Saturday, December 17, 2016

Iowa - On Being in the Middle of the Road

The Tree in the Road

Photo Credit - © 2016, Christina McElmeel.
In the middle of the road in the middle of Iowa stands a 165+ year old Cottonwood tree.
At the intersection of 350th and 710th streets, stands a 100-foot-tall cottonwood tree, known today as the "Tree in the Road."  The tree stands on a road 1 mile north of I-80 part way between the Wiota and Anita exits (Iowa).
Legend has it the tree was planted about 165 years ago, a surveyor was marking the line between Audubon and Cass counties and only had a cottonwood sprout on hand.  Since 1890 spikes have commonly been used to mark boundary lines and survey points but this was around 1850, and Iowa had been a state for only a few short years.  (Iowa entered the union on
Dec. 28, 1846). According to George E. Leigh "Today, a typical mark is a brass, bronze, or aluminum disk (or rod), but marks might also be prominent objects like water towers or church spires. Well into the 20th century, the Survey used an eclectic assortment of materials as survey marks, including earthenware cones, jars, bottles, and holes drilled into rock. One surveyor tells the story of recovering several beer bottles used as survey marks buried in the permafrost on Alaska's North Slope. So, while the "kitchen sink" may not have been used to mark surveys, bottles, jugs, pots, and more certainly were used!" (Leigh, 2007, pg. 1, para 4).  In this case the marker was a little sprout from a cottonwood tree.The sprout took root and grew into the massive tree it is today, becoming the intersection of the two roads.

According to Margee Shaffer, administrator for Audubon County Economic Development and Tourism, there is no evidence to prove anything - but the legend has been passed down over the years.

If you want to see the tree for yourself the GPS address to use is 350th Street, Brayton, Iowa.  At the intersection of Nighthawk Ave and 350th Street I-80 exit 70, turn right onto 750 Street Drive.  After approx. a quarter-mile turn left onto 340th Street Drive and drive about three miles.  Then turn left onto Nighthawk Avenue. Drive about a quarter-mile and you will reach the tree.

Leigh, George E.  Bottles, Pots, & Pans? - Marking the Surveys of the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey and NOAA.  National Geodetic Survey, n.d.   Note: This is a rather comprehensive history of survey markers and protocols of surveying. The author is a retired member of NOAA Corps.  The article is available as a PDF at ).
Leigh, George E. Marking the Surveys — NOAA's Commemorative Marks.  National Geodetic Survey, 2007.  (WEB)
At the intersection of Nighthawk Ave. and 350th St. I-80 exit 70. Turn right onto 750th St. Drive about a quarter-mile. Turn left onto 340th St. Drive about three miles. Turn left onto Nighthawk Ave. Drive about a quarter-mile and you'll reach the tree. - See more at:
At the intersection of Nighthawk Ave. and 350th St. I-80 exit 70. Turn right onto 750th St. Drive about a quarter-mile. Turn left onto 340th St. Drive about three miles. Turn left onto Nighthawk Ave. Drive about a quarter-mile and you'll reach the tree. - See more at:
At the intersection of Nighthawk Ave. and 350th St. I-80 exit 70. Turn right onto 750th St. Drive about a quarter-mile. Turn left onto 340th St. Drive about three miles. Turn left onto Nighthawk Ave. Drive about a quarter-mile and you'll reach the tree. - See more at:

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Amelia Bloomer - an early sufferagette

Amelia Bloomer (May 27, 1818 Homer, NY - Dec. 30, 1894 Council Bluffs, IA)
Amelia Bloomer
Amelia Jenks Bloomer, a native of New York, grew up there in the early 1800s.  She became first a teacher, then a governess, and at the age of 22 she married an attorney, Dexter Bloomer.  Her journalist career began then as he encouraged her to write for his newspaper, The Seneca Falls County Courier.  It was not long before she became acquainted with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  The three of them were at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.  She was an advocate for women's rights.  Over 300 women attended the convention, 40 of them were men. The following year Bloomer began to edit The Lily, a biweekly newspaper for women.  At first The Lily focused exclusively on temperance but emerged with more articles of specific interest to women, particularly the suffrage movement.  Read more about that on the National Park Service's program on their site at

Originally a "committee of ladies" was responsible for the publication but for the final years it was only Bloomer's name in the masthead.  The Bloomer's family moved to Mount Vernon, Ohio in 1853, and she continued to edit The Lily.  But in 1854 Bloomer sold The Lily to Mary Birdsall as the family was moving to Council Bluffs, Iowa nd there would be no publishing facilities there.  Birdsall continued to publish The Lily for two years, during which Bloomer was a contributing editor.

