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.

The Cromwell House Hotel

posted Jul 20, 2017, 7:57 AM by James Nennemann

by Sandra Folkes Bengtson

I’m sure that many residents of Sidney take a look at the large house located at the corner of Indiana and Webster Streets that is north of our fire station, and just see an old run down house in need of repair. However, many do not realize the history it holds.

This house is one of the oldest structures in Sidney, being built about 1856. It was built on the north side of the Sidney Square as a hotel and originally called “The Cromwell House”. Stephen T. Cromwell maintained a rooming house in Austin, prior to moving to Sidney. The Cromwell House is the 2nd hotel he built in Sidney, as the first one was a wood structure built in 1852 on the west side of the square, where the present day Sidney Hotel building stands. 

In the later 1890’s, most of The Cromwell House was moved 1 block east and 1 block north, to its present location in order to build the large buildings which the north block of the square once housed. The hotel changed management many times over the years and was known by many different names prior to becoming a private residence. 

The Historical Society possesses two guest registers for the house. The first book starts in 1858. On Monday, May 9, 1870, the name of “U S Grant” is written in the book, residing at “D C USA”. Over the years I have heard comments from other historical society members wondering if this could actually be President Grant?” I decided to do some research on this myself. 

The signature in the book matches exactly a signature of Grant pulled off the internet. Registering at the same time with Grant were Richard Yates of Illinois and Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts. I searched the internet to see if these men had any connection to Grant. Butler served with Grant in the Union Army and then assisted Grant with matters during his presidency. After Grant became president, he appointed Yates as a United States commissioner to inspect a land subsidy railroad. So possibly the politicians were here for a study on our prospective railroad system?

There are no newspapers writings or any person here today that can verify President Grant was here. Nor any way to know what his business was in Fremont County, if he was here. I have found the last few years that a good share of genealogy research is detective work and developing theories. The facts, clues and theories add up. There is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. Grant signature in the Cromwell House Register, was that of President Ulysses S. Grant. 

The Rodeo Band

posted Jul 6, 2017, 6:25 AM by James Nennemann

By Linda Holmes Reilly

(Editor's Note: It’s that time of year in Fremont County when we begin to anticipate Rodeo Week. Iowa's Championship RodeoMuseum & Fremont County History in Sidney tells the story of the Rodeo, which is celebrating it’s 94th year.  One of the special exhibits is a brick entryway featuring names of supporters and volunteers and a story for each brick. This week’s View from the Attic shares one of those brick’s stories.)

Rodeo band was a privilege and a highlight of the Sidney school student's lives when Chuck Sargeant, Bob Cowell and Emil Wahling were directors. Learning to march was important as knees had to be up high and toes down. My cousin, Bruce Hopkins, remembers Mr. Sargeant whacking his shins with the director's baton when he did not lift his feet high enough. 

All music had to be memorized. Starting in June, each person in the band had private lessons with the director and had to pass the music before the Rodeo. I remember marching in the gym playing the music until the weather was warm enough to practice outdoors. Mr. Sargeant timed the music for the performances, each had its own identifying music, and the band had to play the music at the exact number of seconds the various competitions required.

The band practiced all summer. The week before the Rodeo, we practiced squeezing in and out of the gate in the arena as well as the sharp turns to march half way around the arena to stand and then continue playing until the rest of the parade entered. After the "Star Spangled banner" (sung for many years by then student, Jeff Penn) the band went into the band stand above the arena. Here the director would sit on the railing so he could see all the action while directing the band. If students didn't miss any of the scheduled events in which they were to participate for the entire week, they received 4 silver dollars. The director was paid $400.00 for the summer's work.

Every member of the band remembers marching when it rained. One time the mud was so deep it pulled off some of our shoes. We kept marching and hoped we would be able to find our shoes after the Rodeo. Our loyal mothers washed and ironed white pants and red shirts between the afternoon and evening performances during rainy days, and always before the next day's Rodeo.

The band kids got to know the clowns and some of the cowboys. A number of the stars stopped by the band stand like Jimmie Dean, Hoss and Little Joe, Doc and Festus, Allen Case, and Jack Lord.

Any person who was a member of the Sidney High School Marching Band in those days of 10 performances fondly remembers lots of hard work, but it was a marvelous experience in which we felt we played an important part in Iowa'sChampionship Rodeo.

If you would like information on purchasing a brick to share your special Rodeo Story, call Rosie 712-374-2590

Stories of Bartlett

posted Jun 21, 2017, 10:19 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.

