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Metropolitan Metrics


Among the most useful historical sources, in my experience, is the city directory. During the 19th century they were published with regularity — annually, sometimes every other year — a snapshot of the community, as much as the U.S. Census, though preserving different information. I’ve wanted to produce an Agincourt directory, not all of it, but just enough to illustrate my point. For several reasons I chose 1912, the first year that Anson Tennant would have advertised his services as the community’s resident architect.

Many of you may know that the U.S. Census for 1890 was stored at the Library of Congress, but unfortunately most of it was destroyed by fire. Because the census is so important in genealogical work, companies like Ancestry.com began to compensate by microfilming city directories between 1880 and 1900 to compensate. Initially, only large cities like Chicago were scanned but gradually other cities and towns  were added to that database. I think it may be safe to say that for a state like Iowa, most published directories are available.

So, I consulted the 1915 directory for Fort Dodge (a city I mistakenly thought to be representative) and found it to have been published by the R.L. Polk Co., established in 1870 and still active; their format became the model for the Midwest and beyond. I’d prefer that Agincourt’s be a local production, however, so I’ll have to check other Iowa cities to find how pervasive the Polk presence may have been.

Here is a fairly typical page from the classified section, showing the several architects serving Fort Dodge and its hinterlands. Presumably they’d have poached in Agincourt, as well. “architects & Superintendents”, by the way, represented a wide variety of professional ability, ranging from services we’d recognize today as “architectural”, but it would also have included skills more akin to contracting and construction supervision; Iowa didn’t require professional licensure until 1926.

Using Fort Dodge as a template is problematic because the city’s population increased dramatically between 1900 and 1910, perhaps representing the untypical presence of the U.S. Army. So I may have to find another city like Storm Lake. More as the story develops, including a company profile for N&H and the identities of its management.

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