It was in the newspaper that Bloomer first proposed a change in women's clothing.  She proposed a pant like garment — loose pants or trousers gathered at the ankle, and topped by a short skirt or dress.  The clothing was first worn by actress Fanny Kemble, and worn extensively by Elizabeth  Smith Miller (Libby Miller) who introduced the costume to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in turn introduced the newly designed garment to Bloomer. While Amelia Bloomer did not invent the bloomer she was the single person who did much to popularize the garment, and promoted it in The Lily.

However those who wore the Bloomer were often harassed on the streets and to much ridicule.  By 1859 Bloomer returned to conventional dress, declaring the invention of crinoline to be of a significant enough change that she could abandon the bloomer.

In 1850 President Millard Fillmore appointed Dexter Bloomer as postmaster of Seneca Falls.  Dexter appointed his wife as deputy postmaster and Amelia ran the post office for Dexter.  The couple never had children of their own but often cared for the children of relatives who often lived with them for lengthy periods of time.  When the Whigs were no longer in office (Presidency), and Dexter Bloomer lost his position as postmaster the couple decided to more ot Moutn Vernon, Ohio where Dexter and a partner established a newspaper and made provisions for an office for The Lily.  Amelia Bloomer was reluctant to leave New York and described the move as "the greatest sorrow ever laid upon her."  After only 6 months in Ohio, Dexter sold his interest in the paper, The Home Visitor, and publication of The Lily became problematic.  In the fall of 1854, Dexter Bloomer purchased a home in Council Bluffs, Iowa and the family moved to that frontier town, settling in Iowa in the spring of 1855.  At first the small house was furnished with only crude borrowed furniture - with crates for extra seating, and only a mattress for sleeping.  In July her own furnishing arrived and she again felt she could make a home.  The town of Council Bluffs (originally called Kanesville) was often a stop on the path of Mormons as they moved westward.  Dexter Bloomer became a land agent in the area during the 1855 - 1856 years.  He was practicing law and encouraging others to invest in Iowa land.  Amelia Bloomer encouraged women to invest as Iowa was one of the states that allowed women to own and manage their own land.  Dexter Bloomer's suffered severe financial losses when the 1857 panic came and the real estate business failed.  At one time Amelia Bloomer had over $5000 worth of land in her name, but by 1870, the Iowa census shows no land in her name so one could assume she also suffered financially.  Dexter became a receiver of public lands for a dozen or so years, and sold insurance.  His endeavors did support the couple in modest style.  He became a member of the Iowa board of education, and served as Council Bluff's mayor in 1869 and again in 1871.  And he was "a founder and long-time member of the city's public library" (Noun, 1985, part II, page 580).  The Bloomers added additions onto their modest two bedroom home and often rented rooms out.  Their renters were often school teachers, and wehn J.D. Edmundson first came to town he stayed with them.  Edmundson will be remembered as the philanthropist who endowed the Des Moines Art Center.

Several years after the Bloomers arrived in Council Bluffs, the couple adopted two Mormon children.  The children were most likely part of a group of English and Welsh converts to the Mormon religion, which came through Council Bluffs sometime in 1856.   The first child to be adopted was five-year-old Eddie Lewis.  His mother had died, and his father was unable to care for his five children.  He continued on to live in Idaho.  After a fire destroyed their home's roof, and a second story with additional bedrooms were built, the Bloomers adopted Eddie's fourteen-year-old sister, Mary.  The other three siblings were taken in by other families in Council Bluffs.  Amelia had warm feelings for Eddie even after he left as an adult, moved to Arizona, and rejoined the Mormons.  Mary on the other hand brought Amelia's disapproval when she married a man of which Amelia disapproved.  The two did not have further involvement after Mary's marriage but she is said to have eventually settled in Oregon with her husband Joseph Stright.
After Bloomer's family's move to northwest Iowa Bloomer remained active in the suffrage movement, working with campaigns in Nebraska and Iowa. Initially her arrival in Iowa brought ideas and advanced views that were not yet popular or acceptable.  At first she was ostracized from the Iowa Woman's Rights Movement; but by 1871 she was serving as president of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association and served until 1873.   However, Bloomer through herself into work for temperance and for women's rights.  She was the first resident of the state to speak publicly regarding the rights of women.  Later she became involved in aid to the soldiers that were fighting for the Union during the Civil War.  She spent time at the World's Fair managing the Iowa efforts to sell goods to support the Veterans.  She deplored slavery but was not an abolitionist.  Her former colleagues (Stanton and Anthony) denounced Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (1862) as it only applied to the Rebel states.  There was also differences in opinion regarding the acceptance of the 14th and the 15th amendment.
But Bloomer became a strong voice for suffrage in Iowa and defended the concept with legislators, editors, and the general public who attacked the idea anonymously with letters to the newspapers.  Bloomer forged an alliance with Annie Savery who was a younger suffragette.  In the 1870 Iowa legislative session a suffrage amendment approval was passed.  But the suffrage group was plagued with its association with Victoria Woodhull who advocated free love -- and when Woodhull announced as a candidate for President of the United States, the discussion took on a strong focus.  But Woodhull was a strong and forceful advocate and her testimony in Congress, regarding woman's rights was impressive.

