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Grou

Rural Fennimore county is currently only a patchwork of people and events. But it wants to be more than a collection of fragments.

There’s the rural cemetery northwest of Agincourt, for example, the earthly remains of the Wester band of LDS converts, a footnote in Mormon history and probably the most notable event in the county’s uneventful past. Odd that so few people know about it

A bigger player in turn-of-the-century county history is the lake country at its western edge, Sturm und Drang, the twin lakes at its heart, have been a resort community since the late 1870s, and an artists’ colony coalesced there in the 20s and 30s.

Four rural communities have developed in Fennimore county, though not all of them have flourished. Muskrat City was the first county seat but low-lying land and a tendency to flood has made it a near ghost town. Fahnstock, on the other hand, is situated seven miles west of Agincourt and has become a virtual suburb, especially following the Tri-County Aerodrome (now the regional airport) locating there in the 20s. Several miles southeast is the community of Nimby, though the less said about them the better. And then there is Grou, a village northeast of Agincourt, near the source of Crispin Creek.

Grou is a Dutch community from about 1890, and to be said properly Grou must be growled deep in the throat. The community takes its name from Grou in the Netherlands, technically in Friesland, Holland’s northernmost province, which boasts its own language. School children in Grou are bi-lingual, learning both Frisian and Dutch. Our AFS son Tjipke hails from Grou and shared with us a Frisian tongue-twister capable of reproduction by only a native speaker and a sure-fire way to identify any Nazi sympathizers during the occupation. It makes “Theophilus Thistle…” sound like a walk in the park.

John W. Reps’ 19th Century Town Planning in America was one of the first books added to my undergraduate bookshelf in the mid-60s and I have been fascinated with the planning impulse ever since. Agincourt itself is an exercise case-in-point, but I have wanted to design something tighter, more focussed, and, perhaps, with overtones of socialism. 

Historically there is plenty of precedent for circular or polygonal town plans. Karlsruhe and Mannheim in Germany come to mind. And there are all those radial schemes by Sébastien Le Prestre, Marquis de Vauban (15 May 1633 – 30 March 1707; look him up, you’ll be astounded) who built fortified towns at the edges of France as a defense against invasion from the German states, the Spanish or those damned English. They didn’t do much to impede Hitler, however.

Vauban_lille_plan_citadelle

Much closer to home (but equally related to The Enlightenment) there are point-generated examples of American towns. Circleville, Ohio may be the best known among them, but don’t go there looking for the circle: over the years reason has whittled away at its original form and imposed rectilinearity with a vengeance. Surveyors just don’t appreciate the circle.

Circleville

So my goal has been to craft a plausible history of another group of Dutch in Iowabut unlike the folks in Pella (who came as Protestants and politically conservative), I hoped for a transplant of the late 19th century’s growing liberalism, even socialism. It turns out not to be impossible and, equally fortuitous, for them to have been Catholic. (I had wanted the original St Ahab’s church to be recycled as a chapel-of-ease at Grou, until its return to become the cemetery chapel.)

My challenge now is three-fold: 1) draft a plausible narrative that brings a Dutch colony to Fennimore county circa 1890; 2) imagine the plat they might have brought with themvery likely in metric; and 3) finally get around to designing the original St Ahab’s which Howard Tabor wrote about several years ago, but is about as tangible as a tone poem.


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