They are historical documents, pages of poetry, letters from world wars, love letters and family diaries and heirloom recipes. They tell of a time never to come again.  What do they have in common? They are all written in cursive. Sadly, cursive writing has not been part of America’s schools curriculum for quite a few years.  Some ‘higher –ups' thought teaching this vital part of learning was taking too much of valuable school time. 

In my generation, cursive writing was a vital part of the elementary curriculum with teachers using many creative ways to teach it.  They made loops and valleys that connected the letters a fun part of the day. The lowercase “s” was a sailboat that merrily sailed away on a wave. Remember? Many other little stories were attached to each letter. 

Walk into the lower grade classrooms and you would have seen a border above the blackboard showing the alphabet in capital and lowercase letters.  Good penmanship was a thing of pride.  Remember that day when you could write your name ?  

Being able to read cursive is vital to understanding our past.   Think of how important it is to be able to go to our national museums and read the original Declaration of Independence or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in the original penmanship. Part of the inspiration is imagining President Lincoln writing the document, dipping a pen in the ink and writing the words as they came to him.  In our own Fremont County History Center, we have tax records, journals from early stores, wills and cemetery records, just to name a few of the hand written glimpses into our past.

This may become a short lived decision.  The trend is beginning to reverse itself. The Omaha World Herald recently published an article which stated that fourteen states in our country have gone back to allowing the teaching of cursive. Nebraska and Iowa curriculum now allows choice for each school.   The importance of writing and reading in cursive is being recognized as important by many teachers. 

Sadly, there is a generation of young people who can’t read the scripts. Keyboards-typewriters then computer- are replacing our ability to write words.  Yet, all important documents in our lives require a signature.  Some of us boldly sign our name making the capital letters flamboyant and beautiful.  Let’s hope that the 3 R’s so valued in the past will remain important in the future - Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. 

Stories of Bartlett

posted Aug 16, 2017, 9:05 AM by James Nennemann

By Harry Wilkins
Like several other towns in Fremont County, Bartlett owes its existence to the construction of the Council Bluffs and St. Joseph Railroad, completed in 1867. The town was named for Annie Bartlett, wife of Henry Phelps, an out-of-state railroad contractor who filed the plat and named the first streets. Once established, the village took root and by the mid-1870s had attained a population of around 300 souls. It boasted a post office, two dry goods stores, a drug store, shoe shop, blacksmith, one millinery store, a steam lumber mill and a school with one hundred students, on the corner of Ferris and Walnut Streets.
Leta Adelaide Harris, daughter of banker Charles Harris and his wife Sadie, lived in Bartlett her entire life. Before her death in 1977, she wrote a brief history of the town which included anecdotes of life in the early days, among them several episodes involving saloons patronized by local mill and railroad workers, characterized as “a very rough type.”
According to Miss Harris, the ready availability of liquor and prevalence of guns in the town made life more precarious, something brought home with a vengeance to tavern owner William Agin. The Irish immigrant was shot in the back by an unknown assailant and left paralyzed. He spent his remaining days in a wheelchair “carrying a gun every minute” looking for the shooter.  In another incident, a traveling showman was giving a puppet show in the school when a bullet “whizzed through the air from the open door” lodging in the west wall and, not surprisingly, breaking up the performance. The bullet hole remained visible in the school for years.
A possible encounter with an American folklore legend occurred in the early 1870s in the saloon of James Marshall Kimbrell. George Huffman, a Bartlett boy employed to serve customers, alerted his boss that a group of men had entered the establishment; they ordered drinks while claiming they had no money. Kimbrell was working in the saloon’s storeroom, and when he peeked around the corner he reportedly saw men with a “hard, desperate character.” He told George to give them what they wanted. Kimbrell was certain the men were Jesse and Frank James and their gang, based on the fact that the outlaws were operating in Iowa around that time.
As the years passed the town settled down to a more sedate existence. The Christian Church was organized in 1872, joined by the Knights of Pythias and an Odd Fellows Lodge. Other trappings of civilization included a hotel (destroyed by fire), a town physician, Dr. T. C. Harris (who also ran a general store) and a new high school, built in 1921. But like other small towns sustained by railroads, Bartlett entered a steady period of decline with the advent of the automobile and the construction of modern highways. Leta Harris and her sister Iva never left home and remained active in the local community until their passing. They are buried with their family in Thurman.

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