A post office and federal office building is often the most prominent building in any community. It’s always been assumed that Agincourt would build one some time between 1900 and the 1920s. The office of Supervising Architect of the Treasury was responsible all these projects and during those years the office was run by James Knox Taylor, Oscar Wenderoth, and James A. Wetmore any one of them a huge improvement over the patronage-ridden years before 1900. There would have been some sort of facility before then, though it could easily have been rented space.
The easiest way to handle this, it seems to me, is to choose one of the several designs that came out of the S.A.T. office and were built multiple times. The former post office in Moorhead (that many of you will recall is now the Rourke Art Museum) in a good example: Drive to Livingston, Montana and you’ll find its near twin. So, I’ve surveyed Iowa’s post offices for those years, 1900-1920, and narrowed the field to these six examples (the eight cards above).
I have my favorites but any one of these can be photoshopped to work on the 140-foot by 150-foot site, situated next to the 1895 Richardsonian Romanesque opera house and across the street from the similarly Richardsonian county courthouse. So, I’m posting these here and on FaceBook for some outside opinion.
Cast your vote for one of these six (or nominate your own suggestion):
- Mason City
- Webster City
Don’t worry about entrance location—corner, short side, long side—they can all be made to work.
Parenthood may be among our higher aspirations. Not being one—a parent, that is, though my humanity also comes into question—I have to content myself being a pseudo-surrogate parent: i.e., a teacher.
“Mom” and “Dad” aren’t words that trip lightly from my tongue or my keyboard, but has anyone noticed that they’re both palindromes and that “mom” is also “wow” upside down? I’m just asking.
Howard hasn’t written much lately. Perhaps Mother’s Day will bring him out of semi-retirement.
A few figs from thistles…
by Howard A. Tabor
“Mothers and Others”
Our calendar is rife with Days, Weeks, and Months devoted to some topic, status, cause, or condition, long-term or du jour. We’ve just enjoyed National Teacher Day and Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth be with you.”). Some are blatantly commercial or have become so; promoted by florists and greeting card companies. A few mature into national holidays (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day). But just a handful are fundamental to being civilized, Mother’s Day among them.
On this day of reflection on motherhood, I’m drawn to the broader topic of women in Agincourt’s history; our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and cousins; even the unrelated women who’ve taught and healed and clerked and served us throughout our lives. For the moment, let my recollection stimulate your own.
A few women of Agincourt
Women who came to maturity before the 19th Amendment—before their ability to vote or even own property in their own name—women from the first years of our community’s history, often found other avenues to power.
<still working on this entry. please be patient.>
I’m old. Some days I’m especially tired. And on some of those days I’m ready to pack it in. Happily, they pass and life goes on—at least mine does for at least a little longer. Today was an especially good one and I need to set it down here as a reminder when things turn south.
Matthew Kirkwood asked if the faculty would speak to the ENVD 101 class, our introduction to environment design taken by prospective students in architecture and landscape architecture, as well as university-wide seekers of an off beat elective. I may be the only faculty who “bit” and wanted to record the experience here, just in case one of the “audience” should happen by.
I could have presented any one of three current research interests — William Halsey Wood; Building the Social Gospel (a.k.a. the Akron-Auditorium Plan); or Tangent Lives, the story of Dakota’s early Episcopal church buildings — but why burden them with more arcane information on the forgotten buildings of second-string practitioners. I fear any of those topics would have induced “nap time” at a wholesale level. So, as you might guess, Agincourt was my preferred topic, for which I updated, edited and otherwise improved a power point presentation for the seventy-five minute window of opportunity Matthew afforded me.
You may think this is pessimistic but I believe, based on forty-plus years of classroom experience, that on any one day, I’m speaking to a small percentage of those present—but I don’t always know who they are: faces aren’t always a good gauge of interest. Of the 200+ students in ENVD 101, the response was heartening. So, with time running out, I stopped reluctantly, hesitated to leave the room, and was warmed by the number who cornered me on the way out to smile and wish me well. Those are the moments we treasure in teaching and they come (for me, at least) too infrequently. [And they come, in the wake of my failed attempt at promotion, as Balm from Gilead.]
There may never be another Agincourt exhibit. Yet today’s experience makes me wonder if there aren’t a few folks out there who’ll accept my invitation to join us in the sandbox just for the learning experience.
Agincourt’s First Fire Patrol
Fire brigades were among the earliest collective civic functions underwritten by any community. This was especially true before the laying of municipal water lines. But before I could locate the city’s first firehouse, I had to assess several issues: 1) Where were the city’s greatest fire threats? 2) Was it likely to be public or private? professional or volunteer? 3) Who was calling the shots?
In a townsite as bi-axially symmetrical as Agincourt, a “one-horse” fire department would inevitably take sides. Fortunately, the CBD was centered and compact. Two other things are true: housing in the more prosperous parts of the city was widely spaced; the houses were large, but so were the sites. It was unlikely that a fire would move like dominos, leaping from one to the next. Working class neighborhoods, on the other hand, were more dense; the construction less fire resistant, and families lived in closer quarters.
Besides businesses that were fire-prone (hardware stores selling turpentine; candy manufacturers and bakeries), there were also commercial operations at the city’s fringe (lumber yards, for example, blacksmiths, and Agincourt’s foundry; steam-powered locomotives). So, I settled on the south side, where a stray spark from a Milwaukee Road engine could easily ignite an unsupervised pile of lumber or coal. Horse-drawn wagons could still reach the north side, so a Broad Street site at Henry or David avenue would have garnered public support. You can’t please everyone.
The firehouse in this unidentified postcard seems appropriate in size and construction and my site choice is defensible. So be it.
The range of flea market finds has shifted considerably in even the last ten years. Postcards were once a mainstay and keep me occupied for hours, but most of that trade has shifted to the on-line auction site that shall be nameless. It is still possible to find boxes of portraits, usually staged in the photographer’s studio. They can be stiff and as uncomfortable for the viewer as they were for the subject. They can also tell a story, as this family portrait of four generations demonstrates.
I don’t need an inscription on the reverse to know that great-grandmother is holding her great-granddaughter, with the two intermediate generations standing nearby. What continues to mystify me is how and/or why such family treasures find their way into bins at a flea market.
There are scarce few “family” photographs of my relatives and so many are unidentified that they won’t be of much use to future generations. Have I just answered my own question?
This one was two bucks, by the way, and may be the seed for an Agincourt story.