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Little Ones

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Agincourt was barely twenty years old when the nation celebrated its centennial. Visitors to the 1876 World’s Fair at Philadelphia came by tens of thousands, but I wonder how many made the trek from Iowa.

First, they would have taken the CMStP&P to Herndon and then transferred to the mainline, running between Omaha and Chicago. At Chicago, several options were available—the NY Central to New York City and then south to Philly; Or a more complex path angled diagonally across Indiana and Ohio leading, eventually, to Philadelphia. One was faster, the other more direct.All of this would have taken at least two or three days each way, and one might legitimately elect to rest for a day in Chicago.

Among the many sights, sounds and tastes of the fair, Iowans would surely have beat a path to their own state exhibit. Indeed, it was probably this display of Iowa’s agriculture and, perhaps, the beginning of its industry that was the reason for Iowans to visit the fair: bald-faced 19th century boosterism. It would have been logical for the mayor to attend and just as likely for the president of the Chamber of Commerce—and their spouses, of course. Expenses for the trip would have been at least partially underwritten by both the council and the chamber.

What might they have brought back to the Heartland? Well, for one thing—one very, very small thing—they might have visited the display of Friedrich Fröbel, inventor of kindergarten. Spellcheck likes that word, which is wholly German, since it became thoroughly Americanized in the following hundred-plus years. Anna Lloyd Wright, mother of Frank, saw Fröbel’s display and took it back to Madison, Wisconsin, where she operated a kindergarten based on its principles—an experience, not incidentally, which her son attested as instrumental in making his architectural point-of-view. When and where was Iowa’s first Fröbel-inspired pre-school childhood educational experience, do you suppose? Agincourt’s as good place as any.

kindergarten 1911-med

The first kindergarten began innocently enough in the home of an Agincourt mother (identity to be settled later) and grew to warrant its own building. Shall we say five or six years? Which means that by 1882 or 1883 a building had been designed to house Agincourt’s kindergarten. Not incidentally, Anson Tennant would have attended at about age four or five, in the mid-90s, and been inculcated with the same sense of underlying geometries that Wright encountered a couple decades earlier.


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