Sept. 1 program: There’s a whole lot of warm history in quilting

CHURDAN, Iowa, Aug. 23, 2017 — The deep historical roots of quilting, as well as its mushrooming popularity today, will be the subject of the Greene County Historical Society program on Friday, Sept. 1, at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Cedar, located about five miles west of Churdan.

Suzanne Sievers, owner of The Stitch quilt shop in Jefferson, will be presenting and is bringing along a special guest, Jeanette Harms, of Panora, who will display some quilts dating to the 1800s in her family. Harms will tell how those quilts were found in her grandmother’s attic, as well as talking about the techniques quilters used back then.

Sievers and Harms are calling the program “Quilting Then and Now.”

A lunch at 12 noon in the St. Patrick’s basement is $8 for historical society members and $10 for non-members. The members should RSVP to their community contacts by Wednesday, Aug. 30. Others can RSVP for lunch by calling vice-president Nancy Hanaman at (515) 436-7684. The program at 1 p.m. in the church sanctuary is free.

Quilts by Suzanne Sievers, of Jefferson, hang as art in the Greene County Medical Center, where they are displayed on rotation on a wall in the outpatient lobby.

“No one knows the origin of quilting,” Sievers says, “but quilted garments were found in Egypt in about 3400 B.C. We do know that quilting was brought to America by the colonists.”

She was a high school home economics teacher for 25 years – three years in Walnut and 22 at Jefferson-Scranton — before she got into the business of quilting.

“I’ve always loved quilts, but didn’t make one until I took a class from Marilyn Allender in the late 1970s,” Sievers continued. “Then I didn’t quilt again until the late 1990s – and haven’t stopped since!”

In 2006, she opened The Stitch in Jefferson – it’s now next door to the Greene County Historical Society – and it’s become one of the busiest quilt shops in central Iowa.

She met Jeanette Harms as a customer.

“Jeanette comes to my shop, and she was telling me about the quilts she inherited, and that she thought they should be shared somehow,” she said. “When I was asked to do this program for the historical society, I thought of her and asked her to join me.”

Sievers said her own presentation will address how quilting techniques and tools have changed. She’ll show some of her own quilts and demonstrate a couple of tools. “I also have some interesting facts about who today’s quilter is, the amount of money they spend each year on quilting, and how much a quilt costs to make today,” she said.

How “kit homes” and buildings helped early residents settle here


RIPPEY, Iowa, Aug. 23, 2017 — I have long been interested in identifying a “Sears” home that could be featured in my “Hearth & Home” column for the Greene County Historical Society. Several different elders were approached, and I finally identified one just three miles south of my home, the residence of Ben and Midge Vannatta. Their home was built in 1910.

I have learned much more about “kit homes,” also known as “mail-order homes.”

Mary Weaver ProfileThey were not all from Sears, Roebuck & Company. Aladdin, Montgomery Ward, and up to 10 other companies sold homes nationally, and the research indicated some were produced locally and stayed locally.

The kit homes came on the scene at the turn of the 20th century and were being sold and built until the early 1950s, but the boom time was 1910-’20s. The advertising announces, “Avoid the middle man mark-up, save on labor (a hired contractor estimated cost $450), and avoid wasted lumber!”

Copies of catalogs found on the internet, promised, “A man of average ability could assemble a home in 90 days.” A 75-page manual, along with blueprints and up to 750 pounds of nails, accompanied the order.

The homes were sent by railroad box car, and one of the ads shows a horse-drawn buckboard picking up the lumber at the depot. Dependent upon house size, there could be between 10,000 and 30,000 pieces of wood. The lumber was numbered sometimes with a grease pen, sometimes with a stamp, but all cut and packaged together for windows, doorways, rafters and other components.

The Vannatta home was a “Gordon-Van Tine” home. That was a Davenport, Iowa-based company, which began in 1865 as a lumber mill along the Mississippi River, as logs from the north could be transported easily via the river. As railroads were developed, the availability of the Rock Island Railroad allowed the pre-cut wood for homes to be transported both to the East and West.

In 1907, Gordon-Van Tine became a subsidiary of the U.N. Roberts Company, a millwork manufacturing company in Davenport. At one time, Gordon-Van Tine (named after its founding partners) employed 350 persons, selling an estimated 54,000 homes under its own name and 20,000 as a sub-contractor for Montgomery Ward. In 1946 the Gordon-Van Tine Company was sold to a Cincinnati salvage company that liquidated the firm.

The Vannatta home was originally purchased by John Kenney in 1910, at a cost of $926. The ad which is inserted into this article states, “we agree to furnish all materials to build this house, including lumber, lath, shingles, finishing lumber, doors, windows, frames, interior doors and finish, nails, tinwork and complete painting materials. Fire King Furnace complete with all pipes and fittings and ready to install is an extra $94.”

