Tag Archives: council bluffs iowa

Home is Where the Heart is in Siouxland, Council Bluffs

2 Jun
An entrance to a home in the historic district in Council Bluffs, Iowa Saturday, May 1, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Sometimes not a lot needs to be said about a person’s home, in Siouxland or someplace else. If folk are comfortable somehwere or it is a place that provides shelter not withstanding circumstances, home is where one hangs their hat.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

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©)

Taking a Hike in Siouxland, Vincent Bluff Nature Preserve, Council Bluffs

1 Apr
Climbing a steep hill to enjoy the view at the Vincent Bluff Nature Preserve in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Sometimes enjoying areas in Siouxland requires a little exertion, especially when walking uphill to take in the views. On a coolish January day with 20mph wind gusts, the going gets tough and the intrepid just want to find a warm coffee shop and enjoy the brew.

The Vincent Bluff Nature Preserve offers nice views of the surrounding area is located in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Steep hills were overcome to enjoy the view of neighboring Omaha, NE seen from the Vincent Bluff Nature Preserve in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The Vincent Bluff Nature Preserve encompasses 35 acres, and a trail runs along a ridge and in warmer, less windy conditions it might be a nice half day hike to enjoy.

Early spring and again fall might have been a better time to explore this area, but sometimes one does what one can at the moment.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A trail runs along the ridge where one can stop to enjoy the view from the Vincent Bluff Nature Preserve in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A ridge trail at the top of the Vincent Bluff Nature Preserve gives one good views of the surrounding area seen from Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Learning History in Siouxland, Bayliss Park, Council Bluffs

28 Mar
Holiday Christmas lights at Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Col. Samuel Bayliss was born in Virginia and headed to California. He stopped in Council Bluffs on his journey and stayed on, later donating land to the city which eventually became a park. Bayliss in buried in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Visiting Council Bluffs a few times while roaming about Siouxland I have stopped by Bayliss Park a few times. An oasis in the downtown area. I often wondered why the name but never gave it much thought, until stopping by Fairview Cemetery recently to view the Black Angel, and there found a grave site of one S.S. (Samuel) Bayliss.

Col. Samuel Bayliss’ gravesite at Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa seen Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Born in Virginia, Bayliss was headed to California and stopped in Council Bluffs where he stayed on and donated land to the city which later became a park. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Col. Samuel Bayliss’ gravesite at Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa seen Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Born in Virginia, Bayliss was headed to California and stopped in Council Bluffs where he stayed on and donated land to the city which later became a park. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A story in the local newspaper explains a bit of the history about Bayliss and a donation of land he had hoped might become the then territory’s courthouse. On his journey to California in the 1850’s Bayliss stopped in the then fledgling Council Bluffs, not yet the city it would become but situated near Kaneville, a Mormon settlement that earlier came into being when Brigham Young set out west to discover his faith’s future settlement, and in the meantime had become a stopover for those headed to California for a new life either in business or for the goldrush.

Bayliss’s generosity didn’t benefit the city at the time, but later became the jewel it now is, realizing its destiny as a park. And in reading the newspaper’s article the community’s first park commissioner set about commemorating Bayliss’s gift.

A fountain sits ready to display it water spouts on a nice spring day in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Col. Samuel Bayliss was born in Virginia and headed to California. He stopped in Council Bluffs on his journey and stayed on, later donating land to the city which eventually became a park. Bayliss in buried in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Looking toward downtown Omaha, NE, the gravsite of Col. Samuel Bayliss’ gravesite in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa seen Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Born in Virginia, Bayliss was headed to California and stopped in Council Bluffs where he stayed on and donated land to the city which later became a park. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Reading the article, a sad end became Bayliss’ life achievement, but his generosity then has benefited many souls since, and one might like to think he takes a stroll from the not to distant resting place to come and sit and enjoy the beauty his generosity allowed as people over the decades visit this place.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A plane leaving Eppley Airfield flies overhead before holiday Christmas lights appear at Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Col. Samuel Bayliss was born in Virginia headed to California. He stopped in Council Bluffs on his journey and stayed on and later donated land to the city which later became a park. Bayliss in buried in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Railroad History in Siouxland, Council Bluffs

10 Mar
An old locomotive sits on tracks at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Exploring in Siouxland is always a pleasure, even during cold winter months when some places are not open, but then gives one a reason to return in warmer weather when it is. The Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs is one place relishing in the rich railroad history that encompasses the area. The General Greville M. Dodge historical house is also located in Council Bluffs and he was instrumental in mapping out the railroad expansion westward but made Council Bluffs his home turf to work from.

The museum’s website states: “The restored depot was originally built in 1899 for the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (the “Rock Island”), one of 15 rail lines serving Council Bluffs.  The last Rock Island passenger trained pulled out of the depot on May 31, 1970.  March 31, 1980 was the last day of operations for the Rock Island Railroad.  

Engineer Grenville M. Dodge surveyed the westward route of the Rock Island Railroad to Council Bluffs in 1853.  Years later, Dodge would survey the route west from Council Bluffs that enabled the city to become the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad.

The construction of the transcontinental railroad played a major role in the development of southwest Iowa, and vice-versa. The history of this era is well preserved in our depot and museum.   It is the last survivor of a half-dozen passenger depots which at one time dotted the Council Bluffs landscape.”

The depot at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A locomotive and some cars are seen at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

So this trip was spent looking at rail cars and a locomotive and cars sitting on a track without the chance of a tour but definitely might be something to explore when the facility again opens up and allows visitors in for a peek and to regale them in history of the railroad and its expansion west from Council Bluffs.

