Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mr. and Mrs. Gillbert settled near Junction City in 1855

Located at the back of Gallery 1 is a collection of photographs. They are what remain of a collection of over 400 photographs gathered in the early 1900’s by Louis Teitzel. He reproduced the photographs of residents of the county who settled here between 1852 and 1870.

            The collection was originally displayed in the windows of the Rockwell Store, gathering quite a crowd from newspaper accounts.

            This collection eventually made its way to the county court house where it hung for many years. While on display at the courthouse people were allowed to take the photographs of their ancestors and the collection gradually shrunk.

            When the Geary County Historical Society opened its doors at the 7th Street location they accepted possession of the photographs to preserve them for future generations. It was brought along with the rest of the collection when the GCHS moved to our current location at 6th and Adams. This was the start for our photo collection that has grown considerably over the years.

            In the archives our curator found a letter from Nate Gilbert that accompanied a pair of photos that were donated to the museum. The letter really made the people in the photos come alive.

            “A glance at the “HOME COMING PROGRAM” today reminded me of something I intended to do long ago, but it had been overlooked until today, that was to send pictures of my father and mother for the collection… the photos are copies of a Daguerre taken about 1854. One year (about) before Father and Mother arrived where (or near where) Junction City now stands. The child in the mother’s arms is the shadow of myself. So you will see I was a very a very early settler.”

            “To be more explicit- we arrived in Pawnee City (near Fort Riley) in November 1855. My father at once bought the [quick] claim deed to the farm in the bend of the Smokey Hill [River] nearest town on the south side. Here we spent the winter in a log cabin 12 by 14 covered with a bark roof, with the curves of the bark turned downward. So we were obliged to sit under umbrellas when it rained. After six years spent on the farm my father moved to town and went into the grocery business.”

            “I have still a good recollection of many of the incidents of [those] early day[s], among them the visit of the first white woman to our farm home eight months after moving there. The visitor was Mrs. J.R. McClure who had not seen [another] white woman for fourteen months, though strangers [she and mother] met as sisters, and wept in each other’s arms.”

            “I also remember distinctly the Indian scares which were frequent, and sent people flying either to the Fort or to P.Z. Taylor’s store, which was the city fortress being then the only stone house in the place.”

            “Of the original old settlers I believe none are left with the possible exception of A.W. Callen. But there may be a few at the home coming that will remember such names as Davis Wilson who died recently in Cincinnati [or] Colonel John T. Price who was located in Ft. Riley in 1855, Capt. McClure who settled on Lyon’s creek in 1854, the Perry’s and Walter’s families who settled in Whisky Point about the same time, of Samuel and William Bartlett who came a little later, of Mr. & Mrs. Mitchell who were a social power in the early days, of Samuel & Mrs. Orr, Mr. & Mrs. McFarland and many others, all of them a part of Junction City’s early history…”

            Writings and memories like this are important because they give us interesting accounts of pioneer life. Don’t discount your memories or the stories your grandparents told you; write them down because one day those things will be history also.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The History of Spring Valley Historic Site

In honor of Celebrating Past Times Saturday April 26th and Sunday April 27th I thought I would explore the History of Spring Valley Historic Site.  Originally Spring Valley Historic Site was the site of the Spring Valley Schoolhouse, which still stands on the rise of the hill in its original location. 
The schoolhouse was built in 1873 on an acre of land donated by the Bailey family.  The school, District School #21, known to all as Spring Valley, was named for the springs that lay just to the south and north of the school.  In the early days, students hauled the water for the schoolhouse from one of these springs.  It was not until the early 20th Century that the county installed the water pump and students could fetch the water from across the schoolyard. 

