Meet the General Store Keeper

Storekeeper Pam is the lead guide at the Greteman General Store and a familiar face to many museum visitors. Let’s get to know her better!

Pam at General Store

Where are you from? I am originally from a town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Kids in Iowa grow up learning about the Ioway tribe, pioneers, raising pigs, and harvesting corn. Kids in Massachusetts grow up learning about the Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims, and harvesting cranberries and lobster. I have had fun living in and learning about both states, but Iowa has the better State Fair.

When we come to the museum, where can we find you? Most of the time you will find me behind the counter at Greteman’s General Store selling lemon drops, gum drops and sarsaparilla. I think everyone in Iowa likes lemon drops and gum drops because we sure do have lots of people asking for them every summer!

I have also worked at 1700 Ioway Farm and the 1900 Horse-powered Farm. It was fun to help play a small part in putting up one of the new buildings at the new 1700 Ioway site and I was able to learn how to use the cook stove at the 1900 Farm this summer. When I am in our 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, I can sometimes be found at the Flynn Mansion, the Schoolhouse, or making brooms in the Broom Shop.

broom shop

How did you learn how to cook and make brooms and what all of those things in the store are used for? I worked with other guides who could teach me new skills they already knew. In the summer, I also read about, research, and practice those skills every day. Sometimes you have to practice a long time to master a new skill. It took me a few tries to start a fire in the cook stove without making the room all smoky. My first few brooms came out uneven on the sides. I keep trying and eventually the new skill becomes an old skill and it’s on to something new!

The hardest, but most fun part of my job is learning how to do things the way they did in the past. Cooking at 1900 Farm without a microwave or electric appliances took a while to get used to. Every chore takes longer than what you think, so I have learned to start each task early in the day and have guests help as much as possible. Our kid visitors like to help refill the wood, wash dishes, mix biscuits, sweep floors, dust shelves, and put things away. Working as a team with our staff and volunteers also makes any job easier. If I don’t know how to do something, someone else I work with probably does and can talk me through the hard parts. At the end of the day, it is very satisfying to look at a clean, stocked, dusted General Store or a well-fed 1900 Farm.


Do you like wearing your historic period clothing? I love wearing my period clothing! The dresses for the Flynn Mansion are very fancy, but all the layers make it harder to move around. The dresses for the 1900 Farm are not very fancy, but are comfortable for doing all sorts of cooking and chores. My dresses for the General Store are a good mix of pretty and practical. Each site also has a collection of bonnets and hats for the ladies to wear and it is fun to pick one out that has a ribbon or flower that matches your dress.

General Store

What kinds of things can kids do at the General Store? When kids come visit the General Store the very first thing they can do is pull up a barrel and play a game of checkers! We sometimes have special activities like weighing dry goods, using historical tools or playing typical children’s games set up at the front of the store. Kids are always welcome to ask for a broom and help me sweep the floor. We get a lot of dust and dirt in because of the dirt road outside. Some of the items in the store are sharp or fragile, so if there is something you are interested in, ask me and I will be happy to help you see the item so both it and you are safe.


Who is your favorite person in history? Favorite person in history……That is a hard question….. I have many people from history that I admire. Esther Forbes is one of them. Even though she had dyslexia, she was able to write an award-winning biography on Paul Revere. She later took all the research she had done to write the biography and turned it into one of my favorite books of all time, Johnny Tremain.



From Field to Factory: Broom Making!

broomcornFarmers in Iowa are busy harvesting corn and soybeans from their fields. Nowadays, a lot of Iowa’s corn and crops are grown to feed to animals. In the late 1800s, Iowa farmers sometimes grew a very special plant called broomcorn for a different purpose. Most brooms in the past were made from this plant. Broomcorn is actually not a type of corn at all. It is part of a family of plants called sorghum. Farmers grew broomcorn and sold it to factories, as a way to make some extra money. The harvesting took place in the fall, along with their other crops.

But how did the long broomcorn tassels grown on the farm become a broom? In the late 1800s, brooms were made in big and small factories. Some of the factories in Iowa had only two workers and a couple of factories had over 30 workers. Most factories, like the one we show at Living History Farms, had around 6-10 workers.

broom shop Not every town had a factory, so brooms would be shipped to towns around the state, around the country, and even around the world.

One of the first steps to making a broom was to soak the broomcorn in water.

soaking the broom corn Broomcorn is kind of like spaghetti, it breaks easily when it is dry and bends when it is wet. Once the broomcorn was soaked enough to bend, it was ready to move to the binding machine (also called a kicker). bindingThe person running the binding machine used their foot to make the machine turn and their hands to hold the broomcorn under the working wire that wraps the bristles onto a handle. Brooms are made in layers.setting the wire Each layer was wrapped tight to the handle using twine or metal wire. The wire was hammered down tight around the broomcorn and handle before the next layer was attached.

