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Singer Andy Williams born in Siouxland, Wall Lake

16 May

 

I am always somewhat amazed but also delighted when I find a bit of nostalgia and history tidbits as I drive about Siouxland. One of those tidbits is the fact that the singer and entertainer Andy Williams was born in the small community of Wall Lake, roughly about 800 people. His birthplace and home for the first eight years of his life is now a restored show place in the community and maintained by the Wall Lake Historical Society.

An autographed photo of himself, Andy Williams, sits on an end table at the singer Andy Williams’ birthplace in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

Members of the Wall Lake, IA, Historical Society Esther Bielema, seated, and Janice Determann, standing at the singer Andy Williams’ birthplace in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The day I visited the home I was greeted by a couple of enthusiastic members of the society and fans of Mr. Williams, Esther Bielema and Janice Determann. While the home is not filled from floor to ceiling with memorabilia, it is full of all sorts of historical items about the singer and his family and basically a shrine to a small town boy who made it big.

The birthplace of singer Andy Williams sits atop a hill overlooking downtown Wall Lake, Iowa, Friday, April 18, 2014. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

Singer Andy Williams, left, with his parents Jay and Florence Williams appearing in one of his Christmas TV Specials on display at the singer’s birthplace in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

Various photographs of singer Andy Williams adorn the walls of his birthplace in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

The downstairs bedroom where Wall Lake Historical Society member Esther Bielema and others believe that singer Andy Williams was born in 1934 at his birthplace home in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I can remember growing up that my parents watched the Andy Williams’ Christmas Specials on TV and while I don’t believe they had any of his records, the songs he sang are well known and include such hits as “Moon River”, “Abraham, Martin and John”, “Days of Wine and Roses”, “Dear Heart”, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Born Free”.

While there a woman from Des Moines stopped in and walked about the home in awe. For Bielema and Determann the joy of the grand opening when Williams and his wife attended along with other family must have been a thrill they still feel today. History comes alive in places like this mostly because of those who help visitors enjoy it. And one never knows where other historical facts may pop up, but it’s nice to know such gems are still around to find.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Westward Ho, Siouxland, Mormon Trail Center Historic Winter Quarters, Omaha, NE

12 May

The Morman Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters tells the story of the Mormon people after they left Nauvoo, IL and headed west eventually reaching Utah and the gives an accounting of the people and the journey to their selected sacred site, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

On a recent visit to Omaha, NE I came across the Mormon Trail Center, Historic Winter Quarters museum that tells the tale of the Mormons westward travels from Nauvoo, IL when residents there forced them to leave and look elsewhere to settle. I am always amazed at the pockets of history around and near Siouxland, although I shouldn’t be. At one time Iowa and the region was just a prairie and part of that westward expansion. Mormon missionaries guide you through the museum and exhibits helping you to understand their tale of reaching Utah and Salt Lake City which would become their mecca and a place of religious tolerance.

Sister Millet, 2nd from the right and Sister Price, right, are part of a group of Mormon missionaries doing their service by giving tours to those visiting the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A bust of Joseph Smith on display at the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. The photograph in the background shows the Mormon temple built at Nauvoo, IL because the Mormons were forced to leave. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A painting depicting the Mormon journey west hanging in the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Like any settlers heading west the Mormon people encountered obstacles in reaching their destination. The Winter Quarters museum explains how the majority of people stayed put two to three years while Brigham Young and other leaders continued west looking for the place to settle that Young had seen in a vision. The missionaries put into context the travels along with what else was happening in the U.S. during that time period. The Kanesville settlement in what is now Council Bluffs, Iowa became a early provisions emporium which also helped outfit other settlers heading west, including a number of “49’ers” headed to California to find their reward in gold, as opposed to the Mormon’s spiritual reward.

Traveling from Nauvoo, IL and heading west, a brief description of the Mormon trek heading west and through Iowa seen at the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A map showing the location of each of the camps of the Morman Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A display showing the settlement around Council Bluffs and Omaha during the Mormon trek to Utah on display at the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

History to me is always fascinating. People’s spiritual beliefs are more in common than not, it’s just that sometimes in getting to the same spiritual heaven, we find ourselves on different footpaths getting there.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Siouxland as Western Frontier, Omaha, NE

10 May

In this modern age it is sometimes difficult to visualize Siouxland which encompasses parts of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota as what was known in the mid to late 1800’s as the western frontier. This frontier was overseen by an Army commander stationed at Fort Omaha in current Omaha, NE, and it encompassed Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and parts of Idaho. One of those commanders was General George Crook.

