Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Continuing the series of Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

I visited this fascinating museum twice. During my first visit I discovered some interesting records and wanted to know more, but the curator, Becky Allen, was out of town. I emailed her and set up an appointment with her. When I walked in, she immediately recognized me. We have talked previously at a couple of area church dinners! What a small world! Becky is the Curator and her husband is the Treasurer for the museum.

Becky is very enthusiastic and loves to tell “John L.” stories. The large, inviting museum with its exquisite displays is divided into five sections: 1) John L. Lewis with his days of labor unionization and politics, 2) coal mining in the area, 3) Old Lucas town, 4) the theater, which also has some old maps, and 5) the library. On my first visit I was intrigued with the many exhibits. On my second visit, I was most concerned with the library. For more information http://www.coalmininglabormuseum.com/main2.html.

The library contains scrapbooks from the community and a nice mining book section, however, I found some genealogical treasures here! Original records! Not indexed; not microfilmed!

Some of these records include
1) Lee Hart Drug Store ledger 1907-1909
2) Norman Baker Ledger, July 1900 – Aug 1902
3) Justice of the Peace Records for Lucas, approx. 1910-1941

However, the most exciting records were
4) United Mine Workers Association Local Union #799 Financial Secretary’s book 1926 – 1956 with records of dues paid, date of admittance and whether by card or initiation, death benefits paid and to whom
5) photocopy of UMWA LU#799, which was chartered 1899, meeting minutes 1903-1907
6) Secretary’s record of UMWA #1933, Chariton for 1901-1915
7) five huge ledger books for UMWA District #13 financial records, 1920s to possibly 1951

Combining the information I found in several sources, it appears UMWA District #13 included the following unions (but no guarantees that this list is all inclusive):
10 Valley Junction
43 Clarkdale
55 Des Moines
56 Colfax
87 Williamson
97 Oskaloosa
152 Ottumwa
154 Newton
178 Beacon
201 Brazil
206 Seymour
242 Avery
275 Cloverleaf
372 Rathbun
387 Jerome
390 Williamson
392 Coalville
422 Oakdale
479 Mystic
534 Flagler
536 Hamilton
553 Centerville
601 Spring Hill
634 Mystic
692 Lockman
718 Jefferson
775 Cincinnati
788 Hartford
793 Albia
799 Lucas
812 Exline
840 Snider
845 Diamond
869 Boone
875 Numa
885 Bussey
907 Rainbow
910 Blakesburg
916 Hiteman
933 Swan
942 Rider
948 Des Moines/Ivy
981 Pershing
1039 Fraser
1047 Des Moines
1110 Dawson
1121 Hocking
1136 Des Moines
1139 Des Moines
1140 Des Moines/Economy
1422 Carlisle
1504 Melcher (Dallas)
1873 Streepyville
1907 Bloomfield
1933 Chariton
2433 Ogden
2460 High Bridge
2482 Durfee
2485 Shuler
2652 Darbyville
3492 Four Mile
3585 Haydock
3593 Sheriff
3771 Harvey
3802 Rexfield (New)
3845 Madrid
4330 Moran/Woodward
4875 Herrold
5480 Cummings
5629 Drum & Monkey
5634 East Madrid
6571 Summerset
6654 Knoxville
6686 Des Moines
6740 Indianola
6748 Kirkville
6967 Pella
6987 Hamilton

I asked about a map showing all of these locations, but there isn’t one in this museum.

Just as I was nearly ready to leave, Becky remembered some boxes in the back room. Five file boxes containing pension files for union members deceased in the 1960s and 1970s. These files contain their application for pension, records of payments and death benefit/beneficiary information. Oh, my goodness!

Becky also told me some rather disappointing news: they do not have staff to do research for people. So, if you want to research these records you either need to visit yourself or find someone who can visit for you. I think a job waits a volunteer who lives in the area!

Thanks, Becky and the other members of the Museum commission! You truly have a wonderful facility.


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Subtitle: “The Biography of Grant Wood’s American Masterpiece”

Former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (1967-1977), Thomas Hoving walks the reader through a step-by-step analysis of the famous painting, teaching the reader techniques to use when viewing any painting. He also provides detail about the artist and how the masterpiece fits into Grant Wood’s career.