Below: Bartlett in 1891

Tabor’s Literary Society: Debate in the 1850s

posted May 31, 2017, 9:59 AM by James Nennemann

By: Harry Wilkins

Tabor pioneers George Gaston, John Todd and Samuel Adamswere deeply committed to education and brought a tradition of learning and intellectual curiosity with them from Ohio, which would eventually bear fruit with the founding of Tabor Collegein 1866. But before the creation of the college or its forerunner,the Tabor Literary Institute, came the Tabor Literary Society organized on October 23, 1855.
What were literary societies? They were social organizations, commonly associated with colleges, which met to review, discuss and debate the pressing issues and news of the day. Tabor was only a small village in 1855 but the communitybelieved it was important to have a forum where participants could seek “mutual improvement in speaking and writing.” The society met twice monthly on Tuesday evenings during the falland winter months, usually for two hours. The meetings were highly structured and followed rules laid out in a constitution. Society officers were rotated monthly, key among them the president, who chose the question to be addressed at the upcoming session and assigned the “disputants,” members of two teams arguing the case either in the affirmative or the negative. In the fashion of true rhetorical debate, disputants were expected to mount the best argument possible, regardless of personal beliefs, with a panel of judges deciding the winner. The society also appointed a “critic” to evaluate written essays andspeeches.
Topics addressed by the society provide a unique view of local beliefs and attitudes during the mid-1800s. During this time of political and social strife in the United States many of the debates naturally centered on the institution of slavery and the possibility of civil war. The details of the discussions weren’t documented, but we know, for instance, that at the meeting onDecember 1, 1857, the question before the assembly was: “Resolved: Existing circumstances render the dissolution of the Union desirable.” The society debated and decided the Union must be preserved. In 1858 the group discussed in an “able and spirited manner” whether the federal government had a constitutional right to abolish slavery in the nation; after hearing arguments pro and con, the judges decided that it did. And on the eve of the Civil War, the society mulled the question: “The South has no right to secede from the Union: the affirmative sustained.”
The range of topics showed a wide breadth of interest with manyrecognizable to a modern audience. Members discussed whether the invention of labor-saving machines improved the condition of the laboring classes; if men should follow laws thought to be morally wrong; and if “every youth of the U.S. [should] obtain if possible a thorough college education.” The role of women in society was also a popular subject. The founders of Tabor’s school and college believed women deserved an education equal in every way to men, but this progressive attitude was not evident within the Literary Society. While the ladies were welcome to attend and were allowed to read essays, they were never granted full membership. The literary societies of Tabor College would later rectify this by admitting women. 
Most debates dealt with weighty issues, but not all. Other less serious resolutions included asking whether the use of tea and coffee were beneficial to mankind (no); if wearing ornamentaljewelry was morally wrong (yes); and if oxen were of more use to mankind than horses (yes). The reaction of local horses, if any, was not recorded.

Shelter Stories

posted May 22, 2017, 8:52 AM by James Nennemann

By: Daisy Malcom

Barns were a part of the growing-up experience I had on our farm north of Thurman in the 1950’s and 60’s. We had three of them used for various activities. The hay barn was the farthest from our house, used exclusively for storage of rectangular hay bales. It had a tin roof with a long overhang sloping down over wooden walls which weren’t completely enclosed. Snakes dwelled there which kept me away from it most of the time.

The rock barn sat in the north pasture and was built into the hillside on the east side. A large open window on the second floor was used when an elevator carried hay upward from a wagon below. There was a wide center area downstairs with a storage room on the west and a feeding/milking area on the east. Bins were located there so the cows could eat as they were milked. Kickers, like handcuffs, locked around a cranky bossy’s back legs so she couldn’t hit the milker on his short, three-legged stool as he pulled and prodded her milk bag to give up the precious liquid.

That barn wasn’t just a place of work, however. In the hay loft on the second floor, there was a basketball hoop, and we had fun there, always mindful of the open square in the floor where stored hay could be dropped down to feed the livestock. Outside, my daredevil brother David would practice his “jump, tuck and roll” maneuvers by jumping off the roof onto the abutting hill.

The third barn was all wood and painted white, built at the side of Bluff Road. There was a lower level on the south—the home for our pigs—with an exit to their outside enclosure and mud bath. At the west end of the barn was another lower level with a slanted chute. I remember watching cattle being prodded in single file up that chute into a truck which would carry the doomed animals to a sale for eventual slaughter.

