The second Teen Haven Comes to life on the east side of the square

89541496_884457778681596_7845151644709814272_nBy February 1959 it was generally accepted throughout Villisca that a replacement for the current Teen Haven was needed. But the question was how to make that happen. It was originally hoped one of the buildings in town could be used since that would be less expensive than building a new facility. The next question was how to ensure that a new youth center would be maintained. The existing leadership called for help.

In February 1959, a new board of directors was elected for Teen Haven. Under the leadership of Leonard Posten, the board was to look for a new location for the teenage hangout and formulate a plan for incorporating the organization. Once those “housekeeping” details were taken care of, they would face the difficult part—raising the money to carry out their plan.

By fall, the new leadership declared that there was no suitable building in Villisca and that fundraising to finance a new building would begin immediately. The new board would keep the existing Teen Haven open until a new one could be built. Mr. Posten emphasized the great need for a building which the youth of Villisca could call their own. It needed space for card playing, chess, ping-pong, bumper pool, shuffle board and dancing, plus a snack bar, and reading and lounge areas.

The Kids’ Day Kickoff for Operation Teen Haven was pretty successful, with more than $6,500 committed to the project. But a year later not much additional funding had been found, leading the board to conclude that funding a new building wasn’t possible. The money previously raised was put into a savings account and the board continued its research into solutions.

And then came the answer. In May 1961, the board purchased the Teacherage, the dwelling the school board had purchased for its married teachers in the post-war years when there was an extreme housing shortage in town.

“Operation Teen Haven began nearly two years ago with the initiation of a fund raising drive to make possible a youth center in Villisca…With the disposition and sale of the Teacherage property located directly south across from the High School, dreams and plans of a youth center are again taking form. For a consideration of $700 this particular site is now the property of ‘Teen Haven.’ The purchase was made at the auction sale of the property held last Friday night. Walter Gourley, President of the Adult Board, expressed the hope that the project could be in operation by the beginning of the fall term, but this would be possible only if the pledges made in good faith at the time of the kickoff are fulfilled.”

By August the town teens had started on the interior decoration of the two-story building. Like most things, the readying of the building took longer than anticipated but in September 1961 the new Teen Haven opened for business with room for dancing, ping-pong and snacks.

Several years later, Teen Haven was still going strong. Jan Stein Peterson, VHS 66, remembers taking her 45s to play on the Teen Haven phonograph. She remembered that Alan Wolfe was the dancer of her day (and mine), much like Delmar Wirth was in the ‘50s. Phil Wertman, VHS 67, recalls Teen Haven as a great place to meet after games with lots of good, clean fun just hanging out with friends. Kids today, he says, could use a place like Teen Haven.

Joel Fengel, VHS 68, also remembers good times at Teen Haven, including a juke box that didn’t require coins to run. Beverly Peterman Schelling, VHS ’68, also has fond memories of being at Teen Haven. “…feeling so special that the town was providing us with a place to ‘hang out.’ Villisca was a great place to grow up.”

But times change, and nothing changes faster than teenage fads. Despite an extensive remodeling in 1968, Teen Haven lost its ability to pay for itself and the days of Teen Haven ended with a whimper not a scream. Kids just simply stopped going there. By 1971 the building had been returned to a dwelling. Then Villisca Restoration, Inc. came to town with the idea of raising $75,000 to rehabilitate two existing buildings to use as a teen center and a senior citizen facility. The group hired a professional fund raising firm and the campaign got underway. What happens, the question was asked, if the fund-raising goal isn’t reached? “We’ll use what we get.” And that’s what happened although the effort topped over $60,000 in the end.

Restoration Villisca purchased the Karle Bakery building for its combined community – youth center. The money was poured into creating a new look with separate facilities and entrances for the two uses and renovating the interior. On April 19, 1974 the Bluejay Perch opened with Terry and Sharon King as the paid chaperones. As the Review noted, “Public donations and long hours of hard work combined to give the town an achievement of which they can be proud.”

Like its predecessors, the Perch had concessions, a juke box, booths, game tables, a pinball machine. All guaranteed to attract teenagers, at least for a while. In November 1975 it was reported that the Bluejay Perch was attracting 400 kids throughout the week, with larger attendance on weekends than on week nights. The Center provided games, pop, candy and sandwiches, and a place where students could congregate and/or use the telephone. (Remember those days of needing to find a telephone to use?)

Susie Enarson, who was part of Villisca Restoration, recalls those early days. “Terry King was the first manager and the kids really liked him. I volunteered to open it at noon and kids came over to buy sandwiches in a bag, and pop and chips for their lunches because they had open noon hours. They played pool, fooz ball and the juke box.”

The Kings stayed on until mid-1978. Now, Terry and Sharon look back fondly on their involvement with the Perch. “We enjoyed our time at the center, getting to know the kids. I think our success in keeping it going was the fact we earned the kids’ respect and trust. They could talk to us and knew it would go no further — they could hang out and relax…Like the Las Vegas ad, what happened at the Perch, stayed at the Perch (as long as it was legal!), and the kids knew that. It was six interesting years for us.”

By fall 1979 the Perch was no longer being used by the town’s kids so the Senior Citizens took over the entire building, leaving Villisca once again without a youth center for the next 20 years or so.

In 1994 Kim and Craig Winthur opened a new version of The Bluejay Perch on the south side of the square, as recalled by Amber Mullen. This Perch was meant for kids and adults alike although it featured arcade games as well as a pool table and juke box, but unfortunately, the new version of the Perch only lasted a few months.

It seems likely that the day of youth centers has come and gone, at least in Villisca. Villisca’s Teen Havens, no matter what they were called, served their purpose for a long time. But times change, in fact the town has changed as has the teenaged world. But my, oh my, the sweet memories of those days linger on. “Come on baby, let’s do the twist!”

Spring leaf

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Boo! Halloween through the years in Villisca

Halloween card

In the early days of Villisca, and of this corner of southwest Iowa, Halloween was an excuse to throw a party, or two, dress up in homemade costumes, and take part inactivitiesspecific only to that time of year. (Think bobbing for apples!) In the early days, there wasn’t much trick or treating, as we understand it now. Well, there were tricks aplenty, but the treats were mostly found in homes where parties were being held.

The celebration was also an excuse for young men, and not so young men, to raise Cainthroughout the community. Usually, the mischief was just annoying but sometimes it was amusing, although havingthe outhouse moved mysteriously in the night probably got old pretty quickly. And sometimes, the boys really got carried away.

Mayor P. P. Greenlee put the ornery ones on notice in the Halloween 1895 issue of the Review:“I call the attention of the boys of the City to the fact there were some things indulged in on “Halloween” of last year that were not becoming to those who were thus engaged, and I now ask you to forgo any and all things on that evening this year… I have instructed the Marshals to be more vigilant than usual…but hope there may be no cause for arrests.”

Unfortunately, there were no reports in the previous year’s papers about what those little devils had gotten up to that so upset the mayor. But it’s likely that objects, implements and small buildings that weren’t tied down were found far from their normal location on the morning of November 1, 1894. Never underestimate the power of the press, or maybe the vigilance of the town marshals, because Halloween was a lot calmer in 1895 than it had been the previous year. Even so, the mayor put the boys on notice the next year, that although the previous Halloween had been more orderly, he was still having the town Marshals keep a sharp watch on after dark activities.

At several times over the next 100 years, other mayors also made similar announcements in response to pranks gone bad, and just bad pranks. One was so ticked off at whatever had happened the previous Halloween, he hired four extra deputies to patrol the town the following year. And they were ordered to “throw the book” at anyone acting out of line. Property was occasionally destroyed, the tunnel blocked with machinery and trash, graffiti splashed on buildings, fire crackers disturbed quiet neighborhoods, fires started for fun got out of control but never too bad, trees got tp-ed, a manure spreader blocked the entrance to city hall, park benches ended far from the park, windows got soaped, and on and on. But generally, Halloween in Villisca has been more fun than destructive.

Alta Sogren wrote in a 1977 column about Halloweens of 50 years earlier. “When I was a child, we dressed up in old clothes, donned a homemade mask and set out for an evening of fun, not to go “Trick or Treating,” as we had not heard of this custom then. Instead we attended a party in some girl’s home. . . The evening was spent listening to scary stories, with sound effects and playing games. …What were the boys doing that evening? They were hard at work in the back yards, trying to dislodge the small out buildings, which were in evidence in the pre-waterworks days Also, anything found lying around loose was carried to some other place. I remember coming to school one morning and seeing a buggy perched on the roof of the school building.”

It wasn’t just in town that ornery boys got up to no good on Halloween. Quincy Dunn recalled a story his father, George, told of a Halloween out in the country, probably about 100 years ago. George was returning home when he saw a group of boys dive into a ditch. Assuming they planned to pay him a Halloween visit, Georgehurried home and made a few preparations. He tied a rope to a stake and then laid it out under the big window of his house and then across the drive into some bushes. Taking his shotgun along, George hid behind the bushes and waited.  Sure enough, the boys came, and reach up to the window with their tic-tacs. (A tic-tac is a little gadget made of a notched spool and a rubber band. It looks innocent, but when it is run up a windowpane, it makes a horrible racket.) Just as the boys reached toward his window, George fired the shotgun in the air. He then dropped the gun and jerked on the rope. As the boys turned to run, they tripped over the rope and fell, with one yelling, “I’ve been shot!” George felt he’d had a fine Halloween!

Boys don’t change much. About 50 years after the Dunn prank, a group of young men decided to pull off a sensational Halloween prank in town, according to a story told by A. Nonymous to the author of “Good Times in Montgomery County.” (Mr. A. Nonymous was well known in his later years for his resounding singing voice; so much so that there is a harmonious trail in memory of him and his equally vocally-talented wife.)

The boys were determined their prank had to be something never done before as well as something that wasn’t destructive. After several discussions they finally agreed upon what would be their last prank because they would be in military service within a few months.Their plan: put an outhouse on top of the high school building.

