Plain and Fancy Quilting

Imagine a perfect, cold winter’s night. What does it look like? Is there a warm fire burning in the fireplace?

Tangen HomeAre your hands wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate? Are you cuddled up in your bed with blanket upon blanket on top of you?


If those things sound good to you, then you aren’t too different from a kid living one hundred and fifty years ago! Living History Farms is starting to think about winter now that cooler weather is on its way. We are bringing out quilts that would have kept many children warm a long time ago. What is a quilt you might ask? It is a fancy blanket with a top and bottom and a filling in the middle, like this:

Usually the top has many pieces of fabric sewn together to make a pretty pattern like this:

crib quilt

The back might be fancy or it could be a plain sheet. The filling in the middle could have been the fleece from a sheep, combed cotton fibers, or even a thick blanket. Women put the three layers together, like making a sandwich–either by sewing small stitches through all the layers or by tying the layers together with threads.

Most early quilts had the very simple purpose of keeping people warm. So those quilts were very simply made. Like this one. Can you see the ties in the square corners?tie quilt

But as time went on, women’s lives got a bit easier when they didn’t have to make their own fabric or yarn. So they would put extra time into making their quilts beautiful. Women could take years making these works of art and they would immediately become family heirlooms–blankets that moms gave to their children who then gave them to their children. Some of these art pieces look like this:

quilt quilt detail

Living History Farms is very lucky to be able to put some of these very old quilts on display for museum visitors this week. It can be awe-inspiring to think of the women that put these quilts together and the kids just like you that were kept warm with these masterpieces.

 quilt, apron

Caregivers: The Flynn Mansion is hosting Living History Farms’ annual historic textile show from September 30 through October 4, 2015. A visit to the show is part of regular guest admission. While the historic quilts are in the house, some rooms that are actively hands-on during the rest of our touring season will have display barriers and no touch areas to protect the quilt pieces. Don’t let this keep you from visiting with younger children though! There will be a hands-on play area in the boys’ bedroom with pattern blocks, sewing cards, and stories about quilting. It’s a great time to introduce patterns, shapes, and colors to your children!quilt

Walk through the mansion with your kids and ask them to look for all the triangles or circles or stars they can find.

star quilt

Talk with them about their favorite colors and how the quilts were put together. Ask the demonstrators in the kitchen to show off the different layers of a quilt and how those tiny stitches are put in place. Explore the children’s quilts in the downstairs library. Kids and quilts are a great mix!

kids quilt


Houses and Homes

This summer at Living History Farms, we are celebrating houses and homes! The places people live in come in lots of shapes and sizes. Some houses are big. Some houses are small. Some people live in apartments. Some people live in farm houses. Some people live in mobile trailers. The people and things which share our living space and the things we do there together make the house into our home.

1900 farm house

Was this true a long time ago? Let’s take a walk through the past to see where people were living in Iowa a long time ago. As we look at each of these houses, think about how they compare to your house. Let’s start at the 1700 Ioway Farm. The Ioway Indian people lived in Iowa during the 1700s. They had 3 types of houses that they lived in during the year. Each house had just one room, a bedroom. Everyone in the family slept in this one room together. The summer house would be built up on the top of a hill where flooding was not an issue and where a breeze could be found. The frame of the house was made out of trees and then covered with bark taken off of elm trees. The bark would reflect the sun, making it cooler inside the house.Bark house

The winter house would be built down in the woods where it was protected from the winter winds by the trees. The frame of the house was made out of willow trees and was covered by 4 layers of cattail leaves that were sewn together into mats. The cattail mats would keep the wind out of the house and a small fire in the center of the home would heat it up to 50 degrees. (How warm is your house in the winter time?) The house would have an animal skin for the door.

mat house

The Ioway people used a traveling house for a month at a time, in the summer and winter, when they would go on a buffalo hunt. The frame was made from pine trees and the cover was made from buffalo hides sewn together. The house was lightweight enough to carry and was fast to put up and take down.tipi

What about houses for pioneer settlers? People from America and Europe started moving to Iowa in the 1840s. They had to build their homes by hand. Many of them used the trees around them to build houses. log house

Many settlers built a house with just one room that would be used as a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and storage room. There would be 2 doors on the house to go outside. If they had time for extra building, the trees might be squared off for a nicer house. There might be a loft upstairs used as a bedroom by all the children and used for storage. The house would have a fireplace on one end to heat it and to use for cooking. During cold winter months, the fireplace might have looked warm, but it could only keep the house around 40 degrees inside during the day.

