Thursday, March 29, 2012
At last, a group of prominent citizens decided to use private funds to erect a brick building of which the town could be proud, and since they were bearing the expense, they chose the location--the corner just to the southeast of the park. They selected brick rather than wood, not only to make it more elegant but also to reduce the risk of fire destroying the building and all the important records kept inside.
The story is told that one of the County Comissioners refused to accept the gift of the building. Somehow he was tricked into coming to the new structure to sign a document, and this act of business was deemed to show acceptance of the building, waiving his objections.
The citizens of the county decided that it was irresponsible not to reimburse those people who had spent their own money to build such a fine county building, so bonds were voted. Later, someone discovered a state law prohibiting voting bonds to repay private individuals for something already given to the county. The local newspapers followed the dilemma of whether the county had a moral obligation to repay the private donors, regardless of the legal prohibition concerning bonds, with arguments from both sides published.
Despite the controversies of its construction, the Victorian court house was enjoyed by the community from the time of its construction in about 1886 until September of 1925, when a petition signed by more than one-fourth of the taxpayers of the county asked the county commissioners to levy a tax to raise funds for a new court house. Within three years enough money had been raised to begin.
The elegant Victorian court house that Isaac Werner visited for business, lectures, and meetings was not replaced because people had tired of its style. Rather, the Board of County Commissioners' minutes of February 1, 1928, describe the conditions of the forty-year-old structure: "...the walls of which are what is commonly known as soft brick...are now cracked and the key stones in some of the arches of the doors and windows have loosened...and the walls of said building are spreading apart and have spread apart to the extent that the county has found it necessary to support the same by rods and other devises, and the plastering on said Court House is in bad condition and in many places has broken loose and fallen and much of the plastering is now loose and in danger of falling and injuring persons within said building, and the roof...is shingle and old and dilapidated and the said building needs a new roof." The minutes continue to describe a gaping crack running completely from top to bottom and from east to west, as well as fire risks and other dangers.
For all those reasons it was decided to demolish the grand old structure, to salvage any materials that might be used in the new building and store them on county-owned lots elsewhere in the city until they were reinstalled in the new building, and to rent space in The Delker Building in which to conduct county business while the new court house was being built. During the previous year, three architectural firms had been interviewed--Rutledge & Hurtz, Mann & Co., and Hulse & Co.--with Mann & Co. of Hutchinson chosen to draw the plans and supervise the construction of the new court house. With everything in place, the work proceeded quickly, and the new court house was dedicated in 1929.
(Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.)
Saturday, March 24, 2012
The Gray Studio Glass Plate Negative Collection may be seen at http://www.contentcat.fhsu.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/stafford.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Court houses are like mining for gold, the records filled with valuable information for a researcher to discover if she is willing to dig for it. Initially my research took me to the Deed Records to find information about Isaac's homestead and timber claim. Now, when I walk into that office, the women working there immediately ask about my progress on the book, research for which they have been so helpful.
Also in the court house is the District Clerk's Office, where one day I went to inquire about birth and death certificates. I was disappointed to learn that those old records are now kept in Topeka, the state capital. I must have mentioned that I was doing research on Isaac B. Werner, and while I visited with one of the women, the other lady seemed busy at her computer. Suddenly she asked, "What did you say the man's first name was?" "Isaac," I replied. "Well, there's no Isaac indexed in the Probate Records, but I have an I.B. Werner." "That's him!" I exclaimed. When she returned from the room where probate records are stored, she carried a thick probate file of Isaac's estate, from which I have learned so much about him.
Seeing my interest in the Probate Records, the women told me that they had recently finished indexing all of the District Court records, going back to the 1800s. Isaac was never a party to litigation, but several legal disputes are mentioned in his journal, so I was obviously thrilled to learn that those records were available. I periodically return to examine files, documenting litigation Isaac has mentioned, and both of those ladies have been terrific. In fact, they have shared suggestions about bits of history preserved in the records of the court house that would make wonderful stories for future writing.
Since Isaac died in 1895, the current court house was not the one he visited. In next week's post I will share a picture of the Victorian court house of Isaac's era, along with stories of how it came to be built, some of Isaac's visits there, and why it was replaced with the current structure.
I have lived most of my life in cities, and there are many things I enjoy about the urban lifestyle that cannot be matched in a small town. However, there is nothing quite like returning to the home of your childhood, where your roots go back a few generations, and experiencing the willingness of people to pause for a moment and invest their time and interest in you, something anonymity and the busy pace of city life rarely offer. Like Isaac, I enjoy doing business--and research--in a court house where people nearly always have a little time to chat.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
The Osage-orange tree has many names--among them hedge-apple, bodark or bois-d'arc, and bowwood, with the Latin name Maclura pomifera. The uses of the tree may be found in the names it has been given. Native Americans, as well as today's serious bow-makers, found the wood especially valuable for making bows. Bois-d'arc comes from Louisiana French and translates literally as "bow wood." For people on the prairie, the primary reason for planting the trees was for fencing. I do not know who planted the hedge-apple grove on our farm. It has been a mature grove of trees since I was a child. What I suspect is that the trees were planted by my grandfather for posts to fence our pastures.
