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American System-Built Home, small town life

Snowy Day at Our American System-Built Home

01/31/2021

You’ve got to love the peace of a Sunday morning after an overnight snowfall. With no place to go, we can settle into the muted and mellow morning, prolonging the winter wonderment with another pot of coffee and a fresh batch of biscuits. We popped out long enough to collect a bundle of wood for the fireplace and, of course, admire our old house standing strong in the snow. Now that we’re nestled beside a roaring fire, we can spend the day making silly little videos about the house.

Doesn’t the house look amazing surrounded by snow? The gray stucco and dark trim contrast beautifully against the stark white of the wintery powder. It’s enough to make you hope for more snow!

American System-Built Home, architecture, history, iowa, Prairie School

Prairie School in Iowa: Support Iowa Architectural Foundation

01/25/2021

We’re excited to be partnering with the Iowa Architectural Foundation as part of their Prairie School Architecture in Iowa class. This 3-part virtual class – held February 9, 16 23 – will include 3 home tours – our American System-Built Home and two Walter Burley Griffin-designed homes in Mason City! See all the details below and consider joining us! This is a fundraiser for Iowa Architectural Foundation and a great way to see three wonderful houses without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Early Bird Tickets @ $35 are available only until 7PM on Feb 1; after that, $45 at EVENTBRITE.

February 9, 7-8:30 PM: Virtual Class led by Paula Mohr, PhD and Ryan Ellsworth, AIA

In the first half of the twentieth century, Iowa was a significant player in the development of what later came to be known as the Prairie School of architecture. This 3-part course will explore some of Iowa’s internationally renowned Prairie School buildings, such as works designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Burley Griffin. We’ll look at examples located across the state, including the Woodbury County Courthouse and Mason City’s Rock Crest-Rock Glen as well as less famous examples located in small towns throughout the state.

February 16: Tour #1 – The Meier House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Monona, Iowa
Virtual tour of the Meier House, the only Iowa example of the American System-Built House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Join homeowners Jason Loper and Michael Schreiber as they explain their fascinating stories of finding and restoring this beautiful home. Motivated by Wright’s lifelong interest in affordable housing, he designed these homes between 1911 – 1917. The tour will be followed by a Q&A with the homeowners, our instructors and attendees.

February 23: Tour #2 & #3 – The Schneider House and The Page House, designed by Walter Burley Griffin, Mason City, Iowa – Virtual tours of both the Schneider House and the Page House in the Rock Crest-Rock Glen development in Mason City, the first planned Prairie School development in America. Homeowners Tim & Joan Platz and Gary & Anne Schmit will take you through their amazing homes and afterwards you can ask them questions and join in the discussion with other attendees and class instructors. Find out how you can dig deeper into the Prairie School architectural legacy of Mason City.

This is a fundraiser for Iowa Architectural Foundation to help us persevere through the Covid period with our mission: “To inspire an appreciation of architecture and design through educational programming for adults and students.”

Class Instructors
Paula Mohr, PhD
Paula is the Certified Local Government Coordinator and Architectural Historian for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). She is an alumna of the University of Iowa, the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies and the University of Virginia, where she earned her Ph.D. in architectural history. She has held curatorial and preservation positions at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the White House and the National Park Service. In 2018 The National Alliance of Preservation Commissions awarded Paula with the Renaud Award, a lifetime achievement” award that recognizes trailblazers in the advancement of preservation at the local level.

Ryan Ellsworth, AIA Ryan is a licensed architect with Estes Construction. He has practiced in New York, Chicago and Des Moines. Ryan is on the Board of Trustees of the Iowa Architectural Foundation. He is one of IAF’s most active volunteers, serving as a guide for corporate and organizational tours and Architecture on the Move summer walking tours of downtown Des Moines. Ryan was the champion of IAF’s motor coach tour to Dubuque in 2019.

history, iowa, small town life

From Spanish Flu to Covid-19: HIstory Repeating at the Meier House

11/11/2020
Monona, Iowa in the early 20th century

On November 11, 1918, a year and a day after the first residents of This American House moved into their new home, World War I officially ended. Two days later, schools and businesses in this small Iowa town emptied to greet ex-President William Howard Taft as his westward-bound train briefly stopped at the town depot, just two blocks from the Meier House. That same fall of 1918, the area was quarantined during a local outbreak of the international Spanish influenza epidemic. But by the following fall, after the “Home Coming” parade of its enlisted men became to date “the biggest event in the way of celebration ever held” in town, life moved on into the halcyon days the townspeople of Monona had enjoyed before the war.

Fast forward 102 years to today, November 11, 2020, and we eerily find history repeating itself – somewhat, anyway. America is hopefully about to emerge from a different sort of war, fought over the past four tumultuous years and capped off by a contentious election. A pandemic is raging, with quarantines becoming a surreal new way of life. Yet hope still prevails that by next fall, we too will be able to once again gather together in the streets, in restaurants and bars, in churches, and in our own homes. Until then, we’ll continue focusing on the greater good and making sure we’re keeping each other safe. 

garden, kitchen, recipes, small town life

Canning Summer: Raspberry Rhubarb Jam

07/16/2020
Black Raspberry Bush at This American House

One of the absolute joys of summer – even a summer that’s been disrupted by a global pandemic and crazy politics – is the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. A previous owner planted black raspberry bushes on the far side of the new garage at the Meier House. For the first few years of our ownership, we let these raspberry bushes go wild. And then every summer we’d pick a few raspberries and promise ourselves that one day we’d tame the bushes and get a proper harvest. Well, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and having a little more time on our hands, we’re finally keeping that promise.

