The History of Cedar County Historical Society
As compiled by Sandra Harmel covering the history of the society from its inception to January 1, 2012, using meeting minutes, newspaper articles and other documents within the possession of the Society. Updates from 2012 to present (December 2018) will follow Mrs. Harmel's work.
On September 26, 1957 State Representative Albert L. Mensing of Lowden and William B. Anderson of West Branch met with Mrs. Howard (Mildred Yule) Phelps, a Red Oak Grove native, in the Phelps home to discuss the possibility of organizing a county historical society. They planned to invite several representative people of the county to meet at the Tipton Library on Oct. 10, 1957.
The letter read: “Some interest has been shown in the forming of a Cedar County historical society. Thinking that you may be interested in preserving our historical background and recording our current history, we invite you to meet with a few representative people of the county at the Tipton Library October 10, 1957 at 2 p.m. to discuss the matter. Respectfully, A.L. Mensing, William B. Anderson, and Mrs. H.L. Phelps.” And so begins the scrapbook that records the beginning of the Cedar County Historical Society.
The October 10, 1957 meeting was held with 12 of the 17 who were invited attending. A.L. Mensing was elected temporary chairman and Mrs. Phelps temporary secretary to serve until a regular election could be held. A meeting to organize the society was scheduled to be held October 29, 1957. Sixteen people were present. Officers were elected and dues set at $1.00 annually and a life membership could be purchased for $10.00. Dues presently are $22.00 per year. In December a meeting in the courtroom in the Cedar County courthouse was held where the first officers were elected.
A.L. Mensing, Lowden, first president; Curtis Frymoyer, Wilton, vice-president; Mrs. Howard Phelps, West Branch, secretary; and Mrs. Ina Barewald, Tipton, treasurer. The Society also decided to form a Board of Directors covering all areas in the county. The first annual meeting was scheduled for January 9, 1958. Until that time interested residents of Cedar County, or former residents, were given the opportunity to become charter members. A constitution and by-laws would be written.
Seventy members attended the January 9th meeting. The Society had 204 charter members. By unanimous vote, a honorary membership was given to President Herbert Hoover. All temporary officers were elected as permanent officers. However, Mrs. Phelps resigned as secretary; and Murl Elijah (Mrs. Earl) was elected to take her place. High membership numbered 647 in 1967. In 2012 the membership is approximately 350.
Traditions begun in 1958 continue today – 54 years later. Originally the primary project was to compile and publish the annual Cedar County Historical Review. It has been published every years since 1958 with two issues in 1959. The Review has county information not found in any other source. Hundreds of county residents have used the review to contribute to our understanding of our history and heritage. Curtis Frymoyer was the first editor with his wife Frances joining him soon after. Curtis died in August of 1990, and Frances continued editing the Review. She began mentoring Jeff Kaufmann to become editor. Jeff, with the assistance of Sue Eberly, assumed the duty of editing with the 1998 issue. Presently co-editors are Jeff Kaufmann and Verl Lekwa. In 2002, the Cedar County Historical Review was awarded the prestigious Petersen/Harlan Award by the State Historical Society of Iowa.
Many historically important projects have been completed by the society over the years:
In 1963 a reproduction of the Spicer/Piatt map was made, and sold for $1.00. in 1975 a second reprint was done. The original map was first printed in 1862, and is the first known map of Cedar County. The reproduction is still available for $5.00.
John Brown In Cedar County was published in 1964. Mildred Yule Phelps wrote an article, John Brown in Springdale, which appeared in the 1958 Review, but was out of print by 1964. A need for information on this subject was established, and the Society decided to print a short history. Board members Gordon Smith and Mildred Speight were assigned to work on the project. The booklet proved to be very popular, and has been out of print for some time. The entire booklet was reprinted in the 2002 Review.
In July 1967 the Society began the souvenir paperweight fund raising project. Limestone from the old courthouse was cut into blocks, a decal of the old building was attached to the top side, and a felt piece glued to the bottom. They were to be sold for $1.00. A large supply of paperweights remains, and they are available for $1.00.
