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Island Time

There is a story about the Scotsman and the Spaniard.

They met on a station platform, waiting for a train that showed no sign of arrival, but neither seemed perturbed by the glitch in their travel plans. The Spaniard was first to glance at his pocket watch. “Late,” he observed dryly. “In my country we have a word—mañana—for things that don’t happen quite when you might expect them to”, addressed more to the wind than to his would-be fellow traveler. He then inquired more directly, “Do you have a concept like that in your country? The notion that things will happen in their own good time and can’t be rushed?”

After thoughtful consideration of perhaps half a minute, the other man replied in an accent redolent of heather and sheep, “No, in Scotland we doonah have a worrrd with quite that degree of specificity.” Several years ago I spent two weeks on the Isle of Skye (“An t-Eilean Sgitheanach” in Scots Gaelic, which I had come to learn) and found this to be true.

Arriving from London by two trains and a bus at the mainland port Kyle of Lochalsh, I inquired when the ferry would depart for Kyleachin, its sister port, which I could see through the ever-present haze across the strait on the Isle of Skye. The ticket agent replied, simply and succinctly, that the ferry would depart a few minutes after it arrived. That was the open-ended answer to each query concerning time and, especially, punctuality in the Highlands and the Hebrides, and I soon adjusted to “local time” on the Slait Peninsula, which boasted one road and that with only one lane.

One day a school friend, a man of Scottish origin who lived south of the border among the sasanach and had come north to get in touch with his roots, asked if I’d enjoy driving with him to see more of the island. Happily, we made a day-long trek counter-clockwise around Skye and spent an hour in Portree, the island’s largest town, with a population of fewer than 2,000. It was market day and after only a week on the island, I found myself harassed by the hurlyburly of so many people bustling about. It was a relief to get back in the car and enjoy the Company of Two for the remains of the day.

That island idyll is no more: a fucking bridge links Skye with the Mainland now and, no doubt, people consult their watches far too often.

Howard wants to tell us something about Agincourt’s arbiter of hours, the community’s “keeper of the clock”, but it may take some time.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Railroad Time

Before the introduction of Standard Time, each community set its clocks and watches to suit local rhythms. Each community became an island of time. Temporality by consensus. Railroads were the one component of 19th century life that called out for a degree of predictability. Otherwise, waiting for the train was akin to “Waiting for Godot”. As a consequence, businesses and banks, schools and the county courthouse set their clocks and watches to Railroad Time. So, until the implementation of time zones in the 1880s, the station master regulated life in small town America. Ours was Walter Seitz.


<More to come> 

Propriété de Monsieur Cohier a Dourdan


There is only a little information about this drawing:

  • It is a detailed pen-and-ink drawing of a wood-framed bay window
  • The sheet dimensions are about 20 inches by 27 inches
  • It was designed for a Monsieur Cohier
  • The house (presumably it was a house) was projected for Dourdan, a suburb of Paris in the Seine-et-Oise department

Unfortunately, the architect is unidentified, neither is it dated—except for the Art Nouveau characteristics of the lettering that put it about 1905-1910. Things like this come along infrequently, so I’m inclined to make as much of them as possible. How do you suppose this can become part of the Agincourt narrative?

Of doubtful authenticity

Authenticity (noun)—of undisputed origin or authorship; genuine: an authentic signature; accurate in representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable; a word not often heard in current political discourse, except with irony. OK, I added the last part.

Do you recall when the Catholic Church de-accessioned many of its saints? Newspapers and other periodicals reproduced window signs from stores selling religious paraphernalia announcing: “Close-out sale on Mr Christopher medals”. The patron saint of travelers had been found to be of doubtful authenticity. Prayers offered to him were in vain.

I had an exchange with a student last week regarding faith, but to converse is not to convert. Far from it; neither of us made an inroad on the other. But to imagine religiosity as a simple measured bar between two extremes, two polar opposites, is to mistake its nuance. Somewhere I’m certain there is a graphic that will help me understand. Not just the position I hold in a two- or more likely three-dimensional matrix, and how to measure the distance from there to where you are—today, because tomorrow we’ll have moved on (or over or back), perhaps influenced by the very conversation we’ve just shared.

Why Christopher was purged I cannot say. Nor do I know how many other saints joined him. [Ask me sometime for a list of my own nominees for people and things “of doubtful authenticity”. I’ll pay a price for that.] Apparently, Crispin and Crispinian made the cut, saints among my all-time favorites with Dymphna, Mungo and Little Saint Hugh. Happily, Saint Ahab slipped beneath the Vatican’s radar, too. The project would be far less interesting without him.