Early this spring, when the raspberry bushes were just starting to sprout leaves, I donned my trusty garden gloves and grabbed the garden clippers, some twine and three long metal poles. I pushed the poles into the soil, one at each end of the bushes and one in the middle, and used them to string twine across the length of the bushes. I pruned the bushes and then used more twine to secure branches and try to create some order to the twisted vines. I had no idea whether this would provide a better raspberry harvest later in the summer, but it certainly made it easier to mow around the bushes.

Fresh raspberries floating in a bowl

Oh boy did it make a difference! Every day over the past two weeks we’ve been harvesting bowls full of the delicious little berries. At first we were eating them as fast as we could pick them. Raspberries in yogurt, raspberries smashed on toast, raspberries by the handful…! Raspberries!

After getting our fill of fresh berries, it was time to preserve. I considered freezing them but we wanted something that would last a little longer. You know, something that we could pop open on a winter day to get a little taste of summer. We bake a lot of breads, biscuits and muffins during the winter months so the answer seemed obvious – jam! And since we also have an abundance of rhubarb, I decided to combine two summer treats into one delicious jam.

We spent a Saturday afternoon making a raspberry rhubarb jam that will deliver a delicious taste of summer to those cold winter months. And, really, once you make homemade jam, you’ll never want to buy it again. Not only is homemade easy, it’s free of preservatives and oh so delicious. It’s really just a few simple ingredients: fruit, sugar, pectin and time.

Basically, all cooked jams are the same recipe:

Ingredients:
5 cups prepared fruit – in this case I used a mix of raspberries and rhubarb
1 box fruit pectin
1/2 tsp. butter or margarine
7 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl

Directions:
Mash the berries, chop the rhubarb and then combine. Add the fruit and pectin to a large stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Once the fruit mixture comes to a rolling boil, stir in all 7 cups of sugar. Continue cooking over high heat until it returns to full rolling boil. Boil for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off any foam with a metal spoon and wham bam thank you jam!

Now that you have jam, it’s time to can. Place your jam in warm sterilized canning jars, place lids and caps on top and then process in a hot water canner to enjoy that summer feeling all year long. You’ll find instructions for canning on the Ball/Kerr website.

Jam on, friends!

history, small town life

The Meier House Has Known Quarantine Before

05/04/2020

Delbert and Grace Meier House - an American System-Built Home in Iowa

We, like much of the rest of the country, are sheltering in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As we go about our days trying to create normalcy out of an abnormal situation, we keep finding ourselves talking about how strange this all is, how it feels unreal to be living this experience. And then we’re reminded that this is not the first quarantine this house has known.

When Delbert and Grace Meier, along with their daughters Esther and Martha, moved into their newly constructed American System-Built Home in the fall of 1917, they were most likely filled with excitement. The family had been renting an apartment above Del’s office while the house was constructed so we can imagine that the three-bedroom single family home must have been a welcome change from the cramped quarters of that temporary lodging. Little did they know that they were about to spend an extended period of time getting acquainted with their new abode.

The flu outbreak of 1918 was the deadliest pandemic to hit America, infecting an estimated 500 millions and claiming the lives of over 600,000 Americans. The country, already gripped by its entrance into World War I, struggled to respond to the virus. Much like today, cities and communities disagreed on whether quarantining was necessary. Quite famously, the city of Philadelphia held a parade that set off a second wave of the virus that went on to claim some 15,000 lives. Still, other communities heeded health officials’ warnings and closed schools, movie theaters and other public gatherings to prevent the spread. (source)

Monona, Iowa, was one of the communities that took protective measures against the Spanish flu.Delbert likely closed his law office temporarily and the girls would have stayed home from school. And so we can imagine that the Meier family sheltered in place in their newly constructed home on Page Street … and somehow everyone managed to get through it.

If you think it’s hard to shelter in place in 2020, with our televisions and computers and internet and a whole world at our fingertips, can you imagine what it would have been like in 1918/1919? With many stores closed and even some mail service interrupted by the pandemic, the Meiers would have been limited to reading the books they had on hand and working on crafts and projects for which they had already purchased supplies. Whereas we receive up-to-the-minute updates from radio, television and streaming press conferences, news would have arrived slowly to this rural community via newspaper. That newspaper must have felt like a lifeline and as a welcome distraction during the quarantine.

All this is to say that we’ll get through this, too. This experience may feel strange and the world may not look the same on the other end of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it could all be much, much worse. Medical advances of the past 100 years are helping to keep the death toll from spiking as high as it did during the Spanish flu pandemic. Global transportation networks are keeping us supplied with necessities even as much of society is shut down. But, most importantly, we could be dependent on early-20th century technology to get us through this quarantine.

Thank Gore for the internet!