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The City-County Gaol

“Gaol” is an old British way of spelling jail, but you’re not likely to encounter it these days. One of the projects from mid-way in development of this process was a jail, connected with the second Fennimore County courthouse, as well as the Agincourt City Hall. At least that’s the way I remember if from circa 2008-2009.

Eric Hoffer (whose permission I haven’t asked) took this on as a “now” project, contemporary with his own effort — not necessarily an easier row to hoe.

I borrowed this image from a personal site he doesn’t seem to be using these days. But here’s the link to the page with other images of his jail. It doesn’t show much of the immediate context, though I can tell you it’s on the north side of the courthouse and (as I recollect) adjacent to the city hall. The would be about the northeast corner of Second Street N.W. and Agincourt Avenue.

If anyone knows Eric’s whereabouts, let me know.

Roma Mountjoy (contemporary)

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

MOUNTJOY, Roma [contemporary; Welsh]

“Tower Bridge” [top]

oil on paper / 2.05 inches by 2.05 inches


“Tower Bridge” [bottom]

mixed media on paper / 6 inches by 6 inches


Artists often return to a favored or familiar subject. London’s Tower Bridge is one of those subjects which has been recorded in every season and all times of day or night. Welsh artist Roma Mountjoy has returned more than twice to this iconic structure and captured impressions of its ever-changing character. In fact, bridges form a minor theme in the collection, which includes the Brooklyn Bridge and our own Gnostic and Cheshire bridges.

The Italianate

The Greek Revival style moved westward into the Trans-Appalachian states with early 19th century migration. Ohio is rich with examples, as are Indiana and Illinois. The style weakens — that is, to say, the copies of copies of copies become less convincing — as it moves into Wisconsin and Minnesota, though you may be offended by that observation if you’re from one of the latter states. Look not for it in the Dakotas; it’s not here.

The Greek Revival of the “Federal” period was followed by the Italianate, which you will find in the Dakotas and pretty much all the Great Plains States. [Remember, Texas is always an exception.] This was a style of the Civil War years and following, and one, therefore, which was dependent on the transition from hand carpentry to the increased use of power tools. Italianate design requires a good deal of wood trim but, happily, most of it can be produced with a jig saw and a lathe.

Italianate buildings can be found from Hartford to Hannaford and New Orleans to New Ulm. From farmhouses to courthouses. It is interpreted in a variety of materials from brick and stone to wood and stucco; including metal from cast iron and galvanized to wrought. And combinations of those materials, colorful combinations. I’ve always felt comforted by the Italianate, though without any solid reason for that comfort. I’ve also never tried to design anything in the style, until now.

This has been a long lean period in the Agincourt blog, largely because I’m deep in the writing of a manuscript on another project topic, so I didn’t want July to pass without at least a couple posts and the Original Fennimore County courthouse suggested itself — one of those cases where a sequence of buildings (courthouses one, two, and three) were designed in a different order. So now he time has come to imagine what that first seat of county government looked like and why it became outgrown so quickly.

Mid-Century Modern

Mid-Century Modern

Yes, the lush semi-tropical setting of this house by Gregory Ain places it securely in Southern California. And the mid-century modern style itself is one you’re unlikely to find in Iowa. But I can dream.

Last semester I worked with a student in a 5th-year architecture studio on the design of an MCM house. He was twenty-two or twenty-three, I’m guessing, and I, of course, more than three times his age, which may account for why it was more difficult than I had thought it would be. But that was my problem, not the student’s, because this was one of the architectural styles of my youth: I am, indeed, mid-century, if not actually modern. So, the earmarks of that historic style are more familiar to me than they would be to a twenty-something. Despite my hope that there is, in fact, very little other than age between me and my students, I’m living a life of quiet delusion.

Your Solar House

A 2008 article by A. Denzer, “The Solar house in 1947,” treats the significance of a book published that year, 1947, by Libby-Owens-Ford Glass Co., promoting L-O-F products and the design of passive solar homes — which one assumes would very likely have been done in an MCM design vocabulary. That was the first architecture book I can recall reading at my local public library some time in the mid-50s. So it became my go-to source for the state of mid-century modernism across the U.S. I bought a copy and gifted it to the student mentioned above — MCM has made a strong resurgence of late and he is far more likely to apply some of its principles than I am. But, for my current purposes, it raises the issue of when Agincourt might have received its first (only?) example of MCM single-family residential design.

Ain, by the way, proves to be a more interesting architect than I had recalled.

Karl F.J.M. Wasserman [1900–1972]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

WASSERMAN, Karl Franz Joseph Maria (attributed) [1900–1972; American]

Audience / Piazza

oil on wood panel / 11.7 inches by 10.2 inches


Though unsigned, this small study is thought to have been painted by community artist Karl Wasserman. During the summer of 1925, young Wasserman interrupted his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy to take a two month study tour of Europe and Britain. Despite discrepancies in the building profile, the family have believed this was a quick oil sketch of the Piazza San Pietro in Rome. We have titled it simply “Piazza”, to be on the side of caution.