They needed an outhouse, a pickup, equipment to hoist the outhouse to the roof, and ladders. (It was fortunate that a roofer had been tarring the roof and had not removed his ladders or pulleys.) They got the outhouse from a closed country school, four people went up on the roof, others went by City Hall to lure the night constable away from his usual place, and yet another backed the pickup up to where a sling was waiting. And the outhouse was on its way to the top. Mission accomplished, the boys and the pickup disappeared into the night.

Some of the “perps” were called in to see the principal the next day and he suggested, without actually accusing them of the prank, they might remove the “object” before the roofer was finished with his work on the weekend. That night, the supremely satisfied boys removed the outhouse and returned it to its original location. The believed they had proved that with a little bit of innovation, engineering and initiative, a Halloween prank could be played without destroying any property or endangering anyone’s life. (Today, of course, the whole episode would have been on You Tube before the boys left the school building on Halloween night.)

A couple of years after this event, a headline in the Nov. 4, 1948 Review announced “Halloween Mischief of Former Years No Longer Popular Here.” Well, it never does to speak too soon because in the early ‘50s, mischief abounded. But then that era was over and more orderly Halloweens followed. Former Review publisher Lynn Hall wrote in his column in 1974 that he was “glad we didn’t have any of the problems around here that some places had on Halloween…It was a pretty sane Halloween…with a minimum of activity down town.”

New traditions have developed, perhaps not replacing the old ones, but have become part of the local Halloween. The Chamber of Commerce’sHalloweenparties for the town’s under 12 childrencontinued for decades. Games and contests, costumes, candy, and noise entertained the kids until it was time to trick or treat or perhaps for some, replaced trick or treating. In the ‘50s, the Y-Teens began a tradition of “Trick or Treating for UNICEF” that lasted through 2012. Elementary students dress up and visit the residents of the Good Samaritan Center. More recently, the Armory has been turned into a haunted house and regional corn mazes, hayrides, haunted houses and Halloween parades have entertained older kids as well as some adults.

But because kids really don’t change that much—no matter the era, It’s also a pretty sure bet that boys will still be pulling Halloween pranks, girls will be giving parties, and Villisca’s kids will be out and about tonight. Here’s hoping for a Happy (and Safe) Halloween for all!


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Remembering an old soldier

59911624_428592601288375_1450526308307042304_nVillisca has always had military heroes. But as time passes, the town’s collective memories of old soldiers pass away and modern day Villiscans don’t remember those heroes as they once did. I’m not suggesting they’re no longer honored. But perhaps they’re not remembered as they might be. The Review was aware of this “problem” and sometimes wrote a column or an article about one of the town’s old soldiers.

It seems appropriate for this Memorial Day to recall one of the heroes of yesteryear. Here’s what the Review wrote almost 96 years ago.


To serve his country in three wars and still be here to tell about it is surely an unusual record, but such is the experience of Capt. William A. Kelley, veteran of the Spanish-American war, Mexican border warfare and the world war. And such a record is worthy of special mention as one of the outstanding features in the history of this community, and for that reason is mentioned here…Captain Kelley is the only man in this community with such a record.

Although Captain Kelley is still here to tell about his experiences in the wars in which he has taken part, he doesn’t do much telling except to give the specific information for which he is asked. It’s a way that soldiers who have been real soldiers have about them, they are not anxious to recount the unpleasant experiences they have gone through on the battle fields or to tell of their acts of bravery.

Captain Kelley was born April 4, 1874, on the farm four miles southwest of Villisca which is now owned by John Brannan. He came to Villisca in 1897, and in April 1898, he went as a private with Company B, 55th I.N.G. to San Francisco, Calif., leaving there on October 3 of that year for the Philippine Islands where he fought in defense of his country’s flag, arriving at San Francisco on Oct. 22, 1899, on his return home with his company.

Company B was mustered out in San Francisco in November 1899, and when it was reorganized in Villisca in December of that year Private Kelley enlisted as a second lieutenant. He has been a member of Villisca’s military company continuously since his enlistment for the Spanish-American war until its reorganization following the world war, with the exception of two years.

On Jan. 1, 1901, Mr. Kelley was married to Miss Pearl Clough in Villisca, and their home has always been in this city. In June 1916 Mr. Kelley went as a first lieutenant with Company F of Villisca to the Mexican border, returning home in February of the following year.

On July 15, 1917, he reported for duty in the world war, leaving Villisca with Company F on August 17 of that year. He arrived in France on Dec. 17, 1917, and was there until Jan. 30, 1919. He went over as afirst lieutenant and was made Captain of Company B of Des Moines on March 17, 1918, following the death of Capt. H. C. McHenry on March 5. He was in command of that company until July 15 of that year when he was wounded and sent to the hospital.

Upon being released from the hospital he was given command of the Fifteenth Company, provisional regiment with which organization he remained until he was sent to the hospital a second time suffering from gas which his company encountered on October 14, 15 and 16, 1918. When released from the hospital he took command of Blois Casual Company and had charge until he took the company to Hoboken, N.J. There he was placed in command of Hoboken Casual Company No. 122 which he took to Camp Dodge at Des Moines where they were mustered out of the service.

Captain Kelley fought more than 100 days in the trenches in the Lorraine district in France in command of Company B and then went to the Marne district where he was wounded on July 15, 1918. He rejoined his company on September 6 and on the next night started with his men for the San Mehiel district. He took part in the fighting at the Meuse Argonne until he was gassed in October 1918, and when he again was released from the hospital the war was over and his company was already on its way into Germany with the army of occupation. He was then placed in other commands which he held until honorably discharged from the service at Camp Dodge.


After Capt. Kelley came home, he continued his military leadership by being the prime mover behind the establishment of the Villisca American Legion Post Ker-A-Vor No. 251. He sent off to the Legion headquarters to get the charter, organized the local veterans, and as a result was elected first commander of the post. He only served as commander for a few months, as he had other business occupying him. But even after he was succeeded by C. L. Meyerhoff as commander, he continued to serve on various leadership committees in the Legion. For the rest of his life, he was called Captain Doc. (Nowhere does the Review explain why he had that nickname.)

By profession, Capt. Kelley was a builder/contractor. He and his firm were responsible for many of the most outstanding homes in Villisca and the surrounding area, several of them on upper Third Avenue. He was also the architect of record for the design of the 1912/13 National Guard Armory as well as being involved in the construction. He also built the club house at the golf club in 1924 and the 1926 high school addition.

He was warmly remembered by those he served with. For instance, Sgt. Harold Normand Denny, one of the Des Moines Co. B’s sergeants who served under him recalled:

“Capt. William A. Kelley of Villisca took command of B Company shortly after Captain McHenry was killed. I have heard him referred to a hundred times as “a good scout,” the highest compliment a soldier can pay his commander.

“I remember him particularly the morning after the raid on the Third platoon at Badonvillers, May 29. We were all somewhat shaken. Capt. Kelley strolled down the front line and jollied the men and talked with them in a calm, fatherly way that did much to soothe jangled nerves. And I remember him in Champagne—his face tense with pain from a shrapnel–torn arm—still looking after the safety of the company and insisting there was no sense in his leaving it just then…

“Captain Kelley was past middle age and gray haired. He underwent all the hardships of the men and shared all their dangers. He grieved much over our casualties. But not a man in B Company lost his life through the fault of our line officers. The extreme hardship and the strain finally broke down the captain’s health and he was invalided home.”

When World War II rolled around, Captain Doc was clearly too old to serve yet again, although a younger brother, Capt. Fred Kelley,carried the flag on the family’s behalf. But although at 68 he was too old to enlist again, Captain Doc was an enthusiastic speaker at a Villisca war bond rally at the Rialto in 1942.  Introduced as a veteran of three wars and author of several articles on the life of General Douglas MacArthur, he asked “Can we at home pay in full measure as they will pay in devotion? Can we pay as those men paid who went down in the Battle of the Coral Sea? Have we the courage of those men who raided Dieppe?” Emphasizing that it would be a long, hard war, Captain Kelley pleaded that those at home buy their limit and more to support the cause, as long as our boys were fighting.

At a reunion of the Rainbow Division Veterans in Des Moines that same year, Capt. Kelley and a private from the Iowa 168th Infantry were interviewed by the Des Moines Register. The private recalled it was March 9, 1918 and the Yanks were ready to go over the top.

“How do you feel, private?” a handsome young man wearing a turtle-neck sweater asked.

‘Ready to go over and rip hell out of them, sir.” The private recalled saying as the man in the sweater moved on through the trench. Turning to a lieutenant nearby, the private asked, “Who was that guy?”

“That was Col. Douglas MacArthur,” replied Lt. Kelley. “He came up from the division headquarters to get in our first attack.”

Twenty-seven years later in Des Moines, the private asked Capt. Kelley how he could recognize MacArthur who wasn’t wearing any officer’s insignia. Kelley said he recognized the Colonel because he had seen him once before when Kelley served under MacArthur’s father, Gen. Arthur MacArthur in the Philippines. Both veterans agreed, “There was a fighting man.”

But even fighting men have to hang up their weapons eventually. Captain Doc Kelley, one of nine children of Ezekiel S. Kelley who was a Villisca pioneer from Highland County, Ohio, passed away on May 28, 1953 at the age of 79.  Services were held at the Methodist church with burial at the Villisca cemetery; military honors were provided by Company F of the national guard and the American Legion. Fittingly, the next day was Memorial Day. So, if you’re up on the hill next Monday, stop by Captain Doc’s grave and let him know that Villisca hasn’t forgotten his sacrifices and thank him for his outstanding service to our town, our state and our country.

Happy Memorial Day!


The Rainbow division, with 3,600 Iowans in the 168th Infantry division as part of the division, was an early American war unit arriving in France in 1918. It was one of the farthest advanced at the close of the war and was with the army of occupation in Germany.

When MacArthur was ordered to form a division of 42,000 men by selecting crack regiments from practically every state, he announced that it would be a division that will represent every state, to cover the country like a rainbow.”

