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city boys, history, iowa, small town life

Local History: The Clydesdale Colony’s Connection to Monona, Iowa

04/24/2020

Yesterday, we set off in search of what little remains to commemorate a most remarkable social experiment that happened some 170 years ago just south of our little town of Monona, Iowa. It was a little like trying to find the wreckage of the Titanic under the vast Atlantic Ocean, but amidst our own local “seas” of prairie grass and farm fields, we finally found the hauntingly beautiful burial ground under which rests a small group of pioneers who courageously tried to make real a shared (if doomed) dream.

In 1850, just a year after our house’s first co-steward and co-namesake Grace Burgess Meier’s family migrated to this area of northeastern Iowa, another young idealist named Alexander Gardner and other representatives of a proposed “utopian society” also came here from Scotland. This company purchased land on which they established a cooperative community. Gardner returned to Scotland to raise funds and recruit more members for this venture, called the Clydesdale Joint Agricultural and Commercial Company, and oversaw its operations from afar while his fellow colonists and their families settled on the land in the winter of 1850-51. But by the time Gardner and his own family eventually emigrated in 1856, the Clydesdale Colony had disintegrated due both to a devastating outbreak of tuberculosis and dissension amongst its surviving members. Gardner would move on to New York, where, after working for the pioneering photographer Mathew Brady, he would establish himself as a renowned photographer in his own right, creating many now-iconic images of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the conspirators to Lincoln’s assassination.

Meanwhile, many of the survivors of the doomed Clydesdale Colony remained in northeastern Iowa, joining the growing communities of Monona, then a little village at the top of the Mississippi River bluffs, and nearby McGregor, a still charming resort town on the Mississippi itself. In 1869, an itinerant minister named William Carey Wright and his family moved to McGregor, where Wright briefly served as the pastor for a Baptist congregation. The earliest known photograph of his then two-year-old son, Frank Lincoln Wright, was taken there. Nearly 50 years later, long after changing his middle name following his parents’ divorce, Frank Lloyd Wright would design an American System-Built house built in 1917 just 13 miles from McGregor, in Monona: the Delbert W. and Grace B. Meier House – our house and home.

As “city boys” taking on small town Iowa living, we’ve often idealistically fancied ourselves as being “modern pioneers.” But on that serene ground under which so many brave (if also idealistic) pioneers lay, whose shared dream and lives were decimated by a pandemic (the echoes of now are certainly not lost on us), we realized we certainly can’t stand with them. But perhaps FOR them, we might, in encouraging everyone who is reading this, as well as reminding ourselves, to stay safe, stay socially responsible, and stay steadfast in pursuing your dreams, wherever they may lead you.

DIY, history, recipes

Happy Birthday Carole Lombard! Thanks for Introducing Us to Mustard Soaks

10/06/2019

Today – October 6th – is Carole Lombard’s birthday. We have a little tradition in our house. When a celebrity birthday pops up – especially if that celebrity is a beautiful actress of yesteryear (bonus points if she met a tragic end!) – we watch a film or two to celebrate. Today, to honor Ms. Lombard, we watched her 1932 film No More Orchids. And that’s how we learned about mustard soaks.

“Did she say mustard?” I asked The Mister as the grandmother in the film mixed a foot soak for Carole Lombard’s character.

“That can’t be right,” he replied.

But, yes, mustard soak! A quick Google search confirmed that a mustard soak is indeed a thing. An old-timey English thing, to be exact. Mostly used for heading off colds and flu. In the film, the grandmother made her own mustard soak – likely using ingredients similar to this recipe on Joy the Baker – but here in the 21st century you can also buy Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath, premixed mustard seed powder, eucalyptus, rosemary, wintergreen and thyme, on Amazon.

With temperatures dropping and cold and flu season just ahead, we’re certain to try a mustard soak sometime soon. You better believe we’ll be picking up the ingredients for the DIY mix on our next trip to the grocery store! Follow us on Instagram for a blow by blow on the mustard soak.

Speaking of Carole Lombard, take a little peek at the house in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she spent her early years.

Image Credit: IMDB

garden, history, landscaping, original elements

Original Elements: The Carriage House & the Virginia Creeper

03/26/2019

Virginia Creeper growing over the slate roof of an old garageWith all the changes that have been made to the Meier House in its 100+ year history, we cherish the features that are original to its construction. We do our best to restore and maintain the entire house, but we give special attention to extant original elements. One of those original features is also the largest: the carriage house. Well, that’s what we call it. It’s actually the garage that was built when the house was constructed in 1917. It was built for an automobile so it never really housed a carriage per se. Still, this vine covered little structure begs to be called carriage house, doesn’t it? Continue Reading…

American System-Built Home, history

History Repeating: Snow on the Meier House

02/01/2019

Meier House in Winter

The below photo of the Meier House from the 1920s was sitting on the kitchen counter when we first toured it. Looking back, that was a smart touch by the sellers and real estate agent. We had driven five hours northwest of the city to see a house that we didn’t think we would actually buy. (Or did we?) They couldn’t have known it but these two guys who were about to walk through the house love a little bit of history. Throwing down a couple of black and white photos is like tossing a dog a bone. We panted over the old photos of the house before bouncing around its empty and echoey rooms, oohing and ahhing and planning what we’d do with it.