Agincourt, the board game 1.2

For the gamers among you, there is a new periodical on your horizon: Senet, a name borrowed from an ancient Egyptian board game, often found in tombs, for the deceased to enjoy wiling away their eternal hours in the afterlife. I acquired a couple issues and am more than a little intimidated. With a little more courage, I’ll send a letter-to-the-editor, seeking some guidance on the notion of adapting Agincourt as a board game.

My track record for engaging strangers in the Project is a mixed bag; most “solicitations” have gone unanswered. At least no one has replied with suggestions for institutionalization. Yet.


There’s an old greeting card box, probably older than me, which is filled with family photographs; it may be in the roll-top desk. I know they are family because I recognize two or three people. But certainly not because there are any names pencilled on the backs. Why would anyone do so foolish a thing? “Everyone knows that’s Aunt Toodie” — until everyone who knew Aunt Toodie is dead.

I suppose that explains the number of unidentified “real photo” postcards on the auction site that dare not speak its name. Nameless faces, faces that at one time had meant so much to others or they’d never have been photographed, are a waste of perfectly good visage. So I buy them — often at $3–$5 each — and sketch the lives they might have lived in a small Iowa community a hundred years ago. Some are fleshed out more than others; many are just a name — so far.

And don’t claim better things to do with my time. This is a far higher calling than some I could mention.


It came to me this morning that this young man is Hobart; no surname or family yet. But there is a disconcertedness on Hobie’s face that belies his young age. Clearly this photo op was an interruption in his otherwise purposeful day.

Addendum [05 July 2021]: A hasty scan of the Who’s Who will tell you a lot about the curator here: that he is a well-past-middle-age White guy doomed to populate Agincourt with persons not unlike himself. Mea culpa. So, yes, I was drawn to this disconsolate little fellow, perhaps because he reminds me of myself. It then remains for me to fabricate a family for little Hobart.

“Hobart” as a given name is German, related to “Hubert”. Identifying its central European origin, a searched a list of surnames and their meaning — pretty subjective stuff, I realize. I tried several of them just for the sound and settled on a few with one or two syllables, ultimately choosing Koch (“cook”) for two reasons: 1) there was a well-known architect from Milwaukee named Koch, and 2) it is pronounced at least three ways: cook, coke, cotch. I’m going with “coke”. Now to generate some parents, siblings, and a plausible emigration story.


Schadenfreude: when simple envy isn’t enough.”

During the Cold War, there was the joke about the English speaker (by which I mean American english) feeling superior to the Russian who did not have a word for peaceful coexistence in his Russian vocabulary, and had had to borrow “detente”. The humor lies in the truth that neither does American English; though we use the French detente — not so much since the C.W. is past — for that same deficiency in our own tongue. And so it is, I suppose with Schadenfreude.¹

It is made up of two German words: Schaden, which means “harm” or “damage,” and Freude, which means “joy.” Hence Schadenfreude is the phenomenon of taking joy or satisfaction from the bad fortune of another. A self-satisfied sort of “Told ya so!” As I’m not an etymologist, the distinctions between schadenfreude and karma are subtle. But what of schadenfreude in Agincourt?

¹ Why did this remind me of Dankmar Adler, onetime partner of architect Louis Sullivan? Adler’s mother had died in childbirth and, so, was given the name Dankmar, meaning “sweet sorrow”. How sad to be reminded each day of the circumstance of your birth. And the painful joy it had brought to another.


Florence Craig Phalen [1891-?]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

PHALEN, Florence A. (née Craig) [1891–?]

Winter’s Eve, New Snowfall

ca. 1915

oil on board / 10 inches by 8 inches / signed

The former Florence A. Craig married John J. Phelan in 1911 and established their family in St Louis, Missouri. Mrs Phelan was, apparently, self-trained, a hobbyist who painted solely for personal satisfaction, for family and friends. This charming winter scene came into the possession of an Agincourt family related to the Phalens.

The painting is an example of Arts & Crafts simplicity displayed in an Aesthetic Movement frame of twenty-five years earlier. Since one movement grew from the other, the relationship is entirely appropriate. This is on anonymous long-term loan to the collection.

On Writing

“Cipher 10” and “Cipher 11” by Federico Cortese / drawing / 11.8 by 11.8 inches each

…and creating something to write about.

“[A] city is more than its physical landmarks: it is how it interacts with its people. They know a city needs more than signature buildings and retail, leisure and investment opportunities. It needs remembered pasts, closely-observed presents, imagined futures, and some collision of all three. It needs maps not only of the city’s streets, but of the skies above it, the tunnels beneath it, and the rivers and canals which run through it, of the things that are there only if you listen, only if you look carefully enough, only if you read the book you now hold in your hands.” — C.D. Rose, from the Introduction to Birmingham (2020).

This pair of imaginary urban plans comes from a 2018 calendar by Italian artist Federico Cortese (born 1971) — not to be confused with another Italian artist of the same name [1829–1913], nor with the current music director of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra; popular name in Italy, apparently. I’m still looking for a copy of that calendar but in the meantime someone on the WWW has put all the images on pinterest. These and others in that collection are inspiration for the map I’ve been trying to create for the Agincourt city directory.

For those with an interest, I recommend Urban Geofiction. There is even a map generator at Maps Mania.