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Visiting History in Siouxland, Adams House Museum, Ponca, NE

5 Dec
A look at an earlier century of living at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Through one of the photography classes I teach at a local community college I look for destinations for the class to visit near and far within Siouxland. Besides possibly introducing the students to places locally they might not have visited before, it also puts their photographic skills to test from composition to using ISO and white balance settings to possibly trying slow shutter speeds or dragging the shutter. My reasoning is that if they are on vacation someplace, they shouldn’t be afraid of pulling out the camera and using it to document their trip or to make awe inspiring imagery to share later with family and friends.

Volunteer Ken Johnson talks about the history of the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A look at an earlier century of living at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The Adams House Museum is a brick home built in the early 1880’s by a local druggist named E.D. Ayers according to a printed handout presented by the museum. Volunteer Ken Johnson gave the class a quick history lesson about the house and some of the furnishings, not all of which are original but mostly period pieces to the early family that lived there.

In the early 1900’s a local farmer and his wife, Sam and Della Adams, purchased the home, and it was noted in the information handed out that only wealthier folk in those days could afford to build or purchase a brick home.

A stairwell leads to the upstairs while a doorway at left goes into a sitting parlor at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A look at an earlier century of a formal sitting parlor at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Remnants of history on display at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

It’s always interesting to walk through a home museum. To see what appliances and other types of utensils were used during a particular time period one to two centuries ago. Various photographs about the museum showed snippets of history about the area and what it looked like before really being settled. Photographs showing the early days of a community are so totally different than what one sees today. Which is only natural, considering there are so many more folk living these days, and living longer.

A number of items within the museum were donated by area families, passed down through the generations are now on display for others to consider its place in history and a bit of reminder that actual people inhabited this house and others in the area helping create what it has become.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A look at an earlier century of living at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A small hallway seen at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A photograph on display at the Adams House museum of an earlier period in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A photograph on display at the Adams House museum of an earlier period in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A photo of the Ponca Chiefs delegation on display at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A photograph on display at the Adams House museum of an earlier period in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A historical document signed in 1896 on display at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A historical document signed in 1896 on display at the Adams House museum in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The Adams House Museum, a historical place documenting life in an earlier century seen in Ponca, NE Saturday Oct. 23, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Learning History in Siouxland, Kirchner Home at the Peterson Heritage Park, Peterson

14 Sep
The home of J.A. Kirchner, an early settler in the Peterson, Iowa area see at the now Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I always enjoy learning a bit more history about the Siouxland area. Most of the region was first explored and somewhat settled in the early 1800’s with more folk following during midcentury and the latter portion beginning in the 1850’s. Peterson, Iowa was first settled around 1856 with a small fort being build in 1862 because of the Dakota Indian War. One of the first people to build a frame house was J.A. Kirchner who settled in the area was a farmer. Local historian and farmer Michael Hyde gives tours of the home and history about Kirchner and other early settlers who called Clay County home. The home had many of the “modern day” conveniences for its time period and more luxurious than living in a lean-to or sod house.

Local historian Michael Hyde talks about the J.A. Kirchner home that is now a museum and its owner who was an early settler in the area. The home is in what is now the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Local historian Michael Hyde talks about the J.A. Kirchner home that is now a museum and its owner who was an early settler in the area. The home is in what is now the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I always find it fascinating and interesting to see what modern appliances and other items were available in another century. People living in comfort that today some folk might shake their heads at and not understand. But life is what you make of it and some people fare better than others which is sad. But one can learn to appreciate what is available now as compared to 100 years or more ago and what seems like hardship now may not have been then.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A comfortable bed at the time seen at the J.A Kirchner museum home at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Rope was used in place of bed springs two centerues ago for early settlers seen at the J.A Kirchner museum home at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Bedroom and its furnishings seen at the J.A Kirchner museum home at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The dining room of the J.A Kirchner museum home at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A kitchen with modern appliances for the time seen at the J.A. Kirchner museum home at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Churning creme to make butter while seated at a kitchen windown seen at the J.A Kirchner museum home at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Entertainment of an earlier century found at the J.A Kirchner museum home at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Children of early settlers seen in the J.A Kirchner museum home at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Early settlers in Peterson, Iowa seen at the Peterson Heritage Park in Peterson, Iowa Saturday, April 10, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Enjoying a Small Town’s Fame in Siouxland, Sac City

6 Sep
A visitor checks out the world’s largest popcorn ball in Sac City, Iowa Saturday, July 31, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

While driving about Siouxland I always enjoy learning more about the bits and pieces of history in the many small towns in the region. The fame of the world’s largest popcorn ball is something I had been aware of but have never investigated until recently. And it was fun to see this “marvel” before going on to experience a firework fail while learning something new about my camera.