The book is easy to read, even if the reader is not familiar with the other paintings and artists (mostly European) the author uses for example and comparison. (I simply skimmed past the art I wasn’t familiar with.)

After reading the book I can see the optical illusion in the fork, the reflection of the fork in the overalls, the shadows indicating time of day, the elongated facial ovals and other vertical elements, the oversized hand and long thumb holding the inadequate fork, the lighting rod bulb replicated in the man’s shirt collar button, the ringlet of hair that escaped the tight hairstyle, the rickrack and calico of the woman’s dress, the lace curtains in the window, the common snake plant and begonias on the porch, the stylized background trees, the peaked roof that points to the man and woman, the value of repetition, and many other details I would have never seen. Most importantly I understand the need for the Gothic window and the staunch farmer and woman.

I have found it particularly interesting that Grant Wood felt he needed to copy the impressionists and to study in Europe, then realized he needed to paint what he already knew–the farm life of the Middle West, becoming a leader in the Regionalist movement. Which reminds me, there are even hints of movement in the painting.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it to even the novice art observer wanting to better understand this masterpiece. This book was recommended by the staff at the American Gothic House that I wrote about earlier.

Be sure to read the endnotes. I read them after reading the rest of the book; the endnotes could be distracting if read while enjoying the book.


Hoving, Thomas. “American Gothic, The Biography of Grant Wood’s American Masterpiece.” New York: Chamberlain Bros., a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2005.

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Since its arrival in Indianola, the “God Bless America” statue has been the talk of the town. A friend told me that the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa, is worth a visit. So, Dave and I travelled there on Friday. We were impressed!

Today the house is owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa through donation from Carl E. Smith and is registered on the National Register of Historic Places (1974). It is amazing that Grant Wood selected that house, of all possible houses, for his famous painting. The Gothic window was the clincher.

The Visitor Center, run by the Wapello County Conservation Board, is small, relatively new, and packed with interesting information. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. The 25-minute film is a “must see.” The Visitor Center even has mock-up clothing so visitors can have their picture taken (with your own camera) in front of the house in vintage clothing.

Admission and photo session (with or without the vintage clothing) are FREE. The trip is worth it! Enjoy!

IMG_4199 - enhanced (best)

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at State Library of Iowa during National Library Week

This week I attended eleven educational sessions sponsored by the State Library of Iowa. Barb Corson, Program Director for Information Services, assembled a varied program of classes for the week. The library offers a year-round program for state employees to earn Continuing Education credit. Since the library is tax-supported, the classes are also offered free to Iowa residents. In fact, Iowa residents can attend any classes that the library offers, not just the ones offered during this special week.

These classes range from accessing and using current census statistical information, to tips for Google searches and using EBSCO Host for research, from heritage document digital availability to surfing the Iowa Library Services website and the Iowa legislative website, and much more.

A highlight was the enthusiastic presentation by Cory Quist, Librarian for the Iowa Law Library. We saw a book written in Latin of Roman law published in 1539 by “the first college professor.” This book was written during the beginning of the Renaissance as people emerged from using ecclesiastical law to using the more secular Roman law to guide their lives. Cory described the purchase process for the original 300 books costing $500 for the foundation of the library. He even passed around one of the original books for everyone to touch and see. He recommended Johnson Brigham’s book “Pioneer History of the Territorial and State Library of Iowa.” (I found a digital copy of this book on WorldVitalRecords, a subscription website to which I have a subscription.) Cory also explained the transition of the law library to the “.com generation.”

An aid from the Ombudsman’s office described the Iowa Open Records law and the Iowa Open meetings law. Another presenter demonstrated how to surf the Iowa Legislative website and how to check the status of current legislation. Sad to say, I concluded I need to pay closer attention to Iowa Government.

I especially enjoyed the class about all the projects to digitize historical documents by various state agencies and universities and URLs for finding them. I was amazed at all of the information that can be found on or linked to the Iowa Library Services website.

This week’s classes were a “golden” (pun intended) opportunity for this newly retired person. All it cost was my time and gas and the effort to fix a brown-bag lunch. And, I even spent a couple hours on Monday at the State Historical Museum, concluding that Dave and I must return soon (usually I only focus on doing research at the historical library and tend to forget about the other part of the building). I enjoyed a walk around the capitol complex on Tuesday, the nicest day of the week. On Wednesday I was thrilled to find and purchase a yogurt maker at Kitchen Collection, an East Village store. (After class on Tuesday I had driven all the way out to Jordan Creek Mall to go to the Williams Sonoma store to find one and the only version they had cost way too much.) I ate some of my delicious homemade yogurt this morning for breakfast.