An advertisement in a Gordon-Van Tine Co. publication for the style of home that the Vannattas have today.

Ten years later, the home was purchased by George and Sarah Vannatta, the grandparents of Ben. The house was designed to use gas lighting, but Grandfather George replaced that with a Delco battery system.

Ben’s daughter Jeannie Vanatta Kotta pointed to her bedroom on a copy of the blueprints from House Model 127 of the Gordon-Van Tine catalog. She and her siblings shared the three bedrooms upstairs (listed as chambers) while the downstairs chamber was used by her parents. You will notice on the blueprint there is a sitting room as well as a parlor. Jeannie said indoor plumbing was installed in the attic.

The house plans for the home that the Vannattas now have.

In the interview with Jeannie, she further explained she believes the chickenhouse in the barnyard of her childhood home may have also been from the Gordon-Van Tine Company. Research for this article indicates that beginning in 1920, the company created a catalog making farm outbuildings available including chickenhouses, barns and corn cribs.

Could your home be a “mail-order house”? Look for blueprints, or warranties that came with the house. Check for stamped lumber on exposed beams, or for shipping labels on millwork. Check the abstract for information.

My next research project about “kit buildings” is the barn of Dan and Sue Tronchetti, of rural Jefferson. Dan states his barn is a “kit barn,” and I’ll have the story about it in a future column here.

The Vannatta home in 2005.

You can comment on this story in the space below here, or write directly to the columnist by email at The author, who lives outside Rippey, is an active member of the Greene County Historical Society.

Roger Aegerter will share his historical adventure on the Lincoln Highway

JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 28, 2017 — Roger Aegerter says in 39 years of living in Jefferson within a block of the Lincoln Highway, his curiosity about the historic transcontinental roadway finally caught up with him. And so last October, he took off from his home here and drove about 1,800 miles of the route – all the way to its terminus in Lincoln Park in San Francisco.

“I’d done some research and heard so many stories about the towns on it, the historic hotels and restaurants, and the monuments,” Aegerter said. “I decided I just had to go see them.”

He’ll share his observations and some photos in a program for the Greene County Historical Society on Friday, Aug. 4, at the First United Methodist Church in Grand Junction.

Roger Aegerter

A lunch at 12 noon is $8 for historical society members and $10 for non-members. The members should RSVP to their community contacts by Wednesday, Aug. 2. Others can RSVP for lunch by calling vice-president Nancy Hanaman at (515) 436-7684. The program at 1 p.m. at the church is free.

Aegerter, who is in his fifth year as executive director of the historical society, is usually helping organize the programs at the monthly meetings rather than presenting them. But his adventure last fall piqued the wanderlust of many who’ve heard about it.

He brings unusual perspective to discussions of the Lincoln Highway. A native of Rockwell City and a graduate of Iowa State University, he’s a former art teacher who is still a working artist today, with his painting and artistic woodworking. He is also a former school curriculum director, elementary principal and superintendent. And in the 1990s, he wrote a 230-page book “Golf Courses of Iowa,” which has been updated in second and third editions.

“Over the years, my wife Jan and I had driven most of the Lincoln Highway to the east of Jefferson,” Aegerter said. “When we’ve taken different trips to New York City and other places in the east, I’d guess we’ve probably covered 80 to 90 percent of it. But I’d never been on most of it in the west.”

He did the trip last fall quickly – in about 3 ½ days.

“I had a list of places I really wanted to see along the route,” he said. “I’d get there, look them over, shoot some pictures and then be on my way. I probably didn’t spend more than 10 to 15 minutes at most of them, but I wanted to see as much as I could in the time I had.”

After completing his Lincoln Highway trip in San Francisco, Aegerter drove on north to Seattle, and there met his wife Jan, who’d flown out. Then they had a leisurely drive back to Jefferson, using a generally northerly route that took them to seven national parks. “Two or three of those parks, we couldn’t get beyond the front gate,” Roger said. “By mid to late October, some of them were already shut down because of heavy snows.”

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    How many courthouse structures have been built on the site of the current Greene County Courthouse?



    There have been three courthouses built where the Greene County Courthouse stands today.  Ground was broken on the current courthouse in November of 1915, the cornerstone was set in May 1916 and the new building was dedicated in October of 1917. The centennial celebration of the courthouse is already underway, with events being planned by the “Courthouse 100” committee, with support from the Greene County Historical Society.  You can learn more about the courthouse history and the celebration plans on the Facebook page “Courthouse 100: Greene County, Iowa.”


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