A Society cookbook project was initiated in 1992, and was chaired by then board member Lois Whitlatch. The Iowa Country Cooks’ Recipes and Recollections were first sold at the December 1992 annual meeting. The project was a tremendous success, and by February 1993 a 2nd printing was necessary. All copies have been sold. As part of the Society’s 50th anniversary another cookbook was compiled and printed in 2008. This project was also chaired by Lois Whitlatch. The cookbooks are available at $10.00.
The Larsen Art Calendar was printed for the year 1996. Signor Larsen was appointed official photographer for the Review in 1974, and served in this capacity until his resignation in December of 1995. A prolific and talented photographer, he won many awards for his photos. A portion of his photos is in our collection.
The first annual Cedar Land Harvest Fest was organized by the Tipton Lion’s Club, and was held in October, 1989. Although the Cedar County Historical Society participated as well as other organizations, it was not until 1995 the Society was co-sponsor. Sole sponsorship by the Society began in 2004. The spelling bee sponsored by the CCHS had been a highlight of the festival for many years. Both activities have been discontinued, although plans remain for agricultural heritage days.
The Rochester Cemetery Buffer Zone project was started as an endeavor to protect the integrity of the cemetery and to discourage development encroachment. Donations were to be used for the purchase of a narrow strip of property around the cemetery. Due to a lack of interest from adjoining property owners, the buffer zone never materialized. In 2002-2003 half of the still existing fund was used to restore some of the oldest gravestones in the cemetery. In the summer of 2001 the remaining funds, along with funds from Rochester Township, were used for a total of nearly 80 grave stones repaired and restored in the Rochester Cemetery. Jeff Kaufmann directed both of these restoration projects. The Society continues to take a very strong interest in this historical treasure.
Morgon/Centreville Memorial – In February 1994 a $100.00 donation was received from Morgan descendants to preserve the grave site of Jonathon and Sydny Morgan, early county settlers. Sydny’s grave is the oldest marked grave in Cedar County (1837). Located in Section 4 of Sugar Creek Township (just northeast of the South Bethel Church), the graves are located by the long-deserted site of the 1837 pioneer village of Centreville. The site, located in the middle of a field, was cleaned up, the stones repaired and reset, a boulder with a bronze plaque attached, and a fence was erected. All of the work was donated by Jeff Kaufmann and his uncle, Herbert Whitmer. This memorial is on private property, but an easement exists for the purpose of visiting the site. The property in 2012 is owned by Jan Whitmer Fay.
Henry Hardman Memorial – Henry Hardman was one of the earliest settlers arriving in Cedar County in 1836. His home was located in Rochester Township, section 32, one mile northwest of South Bethel Church. Located at this home was the first Cedar County church, school, singing society, and the first court. Henry Hardman was the first justice of the peace and first Mason. He was instrumental in establishing the Rochester Golden Rule Lodge and the Tipton Lodge #11 in 1847. A plaque and stone located at the site of his home was dedicated in July 1960 at the 3rd annual summer picnic. The site was again commemorated in 1996. The Hardman memorial was moved at a later date to a more accessible location near the side of the Hardman home. It has since been moved again in 2011 to the South Bethel Cemetery. Plans are underway to replace the plaque with a new one reflecting the change in location.
Geographical Center of Cedar County – A stone marker was placed near the geographical center of Cedar County in September 1976. It is located in Tipton on West 7th Street. The exact location of the county centers 11’ east and 49’ south of the stoner marker.
First Cedar County Courthouse – The county seat was originally located in Rochester. The upper floor of a two story log home which had been built in 1838 by Stephen Toney served as the courthouse. A 12”x16” bronze plaque reads: “Site of the first Cedar County Courthouse 1838, Cedar County Historical Society, In Memory of Mildred Speight.” The boulder is located near the Cedar River in Rochester.
Cedar County Courthouse Signage – The original 1859 courthouse bell stands at the southwest corner of courthouse square in Tipton. Don Stout who was a long time member of the society as well as a past president and Society secretary for twenty-six years was chairman for the project with board members Ted Worrall and Carl Wilhelm assisting him. Limestone from the old building was used in the supports, and there was enough brick from the new building for use in the columns at no charge. The limestone block engraved with Cedar County in front of the bell was above the main door of the old courthouse.
