First Quarter, 1972
Elsah's Doll Museum
When Brock and Onetto, Elsah's first commission
merchants, acquired the stone cottage on lower La-
Salle Street in the mid 1850's, they surely had no
idea that one day it would house the largest doll col-
lection in the Midwest. But this is in fact the case.
For over ten years now, Mrs. Maude A. Trovil-
lion has been adding to her collection in the "Little
Stone House" until now people come from all over to
see it. In fact her guest. register includes names from
all fifty states and several foreign countries. Here
is the one place in Elsah where the study of history
is an everyday occupation.
A recent television news special on the museum
by St. Louis channel 4 newsman Jack Etzel, and in
addition coverage in eight major newspapers, has
given the museum publicity that has made it increas-
ingly a drawing card.
Visitors to the museum are not disappointed. The
Trovillion collection includes dolls from a number of
nations; American regional dolls (including apple -
heads and some with hickory nut heads); historical
dolls (such as one with the head of Mary Todd Lincoln);
and such rarities as a 17th century Swedish doll with
its original flax hair, a valuable French Bru, and
Bylo and Kewpie dolls. Especially prominent is a
large collection of German dolls.
Nor are all the dolls old. Maude Trovillion tries
to keep up with the latest doll trends in order to de -
light the many children who visit the museum. Typi-
cal of her generosity, Mrs. Trovillion allows child-
ren under twelve to come to the museum free. As a
result she entertains brownie troops very regularly.
She feels this is a contribution she can make, and
that if children become used to intimate and familiar
museums when they are young, museum -going will
become a natural part of their life.
Visitors to the museum find dolls in every avail-
able shelf and case, a great profusion of small human
eyes staring out at them --in fact almost 8,000 pairs.
They find also that the dolls are complemented by a
collection of antique toys and a nineteenth century
kitchen containing many of the everyday tools of the
housewife of a century ago --even a small, wooden
mousetrap. China dogs and other antiques, and fur-
niture, especially that of the cottage livingroom, com
plete the contents of the museum.
Mrs. Trovillion says that she never played with
dolls as a child. But now her interest in them is con-
suming. "Dolls are history," she says. Often she
gets up at 5 a. m. to make the small clothespin dolls
she sells very inexpensively in the museum. Her
home, a red house next to the museum, is full of
dolls in various states of repair or costuming, all
eventually destined to join the population of the mu-
seum. Plainly she does not conduct her museum as
a commercial venture. It is a labor of fascination
and love, and a rich contribution to those who visit
ELSAH HISTORY, published quarterly in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter issues by Histor-
ic Elsah Foundation, Paul O. Williams, editor. Subscription is with membership. Send to P. O.
Box 117, Elsah, Illinois 62028. Rates: individual, $2; family, $3; sustaining, $10 or more. Sam-
ple copies available on request.
First Quarter, 1972
An Elsah Tom Sawyer
In country towns, traditionally boys have had to
amuse themselves. This they have always done mag-
nificently, though occasionally to the discomfiture of
themselves or their elders. The word boy, one may
not need to add, came from a root meaning rogue.
The situation was no exception in Elsah, which,
after all, is not so far from Hannibal, Missouri, the
town that withstood the depredations of young Samuel
Clemens and his literary creations. People in Elsah
still remember when the arrival of a train was
enough of an even to get many townspeople to come
to the station to see who got on and off. But boys
always manage to stave off such boredom.
One man who told us a short chapter from his
Elsah boyhood was Samuel Albrecht, or Ernest, as
his friends knew him, to distinguish him from his
father, who was the Methodist Minister in Elsah from
1903 until 1907, and who had the same name.
Mr. Albrecht went on to many years of youth
work for the YMCA in St. Louis and Alton before his
retirement. Now he lives in the Eunice C. Smith
Nursing Home on College Avenue in Alton. He was
interviewed there by Mrs. Judy Ward, a member of
Historic Elsah Foundation. An excerpt of that inter-
Now as a boy growing up in Elsah, I had a lot of
experiences that I thought were somewhat unusual
and possibly laugable to those who would hear about
it. One of them was that we managed to swipe
(imagine a preacher's son swiping) some chickens,
and some eggs, and some other eatables, and we
went out down the railroad tracks and climbed to a
cave near the lookout which was at Mrs. Ames's
residence (now occupied by our good friends of Prin-
cipia College). 1 The cave was something that we
wanted to explore mainly because it was there. That
was about the only reason we could give, and we
climbed up. I had been elected to go first. Some
honor. My brother, Ralph, who recently passed
away, followed me. And then, behind him, was
Marion Allen, and behind him Wilbur Seagraves.