A pictorially recorded history of the making of the world’s largest popcorn ball at the site of the ball in Sac City, Iowa Saturday, July 31, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The world’s largest popcorn ball created in 2016 and on display in Sac City, Iowa Saturday, July 31, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

There are probably some who will challenge this small town’s claim to fame but that is the thing about claims and records. Someone is always will to challenge the and outperform those who previously completed that challenge. Which is all good, because it gives folk a reason to explore an area and see what bits and pieces of history are tucked away, forgotten maybe, except for those who remember or live nearby. And such visits make nice memories for family outings and road trips and the change to tell others that “I was there”.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

The world’s largest popcorn ball created in 2016 and on display in Sac City, Iowa Saturday, July 31, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Enjoying Nature in Siouxland, without leaving, Sioux City

2 Sep
Nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen exhibit at the Public Museum, in Sioux City, Iowa Saturday, Aug. 21 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

As much as I like to get out and travel about Siouxland to photograph and “create” or take images, sometimes a trip to a local museum and serve the same purpose. Especially when it is hosting a renowned nature photographer like Thomas Mangelsen. The Sioux City Public Museum currently has a display of his work showing in one of its galleries. And Mangelsen until recently had a gallery selling his work in the Old Market in Omaha, NE.

A brief history introduces visitors to nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen’s exhibit at the Sioux City Public Museum, in Sioux City, Iowa Saturday, Aug. 21 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen’s panoramic landscapes have become popular among those who collect his work and a couple are on exhibit at the Sioux City Public Museum, in Sioux City, Iowa Saturday, Aug. 21 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

So many of us strive to create images like Mangelsen, and many successfully do. The idea of traveling to far reaching locales, waiting days, maybe weeks to capture exquisite animals in their natural habitat is alluring. I always thought having the luxury of that kind of time to spend working on images is what is ideal. Once you are in the wild, you’re there, no quitting or going back. No thinking about paying bills, mowing the lawn or other “mundane” daily chores. It must be liberating, but to many not always practical. I guess I was never really a believer that an “artist” should suffer for his/her work. Eating and paying rent with the promise of a warm place to stay is a tough challenge to overcome.

But looking at this gentleman’s work is breathtaking and transports one to another locale and you forget about the mundane chores and daily life decisions, while enjoying and entertaining the idea of being in these places.

A couple checks out the nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen exhibit at the Public Museum, in Sioux City, Iowa Saturday, Aug. 21 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A person checks out the nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen exhibit at the Public Museum, in Sioux City, Iowa Saturday, Aug. 21 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I really enjoy Mangelsen’s panoramas and the ability, when seeing the images blown up to a floor to ceiling print as I have seen in another museum, makes one feel like you can walk into the scene and look around and feel the nature you are encountering in his images. And it’s nice that a local museum is able to provide just an exhibit to its local residents and others visiting the area. A chance, one, to get out of the heat while walking downtown these last dog days of August, but to transport oneself to a faraway place and seen the beauty of what this earth holds.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A pictorial history of nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen at an exhibit at the Public Museum, in Sioux City, Iowa Saturday, Aug. 21 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A pictorial history of nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen at an exhibit at the Public Museum, in Sioux City, Iowa Saturday, Aug. 21 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The Sioux City Public Museum is currently exhibiting work of nature photographer Thomas Mangelsen in Sioux City, Iowa Saturday, Aug. 21 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Celebrating Art in Siouxland, of Any Kind, Joslyn Museum, Omaha, NE

15 Aug
One of several vintage vehicles on display by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I enjoy viewing art in Siouxland, any kind of art. I might not always agree with what I see or “truly appreciate” it, but not everyone sees the same way, nor should they. The Joslyn Museum in Omaha recently hosted a Model A Frod car club celebrating its exhibit of an art deco show inside. Making a trip with some friends who might be car aficionados or otherwise “car nuts”, I didn’t get to see the inside exhibit, but did enjoy the car show and the beauty of these early American classics.