Pioneer fireplace

As more and more settlers moved to Iowa, small towns like Walnut Hill were built. Life in a town was a little different from life on a farm. If your family owned one of the businesses in town, you might have a really comfortable home with many rooms.Tangen house

The Tangen House is home to the Implement Dealer’s family in our town of Walnut Hill. The house has 7 rooms on the main floor. Each room had a use. The parlor was for guests to sit in when visiting. There are 7 different doors on the main floor that go to the outside. The bedrooms would be upstairs. This house would have 5 bedrooms upstairs for the family.

If your family was one of the upper class families you might have a really fancy house, like the Flynn Mansion. The Flynn Mansion was built using bricks.Flynn mansion

This house has 7 rooms on the main floor of the house, 8 bedrooms and another room on the second floor, an attic, and a cupola on the very top of the house. The house was built with a furnace to heat it and with gas lights to light each room. There are 2 big doors on the front of the house and 5 other doors in the house that go to the outside.

A farm family in 1900 might build their house in a square shape, a T-shape, or another shape. The house on the 1900 Farm at Living History Farms is a T-shape home. It has 2 rooms on the main floor and 2 bedrooms for children on the second floor in the front of the house. 1900 farm house

The back of the house has 3 rooms on the main floor. The house was heated by a stove in the center room that was also used to cook on. The house has 3 different doors that go to the outside.

Are any of these houses like your house? How many rooms does your house have? How are the rooms in your house used? Would you want to live in one of these homes or are you happy with the one that you have? What do you think made each of these houses special to the people who would have lived there? What made it home–more than just a place to live?

Caregivers: Starting on June 15th, there will be a special traveling exhibit about what makes a house a home in the Wallace Exhibit Center at Living History Farms. The exhibit is free with paid admission to the museum. House & Home, an exhibit organized by NEH on the Road, encourages visitors to explore how our ideal of the perfect house and our experience of what it means to “be at home” have changed over time. The exhibition includes domestic furnishings and home construction materials, photographs, “please touch” interactive components, and films. Together, the objects and images illustrate how transformations in technology, government policy, and consumer culture have impacted American domestic life.

Drawn from the flagship installation at the National Building Museum, House & Home embarks on a tour of houses both familiar and surprising, through past and present, to explore the varied history, and many cultural meanings of the American home. This exhibition has been made possible through NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It has been adapted and is being toured by Mid-American Arts Alliance. House & Home was organized by the National Building Museum, Washington D.C., and curated by Sarah Leavitt. Additional support was provided by the Home Depot Foundation.


Maids and Servants

Kate 1875Hi, I’m Kate. I am the supervisor at the Flynn Mansion at Living History Farms. Have you ever visited our museum and discovered one of the guides dressed differently than during your last visit?

1850 kate 1900 Kate

Museum guides at Living History Farms often work at many different sites and do many different jobs–so they wear different clothing and hats for different kinds of work.

One job that everyone has to do is clean. Sometimes guides clean up after themselves and sometimes they clean up after animals. Have you ever helped do any cleaning during a visit here? sweepingWas it a lot different than cleaning at your house? Spring is a time of year when many people take extra time to clean their houses really well. It is called “spring cleaning”.