It was a very good week!

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Over the last 2-3 days southern Iowa has benefitted from 5-7 inches of rain. Yesterday afternoon, Dave left work at 2:00 so we could make a Lineville cemetery stop prior to going to Allerton for a special dinner. Not only is everything very soggy after all of that rain, yesterday was a cold 40 degrees with a strong, blustery northwest wind.

Just travelling to southern Iowa can be a challenge after such a downpour. Whitebreast Creek and the Chariton River nearly always flood after heavy rains. Several roads are low grade and water usually goes over some roads… which just happen to be on our route to Lineville and Allerton.

Yes, we could have gone many miles out of our way on I-35 and Hwy 2 to reach our destinations, but that just isn’t our way. We knew Hwys 34 and 65 were closed at Lucas. So we decided to test whether we could go through Lacona and south of Chariton on Hwy 14. I kept checking my iPhone; Hwy 14 seemed to be open. Dave even asked at the courthouse in Chariton; Hwy 14 seemed to be open. So we headed south. We didn’t find any road blocks where we expected, so we kept going. We came to the vulnerable section. We saw local officials monitoring the situation, water lapped along the road and across part of the road. We were allowed to cross and drove through an inch or two of water; no problems. Whew!

We drove on toward the cemetery at Lineville. It always amazes us. The gravestone topper that we left on Dave’s grandparents’ stone nearly two years ago was still there! Dave removed the old flowers and wired a new silk flower arrangement to the saddle. Ordinarily, we spend some time walking around the cemetery, but not today. The waterlogged grass and the bitter wind just were not conducive to a leisure stroll. We’ll be back on a better day.

We stayed on hard-surface roads as we drove around Lineville, Allerton, and Corydon and arrived at the Old Time Soda Fountain just ahead of the 6:30 dinner time.

These dinners are held at interesting venues. The event is the South Central Regional Partnership annual dinner and is sponsored by a local Presbyterian church. This evening was sponsored by the Allerton United Presbyterian Church. Dave started going when he was on Session at our church; now we both attend. The sponsors create opportunities for participants to learn about their community. Last year we toured the Sprint Car Museum in Knoxville. Another year we visited the John L. Lewis Museum in Lucas.

The Old Time Soda Fountain in Allerton is amazing. The building probably dates from the late 1800s, though I forgot to ask. Restoration efforts are progressing. The soda fountain itself is restored original equipment (estimate was $9,000, actual cost just to restore that piece of equipment was $17,000). At one time during the restoration process a large exterior wall collapsed and the owner group struggled to find someone who would tackle that rebuilding project. The original shelving is currently being stripped of several coats of paint and the original wood is emerging. Currently, the group is raising money to remove the false ceiling and reveal the original tin ceiling. The group’s efforts are commendable! For a town that could appear dying, community projects keep the sense of community alive and add quality of life value. The Soda Fountain is open on Saturday nights from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Former Allerton Presbyterian Church member, now a resident of Centerville, Nancy Bennett gave the program on Walldogs International. Her group started in Allerton in 1993 when a group of international artists worked to improve the town’s appearance with painting murals on some of the buildings. Since 1993 the group has worked each year in a variety of communities in several countries, though many are in central United States. Interesting how this international group is rooted in Allerton’s efforts to keep their community alive.

From Allerton our dinner group moved to the Prairie Trails Museum in Corydon. Dave’s mother loved this museum in her hometown; Dave and I have visited it previously. On this visit we were impressed with the building additions and the expanded exhibits from our previous visits, but Dave and I were tired. We accepted “rain-check” tickets to come back on a different day.

It has been nearly two years since we’ve made this trek, so if the day had been beautiful, we wanted to visit other family sites, as well. Maybe next year, when we are both retired, we can make it a day trip.

In the meantime, as we continue our sorting projects, we saw potential homes for some items we have. We have some glass milk and cream bottles, as well as some old glass pop bottles that the Old Time Soda Fountain expressed interest in. The museum in Corydon is looking for items from the 20th century and we have several items from Dave’s parents that could be donated to that museum.

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