Some brooms had what are called shoulders – two bundles of broomcorn on each side of the broom – which gave them a curved look at the top. shoulders on a broomThe shoulders had to be put on just right so that they didn’t flatten out. Some brooms used only a small amount of broomcorn, like the laundry/cake tester broom and the hearth broom, while other brooms used a lot of broomcorn, like the house broom. Once a broom had all of the layers on it, which could be three to seven layers, it was ready to be taken out of the first machine to dry.

drying the broomIf the broom was not allowed to dry, it could become moldy inside. At the museum, brooms are hung from the ceiling for at least a day to make sure that all the layers are dry. A laundry/cake tester broom and a hearth broom would have one less step than other brooms. Other brooms like the house broom, children’s broom, and whisk broom were all flat brooms, and in order to make them flat, they had to go into a machine called a sewing vice. sewing vice

This machine smashed the broom flat so that a worker could use string and needles to sew the broom. The sewing is what kept the broom flat once it was taken out of the vice.

All brooms ended at the trimming board. This was a machine with a very sharp blade that cut the ends of the broom to the same length.trimming

Once the broom was trimmed, it was inspected to make sure it was properly made. If it was, the broom was sent to stores to be sold. If workers had made all the broomcorn even around the handle, and if they had sewn it just right, and trimmed everything evenly, the broom would pass the test of being able to stand up straight without being held. Not every broom was made perfect in a factory, so having a broom stand up on its own was a pretty special thing.broom standing

Once the brooms were at the store, it was up to people to buy the right broom for the job they had to do! Brooms were an important part of every household and they were used for many different purposes.whisk, cake tester, hearth broomsA small laundry broom could be dipped in water to sprinkle onto clean clothes before using a hot iron. This would create steam, so wrinkles could be ironed out. A hearth broom was used to sweep ashes back into a fireplace. A whisk broom had the handle cut off, so it could get under places where handles would get in the way. A house broom was used to clean the big rooms in a house. children and house broomsA children’s broom was for the children to help clean the house. Do you have a broom to help with cleaning? If you do, just think of the steps it took to make it for you!

Shopping Trip

Have you been getting ready to go back to school? Do you have list of things you will need to take with you? Like paper, pencils, and crayons? Do you like to go shopping with your family? Maybe at the mall or the grocery store? Do you take a list with you when you shop or just try to remember what you need when you get there?

General Store

Where would you go shopping in 1875? You might visit stores in a town like Walnut Hill. There might be a drug store, a grocer, and certainly a general store! General stores were like Walmart or Target. They sold food, clothing, tools, books—a little bit of a lot of things!

General Store

Let’s pretend you live near a small town over 100 years ago. In your farm house, you watch your mom look around the kitchen with a pencil and paper in her hands. She is writing things down as she checks her shelves and bins for ingredients she will buy at the General Store. The list seems to be getting longer and longer: 10 pounds flour, 3 pounds brown sugar, 3 pounds white sugar, 1 pint molasses, 1 pound coffee, 2 pounds rice. She also has items on the list for her sewing projects: 1 spool black thread, shirt buttons, crochet thread, 3 yards red calico cloth. And then your dad adds some things he needs for the barn: 2 pounds nails, an ax handle. You want to add your own ideas to the list. You will be starting school soon and know that the General Store will also have some of the things you need to be ready for that first day. But Mom is in charge of the shopping list, so the things you want may not be on it.
General Store

When you get to town, you stop at the General Store first. As the screen door shuts behind you, you take a deep breath. The store sells many things and it all smells so good: freshly ground coffee, the open jar of pickles, leather from the shoe section, and the bottle of perfume sitting on the notions counter.checkers

Dad sits down and challenges his friend to a game of checkers. Mom walks over to the grocery section and hands the store owner her list.  general store clerk

Remember the items? Flour, sugar, and rice are measured out of barrels. You stand in the center of the store and carefully watch the store owner measure and weigh the flour, sugar, and coffee from the list. The store clerk picks out the items on the list while Mom waits and watches.general store clerk

Cloth has to be measured and cut from the bolt. Thread colors are chosen out of the spool cabinet.thread and fabric

Nails come in a barrel too! And Dad has to pick an axe handle from the store stock.nails

When everything has been bagged and boxed for the wagon ride home, your dad gets ready to load up, but then asks the store owner to take down the large box of children’s shoes from the top shelf…. Yes!shoes

You WILL be getting one of the items from your own wish list: new shoes for school. You try on several pairs and Mom chooses a pair that fits with a little room to grow. Mom also asks the clerk to wrap up a brand new school reader book and a writing slate to practice your penmanship.

slate and books

Almost your entire little list has made it onto the wagon!