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Marching in style—firemen’s uniforms over the years

Back in the early days in Villisca, as well as in neighboring towns and across the entire state, being a member of the local volunteer fire department meant a lot more than “simply” putting out fires that threatened to burn down your town. Oh yeah.

It meant putting on a fancy uniform and marching in parades during the summer. It meant competing for prizes in lots of categories, from largest number of firemen in the marching group, to how classy the marchers looked.  It meant racing against neighboring fire cart teams; climbing ladders faster than the competitors; and laying out hoses and attaching nozzles faster than anyone else. Even the fire chiefs competed, racing each other over designated courses.

There was more than pride and bragging rights involved. There was cash money at stake—which wasn’t so easy to come by in the 1880s and 1890s or even in the teens of the next century. And for volunteer fire companies like Villisca’s, cash meant better equipment and safer towns. And yes, it has to be admitted, bragging rights too.

But first you had to have the uniforms.

The first record of parade uniforms for the Villisca Volunteer Fire Department was in a news story about Villisca’s 1887 Fourth of July celebration. The parade was too short, according to the Review, but “the brilliant hues of the Fire Co. parade suits helped make up the deficiency in numbers.” The article also noted that the Fire Department also had handsomely decorated their hose carts and ladder truck.

There’s no record of when the “boys” got their brightly colored uniforms, or even what colors they were, but by 1891 they had appointed a committee to select and buy new uniforms. They decided to go with more sedately-hued outfits this time, choosing cadet gray pants with a black stripe down the leg, a box coat with brass buttons and a strap inscribed with “Villisca” across the chest. The fire company bought 15 new uniforms in 1895, but those probably were just additional uniforms because 15 wouldn’t have been enough for the entire company.

By 1904 the men were once again looking for new uniforms, and were actively fund-raising to help buy the new outfits. By August the handsome and attractive new uniforms had arrived in Villisca and the “boys” wore them for a local event to show them off. They also had their hands out for contributions to help pay the $469 the 40 new uniforms had cost. As the Review noted “it is the fire department that protects your property and reduces your rate of insurance, and it is your duty to assist in supporting an organization of this kind. Every property owner should give something.”

Forty firemen dressed in what were described as their new uniforms of handsomely trimmed red, went to Corning to attend the Tournament there. The Villisca boys expected to win first prize, but Red Oak had more men in line, so Villisca only took the second place prize.

It wasn’t long after this, however, that the Southwestern Iowa Firemen’s Association fell apart and the need for parade uniforms for the local firemen ended. The fire company turned to funding specialized clothing to wear as they battled blazes instead. As a result, the 1904 uniforms seem to be the last of their kind purchased. Although maybe not. Is handsomely trimmed red the same as wine-colored? If not, then there was yet another set of uniforms purchased without being reported in The Review.

52164974_239532526989379_2809023145476882432_nThe fire department also bought other types of uniforms for the men too. A postcard from that era shows the Villisca hose cart team competing in a Firemen’s tournament in town and the “boys” were dressed in track-style outfits. The 1908 Villisca Firemen’s hose and ladder competitive team had pretty jazzy uniforms for their championship reign…including cleated shoes. In the teens of the last century the firemen also had a well-respected band, which also needed uniforms. They had snappy white uniforms for their concerts and also wore the regular firemen’s parade uniforms when they were marching.

The last firemen’s parade uniforms made a couple more public appearances though decades later. In 1940, the Girl Reserves, who were in charge of selling tickets to the annual Firemen’s Ball, donned the old firemen’s uniforms and posed with a banner in the city park as an advertisement for the event. Norma Query Frey, who was GR president the next year, remembers how those wine-colored wool firemen uniforms itched! It’s a great photo though.

And then in 1941, a final item about firemen parade uniforms appeared in the Review:

“Some local children this Christmas will have warm mittens and snow suits made from uniforms worn by the Villisca firemen in earlier years. The old parade uniforms which are wine in color recently were donated by the Villisca Fire Department to the NYA [National Youth Administration] sewing room and have been made into attractive snow suits and mittens by the girls under the direction of Mrs. Agnes Coffman. The uniforms were worn by firemen here in the days when it was the function of firemen to visit other towns during the summer and stage drills, parades, and other exhibitions.”

Then, as always, the Villisca Volunteer Fire Department had the citizens of their town covered!

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Merry Christmas to all!


The hustle and bustle of Christmas is not new to Villisca. One hundred forty-six years ago, just like today, there were many events surrounding the holiday—from dances and dinners, to buying and giving gifts, to church going and school programs. The following reports of how Villisca celebrated Christmas were found on just one page of the Villisca Weekly Review  (Jan. 3, 1873 which covered the 1872 Christmas season).

Setting the scene were these items, making it obvious that the holiday season of 1872/73 was an old-fashioned white one.

“Sleigh-riding—A few old-fashioned sleighs have been visible on our streets the past few days. One man determined to have a glide over the “fleecy snow” went dashing by with a pair of mules hitched to a large hand-sleigh with a dry goods box on it. The sleighing is very passable for those who are prepared to enjoy it.”

And further emphasizing the white Christmas theme although this paper was published right after New Year’s:

“The mail train was stuck in a snow drift somewhere east of this town last night and was some six or eight hours behind schedule.”

Advertisements selling goods for the holiday were still to be found in the news columns:

“Schoomaker & Lyon are this week receiving a new lot of goods for the holiday season; call and see them.”

A round up of some of the holiday excitement described what formal Christmas celebrations were like:

“Christmas Eve Entertainment—The Christmas Eve entertainment at the M.E. Church consisting of a tree, music, speeches, etc., was altogether an enjoyable affair. The building was brilliantly lighted and tastefully decorated. At the further end as you entered was a huge Christmas tree, loaded with presents which made many a black eye glisten and dance. Rev. Smith spoke for about ten minutes, alluding to the tree and its symbolic significance and winding up with a little speech directly to the children. After this the presents were distributed, to the number of 500 or more. Music was interspersed during the whole evening, making the exercises more pleasant. All went home feeling exceedingly well and thankful to the man who invented Christmas.”

Harpers Bazaar Jan 1 1870
A Christmas Tree, like the one described in this article, was not the Christmas tree that you find in your home, church or mall in 2018. The Christmas Tree of the mid- to late-1800s was an event, not a tree, even though the event centered around a fresh-cut evergreen. Everyone in the congregation brought their family’s gifts to the church and tied them on the branches of the communal tree. The kind ladies of each church always knew which families were struggling, and provided gifts for those children and parents who would have been unable to participate in gift giving themselves. Of course, those were the days when children were happy to receive just one gift each. The “Christmas Tree” seems to have been it as far as gift-giving went in those long ago Christmases. However, the Review’s columns would lead one to believe that it was also the custom to give gifts at New Year’s, in those early years of the town’s existence.

There were only two churches in town in 1872, and the Baptist Church—like the Methodist—also had a Christmas Eve “Christmas Tree.”  The Baptists also had a visit from Santa Claus!

“CHRISTMAS TREE AT THE BAPTIST CHURCH—On Christmas Eve the children and friends of the Baptist Sabbath School met at the church and enjoyed a most pleasant reunion. In the rear end of the church stood a most beautiful tree, reaching to the ceiling and weighted down from top to foot with presents for the happy throng there assembled. The presents were of real value, embracing almost every variety from a nice watch to a china doll. Santa Claus was there and displayed even more than his usual liberality. Elder Roe and lady were generously remembered and both their library and wardrobe replenished. Miss Stella Childs, as organist of the Sunday School, received a beautiful pair of gold bracelets from the school. Mr. McCartney, chorister; Mr. Schoomaker, Superintendent; the teachers, and indeed all, were made happy by the tokens of esteem received. The concert, which preceded the distribution of the presents, embraced the finest music. The recitations of Miss Stella Childs and Mrs. Allen, and the exercises of the little ones were the best that could have been anticipated and afforded most evident pleasure to the listeners. The house was full, and all seemed to regret that Christmas comes but once a year…”

Christmas Day arrived and was marked by visiting friends and relatives and enjoying as lavish dinner as each family could afford. Sometimes the main course itself was a Christmas gift as seen in one of the following entries.

“C. W. Sharples and lady spent Christmas in Burlington.”

“Christmas Turkey—To the M.E. Sunday School is due our most grateful thanks for the fine turkey which graced our board on Christmas day. We have many highly esteemed friends in the school, some are mere acquaintances, others still entire strangers; but to each and all we make sincere acknowledgement of the favor which will ever be remembered with pleasure.” (From the Review’s editor)

But Christmas Night was another story. It was a night of celebration and cheer.

“The dance given by Kay’s band on Christmas Night was a complete success.”

This dance was held in Villisca, presumably in one of the several halls available for hire. Kay’s band that sponsored this event was a local one which was often hired throughout the area to provide music for all kinds of events and celebrations. Mr. Edison had not yet invented his phonograph, so when music was required or desired, one hired a band.  Almost all the local towns had their own bands.

“H. H. McCartney, our fellow townsman, was down to Clarinda on Christmas night to assist in the grand concert given by the Clarinda brass band.”

And finally, an explanation of why this Christmas news was late. (Christmas was on Wednesday that year. The issue for the week before Christmas has been lost over the years and unfortunately it isn’t to be found in the electronic archives.)

“No Paper Last week—Agreeable with a time-honored custom among country newspapers, we issued no paper during Christmas week, and the entire force, editorial and typographical, took a rest. Our subscribers will lose nothing thereby, as we give them fifty-two numbers for $1.50.”

What a bargain!

Wishing Merry Christmas to all.

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Thanksgiving and Football – Hand in Hand


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Hallowe’en celebrations in 1911

Halloween kidsHalloween was taken very seriously, back in the day.  By seriously, it is meant that adults and children alike took delight in dressing up and playing at being frightened. Villisca was no different. Kids and grown ups looked forward to the parties and took great pleasure in creating fun events in which to celebrate this fall holiday. The following items are taken from one column in the November 2, 1911 Review.