The twins Crispin and Crispinian play an obscure but pivotal role in the Agincourt story. Third century martyrs for their faith, the Battle of Agincourt was fought on Crispin’s feast day; Shakespeare puts his name into King Henry’s mouth on the eve of battle. That day—October 25th—then became the date of Agincourt’s incorporation in 1857 as well as the date of its sesqui-centennial opening in 2007 (perversely at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, Minnesota). 

In the narrative of Anson Tennant’s life, Crispin makes a cameo. With the new library-gallery safely under construction in the spring of 1915, Anson fatefully left New York City on the “Lusitania” only to come back from the dead in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He needed to be more than a “one hit wonder”, however, so the young architect’s last design, executed posthumously (they thought), was a chapel dedicated to Crispin, an addition to the Episcopal church of St. Joseph-the-Carpenter, built in 1915 as a memorial to him and, not incidentally, to the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

It may be that some day soon, I too will have joined the doubtfully authentic. It will be an honor to join such company.

The New Normal (1.1)

In our department’s thesis process—a rigorous comprehensive design, though not the university’s required “capstone” project—there are a few hurdles to successful completion. Two that recur each year are the I-am-my-own-client phenomenon and the a-building-isn’t-what-I’m actually-trying-to-design situation. The first is easily solved; the second is more insidious.

It’s no surprise that I’m a precedent-driven kind of guy. So creating Agincourt’s new Normal School  reminds me that my task is to imagine the style and substance of a Midwestern institution for teacher training circa WWI, one that in this case will occupy an earlier building or set of buildings that had until recently served as an orphanage. First the orphanage, then the school. Not incompatible buildings, since they are both modular and defined by double-loaded corridors and fairly clear zoning issues. On the other hand, my task is not to re-imagine the Normal School phenomenon in American history, nor to reinvent its curriculum. Those things are very well laid out in literature of the period in professional journals such as The Elementary School Journal and more recent historical studies accessed through on-line sources like JSTOR and google.books. 

A quick search this afternoon yielded an article by H. A. Brown, of the State Normal School, Oshkosh, Wisconsin titled “The Normal-School Curriculum” which, in its nine short pages, offers four focused two-year curricula. Coupled with short institutional histories for schools typical of that period—the North Dakota schools at Valley City and Mayville, for example, which are close at hand and familiar in their architectural evolution—I’m comfortable outlining the issues that faced Dr. Wilhelm Reinhardt, Northwest Iowa Normal’s first president.

normal school

Do you think we can do better than this fortress in Alva, Oklahoma, that is unfortunately all too typical of its times?

The New Normal

As new states were established during westward expansion, the first order of business—even in territorial times—was the distribution of political spoils. That is, each state sought to scatter its infrastructure equitably across its turf. State (and territorial) legislatures were charged with creating institutions and situating them according to the extant pecking order, populous counties with clout receiving plum institutions and less populated regions the dregs, if any were left.

Institutions came in two broad types: education and social service (with much more variety in the latter). In Dakota Territory and the new state of North Dakota after 1889 there were two waves of distribution during the First Dakota Boom and and its echo about twenty years later. Taken together, the process yielded too many institutions, what one historian called “too much too soon”. It looked something like this, in no particular order (I’m working from memory, not notes):

  • Agricultural College—Fargo
  • University—Grand Forks
  • State School of Science—Wahpeton
  • Normal School (for teacher training)—Mayville
  • Normal School—Valley City
  • Industrial School—Ellendale
  • Normal School—Minot
  • Normal School—Dickinon
  • Junior College—Bismarck

Having addressed higher education, there was then the matter of social services at a time when the delicacies of language were less than we might expect in the age of political correctness. Consider:

  • School for the Feeble Minded—Grafton
  • School for the Deaf—Devils Lake
  • School for the Blind—Bathgate, but later relocated to Grand Forks
  • School for Incorrigables (or some such term for recalcitrant youth)—Mandan
  • Hospital for the Insane—Jamestown
  • State Prison—Bismarck

What have I forgotten?

Suffice to say, any new state, after the Civil War, would have built into its creation a host of institutions for educating its youth (or reforming them) and treating the physical and mental ills of its population. And the clamor for each of them was intense, because each represented an investment of state resources in the local economy: each would be built from materials locally supplied and each would employ local citizens as staff (teachers, care givers, custodians, etc.). Any community able to lobby successfully for one of these was stabilized; its future was reinforced, if not assured.