Flynn MansionNext time you visit the Flynn Mansion, you may notice that there are guides dressed in different ways. Some ladies wear fancy dresses with lace or ruffles. But other women wear blue or gray dresses with white aprons and white caps on their heads.

tea at Flynn

Some gentlemen wear colorful vests and ties, but there may be men wearing plain black pants and simple shirts and vests or even work aprons. The women in the caps are called maids and the men are called footmen. Have you read about maids and servants in books or seen them in movies?maid at stoveA servant’s job was to take care of the house by doing things like cleaning the dishes, dusting, and picking things up.

servants in kitchen

Being a servant wasn’t always a very fun job. It was a lot of hard work keeping a big house like the Flynn Mansion clean and tidy. There are fourteen rooms that need to be cleaned, windows to wash, and furniture to dust. The Flynns also had ten children that lived in the house. Think of all the messes they made! At your house, whose job is it to clean up your toys and clothes?

tea at Flynn

Guides who work at the Flynn Mansion don’t always have to clean. They usually switch back and forth between being fancy ladies and gentlemen one day, and being servants a different day. When I work as a maid, I dust the furniture, polish the silver, and make the beds. Just like the maids that worked here more than 100 years ago! If I am being a maid for the day, my dress is not as fancy and that makes it easier to move around and get my work done.maid dusting

While sometimes it can be hard work, having the house look neat and clean makes me feel very proud. I also have a lot of fun talking to kids like you about the chores. Sometimes I even get some help, which makes the work get done even faster! Are there chores at home you don’t like doing? dishesDoing dishes is my least favorite chore, but it’s very important so we don’t attract bugs. Luckily, the Flynn Mansion has a sink with running water, which makes doing dishes much easier!

Though being a maid was hard work, it was a very important job to help keep the house looking nice. Even if you were a maid for a while, it didn’t mean it would be your job forever. Sometimes, after changing jobs or getting married, these former maids would have houses of their own and be in charge of their own maids. Mrs. FlynnMrs. Flynn was a maid when she was a teenager. She grew up to be the owner of a mansion! Next time you come to Living History Farms, make sure to visit the Flynn Mansion and see if there is a maid or footman working around the house. We always love a helping hand!

Winter Wonderlands

machine shedIt’s February in Iowa. We still have snow on the ground. It’s been very cold here this week, too. Do you like snow and cold? Lots of kids love to play in the snow or go sledding. Many parents hate to shovel snow and don’t like driving on snowy roads. At the museum, cold weather makes us wonder about what it might be like to have been in an Ioway lodge during a snowstorm or in a log house on the prairie. What would it be like to do farm chores on a snowy day in 1900 or walk to school through the snow in 1875?

cattail lodgeIn the year 1700, the Ioway people made their winter houses by sewing together the long green leaves of cattail plants. In the winter, the cattail leaves would swell up and stick together. The leaves would shed water and keep out the cold air.  Buffalo skins with all the fur were used as blankets to keep warm. It may not sound very warm, but a cattail lodge kept the Ioway much warmer than pioneers would have been living in a log house around the year 1850.

Pioneer hearthMost log houses were heated by an open fireplace. The heat from the fire escapes up the chimney. A pioneer family was happy if they could warm their log house up to 45 or 50 degrees in the winter! It would take a lot of wood to keep the fire going in a hearth to cook and keep warm all winter.

706119-R1-051-24_026 (2)   Tangen

By the 1870s and in 1900, most houses were heated by wood or coal-burning stoves. The stoves gave off a lot of heat into the room, but there might still have been a cold draft around the outside of the room, next to the walls. Our houses in 2015 have thick foam or fluffy fiberglass in between the walls to keep the wind out. In the 1800s, most houses did not have any insulation to keep out the wind. Here at the museum, the snow this month has made everything very sloppy.

1900During the last snow storm at the 1900 era Farm, we were grateful for the big pine trees on the west side of the house. The trees kept the snow from drifting in too deep. You can see the line of pine trees in the snow in this photograph taken out of the pantry window.out the pantry window

The snow made it harder to carry water and food to our animals. The cows didn’t seem to mind the snow much though!


The orchard and the windmill were pretty in the snow and ice.

windmill  trees

Many people in the 1870s and 1900s looked forward to snow. Kids and adults loved to go sleigh riding and sledding in the winter. It was a fun way to meet your friends and a fast way to travel. Sleighs pulled by horses could skim over the snow much easier than pulling a wagon along muddy roads. Sleds in 1900

Farm kids might make their own sleds in the year 1900, or they could buy them from a mail-order catalog. The Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog had simple sleds to sell for 50 cents! A really lucky kid might be able to buy a fancy sled for $2.00.

