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


Time for School!

School has already begun for most children. Shopping for school supplies is complete, new clothes have been purchased and an introductory visit to the school is now done. Students are getting to know their new teachers, and learning what their schedule will be each day. Many students have even learned how to find the right bus to get on when it’s time to go home.    schoolhouseIn the late 1800’s, when all ages of Iowa farm children went to one-room country schools, preparation for the school day would have looked a little different:

As you milk cows and feed the chickens before getting dressed for school, you wonder if you’ll still have the same school marm (an old word for school teacher). You really liked her, and so did your brother and sister. You each learned so much with her, but you know teachers don’t always stay in one school very long.

school marm

Your new shoes feel so good on your feet as you lace them up; you are very thankful for them. The mile walk to school will be much easier. You need to hurry to the kitchen to fix your lunch. Mom just finished using up the lard in the tin so you get a new lunch pail! lunch pail

You’ll bring one of the apples that was just picked yesterday. Ham from last night’s dinner and some leftover cornbread would be great, too. And, of course, some of Mom’s delicious pound cake. You just need to strap your McGuffey Reader and slate together, and you’re ready to go. You’re almost done with this reader, so you’ll be able to use the one your brother finished last term. Your brother, sister and you take off down your lane to the road. There, you meet your neighbors, who farm just a half mile from you. You play and tell stories all the way to school. You arrive at the same time as the other two families, and you soon discover you DO have the same school marm. This IS going to be a very good school term.

You meet around the flag pole, and sing about America. As you go into the schoolhouse, you greet your school marm with a little bow or curtsy, and put your new lunch pail on the correct side of the cloak room–boys on one side, girls on the other. Inside you share a desk, again boys on one side and girls on the other. classroom

There are only 10 students in class this term. Your sister says it’s because the older boys are helping to get the corn crop in while the weather is good.


Your lessons are on the board. You begin by practicing your penmanship. That means handwriting. You need to work on it until it’s perfect. You have a ways to go, but, “Practice makes perfect”. practice penmanship

Your sister is working out arithmetic problems on her slate. The teacher calls on her to recite her addition facts for the 9’s. 9+1 is 10, 9+2 is 11. As she continues, you realize you are learning some of them just by hearing her recite them! Soon it’s time for you to work on your arithmetic lesson. You must work hard, and be quiet all morning long, so when recess time comes, you are all ready to talk and play games. By the time it’s 4:00, everyone excitedly heads for home. Your animals will be very ready to see you. The cow needs to be milked again, and your chickens have been busy laying eggs that will need to be gathered.chores

School has gone from one room with all your friends and their brothers and sisters to many rooms in many buildings with students of mostly the same age. If you know some home-educated students, their schooling may be very similar to the way schools were run in the late 1800’s, but they are definitely using many new tools for learning. Instead of writing assignments on slates with slate pencils, do you use a white board and dry erase markers? Or do you use lots of paper and pencils, crayons or markers, and a computer? One thing has stayed the same. Students are still learning to read, write, and do their arithmetic because it is so very important for life. So study well, and learn all you can!

For the Birds!

pump waterPeople visit Living History Farms to talk with our museum guides, see the historic buildings and farm animals, and to help with our hands-on activities. Maybe you have come out to help churn butter or pump water or milk a cow? What is your favorite job to help with at the farm?

autumn at Living History FarmsMany people also come to the museum just to be outside! Fall in Iowa is a great time to be outside. The air is cooler. The leaves start to turn colors and crunch under your feet. Our museum has a trail to walk on between our farms. Along this trail, you can see prairie grass, wildflowers and trees, a creek and a pond. There are benches along the trail and it’s a great place to sit and hang out outside! And it is a great place to watch for wild birds and animals.

Do you like to watch wild birds? Scientists who study birds are called ornithologists. People who like to watch birds are sometimes called “birders.” Birders like to see how many different kinds of birds they see when they go out. They even keep lists of the birds, where they see them and what the birds were doing.