Into or out of this context, consider Agincourt’s community leaders when the local orphanage went out of business circa 1910. An empty building. Unemployed staff. Should we be surprised that an ad hoc committee of politicos and business types sought a solution, lobbying the legislature in Des Moines for creation of a new teacher training school—a so-called “normal school”—to fill the vacant buildings on the northwest edge of town?

Adaptive use as enlightened self-interest. I rest my case.

Apropos of nothing…

Just when you thought books with titles like The Complete Works of [fill in the blank] held all that could be known or shown about someone, along comes new information to rattle your cage. Take Bernard Maybeck, for example, whose oeuvre has been published several times over. Sleuthing on the web yesterday, what should materialize (besides that rather nice image of a town hall in Hildesheim) but an unknown, to me at least, train station by Maybeck in Los Angeles. Odd for a Bay Area architect, but stranger things have happened.

For Maybeckians in the crowd, here is an image.


I probably shouldn’t have said “apropos of nothing…”, because this little gem is in the character of the Christian Science church in Agincourt that was co-authored (in my head) by Maybeck and his co-religionist S. S. Beman.

If I had talent…

Blundering around the internet, I’m trying to flesh out the biography of Prof Wilhelm Reinhardt, first president of Agincourt’s Normal school, and what should I stumble upon but this postcard view of the Hildesheim Rathaus or town hall.


Not only is this an attractive image, it might inspire a series of postcards of buildings at Agincourt. Do you suppose I can adapt six to ten city buildings as a set of cards? 

How far is it from Hildesheim? [Not very far.]

To be the first of anything is a double-edged sword. Imagine the responsibilities resting on the shoulders of Northwest Iowa Normal College president-elect Professor Wilhelm Reinhardt, PhD. 

Wilhelm Auguste Karl Ernst Reinhardt was born in Hildesheim, Germany in 1874 (which had been annexed to the Kingdom of Prussia a few years earlier). Why did I choose Hildesheim? Because it has a wonderful early Medieval church, St Michael’s, that I use to illustrate the spontaneous eruption of the Romanesque architectural style around A.D. 1000—when the Second Coming should have happened but didn’t, a disappointment compensated by a flurry of building activity not seen again until the 1989 reunification of Germany.  Looks like a nice town.


Let’s imagine him a middling child, third oldest of seven, in a household sufficiently well off to send one of its sons to university at Göttingen, only sixty miles south in the province of Hanover. One source credits Göttingen as the most modern of Germany’s 18th century universities, perhaps through its ties to England and the House of Hanover. I was pleased to see that “modern” meant a demotion of theology in favor of law; where seminars displaced disputation and the natural sciences attained the greatest acclaim. They wouldn’t have let me in, but if they had, at least the requirement to speak Latin would have been waived.

Let’s have young Wilhelm arrive from his local gymnasium at age seventeen or eighteen and proceed through the standard four-to-six year curriculum in history, graduating circa 1898, fresh for employment potential here in the U.S., when American universities sought the status that came with European credentials. That was certainly true in architecture, when a degree from the École des Beaux Arts was a passport to academic success in the U.S. But just to be sure, Wilhelm’s M.A. (Magister Artium) degree ought to have been prologue to the Ph.D., attained after a further period of study. That put him in the job market shortly after the turn of the century. But what might have brought him to America?

In 1904 St Louis, Missouri was the site of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a World’s Fair, in a city with substantial German population—perhaps including Reinhardt relatives. The history of 19th century America can be told through the leap-frogging of emigrant families, one generation paving a way for the next (children establishing themselves and making a place for parents; one parent finding work and eventually sending for the spouse and kids). I can certainly flesh this out in time. It could be that young Reinhardt had some connection with the division of Prussian bureaucracy responsible for the German exhibit at the Fair, a statement of Germanic culture and industry in a portion of the Mississippi River valley already heavily populated with emigrants from the Fatherland. [What’s the difference between a Fatherland and a Motherland, anyway?]

Professor Reinhardt might have found work at Washington University, then building its new campus near the site of the 1904 Exposition in Forest Park, and perhaps craving the products of rigorous German education. That puts him in a region close to Iowa at an age (31 or thereabouts) and a context (professor of history) convenient for him to have seen the notice of opportunity for academic advancement at Agincourt.