The big hill in the town of Walnut Hill would make for some great sledding! town

Can you imagine walking to school in snow like this? Farm kids in the 1800s might walk a mile or more to their one-room school houses–even on a snowy day! school house

Going shopping in a little town could be a snowy adventure in 1875! Storekeepers would have to shovel their doorways and walks by hand. No snow-blowing machines back then! The shops in Walnut Hill were covered in snow last week. It’s a good thing the General Store would sell fur mittens and strong shovels! We hope you are enjoying the snow this month! We’re looking forward to spring . . .

General Store  Drug Store  Millinery

Laundry Chores

Laundry is probably a chore you see your parents doing, and maybe you even help by folding or putting away your clean clothes. In 1900, farm houses didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing, so there were no washing machines or dryers to help do the work. If we didn’t have washing machines or dryers, what do you think we would need to do laundry the same way they did in the year 1900?

First, we would need clothes. Think of all the clothes you have at home in your closet and your dresser drawers. Can you believe that in 1900 kids might only have four or five outfits? That’s not even one outfit for every day of the week! Most of their clothes would be for working and doing chores around the farm. They might have one nice outfit to wear for special occasions. What do you think of the clothing in this photo of the Henry Dengler Family in Scott County, Iowa? This family is wearing their special occasion clothing for the picture.

Dengler Family

(source: Dengler Family History)

Second, we’d need soap. In 1900, they didn’t have laundry detergent like your family uses to clean clothes. They could buy soap at the store, but if they wanted to save money, they would make it at home. The soap they would use was made from two ingredients: lye and lard. Lye is a chemical for cleaning, made from pouring rainwater through wood ashes over and over. It can be very dangerous by itself, so they would have mixed it with lard. Lard is fat from a pig. Mixing the lye with lard would make it safe to touch.

Third, we would need water. As we mentioned, Living History Farms’ 1900 era farm house doesn’t have indoor plumbing, so there are no sinks or pipes to provide water. Instead, farmers got water from a pump that brought water up from a well underground.water pump

Now we’d wash! The water from the pump was placed in tubs.wash boiler One of the tubs was called a wash boiler. It was made of special metal called copper.  Copper heats up very quickly and a copper boiler could be quickly heated on top of the stove, boiling the clothing and soapy water together.

Fourth, we’d need a way to scrub stubborn dirt out of the clothes. After the clothes were boiled in hot water to remove general dirt and stains, they would be scrubbed in another big tub with soap on a washboard. The washboard had metal ridges to help get rid of smaller, set-in stains.


After scrubbing, the clothes would be put in a third tub which had bluing in it. Bluing is a blue liquid you put in water which keeps your white clothes white and your colored clothes bright. In the bluing tub, they would also rinse out the last of the soap.

kids doing laundry

Finally, we’d need a way to dry the clothes. After the clothes went in the tub of water and bluing, they were ready to be dried.

clothesline  hanging clothes on the line

The clothes would be pinned to a wire line outside, so the sun and air could dry them. When they were all dry they were ready to be ironed, then put away to be worn again. Washing clothes was such a big job that it would take a whole day to finish. It was too big of a job for one person, so kids were important helpers. Laundry is done every week at Living History Farms’ 1900 Farm in the summer, so come out and visit and give us a hand!

Rainy Day Games

“Rain, Rain, Go Away

Come again another day

Little Arthur wants to play.”

– J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, 1843

April is a rainy month. Spring rains bring May flowers. But they can also bring some boring afternoons when it is too wet outside to play. On those days, we have to find things to play with inside the house if it is too stormy to go outside.

At the 1900 era farm house, Living History Farms shows kids what it would be like to live on a farm over 100 years ago—without electricity and video games or televisions. Kids had to find things to do when it rained just like we do now. On a farm, children could play in the barn on a rainy day. They would still be out of the rain, but not shut up in the house. They might jump around in the hay loft, or curl up in the hay and read a book. They could play “let’s pretend” games and pet the cats on a rainy afternoon.

