Mikki Schwarzkopf will share the colorful stories of the traveling “Chautauqua” shows 100 years ago
JEFFERSON, Iowa, May 9, 2022 — A century ago the hottest ticket for entertainment in Greene County – or sometimes for religious or educational programs — was for the “Chautauquas,” which often would pack 2,500 people into a huge tent set up every August at what today is known as Chautauqua Park here.
Mikki Schwarzkopf, one of the most persistent researchers for the Greene County Historical Society, will present a program at 2 p.m. this Sunday, May 15, at the museum in Jefferson on nearly two years of occasional research she’s done into Chautauquas.
Between 1901 and about 1930, the Jefferson Chautauqua Association brought such nationally prominent speakers here as evangelist & former Major League Baseball pitcher Billy Sunday; Congressman & attorney William Jennings Bryan; alcohol abolitionist Carrie Nation, and farm visionary Henry Wallace. There were dozens of others who became stars on the circuit.
“These programs were so popular because they started up in a time when people were really isolated,” Schwarzkopf said. “Remember, the only access most people had to the outside world back then was the occasional newspaper. No TV, at first no radios. These speakers would come in and give our people kind of a connection to what was happening” nationally and around the world.
The Jefferson Chautauqua Association was formed in 1905, and shares of stock were sold to help the organization purchase a tent and chairs, and schedule and pay the traveling speakers.
“Originally the programs were more religious and informative,” she said. “They turned more toward entertainment as time went on – and politics in the later years.”
In the 1930s, with the proliferation of radios and cars, the Chautauqua programs began to fade.
“Scheduling them was always tricky,” Schwarzkopf said. “You had to have them at a time when farmers wouldn’t all be in the field, and not up against the county or state fairs. So here in Jefferson, they seemed to have more of the Chautauqua programs for a week in early August.”
Admission and refreshments for her 2 p.m. Sunday program are free.
Learning how to use the archives of local history & records created and maintained by our six public libraries
CHURDAN, Iowa, May 1, 2022 — When the Greene County Historical Society gathers this Friday, May 6, at the Churdan Public Library in Churdan, members and guests will learn about “Mining Digital Treasures from the Archives.”
Created in 2012 and growing impressively ever since, those “Greene County Archives” are available free online 24/7 and worldwide, from the website of the Jefferson Public Library. They are a collaboration by the county’s six libraries, the local newspapers, local government agencies and donors.
“We receive usage statistics every month, and it’s always fun to look at how many users we’re getting from countries all over the world,” said Jane Millard, the Jefferson library director. “You always wonder, ‘Who are these people and how have they become interested in some part of our history in Greene County?’ ”
The largest volume of material in the archives are the digitized newspapers of the county – all of them. The oldest archive on the site is the 1856 U.S. Census report on Greene County.
“We’ve built the archives in two phases, with lots of public support,” Millard said. “In fact, writing the grants and finding matching money for both phases has been the easiest fundraising I’ve ever done. That tells you how much public support there is for having archives that are as accessible as ours are. If you can do a Google search, you’ll easily be able to use our archives.”
She will lead the presentation on Friday, but it’s been developed with all the libarians in the Greene County Librarians Association. Those include Millard, Shari Minnehan in Churdan, Diane Kafer in Grand Junction, Wendy Johnson in Scranton, Cara McCoy in Rippey and Kimberly Bohnet in Paton.
The Churdan library has special equipment that will allow the presenters to use the library website while projecting it on a large screen, so the audience can see and follow along when Millard shows how to access specific documents.
The event Friday will open with a lunch at the library at 12 noon, provided by the members of St. Columbkille Catholic Church. Cost of that is $10 and members should RSVP to their historical society community contacts. Others are welcome for lunch, too, and should make a reservation with program director Margaret Hamilton at 515-386-4408.
The free program will begin at 12:45 p.m.
Denise O’Brien Van shares the colorful history of Jefferson’s Post Office this Friday, April 1
JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 28, 2022 — When the Greene County Historical Society meets on Friday, April 1, Denise O’Brien Van, of Jefferson, will be sharing the intriguing, 85-year history of the U.S. Post Office in Jefferson.