One of my most vivid memories of that main floor is seeing a slaughtered hog hanging by its back legs, left there to drain its blood before being butchered. To the north of this center area were storage rooms. I remember Mom going in to get some corn and coming back out quickly because of too many mice. Her solution was to get our best mouser, named Fats Domino by my brother. Fats would dutifully go into the room, shake and kill the pests, and dump the bodies like a conqueror at Mom’s feet as she stood outside the barn.

When I was driving age, I’d park my ’57 Chevy in there. I thought I was really lucky those days even though I had to walk down 13 stone steps from the house to the road and another 50 yards to the barn’s main door. These days I find myself complaining occasionally at having to walk 10 yards from my front door to my garage.

Today I find it sad that there are few barns being built and so many old ones being torn down or in disrepair because barn activities were a big part of farm life for me.

The Old Apron, The New Apron

posted Apr 30, 2017, 6:10 PM by James Nennemann

By Sherry Perkins

One of the first articles of clothing I was allowed to iron when first learning how, was an apron.  I practiced my skills on many of Mom’s aprons.  She put on a clean apron every morning and if company drove in, she might quickly put on another clean one. The aprons were tucked into a kitchen drawer along with the dish towels and tablecloths.  That made for six to eight aprons, which were sprinkled down with water and placed into the ironing basket every Monday.  I am sure the apron was chosen so that if by chance I didn’t do a great job of ironing out wrinkles or heaven forbid I scorched a spot---it wasn’t the end of the world.  I (at the age of eight or nine) could easily iron the long ties and simple lines of an apron even though the irons of the day were pretty heavy for a child.

My great--great-great grandmother’s (late 1800’s) apron was of muslin, ankle length and had a pocket where she carried her pipe!  I’ve often wondered if she burnt a hole in her pocket? The plain apron kept her dress dry when she did laundry on a scrub board and carried wet dripping clothes to hang on her fence.  Her apron gathered garden produce, carried baby chicks and eggs, wiped kid’s noses and shooed away flies and mosquitos. Just as aprons did in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50's. 

Then along came the slacks and blue jeans that were acceptable for women to wear and the aprons were put away.  Why have more to iron?  Ladies left the life of ‘Housewife” for that of”career” woman. The apron was tucked away at the bottom of drawers, cedar chests and in dusty attics.  Many were cut into quilt pieces to be used in making warm blankets.  Today there is the resurgence of the apron.  They bring hefty prices at antique stores to be hung on from hooks in fashionable, country kitchens.  Even if only for decoration.  One can find crocheted aprons, lacy aprons, and pure 100% cotton, feed sack aprons which are prized.

Sewing machines are once more edging colorful cloth with bias tape and rick rack. Today I don’t need to iron the apron.   Permanent press fabrics have pretty much eliminated the iron.  Apron patterns are a top seller in the fabric department of our favorite stores.  Today’s apron wearer is just as apt to be a male as men have taken their place in the kitchens of America.  They cook for their families or fire up the bar-be-que for hamburgers and hot dogs. Different generation---- but same useful garment.

The history and stories that are tied to aprons of yesteryear are memories for sharing—some nostalgic —some funny –some unbelievable but memories we all share.  These stories will be shared by daughters, grand-daughters, aunts, cousin and friends if you attend the “If Aprons could Talk Tea Party” at the Gathering Place in Sidney, Iowa; Saturday May 13.  Sponsored by the Fremont County Historical Society, the day begins at 11 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. with a luncheon, silent auction, and apron stories.  Tickets are $15 a person, proceeds go to the Historical Society.  Come and enjoy conversation and stories and wear your favorite apron, if you want.

Early Transportation

posted Apr 13, 2017, 7:55 AM by James Nennemann

By Lona Lewis

When Fremont County was being settled, trains were a huge influence in where settlements began.  Riverton was just one of the towns that flourished because they were successful in getting the train to go through their community.  Most towns in the County at the turn of the 20th century had a depot.  Randolph, today, has an original depot building that is a fine museum. Visitors can observe the ticket window and waiting room for passengers.

Speaking only for myself, the significance of ticket taking never sunk in until I began to hear stories about using the train. There was a reason why communities each had a depot.  Traveling around the County was not jumping into the car and getting on Highway 2.  Emily Lewis Bengtson tells stories of she and her sister, Mary Ann, going into Riverton, getting on the train and going to Hamburg to visit for a weekend. They were teenagers in the 1930’s and this gave them freedom. They could leave in the morning on Saturday and return on Sunday afternoon.  Sometimes their folks would get on the train Sunday morning and come down to eat Sunday dinner. Then all four would return home that evening. The cost 5 cents each.

