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Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District, represented by Steve King, includes Agincourt and Fennimore county. I almost regret now my choice of northwestern Iowa as the location for this project, not because it was illogical—the opening of the land from the treaty with the Sac and Fox people afforded a window of opportunity that was difficult to ignore—but because more recent politicization of civic affairs (or should I say over-politicization) turned the place far more “red” than I can stomach. Climate change is a case in point.

“Climate” encompasses a broad range of conditions vital to citizens of the Muskrat River valley. Rising (or lowering) temperatures, rain and snowfall, tornadoes and wind-driven fires; for most of Agincourt’s history the regional economy depended on a healthy harvest, and farmers based their spring planting on everything from the U.S. Weather Service to The Farmer’s Almanac. This is hardly news. But dramatic weather events must have affected lives in general and specific ways, including influence on architecture, landscape design and civil engineering. So, I wonder how to build this into the story line—short of spinning and arrow, throwing a die, or taking a card from the stack of orange “Chance” cards.

Weather events have already played minor roles here and there:

  • A massive storm and waterspout deposited fish and, remarkably, a partial ship’s mast on the Schütz form, giving Fr Manning all the inspiration he needed to choose Saint Ahab as dedication for Agincourt’s Roman Catholic parish.
  • Traveling between Kansas City and St Paul (where he had a building under construction in each city, really) Chicago architect Francis Barry Byrne’s train diverted to Agincourt when a railroad bridge washed out on the Des Moines River. The upshot? Byrne was unable to find a room at the Blenheim Hotel and, instead, found shelter at the Catholic rectory, where he made a new friend in Fr Emile Farber and got the commission for a new church.
  • Blizzards at one time or another have: 1) delayed travel and thereby opened the door for two strangers to meet and fall in love; 2) caused my friend Howard to venture out on Christmas Eve in search of whipping cream; during the excursion, he encountered the Ghost of Christmas-yet-to-be; and 3) caused young lovers to go off the road, into Crispin Creek, where a life was lost, and another irrevocably changed.

Concerning floods, I can say with certainty that the four quadrants of Agincourt’s town plan vary considerably in elevation. The southwest quad has been subject to frequent flooding, which has lowered property values and, in fact, affected the percentage of owner-occupied homes. As a neighborhood of the “disadvantaged”, I wonder how long it took to negotiate some sort of flood control. [Shades of Fargo-Moorhead!] And surely the county has seen at least one twister. But where and along what devastated path? Who or what was in the way? Is the scar still there?

So I found this postcard view on eBay the other day and knew immediately it was looking south along Sixth Street NW. That’s the Bendix barn on one of the outlots that subsequently became Riverside Addition. What do you suppose those guys are talking about?

I want to meet the dog.

 


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