So many question unanswered. So many opportunities unexplored, not the least of them being his arrival in Iowa at the outbreak of World War.

[Incidentally, the Hildesheim town hall suffered a good deal of war damage (I suspect) and appears far less interesting today than it did closer to the turn of the 20th century, shown in the postcard view above.]

[And a further postscript: the title of this entry should be sung to the tune of a not-so-popular Christmas carol.]

300 Posts

With the weekend contribution of “Landscapes and Livestock”, this blog has reached a milestone. [Or is that “millstone”?] Three hundred posts in twenty-nine months, but who’s counting.

I am.

Oh, and let me add the following, apropos of nothing: “A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote.” –Mignon McLaughlin

Landscapes and Livestock

It’s safe to say that I would know very little about Agincourt and its environs—Fennimore County and the smaller communities in the fertile valley of the Mighty Muskrat—without the guidance of Howard Tabor, writer for The Daily Plantagenet. We’ve known one another for six years and exchanged messages so often that late night calls are commonplace. I call him friend.

Through Howard I’ve also become acquainted with a handful of other Agincourt citizens who have been equally forthcoming with images, information and artifacts for the exhibit scheduled this fall. My newest acquaintance is Emily Weise, an English teacher at the college who also happens to curate the community art collection in the Tennant Memorial Gallery. Professor Weise and I have shared only a few emails, but I’m already beginning to feel the character of the collection through her words.


The Community Collection (I should use capital letters; that’s how the collection is officially known) occupies the Tennant Memorial Gallery which still exists in the former Agincourt Public Library. When the library moved in 1970 to new quarters and became a county-wide facility, the second-floor library space sat vacant for two years—no one could imagine a tenant needing so much shelving, and then a local law firm came to the rescue, I suppose, of a building threatened with demolition—but the commercial space on Broad Street continued to generate rent; the art, however, had no place to go but storage. The collection then numbered about one hundred pieces and could easily have gone into an attic but that apparently wasn’t an option. So, in 1972 when the collection was already sixty years old, a corporation formed to own these works and maintain them for the future. [But who had “owned” them before?]

It all began in the summer of 1912 when Amity Burroughs Flynn (widow of a former mayor) proposed an exhibit drawn from the many personal collections of art in the community. She wheedled—wheedling was Amity’s stock in trade—a dozen pieces from the walls of parlours, private libraries and board rooms round and about town and hung them in the G.A.R. Hall in the old Fennimore County courthouse, a Richardsonian affair with large fireplace and glass-fronted book shelves. By all accounts, the Friday night opening was hugely successful. After a month of casual viewing and a lecture by an art historian from the Agricultural College at Ames, the art went home, so to speak, but the memory lingered on. There was talk of making it an annual affair.

It may be Mrs Flynn’s largest legacy to her adopted community that she kindled a flame for art that never faded. Instead of a sweaty gathering in August heat, however, she proposed something grander: a community-based collection displayed year-round with pieces from the 1912 exhibit at its core. How she cajoled those first families to donate their art isn’t recorded; I suspect shame had a role to play. Three works came from Amity herself.

“But the collection has grown,” you say. Yes, now in its one hundredth year, Agincourt’s collection may be unique in Iowa. After its first ten years of casual accumulation, an orderly growth began, with one or two new pieces added each year. And those new works came from the annual show itself, chosen by populist vote, creating a collection unguided by academic opinion. Hubris took a hike. Like a silent auction, the casting of votes and the posting of their rationale caused heated debate and at least a few hurt feelings. But the process of consensus continues. [If current congressional procedures had ruled the collection, we’d be looking at blank walls today.]

Professor Weise is the first “professional” to care for the Community Collection. Her title is “keeper” actually, not “curator”, and she takes her job at face value: preserve and protect the work and facilitate the collection’s evolution without value judgment. In September we’ll be privileged to see about twenty percent of her charges. At least forty pieces will be loaned to the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, Minnesota; the first time that the collection has left its home in the building the young architect Anson Tennant designed especially for it.

Representative of what we’ll see is this portrait of Wilhelm Auguste Karl Ernst Reinhardt [1874-1959], first president of the Northwest Iowa Normal School, painted by artist Susan Ricker Knox at the time of his appointment.

[NB: I wrote something about the Community Collection some months ago–perhaps even a year or more–so I should examine them for any discrepancies or disparities.]