Merry Ghosts and Goblins Hold Forth
In Annual Orgy and Many Villisca
Homes are Scenes of Delightful
Festivity—The Week Socially

Hallowe’en, that most delightful of annual festivals, when belief in ghosts and witches and all uncanny things has its sway, was celebrated in Villisca in appropriate fashion, and except in a few cases there was very little of the boisterous merry-making or wanton destruction of property so often accompanying the gladsome time.  In a number of Villisca homes social gatherings took place, as a kind of climax to a week of social events of an ante-Halloween nature.  Altogether the Week socially has been a very delightful one.

Supt. and Mrs. J. M. Ireland were the pleasing host and hostess at a vey delightful ante-Hallowe’en party on Thursday evening of last week at which the sixteen teachers of the high and Lincoln schools were the guests. The evening’s program of amusements was entitled a “Comedy in Five Acts.” And each guest was furnished a copy neatly written on a cardboard jack-o’-lantern. The first act (music hath charms to soothe the savage breast) required the guests to each contribute something in a musical way; the second (Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursilves is ithers see us) consisted in the guests, having drawn partners, to each draw the other’s picture; the third (and thereby hangs a tale) was a story telling act; the fourth (eat, drink and be merry) is self explanatory; and the last act, entitled “As You Like It,” permitted the guests to enjoy themselves as their own sweet fancies dictated.

The four different classes of the high school celebrated Halloween by having parties at the home of certain members.
The senior class held their party at the home of Miss Ethelda Armstrong. The home was very artistically decorated with jack-‘o’-lanterns and oak leaves. In the cellar were found spooks and witches. Several different ways of telling fortunes were tried and games played. Light refreshments were served.


The Junior class held their Hallowe’en entertainment in a vacant house known as the Alexander property and located on upper Fourth avenue. A committee of five was selected to select a place and they sent out invitations to the effect that the place would be found by a black cat lit up by a lantern. Games were played appropriate to the occasion and refreshments served.

Forty-five of the Sophomore class spent a very pleasant evening at the home of Miss Rose Harris in the west part of town. The home was decorated in the class colors, orange and black. Games were played and refreshments were served.


The Freshman class held their party at the home of Miss Venice Churchill. Before going to Miss Churchill’s home, they spent a short time at the moving picture show. The latter part of the evening was spent in playing games and refreshments consisting of pumpkin pie, cider and doughnuts were served.


Dr. and Mrs. J. Clark Cooper entertained their friends to two different Hallowe’en parties this week. The first was held Monday evening and to this one fourteen guests were present. The second one was held Tuesday evening and to this one twelve guests were entertained. Both evenings were very delightfully spent in trying the “stunts” that are usually tried on Hallowe’en night.


A committee of five ladies consisting of Mesdames Mary Jackson, T. P. Woodward and Fred Jackson, Misses Grace Meyerhoff and Letha Jones very delightfully entertained the PEO lodge at the home of Mrs. Fred Jackson on Fifth avenue on Hallowe’en. The affair was an old fashioned party. All the guests, and there were thirty, came dressed in old fashioned clothes. Old games were played and a very sumptuous supper was served in accordance with old fashioned ideas.


On Monday morning, Mrs. C. E. Jenkins received warning to take care because the itches were about; and the epistle read as follows:

A dozen witches, from a place
With plenty brains, and a face
So withered and so in attire,
Will come and chat around the fire.

Fowls that are old and tough
Pickles sour, sweet, smooth or rough.
Doughnuts that are just like lead
Coffee, which will sure a clear head,
Bread which did not get too old
Butter strong but small of mold.
Add to this some forbidden fruit
All prepared with corn to suit.

For us on all spooks night
Between darkness and daylight.

At seven o’clock they arrived wearing their tall hats, riding brooms, wearing masks and carrying lanterns. They brought their own suppers and all say they had a delightful evening.

The End

Halloween shrooms

Not a zombie to be found in the entire town! Ah, for the good old days.   Happy Hallowe’en to all!

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Special Villisca Historical Society benefit screening of “The Barn Raisers” will be presented July 1

DSC_5451The Barn Raisers, a new documentary by Mid-America Emmy® nominated filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle (Villisca: Living with a Mystery) of Fourth Wall Films will be showcased at Villisca Heritage Day, Sunday, July 1. The award-winning film will screen at 2:00 p.m. at the Villisca Wellness Center, 219 Central Avenue and benefit the Villisca Historical Society and its efforts to preserve local history.  The filmmakers will take part in Q&A following the film. Tickets are $8. Children 12 and under are free.  Villisca Heritage Day will feature other festivities on Sunday, including an All Church Service in the park, kids activities, Villisca Public Library open house, food, talent show and the town’s spectacular 4th of July fireworks display in the evening.

A crowd-pleaser at film festivals, The Barn Raisers tells the story of barns in the Midwest by examining them through the lens of architecture.  The film explores what building methods, barn styles, and materials tell us about the people who built them, the life they lived, and the role these “country cathedrals” played in the settling and building of the Nation.  The Barn Raisers is a companion film to the Rundles’ Emmy® nominated historical documentary Country School: One Room – One Nation.

“How could we create something from practically nothing with just a handful of tools and no drawings? The answer is in the barns,” said Rudy Christian, a traditional timber framer and barn preservationist from Burbank, Ohio.

13566929_1024424337652203_1326365831818330124_nBarns were constructed by farmer-craftsmen, professional builders like Wisconsin round barn builder Alga Shivers who traveled from job to job, and even architects like Frank Lloyd Wright.  The Barn Raisers paints a cinematic portrait of barns and builders, an important way of life that has been largely forgotten, and the film reminds us that these remnants from America’s rural past are still here to be interpreted and experienced.

Funds raised during the benefit screening will help the Villisca Historical Society in its efforts to preserve Villisca history and present informative programs and presentations to the public.

Telly Award image
The Barn Raisers recently won a Telly Award for Excellence in Television and was an Official Selection at eight film festivals nationwide including the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Beloit International Film Festival, the Interrobang Film Festival, the Royal Starr Film Festival, the Sunback Film Festival, and it was an award-winner at the Iowa Independent Film Festival and the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival.

The Barn Raisers was partially funded by grants from Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area, Humanities Iowa, the Kansas Humanities Council, Wisconsin Humanities Council, the Ohio Humanities Council, the Michigan Barn Preservation Network, the National Barn Alliance/Russ & LuAnn Mawby, the Moline Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Jackson County.  Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this documentary film and program do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations.

The Villisca Historical Society, Inc. (VHSI) collects, preserves, and interprets historical materials, images and artifacts to shed light on the natural, civil and political history of the City of Villisca, Iowa. VHSI develops programs and provides information–via its membership quarterly newsletter, website, blog, and other social media–to promote public awareness, scholarly research, and appreciation of Villisca’s unique history. VHSI fosters excellence and leadership, historical inquiry, believing that an understanding of the past illuminates the present and gives vision to the future.

The Rundles are the producers of twelve award-winning documentaries including the Villisca: Living with a Mystery, Lost Nation: The Ioway 1, 2 & 3 series, and the Emmy® nominated River to River: Iowa’s Forgotten Highway 6, and Letters Home to Hero Street (co-produced with WQPT-PBS).  Their award-winning documentary Movie: Star the Secret Lives of Jean Seberg (co-produced with Garry McGee of McMarr Films, Ltd.) will be released on DVD later this year, and their new docudrama Sons & Daughters of Thunders will premiere at the Putnam Giant Screen in March 2019.

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Memorial Day: They also served . . .

Red Cross
Creator W. B. King. American Red Cross. Second War Fund. 1917
Fundraising poster for the Red Cross. 

Written by Linda Artlip Weinstein

VILLISCA GIRL IN POSTER—Effie Kelley Vliet, a Villisca girl who attended Villisca High School with the Class of 1908, was the model for one of the Red Cross’ most successful fund-raising WWI posters.

W. B. King painted the poster featuring Mrs. Vliet called “Hold Up Your End.” It depicted a nurse whose expression denoted fear that she might be hindered in doing her best for the wounded men of World War I because of a lack of funds.

In the end, the campaign exceeded its $100,000 target by 50 percent. Mrs. Vliet, a young widow who worked as a trained Red Cross nurse at the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, had to pull back from her work after scarlet fever adversely affected her heart. Two of her brothers, Capt. W. A. Kelley and Cpl. Fred Kelley, both of Villisca, served in the Rainbow Division. Capt. Kelley also served in the Spanish-American war.

Mrs. Vliet later married an Army doctor.

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May Basket Memories

May day2

A Little May Basket Skit

The scene: Nodaway, Iowa

The star: Miss Dorothy Stanton, 3rd and 4th grade teacher

The setting: Mr. and Mrs. Williams’ rooming house, situated across the street from the post office and the Pond gas station.

The date: May 1, 1953

The backstory:

Miss Stanton, who was about to complete her first year as a teacher at the local school, had been warned by her landlady that as May basketing was very popular in Nodaway, she should be prepared.

Action! On May 1st, Miss Stanton hurried home from school and quickly changed from her dress into slacks. (Lady teachers in those days weren’t allowed to wear slacks when they taught.)

She and the Williamses had their supper and then sat down to keep watch out the big bay window on the south side of the house. Very soon, the trio saw a little boy walking across the street, coming from the direction of the gas station and carrying a May basket. Miss Stanton sneaked out the east door and waited for the boy to set the May basket down. When he did, she ran around the corner of the house, and much to his surprise, caught him as he ran away and proceeded to give him a big smackeroo on his cheek before she let him escape.

A similar scene unrolled four more times, each time featuring a different little boy. But it didn’t stop there as the little guys came back again and again, one at a time, carrying all kinds of things as alternative May baskets, like boxes and empty oil cans.