District 21 Spring Valley School

As time progressed, the school added electricity, a coal furnace replaced the old coal and wood stove in the center of the room and a gas furnace was in place when the school closed.  However, this was as modern as the school’s conveniences got.  Before the school closed in 1958 is was the last open country school in Geary County without running water or indoor toilets.  
After it closed, Spring Valley Schoolhouse was used for community meetings, and Smoky Hill Township was responsible for its care.  In the late 1980s, the Geary County Historical Society began leasing the Spring Valley School site for $1.00 a year.  They leased the land and the school for several years before signing a 25 year lease in 1993.  It was during this time that the Historical Society purchased the land and building from Smoky Hill Township.
In the 1990s the Historical Society improved the property by adding a replica pony barn on the original foundation.  This building was where the students who rode horses to school would house their animals during the day.  The building was built from reclaimed wood from barns in Geary County. The water pump was restored along with the original outhouse.  The two major additions to this property are the Little Cabin and Wetzel Cabin. 
The Little Cabin is an original one-room log cabin which used to reside along Lyons creek.  No one knows who originally owned the cabin, but the Homestead Certificate, No. 530, shows that it was owned by Wilhelmina Freitag Staatz.  Wilhelmina was born in Germany and married George Freitag in 1859.  She was widowed and then married Christian Frederick Staatz in 1870.  The original location of the cabin was in section 30 in township 13 along Lyons Creek.   
While we don’t have any more details about the original owners, this one-room cabin is similar to others of its time.  In this area there were plentiful trees in 1850 along the creeks and rivers so many of the founding families lived in cabins similar to this one.
The final feature that has been added to Spring Valley Historic Site is Wetzel Cabin. This Cabin is on the National Register of Historic Places.  It has been moved from its original location along Clarks Creek.  The cabin which belonged to Christian F. Wetzel, and his family, held the first Lutheran Church services in Kansas. 
In the days before steady populations and thriving cities, circuit preachers traveled around to local homes, cabins, and public buildings and held church services for people in the area.  This cabin held the first congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Kansas on August 17, 1861.  
Wetzel Cabin was moved from Clarks Creek to a spot along Highway 40 in 1955 and was moved again to accommodate I-70; the cabin finally came to rest at Spring Valley Historic Site in August 2004.
All three of these buildings represent prairie and pioneer life in Kansas.  To see what life was like in Geary County in the mid-1800s come out to Spring Valley Historic Site April 26th from 11a-3p and see demonstrations on cabin life, farming, and crafts.  There will be games on the grounds and lessons in the schoolhouse.
There will also be events at St. Joseph Historic Church and Cemetery the same day from 10a-12p as well as coffee and refreshments.  On Sunday April 27th come by the museum from 1p-4p and see our new exhibits.  You can also attend a 1:30p program at Starcke House where “Eunice” will reminisce about her time at the home, and Mike Lacer will give a talk about antique toys at 3pm in the museum Auditorium.  See our website www.gchsweb.org or Facebook page for more details.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Barn Quilts a New Idea of an Old Tradition

There is nothing quite like curling up on the couch on a chilly day with a cup of cocoa and a good book wrapped in a well-worn quilt. Many children receive their first quilt from a relative when they’re born and often that quilt was made with them in mind featuring animals, boats, or bonnets. Wedding quilts are a traditional gift, sometimes embroidered with the names of the women who helped quilt it. Quilts are prized for their complexity and beauty and  can be worth a lot of money, especially if they're hand-quilted . Quilting is a traditional handicraft for women; a skill many girls learn during their childhood. 

The tradition of quilting goes back to ancient times. Quilted fabric is first seen in Egypt around 3400 BC. The act of piecing quilt patterns became popular during the mid-1800s. This new method of quilting has brought some interesting things to light. Patterns were cut from a paper pattern pinned to the fabric, but in the 1800s paper was scarce on the western frontier. Pioneers often used letters to cut their quilt pieces; these letters acted as both the pattern and the insulation.  The letters from inside pioneer quilts have become a primary source of information on pioneer life.

Since quilt block patterns began to gain popularity the patterns are innumerable.  Patterns can be anything from animals to abstract combinations representing an idea or emotion.  This traditionally female craft is a way of expressing congratulations, sympathy, or grief. From the tradition of quilting, Barn Quilts have emerged. Barn quilts are replicas of quilt squares that are made of wood, usually 8 x 8 feet in size and hung on barns or buildings for passersby to see. They can be found in 30 states and Canada. And Geary County is now a part of this growing attraction in the Flint Hills.

There aren’t many barn quilts in Geary County, but they are growing in number. The first barn quilt to join the Flint Hills Quilt Trail is hanging on a house just north of Chestnut on the east side of Jefferson. This barn quilt honors the K-State Wildcats and showcases two other quilt block patterns.  The second quilt block on the Flint Hills Quilt Trail hangs inside the Geary County Historical Museum.  Located in Gallery II or the Homestead Gallery, this quilt block is smaller than more traditional Barn Quilts, but represents a volatile time in Kansas History.  The quilt block’s pattern is Kansas Troubles.

