Sepia Saturday – Farming and Fences in Kansas

Sepia Saturday Theme Image 424 – June 2018

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs

This week’s prompt image is of farm workers in East Yorkshire – a threshing team?

There are quite a few farmers in my family tree, but not a lot of pictures of them about the business of farming. I do have one photo of an ancestor that I don’t know much about, so I’ve taken the past few days to get to know him a little better.

Norman Webber

The farming ancestor in question is Norman Webber, my 2nd great-grandfather. Norman Webber was born in 1848 in Westfield, Pennsylvania, the eldest of five children born to David Norman Webber and Elizabeth Isabelle Tate. Norman’s father died in 1856 at the age of thirty, when Norman was about eight years old. The 1860 U.S. Census shows Isabelle and the children living on the family farm and Isabelle’s brother, James H. Tate, living with the family and working the farm.

I can imagine that as the eldest child and eldest son, Norman had many responsibilities at a young age. As a single parent with five young children – one still a baby, Isabelle must have relied on Norman to help with his younger siblings, with household chores, and to help his uncle with the farm work.

Below is the photograph of Norman Webber on a farm.

My questions about this photograph were:
* where and when was this taken?
* what kind of farm implement is that?
* what is up with the stone posts?

Charlotte Augusta Embree

Norman Webber moved to Iowa in 1868 and married Charlotte Augusta Embree there in 1872. Norman and Lottie moved to Luray, Russell County, Kansas probably in 1887. Sometime prior to the enumeration of the 1900 Federal Census, Norman and his family relocated to Lincoln County, Kansas, which is adjacent to Russell County on the eastern border. Several years later they returned to Luray. I think I can safely assume that this picture was taken in north central Kansas.

I found a few newspaper items that tell a little bit about Norman and his farming experiences.

This unfortunate incident occurred in early 1901 while Norman was farming in Lincoln County, near Sylvan Grove.

The Lincoln Republican, 7 Feb 1901

Here are a few pictures of corn shellers. Interestingly, Norman’s daughter Maude married Clyde Peck about six years after this accident.

Other items in the newspaper note that Norman sold some corn to a Mr. Wilson of Pottersburg in January of 1903 and that his son Bert (Norman had a son named Bert) “is seen daily transporting the same.” He “has no wheat out” (does this mean he didn’t plant any?) in May of 1903, and had put up his alfalfa hay over two days in October of 1906.

Norman suffered some minor injuries in 1907 that laid him up for a few days.

The Lincoln Sentinel, 3 Jan 1907

Another notice in the paper provides an approximate time of the move back to Luray.

The Luray Herald, 11 Sept. 1908

The above news item sounds like it refers to a residence in town rather than a farm. Norman was 60 in 1908, so it makes sense that he might have retired from farming when he moved back to Luray. The long white beard that Norman sported in the farm photo probably belies a man in his 50s or 60s.

Lincoln County or Russell County? I’m not sure, but I’m leaning toward Lincoln.

What kind of farm implement is that? It is a little hard to tell from the angle of the photo, but I think it is a “hay rake” or “dump rake.” The photo below is from the Queensland (Australia) State Library and the farm implement looks very similar to the one in the photo of Norman.
The caption reads: Horsedrawn hay rake used by a Queensland farmer, 1905. Script on back of photograph reads: Father and brother William taken in 1905′. The photograph features a spring tyne hay rake pulled by one horse.

The Wikipedia description of a hay rake:
The typical early horse-drawn hay rake was a dump rake, a wide two-wheeled implement with curved steel or iron teeth usually operated from a seat mounted over the rake with a lever-operated lifting mechanism. This rake gathered cut hay into windrows by repeated operation perpendicular to the windrow, requiring the operator to raise the rake, turn around and drop the teeth to rake back and forth in order to form the windrow. In some areas, a sweep rake, which could also be a horse-drawn or tractor-mounted implement, could then be used to pick up the windrowed hay and load it onto a wagon.

You can get a visual of the windrow-making process here. The final step was gathering the windrows and either making a haystack or hauling the hay to a barn.

What about those stone posts that dot the photograph of Norman? I’ve learned that north central Kansas is famous for those limestone fence posts. There were no trees on that prairie to use for fence posts, but there was easily accessed limestone just below the surface. Limestone fence posts stood up to prairie winds and fires and, with the invention and use of barbed wire, they also withstood herds of cattle.

