The Ottumwa Courier

June 29, 2013

Moravia history highlighted in garden tour

Courier Staff Writer

MORAVIA — Visitors drawn to town by gardens overflowing with trumpet flowers, lilies and hydrangeas learned about a chapter in Moravia's history through three buildings preserved by the local historical society.

The Moravia Historical Society's first garden tour was held Saturday, with all of the money raised going toward the upkeep of the town's historical buildings.

Julie Seals, treasurer of the society, came up with the idea for the tour, which took visitors to four different homes: Roger and Rita Boley, Jeff and Reggie De Vore, Larry and Rose Mary Smith and Mike and Melanie Seals.

"It's something different for the town to do," Seals said. "A couple years ago we had a scarecrow contest in the fall and we've served breakfasts and had an Italian night as fundraisers for the upkeep on all the buildings."

"Food always brings in more people," noted Martha Ellison, member of the historical society who gives tours of the buildings throughout the year.

Three buildings have been moved to the area on North Street just east of the railroad tracks: the Wabash Depot, former Methodist Episcopal Church and a summer kitchen and outhouse.

The depot originally sat across the road and in 1976 was the first building to move to the new lot, which was formerly a mattress factory and a house.

"Somebody else bought the land and they were going to tear [the depot] down," said the historical society's president, Ellis Paxston. "It was built in 1919. Would you be able to find anything else built in 1919 that's still standing?"

Inside the depot, those on the tour learned about the history of the rail going through town as there are three rooms filled with different train artifacts that depict how the depot functioned nearly a century ago. There are also several mining items in the museum, Ellison said, since at one time there were 135 coal mines in Appanoose County.

And the depot is on the National Register of Historic Places, meaning each upgrade has to stay as true to the original as possible.

"There are only two like it in the state of Iowa," Ellison said of the depot. "The other one is in Shenandoah. When they were building these depots, they all used the same floor plan, but local contractors did the work — and they would put their own twist to it. So the lobby of the Wabash Depot has wainscoting on the interior."

The church, which was moved in 1999, was also going to be torn down before the historical society saved it. Since it was moved, the society has fixed some of the stained glass in the windows through a grant from the Appanoose County Community Foundation, as well as some needed structural repairs.

"We have weddings there, tours, special church services and an ice cream social afterward for a couple of Memorial Day weekends," Ellison said. "A few years ago during Bible school, the minister got all dressed up as one of the old-time ministers for the kids. It is used quite a little bit."

The summer kitchen just moved in 2004.

"Years and years ago there was a separate building from the house where they did the cooking and the laundry," she said. "It was so they didn't have to fire up their stoves in the house, making it hot in the summer. And in the winter, they would use it to cure meat."

Last year, the historical society was able to purchase more land east of the lot, and they were recently finished installing functioning restrooms on the land.

"We're really proud of what we've accomplished," she said. "With so many older buildings, it takes a lot of upkeep."

As visitors roamed through the buildings and checked out some of the vendors Saturday afternoon, a large figure was watching over them: Paul Bunyan.

What many don't know, historical society members said, is that the author of the Paul Bunyan stories, James Floyd Stevens, was actually born in Albia and grew up in Moravia.

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.