O’Brien Van is a Jefferson native who had a career in journalism in Des Moines and Chicago before she and husband Jack Lewis, another Jefferson native, moved back to their hometown.
Denise has personal ties to the Jefferson Post Office. Her parents, Clem and Virginia O’Brien, were introduced by Lilly B. Gibbons, who was the postmaster when the new facility was planned, constructed and then opened on March 15, 1937. Clem O’Brien worked at the Post Office as city carrier and later a rural carrier.
While the U.S. Post Office was one of the first businesses or government agencies to hire women and minorities, it was still unusual in the 1930s to find a female postmaster in rural Iowa communities.
But Lilly Gibbons was widely known in the community and evidently well-connected politically. E.B. Stillman, publisher of the Jefferson newspaper, described her in print as “a Democratic powerhouse and the prettiest girl in Greene County.” She was the grandmother of later Jefferson Post Office employee Davis, who is still a resident here.
Friday’s event, being held at the First Presbyterian Church in Jefferson, will begin at 12 noon with a lunch, which costs $10. Historical society members should make luncheon reservations by calling the organization’s community contacts.
Those are: Dawn Rudolph, Scranton, 515-370-5605; Janice Gilley, Grand Junction, 515-738-2642; Marilynn Hoskinson, Jefferson, 515-386-3490; Virginia Carlson, Paton, 515-386-2401; Nancy Wessling, Churdan, 515-389-3325; Stephen & Bette Molle, Cooper, 515-386-3822, and Mary Weaver, Rippey, 515-360-8046.
Non-members are welcome for the $10 lunch, too, and they should make reservations with program director Margaret Hamilton at 515-386-4408.
The program, which will begin about 12:45 p.m., is free.
The American eagle above the main entrance.
One of the two bas-relief sculptures above front windows that salute the new idea of air mail back when the Post Office opened in 1937.
The classic postal boxes in the building.
Here’s the iconic 1938 painting above the door to the Postmaster’s office at the east end of the lobby. The mural was commissioned by the federal Department of Treasury’s Arts Program. The artist, Thomas Savage, of Fort Dodge, was paid $650 for the painting, which he titled “The New Calf.”
We gathered St. Patrick’s Day for a celebration of shamrocks, storytelling, poetry, music, goodies and all things Irish!
JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 17, 2022 — Begorrah, it was fun!
About 60 of us gathered Thursday afternoon at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson for a historical society celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. There was storytelling, poetry, an enthusiastic sing-along, Irish-themed goodies and more.
You can learn more in the captions to the photos.
Greene County’s genuine Irishwoman Betty Kuebler, born and raised in Coleraine in Northern Ireland, reflected on her love for her homeland and many trips there. She’s been living here since 1957, when she came to visit an aunt who was a war bride of a solder from Scranton.
Johnny Turpin, retired teacher who has traveled Ireland, recalled visits to the most historic & popular Irish sites, then got into fun Irish tales. That’s his “travel hat” he’s wearing in this photo, along with a sweater from Ireland.
Johnny Turpin had several leprechaun stories and enhanced his Irish outfit for those.
Hollie Roberts, an accomplished poet, was a courageous pinch-hitter on the program for her late husband Jerry Roberts, who had already committed to do readings at this event before he died in February.
Hollie Roberts didn’t just read the Irish poem, “Drinking from the Saucer” by John Paul Moore. Beforehand, she visited with Betty Kuebler, our native Irishwoman, who coached up Roberts on how to do a proper brogue. And then she added perfect facial expressions, too!
Peg Raney told how she grew up in the very Irish northwest Iowa town of Emmetsburg, where her father owned a well-known Irish bar where singalongs were frequent and spirited. Then she led the crowd in just such a singalong Thursday.
Peg o’ our hearts! Peg Raney, on 12-string guitar, joined Rick Morain on the piano in leading the crowd in a dozen traditional Irish songs.