Rock quarry, Russell Co., KS 1911

The limestone was soft enough to shape, but hardened with exposure to the air and only a few tools were required to make the posts. They were quite heavy though – each 5-6 foot post weighed about 350-400 pounds.

Today, one can visit the Post Rock Museum in LaCrosse, KS, and follow the Post Rock Scenic Byway through Ellsworth, Russell, and Lincoln counties. If you would like to purchase a post rock, they run about $150.

The limestone posts of north central Kansas have inspired artists, photographers, and poets. One descendent of a Kansas farmer wrote and recorded his poem “Fence Posts made of Stone” by Al “Doc” Mehl. 

And artist Fred Whitman creates sculptures from old post rocks. They are beautiful.

I’ve spent a lot of time with old newspapers and Great-grandfather Webber this week. I’m sure there will be more posts about him in the future.

It’s time to “make hay” and visit other participants at Sepia Saturday.

So when it seems I’ve had a hard day,
As I haul myself back home,
Well, I just imagine Grandpa
Settin’ fence posts…made of stone.
~ Al “Doc” Mehl

Sepia Saturday – Grandpa at Lake Okoboji

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. 

Today’s prompt image is of the Spa and South Foreshore, Bridington, 1922, from the Archives of the East Riding of Yorkshire. I don’t have any photos of people in their fine hats and clothes walking or reclining on a beach in England in 1922, but I think I can hit a few common themes – and even the year.

I’ll begin with a photograph of my grandfather, Thomas Hoskins, as a young man in his swimming suit. I don’t know when or where this was taken, but we can probably narrow the location down to Iowa near a lake or river and the year could be 1922. Grandpa was born in 1896, so he would have been about 26 in 1922. It’s a possibility.

Tom Hoskins grew up in the small town of Mystic, in southeastern Iowa. He began working in the coal mines there after completing the 8th grade. Tom married my grandmother Eveline Coates, also from Mystic, in 1923. Here is Eveline wading in Walnut Creek (Mystic) – I’m guessing during the time they were dating.

During the summer of 1922, Tom and some friends took a trip to northern Iowa where there are several large lakes.

When Tom and his companions arrived at Lake Okoboji, he sat down to write a letter to Eveline. I’m lucky to have a poor quality copy of the letter and I want to kick myself every time I think about this! I hosted a family reunion at my home in 2003 and copied the original letter to make a memento for everyone. Luckily, I saved a few of the souvenirs because I haven’t seen the original letter since. I made some big ugly fans with poster board, paint stirrers, and photocopies – including the letter in question.


Okobogi Ia       July 3, 1922

Dear Eveline: I have just arrived at Okobogi, I have been here but about two hours, so you see I am prompt in writing. It is sure a beautiful place here.
We are camping in Highland Park, I think I will like it fine. There is plenty of shade and as I am a fish you know, I will enjoy being in the Lake. I think I will go down and catch a big fish pretty soon but not until I get something to eat for I am nearly starving. I am sending you some pictures of Storm Lake we just left there this morning. There is going to be lots going on here tomorrow. We have just been trying to find out who was the cook of the bunch but nobody seems competent of the job.

Well if you want any fish you had better get in your order as we are going to make a shipment up there the last of this week. Well I will close for this time as the boys are naging me to get a bucket of water.

I will try and write more next time.

Write soon.

Thomas Hoskins

Grandpa was obviously intent on impressing his beau as he made it a point to tell her that he sat down to write to her within two hours of his arrival at Lake Okoboji. I found a couple of postcards with no writing on the back that are likely the pictures of Storm Lake that he mentioned sending to Eveline.

This letter leaves me with a few unanswered questions:
Were the mines closed in the summer? Did they get vacation time? Was there a strike?
Was this a pleasure trip, or were the boys looking to earn some money?
Who were “the boys” anyway?
How long did they stay at Okoboji?
How did they get there?
How would they receive mail?
How in the world did they ship the fish they caught?
Did any of the boys eventually admit to being able to cook?

These questions may go forever unanswered.

The July 6, 1922 issue of The Lake Park News  told readers what “everyone” was planning for July 4th. Hmm – guess that item missed the deadline for the previous issue.

The website for Arnold’s Park – the amusement park at the Lake Okoboji recreation area, states that “1922: On July 4, The Park hosted its largest crowd to date, with approximately 25,000 guests in attendance.” I’m wondering if that celebration in Excelsior, several miles to the west of Lake Okoboji, really drew the largest crowd as predicted by the newspaper?

