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Jasper County’s Victorian House

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 11:51 a.m. CDT

The Victorian House display at the Jasper County Historical Museum is probably my favorite. I love the furniture and the incredible details and care that was given to its carvings and fashioning. The display is broken into three sections: the parlor, the kitchen and the bedroom. Every time you go to see them, you’ll discover something you didn’t notice before ... that gives credit to all the pieces and details amid the presentation.

But first, a little history lesson. The Victorian period is considered the time period of Queen Victoria’s reign over the British Empire from 1840 to 1900. Victorian furniture was inspired by earlier designs and was marked by exaggerated ornamentation. Of special interest in those forms, heavy as they are, is the certain grace and charm of Victorian coziness that they possess.

The 1900 home in Jasper County was very different from the home of today, but similar with family love, sharing hard work and beautiful possessions reflecting the uniqueness of each home. The Jasper County Historical Museum has tried to reconstruct a bit of a “turn of the century” for those of us who may remember, and definitely for those of us who cannot even imagine life during that period. The list of those that donated and worked on the display is quite extensive, so instead of listing all individually, I’ll just say thank you for your donations and for recreating this Victorian House for our pleasure.

Welcome to the Victorian House Kitchen ... the heart of all Iowa homes in the early 1900s. If the kitchen was the hub of the household, the kitchen table was one of the main spokes. Much like today, it was used for eating, cooking, studying, record keeping and games; but done by the light of day or a kerosene lamp. Of special interest in the kitchen is the wall telephone and switch boxes from an actual telephone system known as the Stecker Swith-Kellogg, which began appearing in homes around 1900.

Some other interesting objects that you probably won’t find in today’s modern kitchens are a sugar bucket, kraut stomper, string holder, coffee grinder (not electric), churn, coal bucket, copper wash tub and a mustache cup. But the kitchen range was the heart of the house. It was heat; it was cooking and baking; hot water; used for drying wet mittens and soggy overshoes. It was for warming new-born lambs and pigs (yes, you’re reading this correctly!); it was for sitting around with feet arranged around the open oven door. It was indeed, as Carl Hamilton writes in his book of growing up in Iowa, “In No Time at All,” the source of all energy for the household.

Next, the Victorian House Parlor ... the parlor was the least used room of the house. It was kept very neat and clean and only used for special occasions. The homemaker never knew when company might call so she always kept the room ready to receive her guests. This room featured the best furnishings the family could afford. Fashion dictated wallpaper patterns; but with no wallpaper stores in Jasper County, a family’s choices were limited by the selection at the general store or by mail order catalogs. The wallpaper in this display is authentic. It was found stored away after 100 years in an attic north of Newton; and it’s impressive. This particular parlor is of a musical family who cherished their rosewood grand piano, musical instruments and especially their decorated music box.

Now, one of most interesting pieces in the parlor (I think) is not an instrument ... it is a framed hair wreath, considered a luxury of the day; it was created from strand upon strand of hair, saved out of the hairbrush after 100 daily strokes ... I’m not kidding.

Finally, the Victorian House Bedroom ... the bed and dresser set was one of the earliest artifacts given to the Jasper County Historical Museum. It was on display in the basement of the First Newton National Bank, the museum’s first location. It was made by Aaron Custer of Monroe in 1881. They are solid walnut and maple in the elegant Victorian style and are absolutely gorgeous. You’ll also see a fainting couch in the bedroom that the ladies of the Victorian period used to rest upon when they felt faint. I think it’s interesting to have a piece of furniture dedicated to ‘fainting,’ but the ladies wore tight corsets to keep their hourglass figures and the restraints reduced blood flow, causing dizziness and fainting spells. The ladies would recline on these couches until the dizziness past. The bedroom also has a Victorian rocker, cedar chest, collar case, and a chamber pot due to the lack of bathroom facilities in Victorian houses. Chamber pots were also given the nickname ‘thunder mugs’ ... enough said.

This quick article cannot, and does not, do justice to the Victorian House display at the Jasper County Historical Museum; it is just a glimpse into an era long gone, but not forgotten. You and your children will definitely love seeing all of the interesting ways they lived without all of the modern conveniences we enjoy today. The Jasper County Historical Museum is only open until Sept. 30, so take advantage of it soon!

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