In the 1930’s Salesmen would take the train from Hastings and arrive in Sidney.  A taxi picked them up and took them to the Hotel.  The next morning after making their rounds, then would board the train to go back north. They probably took the same train back because Sidney had a turntable since it was the end of the line.

All corners of Fremont County and everything in between could be reached by trains.  Passenger trains ran into the 1950’s.  The depot in Sidney closed in 1966. The only difference being by the time they ceased running the cost was 10 cents.
Trains were vital to the farmers.  There are stories in every community of trains taking garden produce north to Omaha and South to St Joseph.    Livestock also left the County via train to feed the big cities.

When the trains came back south they brought goods for the stores. One of the more interesting stories was the delivery of a car to McPaul.  The car belonged to C.B. McPaul who lived in Thurman. In 1901 he bought a new car which the train brought to McPaul. He could not get it into forward gear so he backed the car the three miles to Thurman.

Today those of us living in Fremont County still see trains. The difference being they are many cars -mostly box cars or coal cars.  Perhaps the strangest sight is the day trains carry airplane fuselages through the County.  Gone are the passenger trains and the taxis.  
Buses were also very prolific during the early days in Fremont county. They came up from Kanas City and St. Joseph. And would take passengers up to Omaha. A rider could go up from Fremont County in the morning, spend the day shopping and return in the evening. The buses also ran to Shenandoah and Nebraska City. This was before the days that airplanes took over as a main source of transportation.

Ladies Hats

posted Apr 13, 2017, 7:53 AM by James Nennemann

By: Sherry Perkins

The invention of hair spray and the practice of 'teasing' hair brought on big pouffy hair styles in the late 1960s, thus bringing on the demise of ladies hats. While a few young teens may wear a ball cap today, most women never wear a hat anywhere anymore.

Once upon a time, all ladies from two to eighty years of age would have a new spring hat at Easter time, along with gloves and handbag that matched.  One was expected to wear a hat to town, to church, and to funerals. Hats defined who we were by color, style and shape.

The simple sunbonnet helped settle our country and was a hat easily sewn by all women  It was utilitarian mainly as it protected the fair skin of our pioneers on their westward trek. Pioneer women may have had two in their meager wardrobe--one for everyday and one for 'good'.

As towns became settled and businesses opened, eventually, a milliner would set up her shop in the town. Here one could commission that 'one of a kind' bonnet. The milliner had all sorts of silks, velvets and furs from which to choose. Lace, feathers, ribbons and flowers could set one hat apart from others. You knew you wouldn't see yourself coming down the wooden sidewalk.  However, the usefulness of the milliner disappeared when department and clothing stores began stocking hats for men and women, although some had their own milliners for special customers for a number of years.

Ladies hats have gone through several fads through the years. Early Victorian days showed hats with large rims, flowery feathers, and baubles. When the horseless carriage appeared so did hats bedecked with wide ribbons that tied under the chin so the hats couldn't blow away at such 'high speeds'.

The 1940's spotlighted what came to be known as 'picture' hats. Many were made of natural straw or stiff felt and featured extra wide rims that framed the face. They were great for picnics and looked especially fine with shorter dresses and seamed nylon hose. Then came the era of Jackie Kennedy and her 'pillbox' hat. Do any of you remember having a pillbox hat?

Hats were eventually fazed out of wardrobes because they didn't work with the bouffant hairdos of the 60's and 70's. They were either packed away in attic trunks or thrown out with the trash. Little girls  used them to play dress-up occasionally, but no longer could one spend an enjoyable time at Spurgeon or J. C. Penney trying on hats in front of huge mirrors.

Today, hats of yore can be found at antique malls costing three or four times their original price. There are, of course, some great hat collections around and one can find many an old gem in museums.

Can’t Be an Expert in Your Own Backyard

posted Apr 13, 2017, 7:52 AM by James Nennemann

By:  The Attic Editors

All of us know the cliché, “you are not an expert unless you are fifty miles from home.”  What is it that makes us think things close to home are not special?  We, the Attic Editors, see this constantly with the history of Fremont County.  All of us living today 2016, drive the byways of the County and think of the County as being an area of large farms, growing millions of bushels of corn and soybeans, with small towns struggling to exist. If asked, we would probably tell you that the Loess Hills have always been tree covered.  We might brag about Iowa’s Championship Rodeo held in Sidney for the last 90 plus years but otherwise we would not think about the County having anything special.   We might wonder at the asparagus we see growing wild in the Hamburg area or the fruit trees that are found in the hills in what appears to be remnants of orchards. 