After awhile, “I was surprised to discover it was a repeat of the same boys,” the former Miss Stanton remembered recently. “I was also amazed to find out later that a group of men who frequently went to the station after supper to loaf had been behind the repeat visits.  I heard that they’d never seen anything like what happened that evening: a teacher in slacks running after the kids!”

The men were the ones supplying the little guys with the “fake” May baskets and they were having just as much fun as the boys.

Epilogue: Miss Stanton, who soon after this became Mrs. Harlan Pond, didn’t tattle by telling the names of the men who were involved in her first May basketing experience in Nodaway. But the boys she caught included Bobby and Kent Dunn, Gayle Heard, Dennis Bartz, and Dennis Swartz.

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Spelling Villisca

Villisca town adj

By Linda Artlip Weinstein

When D. N. Smith of Burlington, Iowa, gave our town its name in the 1850s, he probably never stopped to consider the variety of ways in which the word “Villisca” would be spelled in the coming years.

An article in the Jan. 24, 1907 Review complained of spellings such as “Valisca” and “Vallisca”and like “Valiska” and “Valliska”. But this report certainly wasn’t the only newspaper article to detail the misspelling of the name of the town. An entire column in 1876 was devoted to all the variations the local Post Office had seen in the nearly 20 years the town had existed. The following are excerpts from that lament.

Villisca Orthographically [as it is spelled]

“A few ways of Spelling the Name of the “Beautiful View.” [Which is what Mr. Smith claimed the Native American word Villisca meant, although there are those who have since taken issue with that translation as well as the existence of any word even approaching Villisca in native languages.]

“We do not hesitate to affirm after duly examining into the various sources of information, that of all the towns along the B. & M. R. railroad the town in question—Villisca—is subject to the most frequent and most varied ORTHOGRAPHICAL OUTRAGES.

“We believe, as does the worthy postmaster of this place, that not more than one postal clerk, one clerk of a wholesale house, or one shipping clerk in 500, could direct his letters, packages, etc., to this place a dozen times and spell the name twice in the same manner. “

The column goes on to list amusing combinations of which eight letters are possible. Most of the spellings were taken from the addresses on letters received at the Villisca post office the previous winter:

Vallisca, VilisCa,
Valisca, Vilisca,
Valiska, Velisca,
Veylisqua, Williska,
Villiscia, Velliska,

The Review’s writer noted that the first two variations were the most common, but the most extreme spelling had been: VEYLISQUA!

Then there were mild misspellings, such as:

Villisk, VelisCa,
Vollsco, Villise,
Valliske, Villsca,
Volisen, Vallasca,

One addresser outdid himself with the succinct: VLISK.

The author then listed ten spellings that must have resulted from what he considered a severely “DISORDERED IMAGINATION:”

Boliske, Velase,
Ralisca, Faliska,
Vieliscee, Nulisca,
Vullske, Belleska,
Palisca, Valeske.

Honestly. Who would know that those letters should be sent to Villisca? Amazing. But not as bad as the last five attempts, according to the column, “We now present a list of five attempts to [spell] our beautifully named town which separately and severally should win the writers undying fame”which he called “these SPELLICISMS, these terrible specimens of spellographic idiosyncrasies” were:

Vilisc, Verlirsky,
Pilluca, Waliska, and

The winner: WEILITYSKE!

Apparently things improved over the years although an 1907 column recounted an attempt earlier that year by a New Yorker to write to a Villisca businessman. The writer’s spelling of the town’s name on the envelope was so far out that the postal clerks gave up even trying to figure out what he meant and returned the letter to him. The writer tried again, and got closer when he crossed out his first attempt and tried again with “Valeskie.” That one was delivered.

Although the complaints from the postal clerks seemed to have merit, perhaps it wasn’t just the fault of writers who had never before heard of Villisca, Iowa. The post office itself, in issuing a commission to the first appointed Post Masterin 1863, spelled the name of the town to which the new post master was appointed as “Valliska.” And two years later in the Iowa State Gazeteer the name of our beautiful place was spelled Valeska.

Zip codes, computerization and spell check should have put an end to the problem. But in checking the archives of The Review, “Vallisca” shows up in a 1964 article. But not really. An ink smear near the first “I” in the name confused the algorithm which reported the town’s name as Vallisca. So if the name can trick a computer, what chance does a human being have?

But as we know today—whether you spell it Villisca, or Valliske, or Villisk, or Vallasca or even WEILITYSKE—there’s only one!

(Originally published in the Villisca Review and Stanton Viking on July 24, 2014)

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Fire and Water

By Linda Artlip Weinstein

Water tower 1902 Villisca_adjLooming over the homes and businesses of Villisca and standing above even the tree tops, the Villisca water tower has provided the city with water for decades. But providing its citizens with clean drinking water was not the reason the city fathers invested in what they called the city water tank. No. It was constructed to protect Villisca from fire. Anything else was secondary.

Villiscans had worried about fire from the very start of the community. As well they should as most of the earliest buildings, both businesses and residences, were constructed of wood. So Villisca needed more fire protection than water pumped from individual wells into wooden buckets and carried by willing hands could provide.

In 1876 the town organized a volunteer fire company and the city council not only purchased a fire engine, but it also built what was referred to as a “fine” water tank. Where that first water tank was located isn’t known for sure. It was later referred to as the city tank in the south part of town, so it was probably near the first engine house where it would be handy for those early firemen. A good guess might be that it was at the northwest corner of Third Aveue and 8th Street, just across the street from the first engine house. Today a round cement pad can be found on a small rise on that lot. But wherever it was, the tank no doubt was built like a barrel—wooden staves with metal rings holding it together. The town needed the water tank so they would have enough water to fill the tank on their hand-pumped fire engine which provided a pressurized stream with which to fight fires.

Finally in September 1884, the town approved a bond issue for the construction of an entire water works system. Because of the legalities involved in bonding, the newspaper carried the details of this one. The new 16 foot x 30 foot city tank to be made of Michigan pine slats, the Review reported, would be on the top of the hill at the head of Third Avenue and it would be elevated 16 feet above the ground. It would be roofed and finished something like a railroad tank, but “neater.” The city bought a lot north of North (High Street) Street for the new tank.

watertower sketchThe original water works project was a pretty simple proposition. They laid a 6-inch main down Third avenue, and connected it to the water tank. Charts showed how far the fire company’s hoses could run from the hydrants on the Third avenue main and how much pressure the water would be under. But still, they had to be alert to the ever-present danger of fire. For instance, in August 1890, Villisca was suffering from a drought, and the paper carried notices like this one: “It might be wise to be more saving of city water these dry times. We should not lose sight of the fact that the water works were put in for fire protection, specially and for private use incidentally.”

It was all good though. The Review a year later noted that “since putting in this system our insurance rates have been reduced and all fear of a disastrous fire vanished.” As we know now, that sentiment was a bit premature. But still. Having a reliable water supply was a major step forward.

The mayor’s 1901 annual report claimed the city water works system had 5,200 feet of 6-inch water mains and 2,000 of 4-inch mains and 100 water takers. The capacity of the water tank was 3,500 barrels (about 125,000 gallons). The water works was nearing being financially self-supporting.

But by 1902 officials were admitting that the town’s fancy water tank wasn’t cutting it any longer and everyone knew that a new tank was needed. The water works kept expanding and the system needed more capacity. By 1904 the official water works committee was instructed to ascertain how much a new water tank and tower would cost and in November construction got under way.

An article in a Review in October 1906 reported that the city water tank in the south part of town had “bursted.” The water from that tank had been being used for street sprinkling as it wasn’t any good for drinking. In 1906 the streets were still unpaved—when they weren’t muddy, they were dusty! The tank, the Review said, had been built for some time and the rust on the hoops was the cause of the break. The city repaired the tank and kept using it. The city employee in charge of street sprinkling was M. P. Bible who was quoted in the July 25, 1907 paper as saying that the city water tank was full and as long as there was plenty of water he expected to keep the streets sprinkled as they should be.

Improvements were continually made to the system. In 1910, the town council decided that it needed to know how much water was in the tank on the hill at any given moment so installed a pressure gauge in the city clerk’s office. “It registers on a weekly dial in red ink the number of feet of water in the tank at any and every moment of the day.”

But by 1921 the wooden tank on the hill was shot and the Commercial Club began agitating for a new one.

“The old tank leaks through the bottom and also through the side and can be filled only to within four feet of the top.”

The tank which was constructed to hold 100,000 gallons was then limited to 65,000 gallons AND to make matters worse, in case of emergency the city no longer could connect its system directly to the river because after the Middle Nodaway had been straightened it was no longer close to the pumps south of town.

No one wanted to spend the money, but they didn’t have any choice. A bond issue vote was scheduled for March 24, 1922. The Review urged everyone to get out and vote, calling the $12,000 for bonds a reasonable amount for something so important as a sanitary tank. The Review’s support of the new tank was unequivocal:

“Of course, if you are satisfied to continue using in your cooking and on your table, water that is filtered through the feathers and carcasses of pigeons that have fallen into the present tank, it’s your right . . . but don’t blame anyone but yourself if you choke to death on the ribs of a dead squab.”

Although the bond issue passed, some technicality required the town to vote on it again and in the second election, the question passed by an even larger margin. That could have been due to the notice received from the state board of health prior to the second election that the current tank either had to be improved or condemned. And, it was pointed out, if the tank was allowed to be condemned, the city would be left without water for either fire fighting or personal use.

Construction of the new steel water tank began in September 1922, just east of where the old wooden tank had been and the new tank went into service in January 1923. There was a cement foundation for the steel tower and tank. The tower was 60 feet in height and the bowl was about 20 feet from top to bottom. Capacity was 100,000 gallons. When it was completed and the water started flowing, residents immediately noted a considerable increase in the water pressure, about 15 to 20 pounds stronger than what the old tank had provided.

