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Full text of "Elsah History"




ELSAH HISTORY 



Number Two 



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. 



Page Two 



Elsah History 



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- 
view follows: 

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 
water. 



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 
us!" 

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- 
day duds. 

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. 



Page Three 



Elsah History 



First Quarter, 1972 




SAM ALBRECHT TODAY 

House Tour 

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. 



News Notes 

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 
HEF. 

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. 



Page Four 



Elsah Histo 



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. 
Indianapolis Conference 

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. 



Tax Statu 



mmimm^ic 



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. 



and hope 



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. 

Log House 

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.