Wilbur used to work as a gatekeeper at Principia
College and was a very fine lad.
All right, I got in quite aways. You possibly will
recognize the fact that it was a little early for flash-
lights. We had candles, and we were crawling on
our stomachs, and we had nothing on except overalls,
the old-fashioned overalls, with a bib and a shirt, no
underwear, and no socks. We were barefooted.
All right, we got in quite aways, and I came to a
place where I could feel no bottom. In other words,
a step -off. So I picked up a piece of rock and drop-
ped it into the hole and it was quite a distance down
to where we heard the rock splash, when it hit the
But immediately after I had thrown the rock down
there, there were two balls of fire about two inches
apart that moved around, dead ahead, to the left on
a ledge, and I naturally was interested in seeing what
it was. And I hollered back to my brother and the
friends, "Hold everything! There's some body in
here beside us, or there's some thing in here beside
They said, "Oh, that isn't possible. "
I said, "Well can't you see those eyes?"
Well, my body seemed to fill up the entrance,
and they couldn't see. All of a sudden there was a
blinding flash of something or other that hit me
square in the face. I found out very quickly that it
was a skunk. And he was defending himself by the
only method he had. And so I kicked the face off my
brother getting out of there, and pulled my shirt tail
out and scratched my stomach pretty badly.
All right, we went down to the river, crossed the
railroad tracks and down to the water, and I found a
muddy spot. I had heard that a good way to get rid .
of that stench was to bathe in mud. I tried that, and
I also went swimming. And we buried all of my
clothing in the mud, and then we high -tailed it for
home. We forgot our meals, our chicken and every-
thing else, and headed for home. And then it sudden-
ly dawned on us that we couldn't go home, or at least
I couldn't, without any clothes on. I was in my birth-
Well, to make a long story short, we walked
around Plumb Street, the main street of Elsah, 2
which we called Plumb Street because it goes Plumb
through. Clear 'round, past the Besterfeldt's home
at the beginning of the valley there, and then over
on the other side and back again, to my residence,
my home. ^ And I had to take a bath in a tub
because we had no bathtubs and no showers, and
your weekly bath was in a great big tub. Mother
would heat water on the stove in a boiler to see to
it that you had plenty of warm water. And so I had
to have a bath right away. And Dad said he thought
possibly that the experience that I had was enough to
teach me a lesson so this time he wouldn't use the
usual punishment for bad boys.
Mrs. Lucy V. Semple Ames, daughter of General
James Semple, founder of Elsah, and widow of Ed-
gar Ames, a St. Louis meatpacker, maintained a
sumptuous summer home, Notchcliff, on the bluffs
just east of Elsah. This home burned in 1911. The
notch in the bluffs after which it was named is the
first one downriver from Elsah. Mr. Albrecht has
noted that the cave was a small hole in the high part
of the bluff near there. The entrance is apparently
now covered over.
2 Mill Street.
•^The Albrechts lived, of course, in the Methodist
parsonage, now the home of Mrs. Zelma Hake, at
the entrance to Valley Street.
First Quarter, 1972
SAM ALBRECHT TODAY
Historic Elsah Foundation is planning its biggest
house tour yet for the afternoon of Mother's Day, the
14th of May, from 12:30 p. m. until 5:30 p. m. Seven
houses, currently, will be opened, including some
that have never been shown to the public.
In addition there will be a bake sale and craft
sale in the Village Civic Center, and a historic infor-
mation center and art sale will be operated in the
Village Hall. The purpose of the tour is two -fold:
first, to invite the public to an interesting and infor-
mative tour of our historic village; and second, to
raise money for the refurbishing of the Village Hall.
HEF hopes to see everyone there. Tell your friends
to come. A donation of $2 is requested. However,
sustaining members are invited free.
Progress Toward an Elsah Museum
Progress is being made toward establishing a
■museum of documents, photographs, and artifacts
pertaining to the history of Elsah and its environs.
This museum will be housed in the upper room of
the Civic Center. Anyone with items of interest may
contribute them to the museum by contacting either
Robert Connell or Mrs. Pat Farmer.
Cure for Smallpox
William McNair, Elsah' s diarist, entered the
following cure for smallpox in his diary on the 31st
of August, 1882: "sulphate of Zinc 1 grain fox glove
(Digitalis) 1 grain 1/2 Teaspoon full of sugar Thor -
oughly mixed with two Tablespoonfull of water then
add 4 oz of water Dose a table spoonfull every hour
half dose for children and the deasise will surly
Disapear in 24 hours" This formula undoubtedly
worked as well as other preparations of the time.
