IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Dorothy G. Clark Papers
Genealogist, Historian, Author, Artist
Short Biography and Introduction
Dorothy G. Clark, (Mrs. Stillman T.) [1900-1986] lived in Mahaska County for 50 years, from 1929-1979. She came to Oskaloosa as a Deaconess and Christian Education specialist for Central Methodist Church in 1929.
She severed her professional relationship with Central Methodist in 1931 to marry Stillman Clark. They had one child, Esther May. However, she never ceased her dedicated involvement with Central Church, as Sunday School teacher, church organist, church secretary, or Church Board officer, up until 1979 when she left Oskaloosa to live with her daughter in Virginia. Dorothy and Stillman Clark are interred at Forest Cemetery in Oskaloosa.
Mrs. Clark had a profound interest in genealogy and history, was a member and local/state/national officer of DAR, and an organizing officer of the Thomas Stout chapter of CAR. She traveled quite extensively, particularly to historic spots all over the United States, as well as to England, Israel, Hawaii and finally to Alaska (at age 84)! With unfailing curiosity, she researched everything she saw, taking notes furiously with pad and pen then writing up those notes for publication or live presentations upon arrival home.
As a life-long artist, she did numerous water-color and pencil-sketch portraits. She produced large quantities of ceramic figures – distributed under the label ‘Clarkcraft.’ She wove rugs and wall-hangings and while living for two years in California with her sister, she learned macramé, fabricating highly original wall-hangings in traditional as well as ultra-modern designs incorporating hand-made and -fired clay beads and medallions. She did tile-work and brass-banding, making lamps and mixed media wall-art of remarkable quality. She studied and mastered the Scandinavian decorative folk art style of rosemaling, and produced some 15-20 rosemaled wooden pieces of various types and sizes.
Mahaska County Historical Society
Dorothy Clark was one of the founding members of the Mahaska County Historical Society, incorporated in 1942. As Society Historian, President, and Curator of the Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, she was highly instrumental in the early formulation and development of Mahaska County Historical Society and the Nelson Pioneer Farm and Museum.
In 1958, when Roy and Lillian Nelson bequeathed their 360-acre farm to the Historical Society, she was the liaison with historic restoration specialist and architect, William Wagner of Des Moines, whom she had known in the early 30s as her Sunday School student and Christmas Pageant participant at Central Methodist Church in Oskaloosa. He was hired to consult with the Society for the restoration of the Nelson House and Barn and further, to design and build a Museum building, in the style of a Pennsylvania Dutch barn, to house the numerous artifacts that the Society was then exhibiting in a third floor room of Mahaska County Court House. (In her travels, Mrs. Clark had been fascinated by the Pennsylvania Dutch building style; Bill Wagner agreed that the style was appropriate to the terrain slated for the Nelson Museum construction, and the MCHS Board approved).
The Museum building was dedicated in June 13, 1965 and The Nelson Pioneer Farm, Village, and Craft Museum opened to the public. The annual Fall Craft Festival was initiated by the MCHS that same year, in conjunction with the local Farm Bureau Women. The Nelson House and Barn had been restored during 1961-1964, when the Littler log cabin was moved from Bussey, Iowa and also restored. Prine School was moved and dedicated September 3, 1967, while the W.L. Mott & Son Country Store was moved from Lacey, Iowa to the Village in 1971. Since then, several other historic buildings have been moved and now comprise a 17 – building complex (plus the two small buildings adjacent to the House: a summer kitchen and smoke house).
This small Pioneer Village and Museum in rural Mahaska County, Iowa contain some of the most interesting and valuable Iowa Pioneer artifacts and related information found anywhere in the State. The Nelson House, as restored, was left exactly as it was when the Nelsons died. Detail about the restoration and contents of the Nelson House and Barn are included in Our Rich Pioneer Heritage Series, Books 2 and 3, and will be published here at later date.
The News Bulletins
Throughout the duration of her time as a MCHS member and officer, Dorothy Clark wrote and published quarterly News Bulletins…typing them first on her old Underwood Number 5, and later on the more modern ‘portable’ Olympia manual typewriter, then mimeographing them on legal-sized sheets for distribution to Society members. During the period in which those Bulletins were published in that format, unless otherwise cited, Dorothy Clark was the sole researcher and author of all News Bulletin articles.
The topics covered were wide-ranging: the presence of Dragoons in the portion of the Iowa Territory that would become Mahaska County; the role of Oskaloosa’s 33rd Regiment, Iowa Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War; Mahaska County historic places (some with marked memorials, some not); the various historical buildings in Oskaloosa and notable landmarks in Mahaska County; the family histories and records of the Nelson, Comstock, and other families so integrally tied to the Nelson Farm and Museum; and the various Mahaska County pioneer figures and other famous figures that Mahaska County produced through the years.
The research she carried out was from the primary sources available to her in the 50s – 70s. The internet did not exist; indeed, the Nelson Museum Office did not even have a computer until very recently. Additionally, the Museum Library was just in the process of acquiring the numerous donations of books, family & genealogical records, historic Mahaska County Court House records, Oskaloosa Daily Herald or Oskaloosa Tribune records, historic journals, and the other resources it currently boasts.
