Posts Tagged ‘Local History’


Eating up some history

by Candice Smith on July 16th, 2018

Some years ago I was vacationing with my friend Carrie in Krakow, Poland, and we found ourselves having dinner in a restaurant called Wierzynek. It has been around since 1364. I honestly don’t remember the food being anything spectacular, but that has more to do with being a vegetarian choosing from a traditional Polish menu. What I do remember is being amazed by the idea of sitting in a place where people from all walks of life had come to eat for hundreds of years. Touching the same walls, going through the same doors, seeing the same city square and market hall that they saw–it’s some weird sort of time-travel. I’m still enthralled by moments like that, and get the same feeling when I’m at a place like Clinton St. Social Club, where you climb the steep, narrow stairs that people have used for over a hundred years, see the worn, geometric tile floors, the old brick walls and huge wooden beams. We still have a fair amount of old structures in downtown Iowa City, and I always enjoy being in them, wondering what they used to be, how they were used, what happened in them (did you know the Yacht Club was a mortuary? Same for just about every building in the pedmall block of E. College St, north side, at one time or another). I was having pizza at Flight the other night, looking out of their windows at the view of the old Jefferson Hotel and the tops of the other buildings on the street, wondering what had gone on in the space I was in.

Turns out, I work in one of the best places to find out that kind of information. Read the rest of this entry »

Who is ready for a good old walk? And a little local history?

by Candice Smith on April 10th, 2018

And I do mean a good old walk!

On November 5, 1881, Anton Stein woke up, had coffee in the guest house he was at on Dubuque St., then went and murdered his wife. In between those disparate acts, he made a couple stops. On his walk, he would have gone past some buildings that are no longer there, while others we still see today; he visited businesses that are long gone, but their owners and functions left their mark on our downtown. He would have passed by the many people who were making their way in an Iowa City that was barely forty years old, hard-scrabble and burgeoning at the same time.

Using various local history resources that the Library has and provides access to, we’ve been able to recreate the short walk that Anton Stein took. We’ve also filled in the story of what happened to the people involved, and gained an idea of what our city looked like at that time. Want to learn more? Join us for an ICPL History Walk: The Lizzie Hess Murder, on Saturday, May 5. There are walks scheduled at 2:30 and 7:00 p.m., and registration is required. The walk should last about 1-1.5 hours, and is about one mile total. The 2:30 walk will meet inside the Library lobby, and the 7:00 right outside the lobby in the pedmall.

Register for the 2:30 walk.
Register for the 7:00 walk.

This program is part of ICPL’s Weber Days, a series of Local History programs and events honoring the memory and work of Iowa City Historian Irving B. Weber. If you have any questions, please contact Candice Smith at csmith@icpl.org or 319-887-6031

Larry Ginter Wins the Pace

by Anne Mangano on November 17th, 2017

Every morning I drive to the end of Summit to turn onto Kirkwood Avenue and I look at a brick and iron fence with the word “Ardenia.” And every morning, I ask myself, “Why Ardenia?” After several months driving this route, I finally looked it up in “Irving Weber’s Historical Stories about Iowa City.” It was a house with an interesting history of its own, but I quickly abandoned that research when I stumbled across the name of Larry Ginter.

You see, Larry (also spelled as Larrie) Ginter is a horse, but not just any horse. Larry Ginter is the type of horse you would name a street after, which Iowa City did (Ginter Avenue). And he wasn’t just a local celebrity—he was known nationally and in Canada, described by a newspaper in Manitoba as “one of the gamest, hard-hearted performers emanating from the Hawkeye State.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Historical House and a Holy Hooligan

by Candice Smith on August 31st, 2017

sanxay2The Press Citizen recently had an article about Gloria Dei Lutheran Church’s plans to relocate a historical home on their property, before selling said property to the UI. That house was at one time owned by Theodore Sanxay, one of Iowa City’s early citizens and business owners. He was also one of the founding members of the First Presbyterian Church, and you can find his name on the Church’s original 1847 Constitution, as well as two letters written by him, on the Library’s Digital History website. Those two letters tell a small part of a very interesting story: the beginnings of the First Presbyterian Church, and the Reverend Michael Hummer. The letters were written to Rev. Hummer while he was out east raising money for the new church that was being built, and they discuss various details related to the ongoing construction and various costs, but also relate gratifying little bits of information and news: “Mr. Trowbridge has married the widow Willis!” and “I am commencing business here once more…My father wanted me to try business in some other place as he thought I had made a perfect failure here.” Reverend Hummer eventually returned to his flock, and the Church was completed in 1850. Before that, though, things got a little weird. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytime Recap: Old and New

by Anne Wilmoth on August 1st, 2017

It all started when I was combing through the milk crate of flannel board stories in our back room, searching for something to share at my Monday toddler storytime.  I stumbled upon a “House That Jack Built” story so old that its accompanying story sheet had been typed on a genuine typewriter; even better, the story was typed on the back of a children’s room calendar from 1976!  I adore vintage paper ephemera, so my mind immediately began to race, imagining how I could create an entire storytime around this fascinating bit of library history.