Your family climbs into the wagon for the ride home. Before you get too far down the road, your parents have one more surprise for you. Dad slowly pulls a small paper sack out of his pocket and grinning, asks if anyone want a lemon drop.  candy Your smile stretches from ear to ear as you take one from the sack and pop it in your mouth. Somehow your parents guessed the last item on your list!

500px-Shopping_cart_with_food_clip_art_2_svgThis pretend visit to 1875 was very different than going to a store in 2015! When you shop today, you may push a grocery carts and pick out your own items off the store shelves. You might bring home your things in plastic bags instead of brown paper packages. Some things are the same though! There are still stores that carry all the general items your family needs, from groceries, to tools, to shoes and clothes, and school supplies. A list is still the best way to make sure all of your needed items make it home. And sometimes parents still have a fun surprise for kids on the ride home.

Letter Play!

Young Girl at School Holding a Computer Mouse

Do you like to play with how letters look on your computer screen? Do you like to make them bigger and smaller and fancy?

small lettersfat letters

silly letters

I’ll bet you didn’t know, that makes you a typesetter! When you type out the letters to spell words on the screen, you are typesetting! In 2014, we use a keyboard to send those words electronically to a laser printer. In our 1875 Print Shop at Living History Farms, typesetting is more hands-on than that!

In 1875, a typesetter used small pieces of wood and metal with letters on the end to make words for printing. They called these pieces “moveable type” because they could move the letters around and use them over and over. Finding and putting the letters in order is called hand-setting of type.

In our 1875 Print Shop, type is stored in special drawers called cases. Just like they would have done 100 years ago! Each case has many little boxes inside it to hold the different letters and numbers.

type casetype

Typesetters used a special map to memorize which little box held each letter. The typesetter held a metal tray called a composing stick in one hand. composition stickThey took the letters from the case and lined them up, upside down, in the composing stick. The letters were eventually covered with ink and pressed against paper to make a copy of the words.

Your computer can print letters in lots of different styles and sizes of lettering. The style is called a font. Maybe you use Comic Sans, or Arial, or Times New Roman? Do you have a favorite style for typing on your screen?

In the 1800s, moveable type came in lots of different styles or fonts, too. The Print Shop at Living History Farms has fonts like:

copperplate                    bodoni

Goudy                    fancy fonts

Some of the historic styles are really fancy. There were even italics–the kind that slant to the right and make words stand out.

italicsThe letters also come in different sizes. You can change the size of the type on your computer by choosing a new number from the box at the top of your screen. Those numbers are called point sizes, so when you change from 12 to 24, you are changing from 12 points to 24 points. Typesetters in 1875 could print in different sizes of letter too. Remember those cases that hold the type? Each of those cases holds a different SIZE of type. One case might hold the 10 point Copperplate, while another holds the 14 point Copperplate.

When you are finished typing on your computer, you can either save or delete your work and it is stored electronically. In the 1875 Print Shop, typesetters would have to clean the ink off of each piece of type and carefully replace each letter in the box where it belonged. Then it would be in the correct spot when they needed to use it again – and they DID use the letters over and over again.

So which method of typesetting do you think is faster? Using a keyboard and computer? Or setting by hand? On your next visit to Living History Farms, ask one of the printers to show you how type is set and then you can decide for yourself!

Happy Birthday, America!

July 4th

July 4th is right around the corner. In 2014, we have picnics and parades on July 4th. Why? On July 4th in the year 1776, the United States of America decided to be a free country! July 4th is kind of like America’s birthday! At Living History Farms, we show guests how people lived a long time ago. In Walnut Hill town, the year is 1875. That is a long time ago, too. Do you think people had a party on July 4th then?

Yes! In 1875, people loved to have picnics and parades on July 4th! We know people had parties because they wrote about them. In Red Oak, Iowa, the newspaper wrote about the town’s July 4th party. There was a parade, a picnic lunch, speeches, bands and singers, a hot air balloon and even fireworks! The parade had more than 12 wagons pulled by horses. People in the parade wore costumes to pretend they lived in 1776. Their parade might have looked a little bit like this one at Living History Farms!