Illinois Historic Sites Survey
The Illinois Historic Sites Survey is currently
investigating and recording sites within the state
that have architectural, archaeological, and histor-
ic significance. The results of this investigation
will be two -fold. First, important sites will be nom-
inated to the National Register of Historic Places,
thus giving these sites protection from eradication
or alteration. Second, a State Register of Historic
Landmarks is being compiled for publication when
the survey is completed.
The State Liaison Officer for Illinois is Mr.
Henry N. Barkhausen, Department of Conservation,
102 State Office Building, 400 South Spring Street,
Springfield, Illinois 62706. Local inquiries concern-
ing the survey can be addressed to Paul Williams of
So far Jersey County has not begun a survey.
Progress Toward Publications
This spring our first leaflet will be published. It
will be a reprint of the Principia Pilot of 19 Novem-
ber 1971, an issue devoted entirely to the work of the
well-known architect, Bernard Maybeck in Elsah.
This fourteen page study is, surprisingly enough,
the most extensive treatment of the largest commis-
sion of this architect, most of whose work is in Cali-
fornia. HEF has been granted permission to reprint
the Pilot and to add a few changes to it designed to
show the importance of Maybeck' s work to the study
of Elsah history.
Last fall our youngest active member, Gavin
Campbell, began the job of recording the entire Elsah
Cemetery. When school intervened, the work, which
proved to be sizeable, was taken over by Tom
Gutnick, who produced a complete listing, in alpha-
betical order, of all the existing stones in the ceme-
tery, including location and chronological data. This
information is currently being combined with a series
of 19th century census and other listings to produce
a document of interest to genealogists and others in-
terested in citizen statistics. We hope that a small
edition of this leaflet will be out this spring.
Course in Writing Local History
For the past two quarters Principia College has
offered a research course in writing local history.
This course has a symbiotic relation to HEF. Mem-
bers help the student learn techniques of local history
writing, while the student, through his efforts, aids
the foundation in generating information, much of
which will not wait until HEF researchers have the
opportunity to develop it.
Notable accomplishments include the following:
Leslie Yelland has worked on genealogical studies
of several long-time Elsah families, using inter-
views and documents to produce a considerable mass
of data. Her interviews are transcribed, and include
much valuable historical information. Ann Wheeler
has worked toward an essay on Elsah' s most celebra-
ted crime, the robbery of Xavier Schneider in 1887,
and the subsequent trial in Jerseyville, in 1888, of
three defendents. Gail Pierson has worked toward
a compilation of the best articles of Elsah newspaper
columnist and humorist, "Jeremiah. " Tom Gutnick,
as was mentioned above, did the cemetery study,
along with an accompanying essay. Nancy Hormel
has transcribed an entire volume of the McNair di-
aries and studied the contents of several volumes.
We are anticipating an essay on the subject. Randy
Hale is at work on a study of the bald eagles that
winter in this area, and is using the numerous inves-
tigations that have been made of them in the past.
On March 16-18, Mrs. Inge Mack, of HEF,' at-
tended a Midwest Regional Workshop on the admin-
istration of historic agencies and museums, spon-
sored by the American Association for State and
Local History, with support from the National En-
dowment for the Humanities. Discussed were such
subjects as fund raising, publicity, membership
programs, development of oral history programs,
educational programs for the community, and inter-
pretation of historic sites and buildings.
As of y'e'tr'HTstoVit'ersfen FWitiHSfion has not be-
come an pr^nizatituvjcantribytJoj-^U) jsthich are tax
deductible* ^Bt we^feMiMfrfg'rA^'
to become such an organization soon.
Response to the First Newsletter
We are very heartened by the fact that about two
hundred people have responded to the call for mem -
bers that accompanied our first newsletter. Of these
forty -four are sustaining members. New members
continue to join. Please pass the word. Coming
newsletters look very promising and should prove
to be of wide interest.
In the last issue we promised further information
in this issue about the Elsah Hills log house. This
is still under investigation.
First Quarter, NT
The course in writing local history took one field
trip to the Jay Gould railroad tunnel, located in a ra-
vine below the cemetery. As part of what was appar-
ently a masterful ruse on the part of Gould to gain
control of the Eads Bridge, over 200 feet of tunnel
was built back into the limestone bedrock. Never
completed, the tunnel has served as a cattle shelter
and curiosity. Now the entrance is nearly filled with
silt, and inside the mud and water comes to the knees
(and over the boots of several). But the far end is
dry. Here Randy Hale inspects the tunnel ceiling,
with its half-inch stalactites.