And that water tower (the use of “water tower” took over from the phrase water tank around the 1940s) is the one that currently serves the people of Villisca. It’s undergone renovation after renovation—usually about every five years or so it gets scraped and painted; it had the name “Villisca” painted on two sides beginning in 1929 in order to aid in navigation for pilots; it’s too bad the Commercial Club turned down as too expensive the addition of “Welcome to” along with Villisca’s name. That would have added a nice friendly touch.

In the mid-‘20s the grounds around the water tower served as free camp grounds for tourists, with running water and sanitary facilities provided, as well as picnic tables. In 1930 the tank started carrying water from a new filtration plant. The tank got a flood light on top and a 24-hour guard during World War II to thwart potential evil-doers; later a new walkway and ladder system were added to protect workers as they scurry up and around the tank.

New wells west of town were dug over the years to ensure a continuous flow of pure water to the tower.  In 1963 fluoridated water began to flow from the tank to the water company customers of Villisca. Since 1983 the water tower has been supplied with water pumped from a 500,000-gallon underground water reservoir tank that was built just west of Old Highway 71. The water tower on north Third Avenue, north of High Street, however, remains the distribution point for the town’s water.

For a water tank that is 91 years old, Villisca’s vintage water tower is looking, and apparently performing, pretty darn well. Let’s drink to its continued well-being—with city water, of course.


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New Year’s Resolutions— Make ‘em and break ‘em

Babylonian Chaos God and Sun God (Wikipedia).

New Year’s resolutions have been made by people around the world and throughout history. For instance, it’s said that the Babylonians at the beginning of each year promised their gods that they would return borrowed objects and money and apparently Romans made similar promises to their god Janus as each year began.

Happy-New-Year-Images-2018-HD-1-1Modern day New Year’s resolutions are more likely made to one’s self rather than a deity. While about a quarter of American adults were making New Year’s resolutions at the end of the Great Depression (the one in the 1930s, that is), by 2000 that number had grown to about 40 percent. The studies don’t say how many kept those increased numbers of resolutions that are flying around on New Year’s Eve, but we could probably all make a pretty good guess!

Villiscans, like other Americans, have played around with making resolutions often enough that reports on some of them have made it into the columns of the Review over the years. There were also jokes about NOT keeping those resolutions, like this early one:

January 6, 1881—“It is nearly late enough in the new year to break New Year’s resolutions.”

Similarly, groups and organizations used the first of the new year as an opportunity to resolve to improve their ways:

January 2, 1896  The Chautauqua Circle gave an open session at the home of Mrs. Platter, Monday evening. A literary program, consisting of recitations, essays and new year’s resolutions was given and the material wants were supplied by a choice selection of good eatables.

January 5, 1899  Hereafter the rules and regulations of the Fire Company will be strictly adhered to in regard to all fines and expulsions. This is a good resolution, and it is to be hoped that it will outlive most New Years resolutions.

Strictly practical advice sometimes came in the form of a New Year’s resolution like this one found in a “canned” column in the Review:

2-0118--JD-B-or-C-Spreader jpg
February 17, 1910 Agricultural Column
—There are many farmers who could have or carry out no more practical New Year’s resolution than the purchase and use of a good manure spreader. It will not only mean fewer blisters and callouses on the hands through freedom from forking the stuff off the wagon, but will likewise mean a great many dollars more in pocket as a result of a more economical handling of the farm fertilizers and from realizing a larger percent of their value in increased crop returns.
And then, of course, there were the purely social gatherings that revolved around New Year’s and its traditions:

January 5, 1911 IN SOCIAL CIRCLES
Miss New Year’s Eve was the guest of honor at a pleasant social affair given by Miss Ethelda Armstrong last Saturday night, December 31, 1910. Many games were played, after which a taffy-pull was indulged in. The usual watch for the new year was engaged in by all and when it came the guests departed, all satisfied that no new year’s resolution had as yet been broken.

Important issues were covered by the Review and early organizations weren’t above elaborate public relations ploys to draw attention to their issues any less than modern groups are. This one was based on New Year’s resolutions.

764px-National_Women's_Suffrage_AssociationJanuary 8, 1916  SUFFRAGE RESOLUTION
“Resolved,—That Iowa must be the twelfth state in the union to grant full suffrage to women. (New Year resolution of Iowa suffragists.) New Year resolutions of Iowa women will be filled with such words as “suffrage,”  “victory,”  “big majority” if pre-New Year rumors can be trusted. The first of January will usher in what promises to be the most auspicious period in the history of Iowa women—the period of their political enfranchisement. Suffrage New Year resolutions would tend to show that the women are awake to the work that lies before them.

“Resolved,—That I will work harder than ever for suffrage,” is the New Year resolution of the state president, Miss Flora Dunlap. This means that the president will leave no stone unturned to bring victory to Iowa.

“Resolved,—That I will work harder than ever for suffrage,” that I will work to put Iowa on the suffrage map, June 5, 1916, and stop future generations from the wasteful expenditure of vital energy to get what four million women of other states already use with credit to themselves and benefit to others,” is the New Year resolution of Mrs. Pleasant J. Mills, auditor of the state suffrage association.

Miss Elizabeth Perkins, state board member and well known suffrage speaker, has suggested the following resolution for all men of Iowa:

“Resolved,—That I will cast my ballot next June for Equal Suffrage. My wife says if I don’t vote for Equal Suffrage that I don’t believe in a democratic country. She says she will feel she can hold her head up higher before our boys and girls if, when she is talking to them about being good citizens, she has the right to do so because she herself is a citizen’ she says, well she says she wants me to vote for Equal Suffrage in Iowa next June, so I am going to do it.”

It was a good attempt, but Iowa’s women did not get the right to state-wide suffrage until 1919, and then they had to wait for full suffrage for a couple of more years.

Written by Linda Artlip Weinstein’s 2014 New Year Column in the Villisca Review.

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Christmas Lights Come to Villisca

christmas-ad-christmas-bulbs_1930sWritten by Linda Artlip Weinstein for the “Villisca Review” in December 2015.

It’s not clear if Edward H. Johnson, a colleague of Thomas Edison, knew what he was starting in 1882 when he dreamed up a new way to decorate his family’s Christmas tree. Mr. Johnson handmade the world’s first string of electric Christmas lights  from strands of electrical wire connecting eight walnut-sized light bulbs of alternating red, white and blue. He wrapped his creation around his family’s Christmas tree near a window that looked out on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Not everyone who saw the lights in the window of the Johnson family mansion was impressed with Mr. Johnson’s ground-breaking efforts. The New York Times and other city newspapers, for instance, refused to run a story on the innovation, judging the whole thing a shabby public relations ploy. But a Detroit newspaper was interested enough to publish an article on Mr. Johnson’s invention and the rest, as they say, is history.

President_Grover_Cleveland_Restored.jpgPresident Grover Cleveland is often credited for spurring acceptance of indoor electric Christmas lights when in 1895 he had the White House family tree lit with hundreds of colored bulbs. It was a first for what has become a beloved tradition.

But it wasn’t until 1903 that General Electric Co. of Harrison, New Jersey, began to sell pre-assembled sets of Christmas lights. Prior to that auspicious moment, you had to be an electrician—or wealthy enough to hire one—in order to have electric Christmas lights. You couldn’t just run down to K-Mart to pick up a few strands—no K-Mart, no lights.

It’s been estimated that trimming an average Christmas tree with electric lights before GE inventedl ight sets would have cost the equivalent of $2,000 in 2015 dollars. That alone probably convinced a few folks to stick to dangerous candles on their trees. Nevertheless, the idea of electric Christmas lights spread over the country with growing enthusiasm, although only for indoor trees.

It wasn’t until the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego first strung outdoor Christmas lights in 1903, followed by the town of Appleton, Wisconsin in 1909, and finally New York City in 1912 that electric Christmas lights were installed out of doors. With these cities leading the way, could Villisca be far behind? Of course not. Even though electrical service in the city was problematic because of on-going power struggles with the local electric company.

Nevertheless, Villisca’s first municipal Christmas tree, which was kind of a bust because of delays in receiving the decorations ordered from Chicago, did feature a thousand-candle power nitrogen arc lamp on top of the tree, although no light strands. The Review noted that the top light was visible for miles—kind of like the Star of Bethlehem, it would seem. But times were a-changing and The Light Shop’s ad on December 23, 1914 offered Villiscans the ability to purchase Christmas tree light sets.

The ad said: “Christmas tree lights make a happy Christmas for the kiddies. Have a tree and have it lighted with one of our lighting sets and be safe from fire. They are good every year.”

J. S. Honeyman had apparently “bit” on this new fashion and had earlier purchased some strands because the Review reported on “Some Unique Decorations” in its December 12th edition.

“One of the neatest and prettiest decorated business houses in Villisca is that of J. S. Honeyman, who besides the usual decorations has several clusters of small colored electric lights about the large Christmas bells in the store, at night these present a pretty appearance.”

That’s all fine and dandy, but you have to have electricity first and also feel you can afford to use it for decorations. The delay in using colored electrical lights for Christmas in Villisca is a bit puzzling as the city had stretched a cable bearing 150 various colored lights over Third Avenue to the southwest corner of the square in August of 1907.

Illuminated in celebration of the Old Veterans of Cass and Montgomery Counties reunion, the lights presented a beautiful spectacle after dark, according to the Review. But apparently no one thought to do the same for the Christmas season. It wouldn’t be until 1936 that Villisca got its municipal electricity generating plant up and going, but it had stopped battling with its electricity providers in the teens enough so the town was reliably electrified. Electricity remained a bit suspect for several years though, and for sure, it was considered expensive. So it took awhile for electric current to be considered a reasonably priced necessity.

However, by the Christmas season of 1928, the town got into the swing of electrical Christmas lights enough that the commercial club ordered colored lights to be installed in the street light fixtures in the business district.

In addition, the club had ordered dozens of small Christmas trees, oneto be installed in front of each business place.

“Some of these have been trimmed with small electric lights, with current supplied from the interior of the buildings in front of which they stand, and give an especially pleasing effect,” according to the Review’s report.