By the year 1900, families could also buy toys out of catalogs! Companies like Sears or Montgomery Ward had dozens of pages of games and toys in their catalogs—if kids and families could save their money up to buy them!Image

Town kids who lived in the 1870s might not have a barn to go play in; they might have to play in the house. There were some store-bought toys that these children could play with if their family had spent a little money. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Wealthier families might buy metals trains, or rocking horses, or fancy dolls and tea sets. There were also many magazines and story books for children. They could read stories and riddles out of the “The Youth’s Companion” on a rainy day. Look at the kinds of stories and puzzles kids read here.

Other toys could be made at home. Older boys might carve wooden tops or cup and ball sets. Girls might make handkerchief dolls or sew their own doll clothing. With some blocks of wood and ribbon, a clever child could make a Jacob’s Ladder.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
To make a Jacob’s Ladder, the ribbons are glued between the blocks. When flipped, the blocks look like they are magically falling back and forth. You can see the Jacob’s Ladder in motion in this video!

Children could also make paper dolls, soldiers, and action figures without buying them, just by cutting them out of scrap paper.

For children who had brothers and sisters or friends who lived close by, there were lots of games to play in the house on a rainy day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Sometimes the games needed props, like cards or checkers. Playing cards did look a little different in the 1870s! They didn’t have numbers on them until the 1880s. Players would have to count the hearts or diamonds as they played. A good card game for kids in 1875 would have been “Snap!”  Snap can be played by 2 to 4 players. Deal out the playing cards evenly to the players face down. Each player around the circle takes his turn by turning over his top card. If anyone turns over a card that matches a card already showing, the owners of the cards race to yell “Snap”! The player who says snap first gathers all the cards into a separate pile and the play continues until one player has ALL of the cards.

A favorite group game was “Throw the Handkerchief”. The group of children sat or stood in a wide circle except for one person in the middle. A light handkerchief was tossed from a person on one side of the circle to someone across from them. The person in the middle tried to catch it before it could get there. All players had to keep their feet, or bottoms if sitting, in the same place. They could lean to try to catch the handkerchief, but couldn’t step out of place. If the person in the middle could catch the handkerchief, he or she changed places with the person who threw it.

If a group had a long piece of yarn and a ring or a large button, the children could play “Hunt the Ring” or “Who has the Button?”. Thread the ring or button onto a very long string and tie the two ends of the string together. All but one of the players sits in a circle and takes hold of the string, pulling it tight between the players. Someone has the ring or button in their fist, hiding it. The last player stands in the center. The players in the circle begin passing the button or ring from person to person along the string. The player in the center tries to guess where it is.

A slightly quieter rainy day group game was “Hunt the Thimble”. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll the players but one were sent out of the room. The person who was “it” hid a plain sewing thimble somewhere in the room. She or he had to put the thimble somewhere in plain sight (not inside or covered up by something). The other players then came back into the room and started looking. When they saw the thimble, the players tried not to give away where the thimble is hiding. Without saying anything, they sat down on the floor to show they knew where it was. The last player standing was the one who couldn’t find the thimble. This player would be asked to pay a “penalty”—that is, to do something silly as a penalty for not finding the thimble. The other players could ask him to stand on one foot and recite the alphabet. Or sing a silly song with his fingers stuck in his ears. Or to walk around the room like a chicken.

Today, we have TV or video games to play with on a rainy day. Could you spend a whole afternoon playing with toys that did not need electricity? Or playing games that only needed a few props? See if you can do it! The next afternoon when rain keeps you inside, see if you can find ways to play that don’t need modern toys or electricity!  Still need some ideas? Visit us this summer at the Tangen House, Flynn Mansion, General Store, or 1900 Farm for more ideas on how kids can keep busy on a rainy afternoon!

Spring Cleaning!

It’s finally spring time in Iowa! The grass at Living History Farms is starting to turn green. Tangen Home

Our museum guides are getting all the historic houses and shops ready for you to visit soon! That means it is time for spring cleaning. Even people over 100 years ago liked to clean out their homes in spring! In 1877 (that’s 137 years ago!); a how-to-do-it book was written in Minnesota called Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping.