Rick Morain was masterful as ever on the piano, playing Irish tunes. The baby grand was recently fully-tuned for the first time in a while, and Morain reports it “now plays really well, and it has a good barroom tint to the sound.”
Here’s Rick Morain’s elevator chair for sitting at the right height for the keyboard of the museum’s baby grand piano.
Part of the goodies at our St. Patrick’s Day program.
Matt Wetrich presents “Birding” this Sunday, March 6, in first of two special programs this month at the museum
JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 1, 2022 — The Greene County Historical Society is hosting two programs at the museum in Jefferson during March.
On Sunday, March 6, at 2 p.m., Matt Wetrich will speak on “Birding.” Wetrich is a Jefferson City Councilmember, a naturalist & conservationist, and also a noted photographer. His talk should be a treat for everyone, and cookies will be served, as well.
On Thursday, March 17, at 1 p.m., there will be a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The museum’s baby grand piano has been specially tuned, and Rick Morain will play. Peg Raney will lead singing, and we’ll have readings by Johnny Turpin and Hollie Roberts. Cake will be served in a celebration of Shamrocks and all things Irish.
The museum is located at 219 E. Lincoln Way. The programs are free and open to the public.
History here has seldom been as fun as it’s going to be Jan. 22 when we present “Dig it! The Music of the ’50s, ’60s & ’70s”
JEFFERSON, Iowa, Jan. 12, 2022 — On Saturday night, Jan 22, the Greene County Historical Society presents another program in our series that complements our exhibit “Dig it! The 1950s, ’60s & ’70s” that opened last summer at our museum here.
But this new program “Dig it! The Music of the 1950s, ’60s & ’70s” might well be one of the most unusual historical events the organization has ever offered.
Six of the most popular musicians from the Des Moines area are collaborating on a 90-minute concert of the most significant songs of the 30-year period of history being featuring. It will be staged — free! — at the History Boy Theatre in the back of the RVP 1875 vintage furniture shop. 115 S. Wilson Avenue in Jefferson.
The musicians are led by veteran rock and blues artist Heath Patschull, on saxophones and guitars. Others are Kevin King on guitar, Todd Mason on both electric and stand-up bass, Joe LeValley and Tim Hammett alternating on drums, and Jefferson native Tanner Taylor on keyboard.
In a story next week, we’ll share highlights of our recent conversations with all the band members about their careers and their perspectives on how the music the ’50s, ’60s & ’70s brought major changes to our lives and culture.
At the Jan. 22 concert, the History Boy Theatre crew, led by founder & artistic director Robby Pedersen, will have concessions for sale. And those attending are welcome to bring their own beer or wine.
The historical society strongly encourages those in the audience to wear masks for two reasons: 1) All will be safer with COVID still lurking in our area, and 2) you’ll be less hesitant to sing along – even loudly – if your face is half-covered!
The costs of the event are being underwritten by four sponsors – Jefferson Telecom, Bett & Bev’s BBQ, Deal’s Orchard and the news & opinion internet site Offenburger.com.
Celebrating Iowa’s 175th on Tuesday Dec. 28 with Michael Morain speaking at our museum party
JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 26, 2021 — Michael Morain, a fifth-generation Iowan with deep roots in Greene County, will be the featured speaker when the Greene County Historical Society celebrates the state’s 175th birthday with a special 2 p.m. program on Tuesday, Dec. 28, at the museum in Jefferson.
The event, being held on the actual anniversary day of statehood in 1846, will include free birthday cake and other refreshments, and the public is invited.
Morain, 42, of Des Moines, since 2016 has served as the communications manager for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. That department includes five agencies – the State Historical Society of Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, the new Humanities Council, the “Produce Iowa” film & media production office, and the State Historical Preservation Office.
Previously, he spent 10 years as a reporter covering art and doing music reviews for the Des Moines Register, and he also joined in the coverage of RAGBRAI, the media company’s annual trans-Iowa bicycle ride.