July 4th is America’s birthday. In 1875, our country was almost 100 years old! Turning 100 years old is a pretty special birthday! A special birthday needs a special birthday cake. Our museum guides found a recipe in a 1870s cookbook for that cake.


This colorful cake is called a National Cake. It has three parts or layers. Each part is made of colored sugar—a red part, a white part, and a blue part!

A woman in 1875 had to mix her cake from flour, eggs and butter. She did not have boxed cake mixes.

CakeInstead, she had to follow a recipe and measure out each ingredient. She could buy fancy things for her cake, like food colors and flavorings, at a General Store or a Drug Store. Old recipes can be tricky. To bake a National Cake, our guide found all the ingredients and brought them to the table. See the red and blue sugars!


The recipe says to mix each colored part in a different bowl. The red and blue parts use the colored sugar. The white part has lemon flavor in it, but no colors. No electric mixers here! A cook mixed the batter with a wooden spoon.

colored cake batter Each batter is cooked in a separate pan in the wood-burning stove. After the parts are baked and cooled, the cook can put the layers together. Our museum guide, Lucy even made a sweet frosting to go on top! A great cake for a July 4th picnic!cake

Caregivers: Living History Farms is open from 9 am to 4 pm on July 4th for great family fun. Games such as watermelon seed spitting, pie eating, and gunny sack races begin at 11 am. The parade begins at 2 pm followed by a historic baseball game. Families can bring their own picnic lunch or buy a boxed lunch at the museum. See the day’s full schedule of events on our website here:

If you would like to make a red, white, and blue cake for your July 4th picnic, you can use our historic recipe below. But you can also mix a modern box cake batter, then divide it equally into three bowls. Place a few drops of red and blue food coloring in two of the bowls. Bake each layer in a separate pan, cool, and stack. OR you can layer the batters 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time into cupcake pans for individual National Cakes!

The original recipe for National Cake is this:

White Part: Cream 1 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup butter, then add 1/2 cup sweet milk, then beaten whites of 4 eggs, 1/2 cup corn starch, 1 cup of flour into which has been mixed 1 teaspoonful of cream of tartar and 1/2 teaspoonful of soda. Flavor with 1 teaspoon lemon extract.

Blue Part: Cream 1 cup blue sugar and 1/2 cup butter then add 1/2 cup sweet milk, then beaten whites of 4 eggs and 2 cups flour into which mix 1 teaspoonful of cream of tartar and 1/2 teaspoonful of soda. No flavor added.

Red Part: Cream together 1 cup red sugar and 1/2 cup butter, then add 1/2 cup sweet milk, then beaten whites of 4 eggs and 2 cups of flour into which mix 1/2 teaspoonful of cream of tartar and 1/2 teaspoonful of soda. No flavor added.

Place each color in a separate bake pan. First red, then white, and last blue. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) until done. (Ours in the woodstove took 30 minutes, when done in 3 pans).

If you do not like lemon flavoring, you can use vanilla extract instead.

Wet and Wiggly!

Drug StoreMany people visit Living History Farms to see our farm animals. We have sheep and pigs and chickens and cows and horses and…leeches. That’s right! The Schafer Drug Store in our 1875 town of Walnut Hill displays a bowl of leeches every summer.


What’s a leech? Well, have you have ever gone swimming in a lake or a pond and noticed you had a worm like creature attached to you when you got out of the water? EEEK! That was probably a leech. In fact, it was probably the North American Freshwater Medicinal Leech. Leeches are a type of worm; they don’t have bones the way you do and can stretch their bodies to be thin or squish themselves up really fat. They are usually brown or greenish with dark spots. Leeches can grow to be up to 2 inches long and have suckers on both ends of their body. Leeches are really wiggly! They can swim very quickly or crawl like an earthworm along the bottom of a lake using their suckers. Leeches do have eyes, but also use vibrations in the water to sense what is going on around them.

leechesLeeches are parasitic. Parasitic means they need to feed on another living thing to survive. In the case of the Freshwater Leech, they survive on blood. These types of leeches are sometimes called bloodsuckers! The mouth sucker is filled with very sharp tiny teeth. It bites onto a living thing and sucks blood from them. When a leech bites onto something, it gives off a chemical in its saliva (its spit) that helps to keep blood flowing and also that keeps the victim from feeling any pain. Usually, leeches in the wild like to attach to fish, frogs, and turtles.

leeches sign
So why are there leeches in the Schafer Drug Store? Before people really understood the things that could make them sick (like germs!), people thought bad blood inside you made you sick. They thought you might have a poison in your blood or even that your body had too much blood! They thought a good way to make you well was to remove bad blood with…you guessed it, a leech! A long time ago, doctors would attach one, or even a bunch at a time, to the patient’s skin to suck out their bad blood.Leeching
What do you think? Do you think it would help make a sick person feel better? Now, we have a much better idea of why people get sick. Instead of bad blood, we know we might have bacteria or germs in our bodies that make us sick. We take special medicines to help get rid of the germs instead. Do you think it hurt to be bitten by a leech? Well, remember that chemical in the leech’s spit? It helps to keep people from feeling any pain. Most people do not feel it at all if a leech bites them.