Living History Farms trailThe next time you come to the Farms, walk slow along the trail and look for birds. You can even keep your own list by drawing pictures of the birds you see or writing down what they were doing. Even if you don’t know what species (that’s the name of that type of bird), there are lots of things to notice about them. What colors are the birds? What sound are they making? Where are they—on the ground, in a tree, on swimming in the pond? Were they eating something? If you want, you can bring a pair of binoculars to see the birds better, but just looking hard with your eyes will show you a lot!

Here are some of the birds you might see on a visit to Living History Farms! As you walk along our trails, keep your eyes open and look carefully through the trees and along the ground. You might see very colorful birds in the trees. Bright reds, blues, yellows and oranges are easy to spot.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Maybe you will see birds like the Eastern Bluebird, or the Goldfinch. These are both small birds that love to sing. The Goldfinches like the seeds of many of the flowers which grow in our prairie grass area.


You might also see a Blue Jay or a Cardinal. These birds are a little bigger but still have bright colors. The Cardinals also like to sing!



If you are very lucky, you might even see an Oriole. We don’t see these birds very often, but are always excited when we do!  oriole

Now, if you want a challenge, look for the birds that have just little bits of bright colors, or that are brown and black and white. Some of our favorites are the gray catbirds.


You might hear the catbird before you see him. He calls to other birds with a scratchy mewing sound.

Crawling along the trees, sometimes even upside down, you might see a nuthatch.


In spring and fall, the male nuthatches chatter at each other so listen when you see them!

The woods at Living History Farms are also filled with wood-peckers.

red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied Woodpecker

There are the smaller Downy Woodpeckers, but we also have Red-bellied Woodpeckers too. You can usually hear these birds too—by the hammering sound they make on trees!


In the more open areas along the trail, you might see birds that like to soar or fly in the breeze. Look up and you might see a turkey vulture. Vultures eat dead animals and like to fly high in the sky on warm winds called thermals.


You will see them fly in slow circles. Sometimes you may also see hawks at the farm. We see both Red tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks. The farmers keep an eye out for these birds in the spring—they will chase our young chickens.

red tailed hawk coopers-hawk-128

On a cool morning visit, you might see pheasants or wild turkeys. These birds are shy and you will probably only see them in the distance–like this turkey we were able to photograph here last fall! wild turkey at LHF

In the mornings, you may even see a heron on our farm pond! And especially in the fall, you can see all sorts of ducks and Canadian Geese on the farm pond near the exhibit center.

What is your favorite bird? Do you like small birds that sing or bigger birds that honk? Start your own bird list for the birds you see at home and at the park, and hopefully on a visit to Living History Farms!

Caregivers: Birding is a great way to get your kids outside! Start with the birds in your back yard and the birds along our museum trail. Don’t worry about knowing the name of every bird you see. Focus on just noticing what birds are doing. What sounds are they making? What colors and sizes do the kids see? Birding can be simple—a walk along the trail using just your eyes to look for things. Or you can bring a notebook and pencils to draw/write down what you see and a pair of kids’ or adult binoculars to look for birds. If your kids are bringing new binoculars to watch birds, make sure they practice using them a bit so they aren’t frustrated with the tools during their tour. Also, let them explore whatever they notice during their birding walk—even if the ground squirrels seem to be more interesting than the birds. Teaching kids to love the outdoors keeps them active and involved in the world around them! Remember these birds are wild, so children should not try to catch, feed, or chase them.

Fun at the Fair!

The Iowa State Fair started last week and people around town have been talking about when they are going to go to the fair and what things they like to see. The very first Iowa State Fair was held in a little town called Fairfield, all the way back in 1854. This year, 161 years after that first fair, over one million people will come to Des Moines to celebrate an event that is very well-known, not just in Iowa, but around the United States. People from around the world come to Iowa to visit our fair, and everyone has something they like to do there.

grandstand state fair

The Grandstand at the Iowa State Fair. (Iowa State Fair Photo)

Some people like to go to concerts and see the shows at the fair. There are talent shows and radio shows and big stars that play at the grandstand. There are pageants and art demonstrations, and animal shows, when 4-H students show their chickens and sheep and cows.

But that is the modern fair, and not how it was when it started. The people who started the fair way back in the 19th century wanted to have a place where people could learn about Agriculture – that is farming – and help consumers – those are people who buy food – to learn about where their food comes from.