Military Museum – The American Legion building located at 5th and Lunn Street in Tipton houses our military collection. Included in this collection are military uniforms, Civil War memorabilia, WW II memorabilia, pictures, and a military library. The building was originally two rural school houses that were connected in 1923 for the purpose of a meeting hall for the American Legion. The building was purchased by the Society for $1.00 from the American Legion in July 1994. The deed was signed by Verlon C. Weaver, Commander, and Richard H. Smith, Adjutant. (The legal description reads: East thirty-five (35) feet of Lot twelve (12) and the North thirty (30) feet of the east thirty-five (35) feet of Lot eleven (11) both in block twenty (20) of the original town on Tipton.) In 2006 the military collection was moved to the new museum. No longer needed for this purpose, the Legion building was sold to the City of Tipton in October, 2011.
Agricultural Museum – Located at the Cedar County fairgrounds is the Agricultural Museum. The Society has a long-term lease with the Fair Board for this ground in the southwest corner of the fair property. The 60’x120’ building was begun in 1988 and dedicated July 19, 1992. Build jointly with FFA, it was funded through contributions. The museum houses agricultural related artifacts.
Sawmill – A restored sawmill is also located at the fairgrounds. It is still in need of additional work. In addition, the Society moved a windmill onto the fair grounds. The windmill was given to the Fair Association after the removal of Bedbug School and the blacksmith shop in 2009.
Bedbug School (Red Oak Township #1) – In July, 1989 the CCHS Board of Directors voted to accept this building from the Tipton Community School. This old country school building had sat behind the main school after being removed from Red Oak Township many years ago, and was used for storage. The building was moved, under the supervision of Keith Whitlatch to the Cedar County fair grounds and renovated by devoted and industrious society board members and volunteers. Project director was Delores Rohlf with assistance from Joyce Hamiel. It was opened in September 1995. Furnished with a collection of school artifacts, it is a prime example of the old country schools once numerous in our county. Classes taught by retired school teachers have been held in the school. In December of 2009 the building was moved to the museum grounds to be a part of the Pioneer Village.
Blacksmith Shop – In 1999 a building donated by the Francis J. Suchomel estate was moved to the fair grounds. This building had sat on the Suchomel farm northwest of Cedar Bluff on the Solon Road. With volunteers and much needed effort the building has been renovated as a working blacksmith shop. Director Mike Rocca was chair of the project and continues to oversee the shop. There is a dedication plaque to Board member Iral Ellyson in the blacksmith shop. The building was also removed to the museum grounds in December 2009.
South Bethel Church – This structure was located 7 ½ miles south of Tipton on Old Muscatine Road. In the fall of 2008 it was gifted to the Society by the remaining congregation. Built in 1854 and dedicated in 1856, it had served their community until their last service in November 2008. It was relocated to the museum grounds in December 2009. Extensive renovation and repairs have been made to the structure. To date over $110,000 has been raised for this project.
Benjamin Fraseur Log Cabin – Built in 1842 by one of the county’s earlier settlers, the cabin was originally located on the Richard Mitzner farm northwest of Tipton. In 1976 as a bicentennial project it was dismantled and moved to the Massillon Park. A gift from the Conservation Board the cabin was moved to the Society museum site in February 2008.
The Cedar County Historical Society has been very fortunate over the years with bequeaths from generous supporters.
Geller Preserve – The society acquired the Geller Preserve in June 1976, a gift from the Laura Geller estate. It consists of 119 acres of timber and Rock Creek. It contains a large wild flower population, fruit trees, walnut, oak, black cherry, elm, and wild plum trees. A flower walk is held two weekends each spring before the cattle are released in the rented preserve. A plaque dedicated to Laura Geller hangs in the lobby of the courthouse. Initially Ray Kroemer and Bill Hartz took a leadership role in managing the property.