It said, “When mother earth summons the stirring winds to help clear away the dead leaves and winter litter for the coming grass and flowers, every housekeeper has a feeling of sympathy, and begins to talk of house-cleaning. The first bright sunshine of spring reveals unsuspected dust and cobwebs, and to her imagination even the scrubbing-brushes and brooms seem anxious to begin . . .”

Do you do any spring cleaning at your house? Think about what it might have been like to clean a house a long time ago! When your family cleans their house now, I bet you use one of these.vaccuum

When an Iowa family cleaned their house in 1875, they had to do everything by hand! They did not have electricity to help them! Let’s visit the Tangen House in our town of Walnut Hill and see how it was done.

Buckeye Cookery says to start cleaning in the parlor—that’s a fancy room used just for company. It has a lot of furniture, like sofas and chairs and wall to wall carpet! Tangen Parlor

How did they clean a carpet without a vacuum? The carpet is sewn together in strips. It could be taken apart and carried outside. The carpet strips and any rag rugs would be hung over the clothes line and beaten with a wire rug beater. In the spring, a house keeper could also use a rug beater to beat the dust out of the stuffed chairs and sofas.rug beater

A feather duster, made of chicken feathers, or a soft cloth was used to wipe away dust on shelves and the statues, vases and pretty things on them. And there are an awful lot of fussy things on shelves that have to be dusted in this house. Wow!feather dustersTangen shelves

Our how-to book reminds housekeepers to “Look on the ceiling for cobwebs” and to “brush down with the feather-duster all picture cords, frames, and curtains.”

Tangen parlor

“Clean the corners and edges with a sharp-pointed stick and stiff whisk broom”. Hmm. . . I think someone missed this corner. I better go find a stiff broom.Tangen home

A damp rag could be used to wipe the wood furniture and wood trim. On some fancy tables and chairs and especially the organ, the carving was hard to dust and the book says to dust the fine carving with a paint brush! Would you want to come over and brush all those carvings and curls?

Tangen piano

Windows had to be washed with rags or newspaper. The Tangen House has an awful lot of windows. Would you want to clean them all, inside and out?Tangen windowsInstead of a spray bottle of chemicals, most housekeepers used a pail of vinegar and water to wash their windows.

Tangen bedroomIn the bed room, the Buckeye book said to take apart the wooden bed frame and wipe it down. The family might even use a salt water brine to wash the bed. It was supposed to kill bed bugs! The bed mattresses were stuffed with straw or corn husks. Our Buckeye book says to re-stuff them in the spring and lay them out in the sunshine to air out.

In the kitchen, all the counters had to be washed and rubbed clean by hand. Children could help sweep and mop the floor and carry water for all this cleaning!Tangen cleaning supplies

All of these deep cleaning chores were done in spring and fall. What a lot of work for everyone! But there were also chores to be done every week. For every day cleaning, the Buckeye Cookbook says that:

“On Monday, wash; Tuesday, iron; Wednesday, bake and scrub kitchen and pantry; Thursday, clean the silverware, examine the pots and kettles and look after store-room and cellar; Friday, devote to general sweeping and dusting; Saturday, bake and scrub kitchen and pantry floors, and prepare for Sunday. Have the sitting-room tidied up every night” before going to bed.

Kids helped with many of these cleaning chores in 1875. Even very small children could help pick up the sitting room. What about now? Do you have to keep your own room clean? Is it your job to take out the trash or pick up your toys? When your family does their spring cleaning or sorting out, can kids help with those chores? Share what kinds of cleaning chores you have to do at your house! Tell us which ones you like to help with and which ones you hate to do! Would any of those chores be more fun in 1875 or a lot less fun?

That how-to-do- it book written long ago says, “Work done quietly about the house seems easier. A slamming of doors, and the rattle and clatter of dishes, tire and bewilder everybody about the house. Those who accomplish much in housekeeping . . . are the quiet workers.”

Do you agree? I don’t know. When I clean my house in 2014, I like to be loud while I do it!