Michael’s grandfather Fred Morain and his uncle Rick Morain were the editors and publishers of the Jefferson Bee & Herald. And Michael’s late father Tom Morain was a leading Iowa historian and author of the award-winning history of early Greene County titled “Prairie Grass Roots.”
“Throughout the past year, the state historical society has rolled out a bunch of programming about Iowa’s history over the last 175 years, so I’ve had a pretty good refresher course,” Michael Morain said. “It’s given us a chance to focus on some of the major turning points for the state, some of our under-sung heroes, the good things that have happened, while also talking about the tougher things that have happened, too.
“For my talk in Greene County, I’ve been working up a list of what I think are 10, 12 or so of what I think are important moments in Iowa history.”
And he’s been picking out which of those to talk about in a fun, and perhaps unusual, way
“Remember, most of my career I’ve been a reporter,” he said. “So my basis for picking what historic moments I want to talk about are those that I most wish I could’ve been there to cover as a reporter.”
Morain grew up in Ames, where the family was based while Tom Morain taught at Iowa State University, later was the director of research and interpretation at Living History Farms, and the administrator of the state historical society. He later taught at Graceland University in Lamoni.
Michael graduated from Ames High School in 1997, then from Graceland U. with a major in international studies. He taught French two years at high schools in the Midwest, then spent a year at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., earning a master’s degree in journalism.
His older brother Joel Morain and his wife now work behind the scenes in an opera production company in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Michael and his spouse Heath Smith, a native of Parkersburg, Ia., who works in advertising at the Strategic America agency, live in downtown Des Moines.
After the Morain brothers’ father Tom died in 2020, their mother Vikki Morain moved from Lamoni to Ames.
So, what does Michael think of life in Iowa as the state celebrates 175 years?
“When I was growing up, I never really expected that I’d settle in Iowa,” Michael said. “I thought I’d be in a big city somewhere else. And I tried that. I was in Chicago for my master’s degree, and toward the end of those studies, I spent some time in Washington, D.C., and in India. But when I sent my resumes out, the best opportunity I had was at the Register, so I moved back to Des Moines in 2005, and I’m glad I did.
“Des Moines has changed a lot,” he continued. “We live downtown, I walk to work, and this feels like a very comfortable city with a lot going on. Iowa has changed, too, but one old story that continues is that for 100 years, younger people have been moving from farms and small towns to our cities.
“One thing I now really like about Des Moines now is that it’s not so big that it feels disconnected from the rest of the state, like you see in some of our neighbor states – Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri – that have major cities. Most of my friends in Des Moines grew up somewhere else in Iowa, and they still identify themselves first as Iowans, then as city residents. I think that keeps the state having a feeling of being stitched together well.”
The full video of Michael Morain’s program on Dec. 28 is available now on the historical society’s YouTube channel by clicking here.
Historical Society gathers Friday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m. at the museum to elect officers and celebrate the holidays
The Greene County Iowa Historical Society will have its official “annual meeting,” with election of new officers on Friday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m. at the historical museum in Jefferson. And that will quickly be followed by a holiday program, with seasonal refreshments, storytelling and live music. It’s all free and no RSVPs are necessary.
President David John is running for a third one-year term as president, and the other current officers are also seeking re-election. They are vice-president and programs chairperson Margaret Hamilton, secretary Joyce Ausberger, and treasurer Becki Cunningham. They are unopposed but members can make nominations from the floor.
There will be music by Rick Morain and Peg Raney, along with readings by Jerry Roberts and Johnny Turpin.
Newsletters will be distributed at that meeting, with stories about the society’s activities in 2021 and the calendar of programs for 2022. That newsletter will subsequently be mailed to members who aren’t able to attend the Dec. 3 event.
The annual meeting is also a good time for new members to join and for current members to pay their dues for the year ahead. Memberships for individuals remain $15 per year, for families it’s $20 per year and you can be a “friend of the historical society” with a membership donation of $50. Further information, including online memberships, can be found by clicking here: Membership & Donations – Greene County Iowa Historical Society. Or you can call (515) 386-8544 and leave a message.