Bickett-Rate – Located west of Buchanan the farm consists of timber, tillable ground and Cedar River frontage. This 539 acre farm was a bequeath from Evelyn Bickett Larkin in 1995. The farmstead contains a house built for Hannah Hall in 1854 and a 1923 barn. The Hall’s migrated from Connecticut to Iowa in 1848. The house and barn are in the process of being renovated. One hundred sixty -five acres of crop land are rented, and hunting rights are leased. A large gift of original furniture from the house, photos and documents was given to us in the fall of 2011 by the family of a direct descendant. In 1998, thanks to the efforts of Don and Dorothy Stout, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Future plans call for the farm to be used as an educational resource.
Cedar County Historical Society Museum – In 2002 the society received a bequeath of $300,000 from Marjorie Laubscher for the purpose of building a museum or buying an existing facility for the same purpose. In February 2005 4.65 acres of land north of Tipton on Highway 38 was purchased from Jack Fraseur; and on May 27, 2005 the ground breaking ceremony took place. Construction on the 40’X92’ building was begun soon after. In mid February, 2006, we took possession of the building and began moving in. Dedication of the building took place November 5, 2006.
Witmer Museum Addition – Charter member and past -president, John Witmer bequeathed $164,626.65 to the Society for an addition to the museum. Construction on the addition began on May 3, 2011, and was c0mpleted in late June, 2011. The Witmer estate also left $98,690.10 for the continuing support of the Society Museum and various projects housed in our expanded structure.
We received a gift from the Frances Forest Frymoyer Estate. The gift of over $400,000 will be used for preservation efforts of both archival and natural Cedar County history. The Board officially sanctioned a $300,00 endowment fund in January 2007. An annual scholarship program for Cedar County high school seniors is dedicated to Curtis and Frances Forest Frymoyer.
The Cedar County Historical Society is one of several historical organizations in the county. Others include: Cedar County Genealogical Society, Cedar County Friends of Historic Preservation, The Soldiers’ Monument Association of Cedar County, Lowden Historical Society, Tipton Old Union School, and the Herbert Hoover complex in West Branch. All of Cedar’s historic organizations have cooperated on joint interests and projects at one time or another.
The Cedar County Historical Society continues to grow and adapt to its increasing size and the expanding scope of its activities. It remains one of the largest and most active local historical organizations in the state. An unwavering goal of preserving Cedar County history and a tradition of tireless volunteers continues to be the strength of this organization.
Mrs. Harmel relayed a lot of changes in her narrative, and the last six years have been no different, though some things remain the same. 2018 marked the Society's 60th anniversary. The Cedar County Historical Review continues to be a popular publication for our members and guests alike. The Spicer map is still available at the museum for $5.00 and the Old Courthouse paperweights are still available for $1.00. In our store we also offer the 50th anniversary cookbook at $5.00. We now celebrate our Annual Day on the Prairie on the third Saturday of September and see between 250-300 visitors for the event each year. Additional information and pictures of the Geller Preserve, Bickett-Rate farm, and the prairie village building Mrs. Harmel discussed can be found on their individual pages. Since January 2012 we have built Cook's Hardware in 2012 with the Tin Shop on the back. With a generous bequest a three storefront building that houses the Sunbury Bank and Kemmann's Implement was constructed in 2015. The Baughman/Shrope house moved into the prairie village at about the same time. Currently we are finalizing plans on the Dr. Spear Veterinary Clinic and Country Vet Museum and construction should begin this year (2018). The Ag Museum is still housed at the fairgrounds and is open during fair week. A different sawmill was moved into the "Back 40" behind the prairie village and made operational in 2017 by board member Mike Rekemeyer. The renovations to Edgewood Hall on the Bickett0Rate farm are complete and a caretaker chosen to oversee the property. The barn restoration is in the early planning stages. We still offer the Curtis J. and Francis Frymoyer Scholarship each spring to qualifying Cedar County students. We also continue to receive many great artifacts and stories of Cedar County to share in the museum and prairie village buildings. The museum research room has become a destination for genealogical research and we are in the very early stages of starting to digitize our records, newspapers, microfilm, etc. for easier access to the public when they come in. Maybe someday we can even start to include these resources on the website but it may be a while before we can reach this goal. Our board of directors has taken great care to plan for sustainability of everything the Society has to offer while continuing to consider various options for future development.