History of General George Crook , who oversaw the headquarters of the Dept. of the Platte, a territory including Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and parts of Idaho, is on display at the General Crook House Museum at Fort Omaha, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

And now Fort Omaha is the campus of the Metropolitan Community College, the home of General Crook has become a museum and showcases his life and what life was like for a frontier Army commander and his wife. Crook was regarded as a successful Plains Indian fighter and was assigned his post and others on the frontier.

General George Crook oversaw the headquarters of the Dept. of the Platte from Fort Omaha. The territory included Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and parts of Idaho, on display at the General Crook House Museum at Fort Omaha, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

General George Crook’s bedroom in what is now the General Crook House Museum at Fort Omaha, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. Rounded walls created more space that could be used for closet space then. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The residence was built in the years 1878-79 and was occupied by the general and his wife, Mary. They entertained dignitaries from back east including presidents. The home was lit by gas light fixtures and while the furniture is of the period, it is not from General Crook’s own former furnishings that he and his wife used.

An extra bedroom where many notables of the day, including Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes, stayed overnight at the General Crook House Museum at Fort Omaha, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A formal parlor in the General Crook House Museum at Fort Omaha, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A music room in the General Crook House Museum at Fort Omaha, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

When I visited there were no other visitors, and the docent left me to my own meanderings through the various rooms. It was quiet and easy to imagine bantering and conversations of individuals from the day enjoying themselves relaxing as the next day they could be leaving for parts in the west to face undetermined hostiles.

A formal dining room in the General Crook House Museum at Fort Omaha, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

What may be an usual piece of furniture today was not during the time period when General George Crook occupied this residence, now the General Crook House Museum, at Fort Omaha, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I am a bit of a history junkie and it’s fun to find so much history located in and around the Siouxland area. Places to visit during a transitional period in American history as the country continued to expand and push westward.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Siouxland’s History Tucked Away, Grand Meadow Heritage Center

2 May

When going to various Siouxland festivals and community celebrations, no matter how tenuous the term community might be, sometimes there is just too much to take in and share at one time. Part of the reason I like revisiting places I have been to previously. The Grand Meadow Heritage Center is one such place. Its old school is now a museum of sorts with a lot of material relating to previous centuries. Being located in the country, a lot of that history centers around agriculture.

Unique farming equipment can be seen in the basement of the former elementary and high school building that was built in 1921 during the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A visitor walks through the basement of the former elementary and high school building that was built in 1921that contains an assortment of historical farming equipment collected over the years seen at the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

But there is information about people who previously lived in the area and attended the school that still stands.

Visitors to the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival look through old newspaper clippings and school yearbooks in the former elementary and high school building that was built in 192, located near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A collection of historical farming photographs on display in the former elementary and high school building that was built in 1921 at the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

As an older school building that probably housed grade school and the high school, it also contained a gymnasium and stage. Lots of space to store and display items that relate to what occurred in the past and a source of information for those of us today looking to understand a bit more about how people lived, worked and survived in an era that didn’t have many of the new technological advances that today’s world seems to offer. Well, maybe not technologically advanced to the modern way of thinking. But then it was probably ground breaking.

A rug loom possibly from the 19th century in the former elementary and high school building that was built in 1921 seen at the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

Part of a rail road track and other historical items on display in the former elementary and high school building that was built in 1921 at the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

People just lived a simpler life and made do with less stuff. And the few things they had were taken care of and passed on to the next generation. Until that tradition stopped.

A cradle, circa 1875, on display with other period items in the former elementary and high school building at the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

And early settlers would marvel at our need today to live in houses that are huge in comparison, when in most cases, a large room functioned in many ways.

Visitors look over a replica period log cabin and contents at the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A room in the former elementary and high school building that was built in 1921 is set up like a General Store that existed in many small communities in Iowa is see at the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The Heritage Center is a look into the area’s past, some displays set up for viewing what life was like then, and is educational a nice reminder, if we actually remember to take the time to look, listen and explore.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

From the former elementary and high school building built in 1921 and which houses lots of memorabilia, one can look out over the school grounds during the Grand Meadow Heritage Festival near Washta, Iowa Saturday Sept. 9, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Long History and Remnants near Siouxland, Fort Omaha, Omaha, NE

24 Apr

Sometimes when driving about in Siouxland or areas nearby one unexpectedly comes across a gem of history. Some of these gems are more like nuggets with a brief glimpse into what was before. I visited Fort Omaha in Omaha, NE recently and found the set up and area very representative of a previous military establishment first founded in the late 1800’s that oversaw the expansion west and supervised an area that included Wyoming, parts of Idaho, Montana, Nebraska and Iowa. Soldiers stationed here covered a vast territory and interacted with a few Native American or Indian tribes in the area. Some friendly and some not so friendly.