Try this at home:
A single leech can eat up to ½ ounce of blood at a time. That is about 1 tablespoon. An adult human has around 160 ounces of blood in their body, so taking a half ounce out isn’t much.

measuring spoons

What does a tablespoon look like? Ask your parents if you can measure out some water with a tablespoon sized measuring spoon. You can place water in a bowl and try measuring a tablespoon at a time into a second bowl. One tablespoon of water is how much blood one leech might eat. Sometimes, a long time ago, a doctor would use many leeches to remove “bad” or “poisoned” blood. One leech therapy called for TWO DOZEN leeches! That’s 24 leeches at a time! Measure out 24 tablespoons of water. Does that look like a lot?

DON’T FORGET: Visit the Schafer’s Drug Store at Living History Farms…the leeches have arrived! You can see what a leech looks like in real life and hear more about their story. Ask the interpreter in the Drug Store about ways doctors use leeches in 2014!leeches

Tip for Caregivers: Leeches like cool weather. The leeches in our bowl are usually much more active in the mornings before it gets hot. When you visit the Drug Store, check out the leeches early in the day!

Feathers and Plumes!

MilllineryThe town of Walnut Hill has many shops and stores. One of those stores is called a Millinery Shop. Milliners make fancy hats for women. In the 1870s, everyone wore a hat when they went outside.

men in hats

Men wore hats made of straw or felt. The General Store would sell men’s hats in a town like Walnut Hill. Ladies might wear sun bonnets or big straw hats when they worked in the garden to keep from being sun-burned. They might make their own sun bonnets at home or buy a wide straw hat at the General Store.Tangen Women

When a lady got dressed up to go into town, she wanted an especially fancy hat. A sunbonnet would not be special enough!


To buy a special hat, a lady could visit the Millinery and look at all the styles in the showroom and all the fancy ribbons and lace in the cases. Then the Milliner would make a hat just for her!

millineryThe hat trimmers in the Millinery Shop use many things to make their hats fancy and special. One of the most popular things to put on a hat is feathers! Sometimes they use smooth, shiny coque feathers, which are rooster tail feathers, or rooster wing feathers. These feathers can be black and shiny or white and spotted or tan and fluffy! It just depends on the rooster the feathers came from!


Most of the time, our milliners love to use ostrich feathers on their hats, which are fluffy and swoop over the hat brims. They were very popular in the 1870s for hats, and they’re still pretty easy to buy today in many colors and sizes. Real ostriches are usually black and white. But the feathers were easy to dye in many different colors such as red and purple. The feathers are dyed after they come off the ostrich. Can you imagine if ostriches were actually found in these colors?

purple ostrich

Ostrich feathers nearly always need to be shaped or curled before they go on a hat, especially our little fashionable hats. The thick center part of the feather is called a quill or spine. It can be gently bent so the feather curves around the side or top of a hat. You can try bending paper or cardboard the same way. Try this by cutting a piece of cardboard about as wide as your fingertip. Bend a section, move up a bit, and bend it again—you might even make a spiral!

The fluffy vanes of ostrich feathers can be curled as well, but if they get damp the curl may fall out, just the way it does with hair. Some hats only need one feather, but some get two or three or more, depending on what makes the hat look good.


Ladies in the 1870s often wore their hat perched on the front of their head, so that their pretty hair would show in the back. The feathers and decorations could be so fancy that it can be hard to figure out which part of the hat is the front and which is the back! How do you think we should wear these hats? Which is the front and which is the back?

hat hat

Front?                                                                        Or is this the front?

hat hat

How about this one? does the feather sweep forward or back from the face?

hat hat

Do you like it this way?                                             Or this way?

millinerVisit our millinery shop this week and ask the milliner, herself! Tips for Caregivers: The Millinery shop does not allow guests to try on their hats because we see so many people! But, milliners would be delighted to talk with children about which hats would have been best for children and which color choices were best for 1875! There is also a hands-on activity in the Millinery on Mondays from 10 am to Noon and on Saturdays from 1 pm to 3 pm! Stop in the shop then for an opportunity to help with millinery projects!