Iowa state fair

Young cattle exhibitor. (Iowa State Fair Photo)

There were some of the same contests when it started. Farmers were judged on their crops and livestock they brought to show at the fair. In 2015, farmers still bring sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, and even rabbits and goats to be judged. It gives them a chance to show off their products.

Pioneer Hall

Pioneer Hall. (Iowa State Fair Photo)

In 1886, the Iowa State Fair moved to Des Moines, to the place where everyone comes to visit today. Many of the older buildings that you walk past are from this time. If you want to see what kids who went to the fair around the turn of the century saw, take a walk through Pioneer Hall, it sits on top of the hill by the Sky Glider. The Livestock Pavilion, where they hold a lot of the animal shows, was built in 1902, but improved with air conditioning in 2011. It is a nice place to take a break during a hot day.

The rides at the Midway weren’t always at the fair. Early on, there wasn’t as much fun stuff to do. Ye Old Mill, which is the oldest ride at the fair, wasn’t complete until 1924! Still, there were fun things to see and do, and good foods to eat.

State fair

Caramel Apple on a stick. (Iowa State Fair Photo)

Do you have a favorite food at the fair? It might be fried, or on a stick. Sweet or savory, everyone usually has something that they really like to eat. The corn dog is a 20th century invention. It is delicious, sure, but people who went to the first fairs, or even the 21st fair were not eating corn dogs. They were more likely to eat fried chicken! There was no bucket of chocolate chip cookies, either. Families may have brought their own food to the first fairs, and picnicked with the pigs!

Iowa state fair

So enjoy the fair, if you get to go this year. Good luck if you are showing anything in the competitions. Come see the Living History Farms booth, just down from the butter cow in the Agriculture Building. And if you can’t make it this year, don’t worry. The fair will be around next August as well!state fair

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.


Summer has officially begun and it has been hot outside! Have you been swimming to have fun and stay cool? Maybe you have a favorite swimsuit you like to wear. People who lived a long time ago also liked to swim, but their swimsuits looked very different from yours.

godeys suits

People started wearing swimsuits over 200 years ago. For a long time, swimsuits looked a lot like normal clothes. It wasn’t considered proper for very much of your skin to be showing, so swimsuits were very long and had long sleeves. In fact, swimming was the only time women were allowed to wear pants along with their dresses!

The problem with the swimsuits people wore was that when they got wet, they didn’t dry very fast. Instead of making swimsuits out of cotton, which is what your t-shirts are made out of, they started making swimsuits out of wool. Wool comes from sheep! Wool dries faster, but it is very heavy and warm. It would be like wearing a winter sweater at the pool! Do you know what fabric your swimsuit is made from? Usually, it says on the tag.sheep

As time went by, swimsuit designs started to change and look less like regular clothes. Instead of wearing pants, women wore tights with their swimsuits.

1910s swimwear

Do you think it seems silly to wear all those clothes to go swimming? It seems silly to us today, but one good thing about these swimsuits was that they stopped people from getting sunburns. Do you have to put on sunscreen before you go swimming outside? Sunscreen hadn’t been invented yet in the 1800s! Having their legs and arms covered helped keep people safe.

If you visit Living History Farms, you will not see any swimming pools. In fact, you wouldn’t find very many swimming pools in the 1800s. Most people swam in the ocean, or in ponds, lakes or streams. Sometimes people would jump in a pond to take a bath. There were some indoor swimming pools in big cities, but they weren’t for fun; they were for exercise or for swimming lessons. Have you ever taken swimming lessons, or are you taking them now? Just like you, people in the 1800s learned how to swim so they would be safe in the water.

So what did kids do to have fun in the summer if they couldn’t go play at the pool? Many things! Kids spent time playing outside with their brothers and sisters. There were lots of games to play like baseball, croquet, and graces. Graces is a game kind of like catch, played with sticks and hoops.


Caregivers: Living History Farms is celebrating a Victorian Birthday with historic games and activities on August 8, 2015. If your kids want to try old-fashioned summer fun, come join us!

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.