Villisca was about to enter a new, glowing electrified age. When the municipal Christmas tree of 1930 arrived, the Review proudly proclaimed that it would be decorated with among other things 100 brightly colored electric lights. In addition, the 60 smaller trees erected in front of the businesses along the four sides of the public square and on lower Third avenue were to be festooned with electric lights too.

A special light wire was strung along the street so that all the merchants might light their trees with colored Christmas lights. The Commercial Club’s colored light bulbs purchased in 1928 were also installed in the downtown street light stanchions, adding to the festive look of Villisca’s business district.

In 1936, with the electricity wars over, the municipal light plant supplied free of charge the electrical current needed for Christmas decorations in the business district. That must have seemed like a good idea, but led to misunderstandings and bad feelings the next year.

In 1937, for the first time, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a contest for the best electrically decorated homes. The front page of the December 9 Review explained that contrary to the public’s belief, the light plant had never intended to provide free current to residential customers, even those involved in the contest.

“Officials of the Villisca Municipal Power Plant say the impression appears to be rather prevalent among Villisca residents that the power plant will furnish free electric current for all Christmas lights in the business and residential districts of the city, but that takes in more territory than the plant can cover gratis.”

The article explained that the plant would in addition supply free current for the four double floodlights installed on buildings around the square in order to light up the park during the holidays. (The floods had been brought up from the football field and park for the Christmas season.) It pointed out that the floods used lots of current, nearly half as much as required to light all of the street lamps in the city in fact.

“But please remember, there is no free current for Christmas lights at residences.”

Seems a bit Scrooge-like. Free electricity would have added to the Christmas spirit, for sure. But the residents’ time to shine had arrived, even if they had to pay for it.

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Villisca’s Christmas Tree

Villisca treeHelping to make it a Merry Christmas for all, the businessmen in their various organizations decided to invest in an innovation, a “municipal Christmas tree.”  The Review didn’t specify where the tree was located, so 100 years later, we can only guess, but it was probably in the center of the intersection of Third Avenue and Fourth Street. (Chicago appears to have had the first-ever municipal Christmas tree the previous year, 1913, so Villisca certainly wasn’t far behind in that new trend.)

Villisca Review, December 19, 1914

Illuminate Tree Tonight

City’s First Municipal Christmas

Tree Will Sure Be a Thing of Beauty

Arc Lamp at Top of Tree

Will be Decorated Today and Gifts will be Given

to All Children Next Tuesday Night

Villisca’s first municipal Christmas tree stands in a prominent spot in the center of town, and will be illuminated for the first time tonight. The decorations were ordered from Chicago, and if these come they will be put on the tree today, so that they present a most striking appearance when “lit up” after dark.

 A thousand power nitrogen arc lamp, the biggest … electric light on the market, will surmount the top of the tree and will be visible for miles. Garland tinsel and numerous other decorations will add to the effect, and the tree will sure be a dazzling thing of beauty when completed. (Note: Unfortunately the decorations didn’t arrive, so the tree décor was a bit of a letdown, but still, it had the big light on top.)

Gifts to children Next Week

According to present plans, there will be a free distribution of gifts to little children, whether from the city or country, on Tuesday night of next week and all children and their parents are invited to attend. A real live Santa Claus will dispense the presents, which will consist of candy and nuts to the greater part, and a special production will be given under the supervision of Rev. W. J. Ewing, pastor of the Presbyterian church, who was selected by the business men of Villisca and the committee.

A municipal Christmas tree idea has been spreading, and quite a number of towns have adopted the idea although Villisca first championed it. But, Villisca is the only town in this section of the state where such a tree can be seen this year.

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Turkey Day was invented in Villisca

WKRP Turkey drop

For those of a certain age, an iconic television series, “WKRP in Cincinnati,” broadcast in 1978 one of the funniest Thanksgiving episodes in TV history. In the episode, entitled “Turkeys Away,” the fictional radio station—in a misguided attempt to gain market share—dropped from its weather helicopter live turkeys on unsuspecting people on the street below. For those of a certain age, an iconic television series, “WKRP in Cincinnati,” broadcast in 1978 one of the funniest Thanksgiving episodes in TV history.

In the episode, entitled “Turkeys Away,” the fictional radio station—in a misguided attempt to gain market share—dropped from its weather helicopter live turkeys on unsuspecting people on the street below.  That seemed like just a funny TV story line at the time. But according to the Review archives, the original “turkey drop” was invented right here in Villisca, Iowa, back in 1921. The Villisca Chamber didn’t call it turkeys away, but they dropped turkeys nevertheless. Well, maybe a better description would be they “tossed” turkeys!

Anyway, they combined “turkey day” with their Bargain Day events, reaching “far” out into the surrounding countryside to draw potential shoppers into Villisca. Admittedly, the Villisca Chamber of Commerce didn’t have a helicopter from which to drop turkeys, but they made do.

In retrospect, the actual Villisca event seems just as amusing as the 1978 fictional one. Back in those days of the early 20th century, it was considered in bad taste for businesses to advertise Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving was celebrated. (It’s too bad that changed!) But those smart businessmen of Villisca pushed the envelop just a bit by combining both holidays into a Thanksgiving event—come to Villisca to get a free turkey and while you’re here, do your Christmas shopping at our Bargain Days sales.  The story of the original turkey drop—right here, in Villisca, Iowa—as reported by The Villisca Review follows:

Offer Usual List of Articles of Merchandise at Attractive Prices andHave Good Trade”

The headlines on the front page of the Nov. 25, 1921 edition of the Review set the stage for what was the newspaper later claimed to be the first turkey day anywhere. The article makes clear that unlike the people in Cincinnati who were unsuspectingly bombarded by turkeys, the people of southwestern Iowa were all in favor of this event.

“Villisca’s “turkey day” on Tuesday, when twenty-five turkeys and as many geese were given away by the business and professional men of this city, proved to be a great attraction, indeed all that it had beenhoped it would be, and one of the largest crowds that have been here in many months, was here during the afternoon of that day.

vintage thanksgiving turkeys postcard

“The special bargains in merchandise offered by the stores of the city also were a big attraction, and the merchants here enjoyed a fine trade during the greater part of the day. The bargain day, which has been held regularly once each month on Wednesday for the last several months, was set for Tuesday this time, in connection with the special feature of distributing fifty turkeys and geese among the people of this community. People from as far south as Clarinda and Hawleyville, from several miles north of Grant and from considerable distances east and west of Villisca were here to take advantage of the merchandise bargains and to enjoy the fun of the afternoon.”

And now the report on the actual turkey drop!

“At 4:15 o’clock, as advertised, the first turkey was put to flight from the top of the Economy garage, and a roar of yells went up from the crowd which watched with delight as the bird soared off gracefully and lit in a tree near the high school building. But his liberty was not of long duration, for an agile youth soon scrambled up the tree and grabbed himaround the legs as the first prize of the afternoon’s event. One and sometimes two birds were turned loose at a time, and as soon as they were caught, others were released, “Some of the turkeys flew nearly a block from the roof of the garage, sailing out over the crowd which was standing in the street in front of the garage and in the north part of the city park, some lighting in the trees where they were soon captured or on the ground to be caught after a lively foot race. A few flew to the top of the armory and other near by buildings, and one kept on the wing until he reached the roof of the Cozy theatre[on the east side of the square], where he was caught only after a hot chase on the top of that building.”

The pre-Thanksgiving giveaway featured geese along with the traditional turkeys. Goose was much more popular as a holiday dish in those days than it is today. But apparently they weren’t as much fun to catch, sounding much more like WKRP’s turkeys than Villisca’s.

“The geese were unable to make much progress in the air and all fell to the pavement a short distance in front of the garage where they were picked up after some lively tussling, in several instances, by that part of the crowd which waited for them there. One argument as to which one of two men was entitled to a goose which both had a hold on was easily and quickly settled by tossing a coin, and there were few, if any, other arguments as to the owners of the geese and turkeys after they were captured. “All the birds were caught within about fifteen minutes after the first one was turned loose, although many of them were hard to get. But the most difficult feat was performed by a Mr. Owens of Hawleyville when he caught the last turkey set free by climbing a large tree and swinging himself on the end of one of its highest limbs to the limb of a tree near by in which was perched a turkey which was being pursued by several boys who were climbing the tree in which the turkey rested. It was a trick which required both headwork and nerve, and Mr. Owens got well deserved plaudits from the crowd. Earl Kreiger of Villisca got the first turkey which was released during the afternoon.”

Back in 1921, the populace was much more used to making do than it is today. They didn’t have a helicopter, so the club members had looked around for a tall building next to the park. The Review article didn’t say if the Economy Garage,which was located at the northeast corner of the square, came with an access door to the roof, or if Ernest L. Peckham,the good-natured garage owner, allowed a hole to be made there. But the event was only possible because the club members could get two stories above the crowd in order to toss the future entrees into the air.

“Before the opening of the event the turkeys and geese were taken to the second floor of the garage, and as they were needed on the top of the building they were passed through a hole in the roof. W. H. Piper was spokesman, announcing the conditions under which the birds were to be caught, and then were turned loose by Mr. Piper, C. G. English, Cyrus Underwood, Harry Taylor, Earl Newton and Arnold Moore.”

Apparently the people of 1921 didn’t follow directions any better than modern day folk do. Simple instructions, easy to comply with, and yet nearly twenty percent of the winners didn’t do what they were asked to do.

“Mr. Piper announced that all who caught turkeys or geese were to register at the office of the Review, and after the chase was over forty-one persons gave in their names, nine failing to report.” Those who caught turkeys are G. L. Higgins, Paul Taylor, E. T. Pratt, Orville Beard, Howard Andrew, Florence Wendling, C.E. Edwards, Will T. Lloyd, Virgil Smith, M.M. Wise, Rolland Bontrager, E. B. Westernburg, Clark Neal, Fred Ingersoll, M. E. Madden, Earl Kreiger, G. W. Playfair, James. D. Anderson. Those who caught geese are E. L. Dow, Keith Jump, Fred Thorson, Glen Jillson, A. C. Nelson, Joe S. Gourley, Joe N. Larson, Guy Umphress, Orville Rains, Clyde Pershing, John Rossander, Everett Glackemeyer, J.C. Ritnour, Manley Madden, Frank Parcher, Ronald McPherren, Robert Sander, V. W. Quillin, Chas. E. Moore, Henry Howard, Madison Ross, Tom Stallings, Fay Still.”