Greene County had an early “fountain of youth.” We’ll learn about it Friday (and ask if there’s possibly another one around here).
SCRANTON, Iowa, Nov. 1, 2021 — At the Friday, Nov. 5, program of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society in Scranton, Mary Weaver of rural Rippey will tell of her home area’s Eagle Mineral Springs, which produced water so rejuvenating that the springs were touted as a local “fountain of youth.”
They were located on the pioneer farm of the Orman family, between Rippey and Angus in the southeast corner of the county. More specifically, they were on the north side of the Raccoon River along the Snake Creek bottoms.
Thomas Jefferson Orman, the second generation of the family here, was digging for coal in 1911 when he discovered the springs. It produced what he said was “magic” water that “could poach an egg, dissolve nut meats, or make tea or coffee without heat.”
He and his wife Helen bottled and sold thousands of gallons of the water, continuing into the 1950s, and always hoped to develop a spa at their place. They did develop a baseball field – Thomas was quite a player — and picnic area there.
Weaver, who writes the “Hearth & Home” column on the historical society’s website, is fascinated by the folk history of the area and is an exceptional storyteller.
Her program in Scranton Nov. 5 will be a at the United Methodist Church. It will be preceded at 12 noon by lunch, which will cost $8 for members of the historical society or $10 for others. Historical society members should RSVP to our community contacts by Tuesday, Nov. 2. Others from the public are welcome for lunch, too, and they should reserve their places by calling program chairperson Margaret Hamilton in Jefferson at 515-386-4408.
The program, which will start about 12:45 p.m. is free and all are welcome.
Jed Magee, an authority on Abraham Lincoln, speaks Sunday, Aug. 8, at museum on Lincoln’s “learning and his mentors”
JEFFERSON, Iowa, Aug. 2, 2021 — Jed Magee, of Jefferson, an authority on the life and career of former President Abraham Lincoln and a member of the board of directors of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society, will speak on “Lincoln’s Learning and His Mentors” at 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 8, at the museum in Jefferson. Admission and refreshments will be free.
Magee, a lifelong collector of Lincoln books, art and other memorabilia, donated most of his extensive collection to the local historical society in 2016. And he now speaks occasionally on different aspects of Lincoln’s history.
A native of Dunkerton in northeast Iowa, Jed is a retired attorney and Iowa District Court judge. He spent the first half of his career practicing law in Jefferson, then was appointed a judge and served the second half of his career while based in Charles City. After he fully retired in 2015, he and his wife Betty decided to move back to Jefferson, where both had been very involved in the community in their earlier years here.
Jed Magee’s fascination with Abraham Lincoln began when he was in seventh grade in Dunkerton, and his teacher thought he needed more of an academic challenge. So she told him to pick out some public figure that he might enjoy doing some research about, and he read a book about Lincoln, who had served as president from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, during the Civil War.
“That teacher bought me my first scrapbook, for $1.29, and I started cutting out articles I found about Lincoln,” Magee said. “I kept that up and by the time I was finishing high school, I had that scrapbook pretty well filled.”
He continued collecting Lincoln stories and memorabilia during his college years. And he never really stopped.
For most of his career, Magee kept his collection in his office in Charles City. It included 10 shelves full of books about Lincoln, 30 busts of Lincoln at different stages of his life, photographs (including two that are more than 100 years old), prints, paintings, and more.
How many books has he read on Lincoln?
“Hundreds,” Magee said. “I just finished another that was published this year. And I still find myself learning new things about Lincoln.”
In his program this Sunday, Magee said he’ll talk about how Lincoln was basically self-taught by being a voracious reader himself. But he also studied the writings and works of others, who became like mentors to him.
As a “teaser” to help get the public ready for this latest program, Magee drops this question: “What do Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln have in common?”
And he’ll be open to more general questions about Lincoln’s life and legacy.
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Did you know there were so many historical sites in this county? See many of them on the map here!
See interviews with historical figures, events and programs we have recorded, and much more!
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.”