Had my storytime been on a different day this week, I could have easily paired it with a pleasingly alliterative catchphrase: “Throwback img_0222Thursday” or “Flashback Friday.”  Even “Way Back Wednesday” might have worked in a pinch, right?  But alas, my storytime is on Monday each week, so I simply called it “Storytime: Old and New.”

I shared the 1976 “House That Jack Built” flannel board story, handing out the many flannel characters to my toddler attendees ahead of time, inviting them to come forward and place their piece on the flannel board when their character appeared in the story: the “man all tattered and torn,” the “cow with the crumpled horn” and the “priest all shaven and shorn” arrived on cue.  I paired this old flannel board story with a new one, that of Pete the Cat and his four groovy buttons, which is great for toddlers in that it’s colorful, involves repetitive singing and counting, and teaches the Buddhist principle of non-attachment.

I showed everyone the retro calendar I’d found and then showed them a picture of the children’s room in 1965, which I fo6d81bbe1ff985dee2cd794e1db607768-1und on ICPL’s Digital History Project.  Gratifyingly, the parents seemed as delighted as I was by these items.

I read an old book, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and a brand-new one – Feathers and Hair: What Animals Wear by Jennifer Ward.  Children rang handbells and danced to an early ’70s hit, “ABC” by the Jackson 5.  Interspersed throughout were songs and fingerplays that I chose because of their nostalgia factor for my own childhood – I vividly remember singing “Gray squirrel, gray squirrel, swish your bushy tail” at the now-defunct Jack and Jill Preschool.

Despite the regretful lack of a catchy title, I think we had a blast (from the past) anyway!

Pox in the park

by Candice Smith on May 26th, 2017

pesthouseThere are many reasons to take some time and visit Hickory Hill Park: have a picnic in the shelter at the Bloomington St. entrance, take a leisurely stroll and see some native wildflowers, go for a run and get a good workout on the hill up to Pappy Dickens’ Preserve, or go and have a nice, quiet sit at one of the many benches that have been installed recently. But hey, maybe you prefer a little disease and/or history when you’re in the park? If so, then I’ve got a walk for you…we’re going to visit the pest house in Hickory Hill Park!

Pest houses were used for a number of years to provide quarantine of patients who were infected with communicable diseases such as small pox and tuberculosis; this was the solution during a time when many hospitals did not have isolation wards and vaccinations had not been implemented to such a degree that the disease was wiped out. It may seem incredibly antiquated, but even Iowa City had a number of pest houses during the years of 1881-1920s; the one in Hickory Hill was the last. While there is very little to see there, we will be able to fill in the picture a bit with information from old Press Citizen articles and a few pictures from Margaret Beck, Assistant Professor in the UI Anthropology Department, who did a mapping project of the site in 2011. If you can’t make the walk with us, but are interested in learning more, stop by the Info Desk at the Library to use our databases, microfilm, and other historical resources.

Celebrate Local History in May at ICPL

by Meredith Hines-Dochterman on April 27th, 2017

Get ready to learn more about local history with the Iowa City Public Library’s Weber Days.

Our annual celebration of local history is held every May in honor of Iowa City’s unofficial historian, the late Irving B. Weber. May also is National Historical Preservation Month. This year’s lineup of programming is perfect for anyone interested in learning more about the community they call home.

Read the rest of this entry »

Swan Tales: The Life and Adventures of Chauncey Swan

by Anne Mangano on May 2nd, 2016
chaunceyswanportrait

Portrait of Chauncey Swan from Weber’s Historical Stories About Iowa City

Chauncey Swan is not, as I thought when I moved here, a species of water fowl. (I know, I know, but I’m not an ornithologist.) He is also not two people; there is no Mr. Chauncey. He is one man, a founding father of Iowa City. He was one of three appointed by the territorial governor (Robert Lucas) to determine the location of the capital of the new Iowa territory. It should be noted that Chauncey Swan deserves the most credit of the three men as he was acting commissioner for the survey, reported back to the legislature, and Robert Ralston was three days late and didn’t really help at all. It should also be noted that they chose the site of Iowa City on May 1st, 1839. It wasn’t really official until May 4th because they were waiting for Ralston. So, a Happy Chauncey Swan Day to you! Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrate Local History in May at ICPL

by Meredith Hines-Dochterman on April 27th, 2016

Get ready to learn more about local history with the Iowa City Public Library’s Weber Days.

Our annual celebration of local history is held every May in honor of Iowa City’s unofficial historian, the late Irving B. Weber. May also is National Historical Preservation Month. This year’s lineup of programming is perfect for anyone interested in learning more about the community they call home.