A man photographs his wife inside one of the vehicles on display by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
People look over some vintage cars on display by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Family photos at a car show of vintage vehicles by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

And the current owners care of these vehicles represent a certain aspect of America’s past both in form and function. Listening to an owner talk about the narrow tire the earlier model vehicles had was because they were driven down the same “paths” that wagon trains and other early modes of transportation used and the tires would fit in those wagon path. Later, as roads were constructed to accommodate motorized wheeled transportation the paths or roadways became wider and the tire width for the next generation of vehicles also became wider.

A woman tries to get her son interested in a selfie at a car show of vintage vehicles by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
People attend a car show of vintage vehicles by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A vintage vehicle on display by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The Joslyn Museum hosted a car show of vintage vehicles by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club in honor of an Art Deco exhibit now on display in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

With the temperature rising once again and the humidity levels with it, maybe this next trip should be an indoor discovery of art deco and how that architectural art form was prevalent through out the American landscape.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

People attend a car show of vintage vehicles by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club at the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The Joslyn Museum hosted a car show of vintage vehicles by the Meadowlark Model A Ford Club in honor of an Art Deco exhibit now on display in Omaha, NE Saturday, July 17, 2021 (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Grand Architecture in Siouxland, Louis E May Museum, Fremont, NE

26 Jul
A grand estate, the Louis E. May Historical Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places in Freemont, NE Saturday, May 22, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

As I continue driving about Siouxland I surprise myself at finding unexpected pleasures like the Louis E. May Historical Museum in Fremont, NE.

Sadly, the museum is currently closed because of the pandemic, but am hoping it might be reopening this coming fall for a chance to see the interior of the former home.

The Louis E. May Historical Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places in Freemont, NE Saturday, May 22, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The Louis E. May Historical Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places in Freemont, NE Saturday, May 22, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

It was difficult to find much information about the history of the museum and former home online. With just a brief mention about it on two official sites:

The home was built in the Italianate Revival style by Fremont’s first mayor, Theron Nye, in 1874. Nye’s son inherited the home in 1900 and remodeled the home from 1901 through 1912. The current style of the home is Georgian or Classical Revival and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is art of the Dodge County’s Historical Society. The home’s grounds are a Nebraska Arboretum Site, a grassroots membership-based nonprofit that believes environments matter and provide a better sense of place and social interactions as well as improving one’s health.

Another blogger wrote about the historical house in 2013 after a visit. I look forward to actually touring it when it reopens.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

The Louis E. May Historical Museum in Freemont, NE seen Saturday, May 22, 2021 was originally built in 1874 by Fremont’s first mayor, Theron Nye. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The Louis E. May Historical Museum in Freemont, NE seen Saturday, May 22, 2021, has a perennial Victorian garden and a rose garden on the grounds. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The Louis E. May Historical Museum in Freemont, NE Saturday, May 22, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Built in 1874 by Fremont, NE’s first mayor, Theron Nye, the Louis E. May Historical Museum is now listed with the National Register of Historic Places seen Saturday, May 22, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Visiting the Netherworlds in Siouxland, Durham Museum, Omaha, NE

20 Jun
A visitor watches film clips of director James Cameron seen in the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Even though I live in Siouxland, a region that is part of what is affectionately or not affectionately known as flyover country, there are a number of museums, large and small, which one can visit and enjoy traveling exhibits, both visually and educationally stimulating.

Currently at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE is the exhibit James Cameron — Challenging the Deep. Film director Cameron put together various crews to explore the worlds under the sea including the Titanic and the battleship Bismark allowing Cameron to share his passion and interest with the deep ocean by creating an immersive exhibit using large video screen displays to show visitors what he and others saw beneath the ocean depth, in some place 10,000 meters deep, or almost 10.5 Empire State buildings stacking on top of one another.

A visitor watches a film of deep sea exploration from film director James Cameron at the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
An informative and elaborate set sets the stage for the James Cameron “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Costumes from the movie “Titanic” seen juxtaposed with film of the actual Titanic that director James Cameron filmed during a deep sea exploration and seen at the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

There is a model of the Titanic as it appears underwater on display that is seen in some of the videos showing the exploration of the ship that Cameron and others recorded. The director’s fascination with the deep ocean evidently started when he was a young child and he nurtured that desire to explore as he followed his career path as a film director. Some of the problem solving in filming movies, such as the Abyss, helped Cameron realize what might be possible as he collaborated with experts in the field of under water exploration.