In addition to cutting the wood for fence posts, settlers used the trees themselves as hedges. The growth pattern of the limbs is unruly and abundant, and while branches are young and tender they can be woven together to form an impenetrable barrier. Add to that the thorns on the branches, and planting hedge-apple trees along the borders of fields and pastures can create living fences.
Many people, including my mother-in-law, believe that the hedge apples themselves repel insects. Among those proponents, some suggest cutting the fruit into wedges to better release the milky juice. No commercial use of the juice has been discovered, but various compounds have been extracted from the heartwood for use in products such as an antifungal and a food preservative. The tree so valuable to homesteaders like Isaac may yet find modern uses.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
With darkness falling, the farmer went directly to the Naron School House where he knew that the newly formed Woodman of the World lodge was meeting. The group immediately adjourned to organize a line of about sixty men carrying lanterns, walking closely so as not to overlook a little girl lost in the dark on the prairie. They searched through the night, and just before daylight they found little Mary in the timber on Jeff Naron's claim. Exhausted, chilled, and sobbing in a broken slumber, she was lying on the ground eight miles from where the children had begun their walk.
Woodmen of the World is one of the first fraternal benefit societies in the United States. It was founded by Joseph Cullen Root in 1890 and remains a privately held insurance company. Its roots go back to a time when the social safety nets for widows and children did not exist. Men formed lodges whose members pledged to take up a collection for each man's widow and children should any one of them die. From this system of helping each other grew the idea of a private insurance fund for members.
In the Prattsburg Cemetery several milles away is another tall tree trunk, this gravestone bearing the three symbols of the organization at the top of the sculpture, with a carved rope holding the scroll with the name of the deceased, David Johnson.
There was also a women's organization, called Woodmen Circle, of which Ella Beaman was apparently a member. Her stone in the Prattsburg Cemetery is a beautiful example of the forked trunk design, with a heart-shaped carving bearing the traditional Woodmen symbols resting in the fork and additional details in the trunk and base.
Isaac was not a Woodman. His ambition was to help farmers through education and cooperation, and so, he joined the Farmers' Alliance, attempted to establish Reform Clubs, and supported the Peoples' Party. While neither the Woodman of the World nor the farmers' groups Isaac supported survive to the present day in his old community, they served the people of Isaac's time who faced great hardships by not having to face them alone.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Today's plains dwellers cannot appreciate what a welcome sight those blooming bushes were to the early settlers, who longed for the taste of fresh fruit. Sand hill plums are hardly bigger than cranberries, and unlike cranberries, the fruit has a central seed nearly half the size of the plum itself, leaving very little edible fruit between the seed and the outer skin. Regardless, the settlers enjoyed the beauty and slight fragrance of the blossoms and crossed their fingers that frost would not return to freeze the blossoms and deprive them of that season's tart little plums.
Isaac had a thicket on his "Timber Hill" but he had also saved seeds from some of the best plums to plant plum bushes near his house, finding that it took the seeds two or three seasons to germinate. They were also difficult to transplant because the bushes colonize from one bush with a deep root to form shallow-rooted bushes around it. These shallow-rooted bushes are unlikely to survive if transplanted, and it is difficult to tell without digging which among the bushes is the one with the deep root. Isaac explained in his Journal: "I took up some select Plum bushes on timber hill and set them in rows N. of house patch, 2 rows E. & W. Transplanting Plums generally failures by many. I determined to experiment at least, then also transplant some in the spring."
As a bachelor, Isaac had learned to cook for himself, but he never mentions attempting to preserve fruit. It would be nice to imagine that one of the neighbors who stripped the plum bushes to spite Mrs. Frack might have made a jar of plum jelly for Isaac, but he only describes the annual pleasure of gorging on whatever fruit was in season.
For my family, enough jars of sand hill plum jelly were canned every summer to last through the year. They were stored with the canned tomatoes, green beans, and two kinds of pickles on rows of shelves in the basement, the walls a kaleidoscope of tomato red, green beans, mossy green dills, noxiously-tinted (with green cake coloring) 3-day lime pickles, and the glow of the scarlet plum jelly. I do not continue the tradition of canning vegetables, except rare years when I can the 3-day lime pickles, but I do make plum jelly. Last year's late frost and summer drought left only a lonesome plum here and there, and we are down to the last jar of the previous year's jelly. One day, I set that jar with one that we received as a wedding favor in the window to admire the beauty of sunlight through the jelly.
When we finish that last jar of jelly, we, like Isaac, will be forced to await another season's crop from the tough and prickly sand hill plum bushes with their sweet-tart little plums.