Realizing Stephen Smith: His Conscience and Conflict

Wednesday, May 4, noon to 1 p.m. in Meeting Room A

University of Iowa student Steve Smith (1944-2009) encountered violence as a civil rights worker in Mississippi, led a hunger strike in downtown Iowa City, and burned his draft card in the Iowa Memorial Union in protest of the escalating war in Vietnam – all before his 21st birthday. UI Archivist David McCartney recounts Smith’s life and efforts in the UI Archives to document his ideals and his struggles.

History of the UI School of Music

Wednesday, May 4, 7 to 8 p.m. in Meeting Room A

Since 1906, there has been a School of Music at the University of Iowa. Come hear Music Librarian Katie Buehner discuss the evolution of this 110-year-old program as evidenced in documentation from the University Archives and the collections of the Rita Benton Music Library.

First United Methodist Church Organ Concert

Wednesday, May 11, 7 to 8 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Iowa City, 214 East Jefferson St.

A local history display and organ concert featuring Dr. Melanie Sigafoose.

Restoring Scanned Images Part I

Friday, May 13, 11 a.m. to noon in the Computer Lab

Learn to restore a scanned image by using GIMP, a free, open source software similar to Adobe Photoshop. In this class learn how to get around in GIMP, import a scanned photo, save your project, straighten a photo, and crop and resize it. Registration is required.

Restoring Scanned Images Part II

Tuesday, May 17, 10 to 11 a.m. in the Computer Lab

Learn to restore a scanned image by using GIMP, a free, open source software similar to Adobe Photoshop. In this class learn how to get around in GIMP, import a scanned photo, save your project, straighten a photo, and crop and resize it. Participants must have good mouse and keyboarding skills, and need to demonstrate familiarity with GIMP or have taken Restoring Scanned Images Part I to participate. Registration is required.

The Secret Lives of Houses: How to Research your House’s History

Wednesday, May 18, noon to 1 p.m. in Meeting Room A

Learn how to research the history of your home or a building from Alicia Trimble, Executive Director of Friends of Historic Preservation.

Maintaining and Preserving Digital Photos Part I

Saturday, May 21, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Computer Lab

Want to learn how to take care of your digital photo collection? Begin by getting familiar with important terminology and file types. Then learn the key steps needed to preserve your digital photos. Come with your questions. Registration is required.

Maintaining and Preserving Digital Photos Part II

Saturday, May 21, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Computer Lab

Want to know about the various tools and software which can help you organize, store, and edit your digital collection? Part II of this series will show you how to use metadata to organize photos. Then we will discuss and talk about tools like Picasa, Apple Photos, Adobe Lightroom, and many more products. Bring your questions! It may be helpful to take Part I of this class depending on your familiarity with digital photos. Registration is required.

Introduction to Genealogy

Monday, May 23, 4 to 5 p.m. in the Computer Lab

Have you ever wondered about your family tree? Not sure how to start searching for your ancestors? Come join us for an Introduction to Genealogy. From what questions to ask and where to start searching to how to keep track of the information you find we’ll get you started on your search. Space is limited register online or by calling 356-5200.

Old Post Office Brass

Wednesday, May 25, noon to 1 p.m. in the Lobby

Old Post Office Brass reflects the home base in the Senior Center, formerly the Iowa City Post Office, and is a part of the New Horizons Band. This traditional brass quintet (two trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba) performs a large variety of music, including classical, ragtime, Dixieland and popular (show tunes, etc.) for a variety of audiences in different venues.

Making Sense Out of Iowa City Streets

Wednesday, May 25, 7 to 8 p.m. in Meeting Room A

Why can’t we seem to drive directly from place to place in Iowa City? Why are there no churches on Church Street? Why are some street signs in Iowa City blue, instead of green? Why do the streets First Avenue through Seventh Avenue go from east to west? How did we get all of those streets named after movie stars? And, what is with those strange-sounding names of St. Mathias Alley and St. Clements Alley? This presentation by citizen historian Thomas Schulein will explain the layout and naming of the streets of Iowa City. Historic Foodies will provide street food after the presentation.

Click here to register for classes or call the Library at 319-356-5200. If the class is full, you can add your name to the waiting list.

Click here for more information about Weber Days.

Finding a record of ownership

by Jason Paulios on April 22nd, 2016

Back in November I wrote about using the City of Iowa City Housing & Inspection Services’ permit activity lookup tool for finding more information about Iowa City house history.  A coworker recently showed me another great house history link hidden at the bottom of individual accounts on the Iowa City Assessors parcel search results page.  If you are looking at a house result you can scroll to the bottom of that page and you’ll see “related information links” below the GIS map.  There are a few useful links for house hunters here including former tax information for the property as well as a quick link to the GIS map with coordinates.  The most interesting link for local history buffs is the “Old Property Report Card” in the lower right corner which will show you a past record of ownership with names and prices paid.  There’s also often pointed comments on these cards regarding the huge leap in sales prices that happened in the 1990s such as these :

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