Did Grandpa and his friends stay at the lake? Probably. There must have been lots going on. And lots of people-watching to keep them entertained.

The sheriff put a damper on the Independence Day celebration for some of the county residents. I wonder if the predicted crowd size in Excelsior had anything to do with this still in the western part of the county?

I don’t know about his younger days, but I never saw my grandfather have a drink of anything stronger than coffee or root beer, so he may not have been fazed by the loss of the celebration hooch.

It’s fun to speculate about what Grandpa and his friends did and saw and talked about during their stay at Lake Okoboji.

Perhaps they saw the new steamboat – the Des Moines – or took a ride if they had the money.

06 July 1922 Lake Park News

Surely they heard about the little girl who drowned on Saturday, July 8th.

And how did they sleep that night? Had they heard of the drowning? Would they have been smiling about the heavy rain overnight as they camped?

13 July 1922 Lake Park News

Did they take their laundry to the barber shop?

27 July 1922 Lake Park News

Tom loved to read Zane Grey books. Was he still in Okoboji on Saturday, July 29th? Did he have the money to attend?

27 July 1922 Lake Park News

Were they there for work in addition to enjoying the lake? I suspect that they were.

29 June 1922 Lake Park News

There was a train station at Arnold Park. Was that their mode of transportation?

I’ve played this guessing game long enough. Except … I wonder if that first picture of Grandpa in his bathing suit was taken at Lake Okoboji?

Please take a walk along the beach to Sepia Saturday and enjoy other interpretations of the prompt image.

All of the newspaper clippings were found at Lake Park News (Lake Park, Iowa).

Sepia Saturday – Hurricane Agnes Hits Gwynn Oak Park

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. 

Last week, I wrote about the July 1963 Protest at Gwynn Oak Park in Baltimore. Today’s prompt image is useful to tell the rest of the story. If you missed last week’s post, I invite you to take a look.

Under pressure to integrate Gwynn Oak Park during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Price family, owners of the amusement park, claimed that integrating the park would be financially disastrous. But after Gwynn Oak Park integrated on August 28, 1963, the Washington Post ran an article in September with the headline “Gwynn Oak Park Integration Called Financial Success” and reported that the first weekend of September the park earned more money than it did the same weekend the previous year. The transition went smoothly and everyone was seemingly pleased with the outcome.

Eight years later, however, attendance at the park was down and Gwynn Oak was struggling. The owners blamed their financial problems on integration, but by 1971 the times were changing. More Americans owned cars and society became dominated by the automobile; the trolley lines were gone; and big theme parks like Six Flags were on the rise.

Most of the old trolley parks around the country closed.

In 1971, the owners of Gwynn Oak took out a loan for half a million dollars, but this wasn’t enough to keep the park afloat and in good repair. In early June 1972, an inspection by county officials found that fourteen of the park’s thirty-nine rides were unsafe.

Just a few weeks later, on June 22, 1972, Hurricane Agnes hit. Agnes was the most destructive hurricane ever recorded up until then and caused terrible flooding and damage in the Baltimore area. Gwynn Oak Park was hit by heavy winds and rain and many of the buildings and rides were destroyed. Hurricane Agnes was the final blow to Gwynn Oak Park.

I found this trailer for a DVD that uses old family footage at the park interspersed with the abandoned ruins.

The county took over the park, which remains open as a picnic and recreation area. Most evidence of the former amusement park is gone. A plaque explains the historical significance of the site.

But that is not the end of the story.

Amazingly, the merry-go-round was spared by Hurricane Agnes and was put up for sale.

The merry-go-round was purchased by a company that runs concession stands for the Smithsonian. In 1981, Gwynn Oak’s merry-go-round was installed on the National Mall, directly in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building.

Carousel on the Mall ©Robert Lyle Bolton, Flickr CC

Gwynn Oak’s old merry-go-round got a new coat of paint and a new name: the Carousel on the Mall. In 1996 a sea dragon was added to mark the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian. Later a spinning-tub car was added and the ride’s pipe organ was replaced by a CD player.

The Carousel on the Mall sits within view of the Lincoln Memorial where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on August 28, 1963 and made his “I Have a Dream” speech – on the same day that a black child first rode this merry-go-round in Baltimore, MD.

Please visit Sepia Saturday and see how others have interpreted the theme image.

Nathan, A. (2011). Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books.