In 1916, residents would have driven the byways and they would have been aware of the many small farms everywhere and thought about the thriving towns in the County where they could go and get everything they needed. They would have known that through the railroad system we were supplying Omaha, Council Bluffs, Saint Joseph and Kansas City with fruits and vegetables. The trains also carried countless heads of cattle and pigs to market from the County. Many of the residents would have worked at mills and other industries throughout the County.

In 1816, the Loess Hills would have been grass covered hills rising out of the river bottom.  Lewis and Clark, a decade earlier, had described the County in their journals. French Canadian trappers would be coming with their Lakota Wives to this area to raise their children. Folks in the Civil Bend area were establishing homesteads. The settlement of the County had begun.

All of this gets us back to the reason for this Attic.  Each part of this County has a diverse and interesting story or stories that all of us should know to help us ground ourselves and better understand our heritage. What better place than a County Museum such as the Fremont County History Center and Iowa’s Championship Rodeo Museum in Sidney  to learn about our history?  Or do we fall victim to thinking it can’t be special, it isn’t fifty miles from home? 

Well here is what folks think that visit us from other places.  We have been called the Reader’s Digest Museum because of so much great information in a small Museum.  Others have side we are a gem because we are so interesting and so professionally done. Just last week two men from the news print profession stopped by the Museum to gather information for stories to use in their papers. One was particularly looking for fossils. He stopped by the mammoth tusks and suddenly exclaimed “that is a squid fossil.  What a find. It is a real treasure and it tells us this area was covered with the sea.” He was also impressed with the Indian artifacts and the professional way they were displayed.  He said “I came to look at only them but now I want to see the rest of the Museum, it is so interesting and informative.”

So next time you think nothing special has ever occurred here, stop by the Museum; take the time to enjoy this beautiful and informative museum then leave proud of being a Fremont County resident.

Fremont County Time Capsule

posted Apr 13, 2017, 7:52 AM by James Nennemann

By: Harry Wilkins

The Fremont County Financial Report of 1923 is an encyclopedia of government finances, programs, and officeholders, a treasure trove of information about life in rural Iowa during what became known as the Roaring Twenties.

Written by the county auditor, the 51-page booklet includes many figures familiar to modern eyes, among them personnel expenses. The three county supervisors were paid $5.00 per day for services while other fulltime elected officials received an annual income. Sheriff Millard Abshire earned a salary of $1,800 (about $25,000 in today’s dollars) while the highest paid professional was County Engineer Fred Cain, at $3,000 per year. A wide range of costs were included in the report, many broken down by township and often attached to figures from prior years to gauge the spending trend. One important line item was care for the poor. The County Home located south of Sidney held 26 indigent residents, referred to as “inmates” but free to leave at will, at a cost of $16,695. There was also a 244 acre County Farm where unemployed men worked for $22 per month. The farm was fully functional, maintaining livestock and producing 1,000 bushels of corn and 70 tons of hay; revenues produced were returned to the county. The taxpayers also supported the mentally disabled at $9,875, up from $6,890 in 1919, and the Soldiers and Sailors Relief program for $818, down $428 from 1919.

Financing public education was a large expense, then as today. Fremont County maintained 31 school districts which included 12 rural independent schools in Benton Township, and seven consolidated schools in Bartlett, Farragut, Randolph, Riverton, Sidney, Tabor and Thurman. There were 64 one-room schools, down ten from the previous year, and the payroll for 181 grade and high school teachers. Total disbursements were over $240,000.

The 1923 budget provided funding for modern conveniences not known in earlier times. The Sidney Court House accepted money for necessities like electricity, adding machines, telephones, sewage disposal and even $60.48 for typewriter repairs. But the biggest fiscal shift underway was courtesy of the Detroit auto industry. The auditor documented ownership of 7,300 horses in the county along with 3,600 registered automobiles, 350 trucks and eight motorcycles. The numbers were trending sharply up for motor vehicles which meant roads and bridges would need improvement. Funding for the 445 miles of gravel roads in the county was followed closely by paving projects on primary roads: 100 miles of hardtop were in use by the end of the year. Other infrastructure projects were also being financed. The County Bridge Fund expended $76,628 on construction, repair and maintenance in 1923, an increase of almost $23,000 from 1919.

Signs of a bygone era are evident in the report: bounties were paid for wolves ($376) and gophers ($330) and for animals killed by dogs and wolves. But signaling that the pioneer days were long gone and civilization had arrived, there was a single entry for the collection of dog licensing fees: $22.00.

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