General Crook’s headquarters seen here was constructed in 1879 at Fort Omaha, although the fort came into being in 1868. The headquarters oversaw the territory of what is now Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah Montana and part of Idaho. Now this headquarters is a campus library and the former fort is the Metropolitan Community College center, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The former fort is now home to the Metropolitan Community College. Many of the former fort’s buildings are still standing with some having descriptors near them informing a person of the building’s history. And walking the grounds, one can almost hear the sounds of a trumpet calling for assembly or sounding taps when the flag is retired at the end of the day.

More quarters seen at the former Fort Omaha created in 1868, now the Metropolitan Community College center, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

The former parade grounds at Fort Omaha, created in 1868, now the Metropolitan Community College center, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

It’s a little hard to imagine with the city of Omaha bustling about what the area must have been like two centuries previous. Only a few buildings and the rest prairie, on guard for unfriendly visitors and monitoring those hardy souls heading west to look for a new beginning. Help possibly nearby but maybe not always available. But it is nice that history and the buildings associated with it have been preserved and found a new life in a new century and helping others forge a new beginning through a community college now located there, overseeing those attending and looking at their own way forward.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A look at officer’s row at Fort Omaha where senior officers quarters were located next to one another when Fort Omaha was first established in 1868, now the Metropolitan Community College center, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. The buildings now house various departments associated with the college where department heads and professors have offices. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

In 1884 a large brick guard house for housing serious offenders of the military code were housed at Fort Omaha, now a help desk for information technology services facility for the Metropolitan Community College center, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

Fort Omaha was created in 1868 and a number of buildings were constructed to help oversee the expansion of a new nation expanding west involved in various campaigns against Native American tribes which included the Norther Cheyene, Ute, Sioux and Nez Perce. This building is now an administrative computing facility for the Metropolitan Community College center, Thursday, April 5, 2018 in Omaha, NE. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

An Introduction to the Mormon Trail near Siouxland, Council Bluffs

18 Apr

During a visit in southern Siouxland I stopped at the Kanesville Tabernacle in Council Bluffs. Being pressed for time I did not go inside to tour the historical site but learned later that is was where Brigham Young was “sustained” or acknowledged as the second president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Another historical mormon site in located in Omaha, NE which I did visit and gave me insight as what I might find at the tabernacle. I love history, even history I may not totally understand or even agree with.  As a fictional TV character once said, “It’s better to know than not know.”

And I believe that many people are looking for the path to Heaven and redemption through Jesus, it’s just that they are following different footpaths to get there. And whatever one’s proscribed faith, history helps inform us and then leaves us to determine what we should or not believe.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

The historical story of the Mormon trek from Nauvoo, IL to Slat Lake City, UT is partially told at the Kanesville Tabernacle located in Council Bluffs, Iowa Monday March 12, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

The historical story of the Mormon trek from Nauvoo, IL to Slat Lake City, UT is partially told at the Kanesville Tabernacle located in Council Bluffs, Iowa Monday March 12, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

The historical story of the Mormon trek from Nauvoo, IL to Slat Lake City, UT is partially told at the Kanesville Tabernacle located in Council Bluffs, Iowa Monday March 12, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Finding History in Siouxland, Laurel, NE

10 Apr

While driving about in western Siouxland recently I passed through the small community of Laurel, NE. According to some online sites roughly 940 to 1,000 people reside there, depending on which site one reads.

Downtown main street in Laurel, Nebraska Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The community’s site states that recent investment is helping the place to grow and thrive in the most recent century. I enjoyed a couple murals in town that alluded to the community’s and region’s past, notably the railroad, which passed through  so many early communities and allowed them to grow and thrive with the expansion west, and the Pony Express of which I couldn’t find any information whether it passed through the immediate area or not. Most references for the Pony Express stated the route through Nebraska generally followed the Platte River which is more south of Laurel.

Wall murals remind residents of past history in Laurel, Nebraska Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

 

A tribute to the history of the Pony Express is painted on the side of a downtown building in Laurel, Nebraska Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

References did state that the community was named for a daughter of one of the founding citizens and founded in the late 1800’s. Some information noted that actor James Coburn was born in Laurel.

It was interesting that there were some still original streets  reflecting the use of brick so many communities used for years.

Some streets retain their surface in Laurel, Nebraska Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

To me there is no end to the fascination of small town America, and sometimes I feel I am barely scratching the surface as I tool about looking for places to visit or that I happen upon. And like many small communities, Laurel also had a grain elevator near its downtown that services the surrounding agricultural community.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Some “old fashioned” wall advertising is painted on a brick wall next to a pub in Laurel, Nebraska Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A small grain elevator operates in Laurel, Nebraska Thursday, March 22, 2018. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

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