Cartoon of a woman wearing the Bloomer Costume, 
named after Amelia Bloomer.
Library of Congress
Bloomer's  name as a national activist receded from the limelight during her Iowa residency and the Bloomer costume revolution disappeared from national discussion but the quest for the vote persisted.  Although Bloomer was no longer active in the movement after 1872. It would be another 26 years after Bloomer's death, before women would gain the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Since 2002 The American Library Association has published a list of books for young readers, that have significant feminist themes.  Read more about the Amelia Bloomer list at


Major sources of information:
Noun, Louise. (1985) Amelia Bloomer, a Biography: Iowa Research Online, Part I.  The University of Iowa.  (PDF) Available online from 
Noun, Louise. (1985) Amelia Bloomer, a Biography: Iowa Research Online, Part II-The Suffragist of Coucil Bluffs.  The University of Iowa.  (PDF) Available online from

Friday, April 15, 2016

Quilts in Iowa

The state of Iowa emerged with statehood on December 28, 1846.  However settlers had begun to arrive in Iowa territory prior to that -- the period of time when the area was part of the Northwest territory.  President James K. Polk signed the law admitting Iowa as the 29th state of the Union.  There was a rich history of the plains as many Siouan speaking tribes of Native Americans, along with Caddoan speaking tribes had inhabited the area since prehistoric times.  By the time white settlers began to move into the area the Meskwaki had claimed land in Iowa.  As pioneers began to settle in the mid-1800s, families settled onto the prairie, cleared the land, and began to cultivate the land.  The men and older children worked the fields and tended the animals, the women and younger children tended the home, the garden, and the fires to keep the homestead warm and as comfortable as possible.

One of the activities that occupied the pioneers/settlers, during the winter was making quilts.  Scraps of material were cut into shapes and pieced together to make colorful patterns.  Quilting bees (where a group of quilters would sit around a quilting rack and hand quilt the pieced quilt top to batting and the bottom layer) were held in churches, a neighbor's home, and so forth.Over time many quilts were made and shared.
The picture on the left was taken at the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in Burr Oak, Iowa.  Laura and her parental family lived there (1876–1877) for a time and operated the town saloon which also took in overnight travelers. These quilts are period pieces that represent the type of quilt that might have been used in the 1870s.  (Read more about Wilder's days in Iowa here

Sometime in the mid-1900s the State Historical Society of Iowa joined a larger project to document the evolution of quilt making in the early days of the state ... and up through 1925.  Documentation for some of these quilts can be located at

Check out the early quilts digitalized on the Quilt index website.  But even though the history here has a cut-off date of 1925 - that doesn't mean that quilting in Iowa is no longer active.  While there are many quilt collections included in this project ( those that are associated directly with Iowa can be found at the State Historical Society of Iowa (
Among some of my favorites are these patterns:

Each of these quilts and others are shown - and details regarding year, quilter, and so forth are included on the Quilt Index website.

Today quilting bees sometimes do take place - often in rural churches, the church ladies hand quilt quilt tops which are brought to them.  The quilts they hand quilt bring in needed funds to their small community.  But these days, many quilts are quilted by machine on contract by quilters who have a long-armed quilting machine in their home or small business location.  On April 15, 2016 a member of the East Iowa Heirloom Quilters, Jennifer McRae, showcased many of her quilts.  The showcase took place at the Hiawatha (Iowa) public library.  The quilts showcased were those that that McRae, her mother, or her daughter had pieced together -- and which McRae or her daughter had machine quilted.

These pictures are from the quilt showcase:

Thank you Jennifer McRae for sharing.  Many more examples of her quilting are showcased on My Dancing Needle webpage at

Those in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area may also be interested in investigating the East Iowa Heirloom Quilters group


  • Blaski, Steven. "Quilts Reveal Lives of Early Iowans," The Palimpsest: Iowa's Popular History Magazine. 1990 Spring 71(1); p 33.
  • East Iowa Heirloom Quilters
  • Flanscha, Karan. "Heritage Quilts From America's Heartland: The Iowa Quilt Research Project," Lady's Circle Patchwork Quilts. April/May 1996; pgx. 5-12. 
  • Iowa History: Bits and Pieces: Laura Ingalls WIlder - at home in Iowa. (2013 Sep 15).  Retrieved
  • My Dancing Needle.  (2016) 
  • Schmeal, Jacqueline Andre. Patchwork: Iowa Quilts and Quilters. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2003. 158 p. 0877458650
  • The Quilt Index - Collection: State Historical Society of Iowa.  Retrieved from 
  • The Quilt Research Project. Retrieved from
  • The Thread That Remains, Patterns From Iowa’s Past. Des Moines: Iowa Quilts Research Project, 1990. Small exhibit catalog.