A mock version of the “Titanic” on display at the James Cameron “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Informational panels explain that director James Cameron held a long fascination since childhood about the sea and is told in the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Items on display used in filming some of the deep sea exploration seen at the James Cameron “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Through the use of underwater recording technology and deep ocean submersible vessels Cameron and others explore the deep, and film themselves exploring the deep which gives the exhibit viewer an idea of how this was all made possible at such incredible depths, with Cameron narrating what is being seen and how it was made possible.

And the exhibit in some ways becomes more interesting by the fact that its entire area is bathed in deep blue light or blackness, resembling what the various individuals must have encountered themselves as they dove deep to explore areas of the ocean not seen by many but now accessible to all through this exhibition.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

An informative and elaborate set sets the stage for the James Cameron “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Visitors watch film of deep sea exploration from film director James Cameron at the “Challenging the Deep” exhibit at the Durham Museum Tuesday, June 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Getting Jailed in Siouxland, The Squirrel Cage, Council Bluffs

29 May
Lots of metal at the Squirrel Cage Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Being incarcerated is not for the faint of heart. And hopefully most folk will never encounter such an ordeal whether in Siouxland or elsewhere. The Squirrel Cage in Council Bluffs had been in operation for a few decades. Visiting such an inhospitable place as a museum gave me pause for those who spent time there for supposed crimes until each’s trial. One of only a few such places built in the United States it opened for “business” in 1885 and was in use until 1969.

A former county jail, the Squirrel Cage Museum is located in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Jail time was not to be envied at the Squirrel Cage Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Minimal accommodations at the Squirrel Cage Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Every manner of “criminal” from juveniles to adults were housed in the jail which used a rotating 3-story cell system, which history shows escaped any major catastrophe such as a fire since there would have been no way for a jailer, who lived on site with his family, could have safely gotten all prisoners out. In early days criminal offices for getting locked up included adultery, which could probably fill many a hotel these days, both famous and not famous. Those folks were also jailed with arsonists, domestic abusers, murderers and children who ran afoul of the law.

Docent Kat Slaughter gives tours at the Squirrel Cage Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Docent Kat Slaughter gives tours at the Squirrel Cage Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Docent Kat Slaughter gave a nice 45-minute tour about the jail, its history and the good, bad and ugly aspects of the jail. Originally she said the rotating cells were operated by an underground water system which was later replaced. And there was only one boiler, and summers were extremely uncomfortable because heat rises and prisoners places within metal confines throughout and at the top of the jail could not escape the heat.

But evidently, for some, that was not enough of a deterrent as even evident today, to keep on the straight and narrow.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Jail time was not to be envied at the Squirrel Cage Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A sneak peek into the past visiting at the Squirrel Cage Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Celebrating History in Siouxland, Old County Courthouse, Sioux Falls, SD

19 Apr
Background history of the Sioux Falls Municipal band is on display in an exhibit in the Old Courthouse Museum downtown Sioux Falls, SD, Friday, January 8, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

No matter where I might travel in Siouxland, history is always a draw for me, and learning a little bit more about a place or the people. Such was the case again in Sioux Falls at the Old County Courthouse Museum where a display of the history of the municipal band was on display.

A photograph of the Sioux Falls Municipal band is on display in an exhibit in the Old Courthouse Museum downtown Sioux Falls, SD, Friday, January 8, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
“Uniforms” of the Sioux Falls Municipal band is on display in an exhibit in the Old Courthouse Museum downtown Sioux Falls, SD, Friday, January 8, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I admit I have never heard this particular band play, even in its current iteration. Many times over the years various “organizations” and groups change. It’s only natural. But I can imagine hearing them play during a summer evening, music wafting out from a bandstand and people relaxed and enjoying a musical treat. It happens every summer in Sioux City when a local group performs 8 Sundays over the summer in a local park.

It is a very nice way to spend an evening, somewhat harkening back to remembrances of a certain era that evokes the play “Our Town“by Thorton Wilder about an imaginary place of innocence during an early Americana period.