And finally, just like in the televised WKRP episode, there was a word from the event’s sponsors:

“The turkeys and geese which were given away were paid for by the business and professional men of Villisca. A list of the men who contributed to this fund was given in last week’s Review, but through an oversight a part of the list was omitted. These names are as follows: R.L. Maxey, T.E. Wallace, Dr. O.E. Phillips, Dr. R.B. Smith, P.D. Minick, C.M. Orr, Oliver &Brodrick, W. A. Lake, Maurice Foote, T.J. Marvick, W.O. Zaelke, Moore Bros., Wm. Burnside, Carl Taylor, T.P. Woodward, C.H. Frame and R.J. Swanson, Dr. J.C. Cooper, Dr. F.M. Kelsay, H.F. Elliott, J.T. Myers, Ernest Peckham, Albert Sandosky, F.L. Ingman, Chas. Schiveley.”

In the end, Villisca’s Turkey Day turned out much better than WKRP’s did. Unlike that hapless radio station staff, those clever Villisca businessmen had a lasting hit on their hands. For the next 20 years, they repeated Turkey Day, in one form or another, to draw business to their stores and prosperity to their community. And it worked. Huge crowds showed up, good spirits abounded, very few people fell out of trees or got into arguments over possession of the fowl prizes, and each year fifty to one hundred lucky families got to take home Thanksgiving on the wing!

Here’s wishing readers a Happy, Historical Turkey Day of their own!

(This story was written by Linda Artlip Weinstein for her column “In Review”, published in the 2014 Villisca Review.)

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VHSI Annual Membership Drive Underway

Villisca square 1900s
Villisca, Iowa square circa early 1900s. Photo courtesy Fourth Wall Films.

Join us and support the preservation of Villisca’s history!


Villisca Historical Society

Join now and get
15 months of membership for the price of 12 months
Annual individual membership $20
Annual family membership $35
Sustaining membership* $100

As a member you will receive the bi-annual digital newsletter;
be invited to attend special VHSI events; contribute to saving Villisca’s unique history!

Contribute today!

• Membership • Donations • Volunteering


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Nov 10-11 Marks Special Veteran’s Day Event at Armory

The Villisca Historical Society is co-sponsoring a Veterans’ Day two-day event at the Armory, 316 E 3rd St, Villisca, IA on Nov. 10 and 11 honoring veterans from the Villisca area, with a special focus on those who served in WWI. Join us for this special celebration!

The Armory will be open for two hours following the SWV Middle School program on Nov. 10, and from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Nov. 11.  A display will honor veterans from this area, with a special focus on those veterans who served in World War I. An Honor Roll listing all WWI veterans buried in the Villisca City Cemetery will be on display, as well as the historic WWII Honor Roll, and other local military mementos.

Loans of artifacts for the display are welcomed.

* * * * *

Support your local historical society


Villisca Historical Society

Join now
and get 15 months of membership
for the price of 12 months:
September 2017- December 2018.
Annual individual membership $20.
Annual family membership $35.
Sustaining membership* $100.


Help Save Villisca’s History
Contribute today!

• Membership • Donations • Volunteering

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Celebrating 12 Years of Preserving Villisca History

Villisca square 30s
Photo courtesy Fourth Wall Films.

By Mary Hansen, VHSI President

It’s hard to believe, but the Villisca Historical Society, Inc. came into being more than a decade ago, in 2005. The mission statement of the new organization was, and still is: The Villisca Historical Society, Inc., shall collect, preserve, interpret, and display artifacts, photographs and documents to shed light on the natural, civil and political history of the City of Villisca, Iowa. It will develop programs and services to promote public awareness, scholarly research and appreciation of Villisca’s unique history.  This society will foster excellence in leadership and historical inquiry, believing that an understanding of the past illuminates the present and gives vision to the future.”

Thanks to the generosity of a large number of people, our society continues to fulfill many of those same goals. But just as importantly, the VHS Inc. has supported other organizations that share our aim of preserving and celebrating our joint history.

For instance, just a month after receiving our certificate of incorporation and our 501(3)C status, we were able to provide start up money to the Villisca Alumni Association to help get the 2005 All-School Reunion under way. We have continued that support ever since.

Ed & Susie ax
Former Villisca Mayor Susie Enarson and Ed Epperly
examine the Villisca weapon. Photo courtesy Fourth Wall Films.

We’ve also received many items of historical significance in the past 12 years. Perhaps the most important one came from Dr. Ed Epperly, who donated the ax from the infamous Villisca ax murders. As we have no secure place in which to safely store the murder implement, it has spent the past 12 years at the State Historical Society building in Des Moines. Nevertheless, it belongs to the Villisca Historical Society and through us to the town of Villisca. Because of our efforts, it has been protected.

John Rundles Rialto
Photo courtesy Fourth Wall Films.

During the past several years, we’ve also had the privilege of hosting the showing of several of Kelly and Tammy Rundles’ movies, like the preview of Lost Nation: The Ioway in 2007 during Villisca Heritage Days. The Rundles also helped create and maintain our website and are now developing a VHS Inc. blog for us which will make our work available to even wider audiences.

In addition, we’ve participated in studies of the National Guard Armory in the hope that venerable building could be restored and preserved in order to bring it back to serving as a community center.

Villisca Memories

We have been participants in history fairs at the local schools and reprinted Audrea Higgins’ “Villisca Memories,” her history prepared for the Bicentennial. For almost ten years, Dave Higgins produced fascinating newsletters that documented important events, people and memories from our town’s past. Recently, we created a Facebook page, Historic Villisca, which is reaching even more folks.

I have had the privilege of representing the Society in many events, like the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Iowa’s statehood in which I drew from Lorene and Dennis Neal’s book, Montgomery County Veterans of World War II.

VReview front page.jpg

We helped the Villisca Library pay for digitizing the Villisca Review’s archives through July 2011, which has made much of the town’s history accessible through the internet. Last year we co-sponsored Iowa History Day in Villisca with the Forgotten Iowa History Society, group of more than 35,000 Facebook members.

This year we also funded a brochure celebrating the 80th anniversary of Villisca’s City Hall and helped purchase shelves to display artifacts in the Armory where renovations are continuing.

We don’t know what we’ll be called upon to help with next, but with your participation, we’ll be ready. So please, join the Villisca Historical Society today and help preserve Villisca’s past for those who in the future wish to look back to understand their present.

If you are not a member of the Villisca Historical Society, we encourage  you to join us!  We are currently launching a funding drive to raise money to assist in our efforts to preserve, educate and inform about Villisca’s treasured past and its future! Thank you for your support.

Support your local historical society


Villisca Historical Society

Join now
and get 15 months of membership
for the price of 12 months:
September 2017- December 2018.
Annual individual membership $20.
Annual family membership $35.
Sustaining membership* $100.


Help Save Villisca’s History
Contribute today!

• Membership • Donations • Volunteering

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100 Years Ago–Villisca’s boys came home from the Mexican border, only to be ordered to prepare for WWI

Parade Susie E
Photo courtesy Susie Enarson.

The sixty-five men and three officers of Company F of Villisca left on June 25, 1916, for Camp Dodge on their way to the Mexican border. They arrived in Texas on July 26, and by the time September rolled around the Company had been on the line for all of six minutes! They returned home on February 20, 1917 to a huge red, white and blue welcome, with banners, dinners and speeches.

But, just three months later, the Company that had returned in joy from what was  essentially a phony war was ordered to recruit men to attain war strength. America had declared war on Germany on April 6 and needed all of her fighting men. This one was
going to be a real war and western Iowa’s troops were needed.

The unit was mustered into federal service on July 25, 1917, assigned to the Rainbow Division. When Col. Douglas MacArthur had been ordered to form a division of 42,000 men by selecting crack regiments from practically every state. He responded that it would be “a division that will represent every state, to cover the country like a rainbow.”

Our boys, part of the 3,600 Iowans in the 168th Infantry division, departed for Camp Mills, Hempstead, Long Island, New York on September 10. They boarded a  transport ship, arriving in France in December 1917.  By March they were in the trenches fighting the “Hun.” Before it was all over, our men—no longer boys now—would see service on six different fronts.

Battles at Champagne Marne, Aisne, Marne, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne took some of our men’s lives and injured others. The war made heroes of our men, although not all of them received medals for their bravery. Some would die from disease or suffer for the rest of their lives from the effects of mustard gas. Tiny little camps such as Ker-AVor would imprint themselves on the consciouness of the men from Villisca.

But at 11 o’clock of the 11th day of the 11th month, it was over. The men from Villisca had helped win the war to end all wars. They came home on the transport Leviathon, which landed at Hoboken, NJ, on a May evening in 1919.

The division was sent to Camp Upton, New York, for a short period.

The people of Villisca couldn’t wait! The screaming headline in the May 2, 1919 Villisca Review said it all: “They’re Coming Home!”

A joint celebration with Clarinda was planned, with Villisca honoring the company first.

The Herald summed it up: “The boys are on their way home and plans are under way here and in Villisca to give them the greeting and welcome that they have justly earned
and deserve. Just when the boys of Co. F will be here is not yet known, but it is a positve fact that when they do arrive they will be welcomed back to us with the spirit of tried and true heroes who have fought and bled for home and country.”

Co. F arrived in Villisca on Train No. 9 on May 17 and were met by a large, exuberant crowd. The official celebration was held May 20.

Villisca heaved a huge sigh of relief: “Our boys are back!”


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