A peek inside the former depot at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A peek inside the former depot at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A peek inside the former depot at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

At least a sunny January day made it possible to linger a bit to look over the facility and try to glean a bit of its history with a casual look. Spring and summer will hopefully bring back those seasonal temperature expectations to make such an outing enjoyable.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A courtyard is dedicated to veterans from the area who served in the armed forces is located at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A look at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A look at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A look at the Railswest Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Understanding History in Siouxland and a “Black Angel” statue, Council Bluffs

4 Mar
A statue created for Ruth Anne Dodge known as the “Black Angel” sits at her memorial site in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Ruth Anne Dodge was the wife of General Genville M. Dodge, who settled in the Council Bluffs area of Siouxland after the Civil War in which he played an important part, not to be outdone with his work for furthering the expansion of the railroad system throughout the United States after the war. I learned about this statue by reading a story from a newspaper in Omaha that recounted the history of the statue and Mrs. Dodge’s part in its creation.

A stone dedicated to Ruth Anne Dodge at her memorial fountain in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
A plaque explaining a statue created for Ruth Anne Dodge known as the “Black Angel” sits at her memorial site in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Mrs. Dodge had a vision or dream that included an angel which appeared to her prior to her death. And from an account of that dream a memorial statue and place was created in Fairview Cemetery In Council Bluffs, which overlooks downtown Omaha in the distance.

A statue created for Ruth Anne Dodge known as the “Black Angel” sits at her memorial site in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Downtown Omaha, NE can be seen from the Ruth Anne Dodge memorial fountain where the statue, known as the “Black Angel” stands above her memorial n Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The article and account detail the dream and subsequent occurrences in a better story telling fashion. Again, I always find it fascinating to find history so close at hand and then be able to visit it after reading about it. To many an inconsequential footnote in history, yet part of the history of Siouxland of just one resident of many who passed this way and made a home in the then wilderness and western frontier of the time.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

A statue created for Ruth Anne Dodge known as the “Black Angel” sits at her memorial site in Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, January 20, 2021. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Photographic choices, Color or B&W in Siouxland, Council Bluffs

31 Jan
An image from downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Sometimes when out photographing in Siouxland I consciously make choices about photographing subjects. And don’t give the matter much thought. Then again, one can make choices when photographing and choose later what might be more appropriate. These days photographing with a digital camera and using software the ability to shoot in color and then transform to B&W is easy.

I generally though photograph in color then change the settings in the camera to also photography in B&W. During the days of film, one generally carried two camera bodies. One with Tri-X and the other with your personal favorite slide film. Lots of people loved Kodachrome. I personally liked Fuji’s Velvia and other photographic color films.

But in the end, is color the better way to go with shapes being secondary to the scene, or is Black and White with tonality and shapes being the prominent aspect of an image.

No matter which is chose, it’s nice to have a choice, and the ability to do it with one camera body.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

An image from downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Cityscapes in Siouxland, Council Bluffs

29 Jan
A church’s spire is seen in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, with the city of Omaha, NE also seen in the near distant background. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

When driving about parts of Siouxland I always enjoy the architecture I encounter. There are some really nice gems in the region. Sometimes depending on weather, time of year and which way the wind blows (a joke, poor I realize) it’s tough to make a photograph. Again, as a failsafe I chose working in black and white. A grey day, hazy, with a white sky, not blue, color would not have helped this image. So I punted and used black and white, shapes and angles and a horizon line to create an image.

Shooting from a nearby hilltop, and because of power lines and trees, my choice of placement for me and the camera lens may not have been ideal. But using tonality and the shapes the image turned out better than I could have hoped.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Lines and Angles in Siouxland, Council Bluffs, Preparation Canyon

15 Jan
Lines and angles in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Some days in winter when there is strong light but little color, it seems photographing subjects in B&W is a good way to go. The subject matter whether objects or shapes and patterns, lines and angles, just jump out at one.

Lines and angles in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Images like these make for a nice graphic display. The eye wanders about it and doesn’t get lost in the color or hues. Its stark, with only white, grey and black looking for attention.

Lines and angles at Preparation Canyon State Forest Overlook north of Pisgah, Iowa Nov. 7, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
Lines and angles in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

With these images there isn’t always a lot to say or interpret. They are pretty straight forward in their graphic design. Leading one this way and that. Inviting an onlooker to wonder where they might go and what they might encounter.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Lines and angles in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Festive Lights in Siouxland, Bayliss Park, Council Bluffs

14 Dec
Holiday Christmas lights at Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Driving around Siouxland is always fun during the Christmas holiday because of the many festive displays of lights that people and communities put up. Some are extensive, some very simple with only a few figures or lamp post decorations.

Holiday Christmas lights at Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Holiday Christmas lights at Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs always seems to have such a nice display with most trees and its fountain lit this opinion informed from photos I have seen of previous years. The park was a nice display, although something was amiss with some lights as they came on, and went, off, with no apparent reason or “timed” response/reaction, as though it might be a planned lighting scheme.

Holiday Christmas lights at Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

But with everything, there are challenges. I am sure city crews are not checking out the park at night unless someone lets them know something is amiss. But it was a thing of beauty to hang out until dark to see the trees aglow, and watch a few planes overhead beginning their descent for a nearby airport, adding their own lights to a festive scene.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Holiday Christmas lights at Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)
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