Historical displays like this remind people of a snapshot in time about a place and the people. In this case hopefully happy memories to those familiar with the municipal band and a time when their only concern was hearing the music.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A photograph of concert, possibly summer, of the Sioux Falls Municipal band is on display in an exhibit in the Old Courthouse Museum downtown Sioux Falls, SD, Friday, January 8, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A portrait of an earlier Sioux Falls Municipal Band is on display in an exhibit in the Old Courthouse Museum downtown Sioux Falls, SD, Friday, January 8, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Some instruments used for the Sioux Falls Municipal band is on display in an exhibit in the Old Courthouse Museum downtown Sioux Falls, SD, Friday, January 8, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Feeling the Jailhouse Blues in Siouxland, The Squirrel Cage, Council Bluffs

13 Apr
Jail quarters for a prisoner at the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The thought of sitting in jail at any time, in Siouxland or anywhere is not very appealing. And probably isn’t to most people. Considering what jail conditions were like in earlier centuries here in the U.S. and elsewhere, most were not very accommodating. I would guess mostly by design. The merits of one being in jail I will leave for others to discuss at length.

One such jail was the former Squirrel Cage located in Council Bluffs. Formerly the Pottawatamie County jail from 1885 to 1969. It was a circular setup where jailers stood in the center on one of the three floors and the jail cells rotated about allowing access to those inmates needed for trial or other purposes.

The former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail indowntown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Jail quarters for a prisoner and a common area for them as well in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Jail quarters for a prisoner at the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Heavy bars and uncomfortable bunks. Jails are not hotels or motels. Even the cheaper of the latter have normally better accommodations. But the design of this one of 18 ever built was for the benefit of the jailer who oversaw the prisoners spending time there.

According the the Historical Society’s website:

“The design and size of the Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail make it a one-of-a-kind structure.  It was one of 18 revolving (“squirrel cage”, “human rotary”, or “lazy Susan”) jails built.  It is the only three-story one ever built.   Built at a cost of about $30,000,  our unique jail has three floors of revolving pie-shaped cells inside a cage.  The front part of the building had offices for the jailer, kitchen, trustee cells, and quarters for women.

The design was the invention of William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh, both of Indianapolis, Indiana.  A patent issued to them on July 12, 1881, declared, “The object of our invention is to produce a jail in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer.”  It was to provide “maximum security with minimum jailer attention.”  As one deputy put it, “If a jailer could count … and he had a trusty he could trust … he could control the jail”.

The cell section remains much as it did in 1969 when it was closed by the county.  The signatures and dates of many of its’ infamous prisoners remain scratched in the cell walls. It remains a well restored snapshot of an interesting era of our society.Today, only 3 revolving jails remain:  a one-story structure in Gallatin, Missouri; a two-story jail in Crawfordsville, Indiana; and the unique three-story jail here.”

The former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail indowntown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A look down from a cell at a common area for prisoners within the jail quarters for prisoners at the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A common area for prisoners in the background, left and jail quarters for a prisoner at the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The jail was not built for the comfort of those spending any time. There was even an area for juvenile offenders whose living area was only slightly improved in that the jailer’s quarters and his wife were only a few foot steps away. That said, even the the jailer’s quarters within the building were not impressive for him or his wife. Reminiscent of what was seen in the movie about the book by Truman Capote, “In Cold Blood” where the prisoners were in jail cells near the jailer’s quarters.

But life for those incarcerated was not to be pleasant as they were held for future trial or sentencing depending on that jurisdiction’s dictates.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Jail quarters for juvenile offenders at the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Jail quarters for a prisoner at the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. In the background is an entrance into the living area for the jailer on duty. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Names carved into a picnic table in the common area for prisoners at the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Prisoner log books and other information kept on file at the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Various notes of history are posted about the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The doorway into the living quarters for the jailer and his family in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The entrance into the living quarters for the jailer and his family in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A barbershop and infirm area for prisoners in the living quarters for the jailer and his family in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A bedroom in the living quarters for the jailer and his family in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A living room area in the living quarters for the jailer and ihs family in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A small organ in the living room area in the living quarters for the jailer and his family in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The kitchen area in the living quarters for the jailer and his family in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Another view of the kitchen area in the living quarters for the jailer and his family in the former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail in downtown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
The former Squirrel Cage jail, now a museum, was built in 1885 and operated until 1969 as the Pottawattamie County Jail indowntown in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, July 20, 2019. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
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