Much of her information came directly from personal conversations with descendents of the Mahaska County pioneer families who had remained on their family’s farms; some came from their family papers, family Bibles, or other family records; some came from the historical books of local Oskaloosa historians, Manoah Hedge, Semira Hobbs Phillips and others; other information was gleaned from historical journals, particularly various Palimpsest articles by William J. Petersen, Director of the State Historical Society in Iowa City, with whom she often corresponded; still other information resulted from her work in the local DAR chapter, locating historic markers, gleaning the information on them, then following up by researching the circumstances surrounding their placement and dedication.
Oskaloosa Chapter, DAR, was not only deeply patriotic because of its commitment to Revolutionary war ancestors and their values, but the organization also worked at a local level to research and locate most, if not all, of the already marked historic monuments and significant historic places in Mahaska County and the city of Oskaloosa, and to supply and dedicate markers for those places that were not already marked. Since this effort remained on-going, Dorothy Clark’s research for, and interest in, these projects overlapped her work in the Mahaska County Historical Society. And the local history related to these markers also became the subject of many of her MCHS News Bulletin publications.
Ioway Indian Research
Mrs. Clark’s information about Chief Mahaska came from her several visits to the White Cloud family on the Ioway, Sac & Fox Reservation in White Cloud, KS and her subsequent correspondence with them. She visited the little “Ioway, Sac & Fox Museum” (currently renamed the “Native American Heritage Museum”) in Highland, Kansas, housed in the remaining forty per cent of an original Presbyterian Mission and Orphanage building east of Highland. In its current incarnation, that Museum is part of the Kansas State Historical Society system and has been “rehabilitated as a museum to showcase the arts and history of the emigrant tribes of Native Americans in northeastern Kansas.” Whatever happened to the wealth of artifacts present at the time of Dorothy Clark’s visits is currently unknown.
Most frequently, the topics she addressed in her written articles were connected to Exhibits she was developing at the time for the Nelson Museum. The “Our Rich Indian Heritage” series was developed, for example, as she was researching and developing the quite extensive Ioway Indian life, and Chief Mahaska Genealogy Exhibits from 1961-1964. Those Exhibits can still be seen in their location on the first floor of the Nelson Museum.
Numerous exhibits featuring prominent Iowans, such as the John F. Lacey Exhibit in the Nelson Museum recognizing this remarkable Civil War era figure, were designed and in the Nelson Museum by 1965, although Lacey’s contributions as a Naturalist have only recently by cited by the State of Iowa. (See: http://www.inhf.org/lacey/johnlacey.htm and
Other ‘notable local resident’ Exhibits in the Nelson Museum feature local musicians: SHM Byers, Thurlow Lieurance, C.L. Barnhouse, Frederick Knight Logan, and Iowa Flag Song composer, Esther Clark, and News Bulletin publications were written that were related to each one.
The “Pioneer Farmer’s Year” Exhibit, currently located on the second floor of the Nelson Barn, was also written up in News Bulletin publications. This Exhibit was modeled on the “Farmer’s Year” Exhibit in the Farmer’s Museum at Cooperstown, NY, with written permission and blessing for the project granted to Mrs. Clark by that Museum’s vice president following her Cooperstown visit.
The Articles Appearing Here
The “Century of Marked Memorials” was compiled as part of Mahaska County Historical Society’s contribution to the year-long US Bicentennial Celebration in Oskaloosa in 1975-76. This booklet was available as an informational Tour Guide to the location and significance of these various memorials and monuments. (It was apparently available online at www.Amazon.com for a time along with her book Daniel Nelson, His Family and Homestead, Book 3 from the Our Rich Pioneer Heritage series, although they are no longer available).
So this booklet and three of the Ioway Indian/Chief Mahaska articles are the ones that have currently been chosen for the Iowa History Project website. The three latter articles are from her Our Rich Indian Heritage Series, Numbers 1 and 2, written in 1961, along with a 3rd article written in 1964. There were at least two others articles from that Series written during 1962-63 which will be made available later.
Also at a later date, other topics to be submitted for this website will be on the Nelson Family history, with detailed information surrounding the entire Nelson Family presence in Mahaska County from 1844 up through the 1958 bequest of their Family farm to the Mahaska County Historical Society as a memorial to the Nelson family. The three small volumes of the “Our Rich Pioneer Heritage” series contain detailed historical accounts of the building, restoration, and the contents of the Nelson House and Barn, along with related newspaper and journal accounts of the Nelson family and other Mahaska County pioneer families.
Of particular interest to the Nelson Farm & Village complex are the histories of Mahaska County’s Glendale Mill, Prine School, Littler Log Cabin, and W. L. Mott & Son Country Store, (as noted above, the latter three buildings were moved to the Nelson Pioneer Farm and Village during that initial period), as well as numerous other Mahaska County structures. The News Bulletin articles contain information on all of these.
The News Bulletins from the 60s and 70s, from which article postings are planned, now reside in the Iowa Women’s Archives. So the timing of any further submissions will depend on when the writer can travel to gain the necessary access to copy them.
As a service to interested readers and/or researchers, minor editing notes (in parentheses) and End-notes are currently being added to the original texts of each article for the purpose of updating and complementing the content, and leading the reader to online reference materials from other relevant sources.
Esther Clark Olin, September, 2007
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