The Delbert Meier House pictured in the 1920s

It’s one of only two photos of the house as it used to look. The other photo, standing directly in front of the house, was taken at the same time. In both photos the snow looks like it’s drifting off the middle of the roof on the front of the house.

Romantics that we are, we’ve looked at these photos many times over the past five years of homeownership. We’re looking back at how the house used to look, sure, but we also find ourselves thinking about what life in this big, boxy house in this small, Iowa town must have been like back then. Why did the Meier choose this day – and not a beautiful summer afternoon – to photograph their house? And how is that snow drift just hanging off the roof like that?

It’s that last question that we may finally be able to answer. During a recent snowstorm and deep freeze here in the midwest, we noticed that snow had collected in the same spot as in the vintage photos. Directly above the front door and in line with the belvedere up at the top of the house, a drift of snow seems to be dangling off the edge of the roof. Scroll up to the top of this post and look for yourself.

In our years of ownership, this is the first time we’ve noticed this snow drift phenomenon. Perhaps this is a clue about why the house was photographed that day. Perhaps the Meiers had just experienced a big snowfall and deep freeze, much like the one we’re experiencing here in the 21st century. They may have been documenting the weather, a photo that they would include in a letter to relatives in which they’d share their experience hunkering down and staying warm in front of the fireplace.

It’s in these moments that we feel a closeness to the house’s original owners. It’s also a reminder that we are total nerds who spend too much time imagining life in the past!

Frank Lloyd Wright, history

So Long Frank Lloyd Wright … and Delbert Meier

04/16/2018

Last Monday marked the 59th anniversary of the death of Frank Lloyd Wright. Just three months before Wright’s passing in 1959, another visionary departed this world: Delbert W. Meier, the man who, with his wife Grace, boldly decided to build a Wright-designed American System-Built Home in a small town in northeastern Iowa in 1917, and lived happily thereafter and, indeed, passed on in that house – this “American house.”

Del Meier was the beneficiary of a very colorful obituary in the local newspaper, The Monona Leader, which we post here in tribute. We’ll leave it to Simon and Garfunkel to properly fete Frank on this anniversary.

D.W. Meier Funeral Held

Funeral services for Delbert William Meier, 78, were held Saturday afternoon, Jan. 10, at 2 o’clock at the Schultz Funeral home with Rev. E. Wayne Hilmer officiating.

Burial was in the City cemetery.

Mr. Meier died at his home Thursday morning, Jan. 8, at 3:30 o’clock from a heart attack. He had been suffering from a heart ailment for some time.

Music at the services was provided by Mrs. George Martin, soloist. She was accompanied by Mrs. Ivon J. Schultz at the piano.

Honorary pallbearers were: H.T. Orr, G.F. Fox, K.W. Rash, Edward Wirkler, Reuben Bernhard, Clayton County Bankers association, and Clayton County bar association.

Active pallbearers were: F.J. Peglow, Elmer Kurth, George Martin, W.C. Kruse, Ivon J. Schultz, George Wiethorn, Raymond Mielke, and William Hubacher.

Mr. Meier was born on a farm north of Postville, May 6, 1880, the son of John H. and Louisa (Splies) Meier. He was one of five children. Milo S. Meier of Minneapolis, Minn., is the only one who remains.

In that early day, life was rigorous, but he and an older brother spent many happy hours wandering over the wooded hills and fertile fields.

Then there was the country school to which they traveled with their swinging dinner pails for their early education. The family moved to Postville, later, so the children could have a better education.

He graduated from high school, then entered Upper Iowa university at Fayette. He was a good student and became a member of the debating team which won high honors for the school. His liking for forensics helped him decide to study law.

In the fall of 1903 he entered the University of Chicago, graduating there in 1905, taking two degrees, bachelor of philosophy and doctor of jurisprudence.

Then the question arose where to “hang out the shingle.” Being of a venturesome spirit, Indian territory seemed a likely place, so accordingly, Tulsa, Okla., was the town of his choice.

While in college he had met Miss Grace Estelle Burgess. They were married in 1903.

Not liking the climate in the southern territory, the couple returned to Iowa and Mr. Meier took over the law office of Ed Otis.

Two children were born to the couple, Esther, now Mrs. John Roberts of Darlington, England; and Martha, now Mrs. Walter Renk of Sun Prairie, Wis. These, with two grandchildren, John and Richard Renk, and a new great-grandchild, Wyatt Farley Renk, survive him.

Mr. and Mrs. Meier have resided in Monona for more than fifty years. On Dec. 28, recently, they celebrated their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Mr. Meier served in official capacity in the town as mayor, and on the town council. As a school board member, he was instrumental in building the new addition to the “old building,” and the construction of the present one, serving again as a member of the board. At the time of his death, Mr. Meier was serving as president and director of the Union State Bank, in which capacity he faithfully served for many years. He was a life-long member of the Iowa State Bar association.

During World war I, he was a member of the Clayton County Draft board, and during World war II he served for a time as government appeal agent. For this effort he was given citations from two presidents, a selective service medal in the name of congress of the United States, signed by Harry S. Truman, and a certificate of appreciation signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

So passes another of the older residents of Monona. Few are left who took part in the social and business life of the town when he opened his office here in 1907.