The Kansas Troubles pattern goes back to the time of Bleeding Kansas, but there are no records of what women called the design then. The pattern name appears in print around 1890. “It doesn't matter how many little triangles there are; it is the rotational repeat that makes it a Kansas Troubles.”[1] There is a Kansas Troubles Quilt in the Spencer Art Museum’s collection dating to the 1850s.

The newest Barn Quilt to join the trail is the schoolhouse quilt block at Spring Valley Historic Site, K-18 and Spring Valley Road.  Made by the Thom and Char Grelk, this quilt pays homage to the country schoolhouses that grace not only Geary County but nearly all frontier towns.

The Flint Hills Quilt Trail is a collection of Barn Quilts in the 22 counties of the Flint Hills Region. There are several Barn Quilts in Geary County, please see the Flint Hills Quilt Trail website for details. Other counties in the area with their own Quilt Trails are Riley and Dickinson, and many of DK County’s Barn Quilts were made by the high school students in Abilene.  The Barn Quilts hanging on Jefferson and at the museum were made by Tom and Char Grelk.  The museum has added a Schoolhouse quilt block, also made by the Grelks at the Spring Valley School House.

For more information on the Flint Hills Quilt Train please visit their blog at http://ksflinthillsquilttrail.blogspot.com/ or Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kansas-Flint-Hills-Quilt-Trail/568236726534519

Kansas Troubles Barn Quilt located at Geary County Historical Society.
Schoolhouse Quilt Block at Spring Valley Historic Site.

[1] Brackman, Barbara, “Civil War Quilts: Reproduction Quilts and Fabrics.” January 2011 http://civilwarquilts.blogspot.com/2011/01/5-kansas-troubles.html

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Easter Cards

I don’t know about you, but trying to find the perfect greeting card at the local store is the worst form of torture for me. There are so many choices that I feel overwhelmed. Then I think I’ve found one, only to stare at it for what feels like hours. Is it too cheesy? Does it say what I want it to say? Is it funny enough? There are just so many things that could go wrong with something that will likely just end up sitting on a mantle for a few days before being tossed away. It’s the worst.

                Well, in digging through the archives this past week, I came across the early version of these torturous greeting cards. Did you know that the first greeting cards were invented for Christmas in Europe in the 1840s? By the end of the 1800s, holiday cards for Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day were extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The first of these cards were simple postcard style cards, with a picture of the Easter Bunny, a large heart or a Christmas tree on the front, but by the turn of the 20th century, the cards had become elaborate displays of colors, shapes and design. This detail even carried over the envelopes, which often had colored and gold-detailed interiors.

                These cards remained elaborate throughout the first few decades of the 20th century. Many early Easter cards featured white lilies, which symbolized life after death because the bulb grows, blooms, dies and grows once again during the following year. When World War I reached the American shores, cards still remained popular, but instead of Easter eggs, the cards featured soldiers beside the Easter Bunny. Today, wishing someone a happy Easter is as easy as picking up the phone, or typing out a text or email, but for a community of people who relied on the mail to send well wishes to those farther than their feet could carry them, the Easter card was a fun and easy way to show someone you cared.  Small notes of well wishes were added to the back of these cards before they were sent to their recipients.

                In some cases, Easter cards were actually small booklets which contained beautiful verses of love, friendship and hope. Emma Rathert sent one of these booklets to Mrs. Mary Muenzenmayer and the poems and sayings inside showcase the spirit of love that Easter cards brought to their recipients. Among these kind words are : “It is a good thing to be rich, and a good thing to be strong, but it is a better thing to beloved by many friends.” As well as, “If any little love of mine may make a life the sweeter, If any little care of mine May make a friend’s the fleeter, If any lift of mine may ease The burden of another, God give me love and care and strength To help my toiling brother.” So, maybe in these early years of greeting cards, it was not so hard to choose because they all contained beautiful sentiments to share a loving thought with friends and family.         

                This month, stop into the Geary County Historical Society and see our own collection of 20th century Easter cards featured in the Cool Things case in our lobby. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 1pm-4pm and free of charge.