A Clean Sweep on Lawrence Avenue

April 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

When I overheard a woman talk about preparing for her subdivision’s garage sale this week-end, I was reminded that today’s neighborhoods organize for garage sales, watch programs, and even advocacy, but they do not have to deal with an issue that Susan and her neighbors tackled.   A headline in the April 16, 1910, Illinois State Journal read: “Spotless Streets Aim of New Club.” The accompanying story explains:

Property owners and residents along Lawrence Avenue, between Second and Third Streets, have formed an improvement club for the purpose of keeping the thoroughfare fronting their homes properly cleaned.  It is expected to begin work for the season this morning.

Those who originated the street cleaning scheme have hired a man who will sweep and clean the pavement twice each week.  The street sweepings will be removed from the pavement and deposited in a suitable place to await hauling away by the city authorities…The property owners will also see that the street is sprinkled regularly.  It is estimated that the cleaning will cost the property owners about 1 ½ cents a foot.

Among those who are interested in the plan are…Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana…It is probable that the example of civic spirit shown will be emulated in other parts of the city, and organizations similar to those in larger communities formed for the purpose of extending a helping hand to the municipal street cleaning department.

Of course, with the loss of horse-drawn transportation because of the advent of the automobile, the need for street sweepers faded.    I don’t know if the practice caught on in other Springfield neighborhoods as the reporter predicted, but thanks to the “civic spirit” of this neighborhood, one block on Lawrence Avenue had no horse droppings in the spring and summer of 1910.

Street Sweeper, Green Bay, Wisconsin 1915

Street Sweeper, Green Bay, Wisconsin 1915

School Days at the House

April 20, 2013 § 4 Comments

This week I had the opportunity to lead two groups of seventh graders through the Dana-Thomas House. One bus was from St. Louis, and the other traveled all night from a small town in Mississippi.  Both groups were extremely attentive, well prepared for their tour, and asked intelligent questions.  Their teachers had prepared them before they came with information about Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture, and the Dana-Thomas House in particular. Their enthusiasm and curiosity reminded me once again of the potential of sound educational experiences.

Susan would have been pleased.  She understood the value of experiential learning and supported it in many ways with her time and money.  I describe her close relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright’s aunts and their Hillside Home School in Chapter 16 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House.  The school was a residential progressive school where students learned by doing.  Susan not only supported it with generous financial gifts, but she paid for the art and science wing of the building and served on the school’s board. Furthermore, Susan donated equipment to the Springfield Montessori school where exposure to appropriate materials and experiences is central to the educational methodology.

Despite the fact that she had no children of her own, Susan supported education in several other ways.  I recalled in an earlier post (click here) how she paid for the design and books in the first public school library in Springfield.  In Chapter 5 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House I describe the two annual student contests that she established in honor of her father.  One competition was a high school oratorical contest, and the other was for manual training students.  Susan and her mother underwrote the project and annually awarded money to the top two winners of both contests.  Furthermore, in May of 1919 Susan invited a class to complete the school term in her home when a national crisis closed the Springfield schools (see Chapter 16 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House).

This is the time of the year when buses of field tripping students invade Springfield. It is exciting to me when some of them come to the Dana-Thomas House prepared to expand their world by experiencing Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece first hand.  I think Susan smiles too. 

school bus

Two Guest Speakers Come to Sprinfield

April 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Margo Stipes bookOn April 24 the Dana-Thomas House Foundation is sponsoring a presentation by Margo Stipe, author and Curator/Registrar of Collections at Arizona’s Taliesin West. The 40 minute talk, entitled “Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan: A Collector’s Passion and Inspiration,” will be followed by a question and answer session.  Beginning at 7 pm and free to the public, the event will be held at the Springfield Art Association’s Edwards Place Gallery where Japanese prints owned by local collectors will be on exhibit.

 I described a print transaction between Susan and Frank Lloyd Wright in an earlier post (to read, click here), and discussed the Japanese prints that are currently on display at the Dana-Thomas House in another post (to read, click here). Questions remain about Frank Lloyd Wright’s fascination with Japanese prints, and I look forward to hearing Margo Stipe fill in what she calls “an important piece of the fascinating puzzle that is Frank Lloyd Wright.”

 Coincidentally, the Springfield Woman’s Club sponsored another guest lecturer from out of town the same April week but in 1906.  I relate the event in Chapter 9 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

 [Susan’s] affiliation with the [Springfield Woman’s Club] probably influenced the choice by that organization of Frank Lloyd Wright as a lecturer on April 25, 1906.  His topic was landscape gardening, and according to a newspaper report, he uncharacteristically declared “that a greater necessity existed for the landscape architect than for the building architect.” Despite the fact that the Springfield Men’s Association was also invited to the lecture, Wright only attracted a small audience.

 Hopefully, a lecture about Frank Lloyd Wright will generate more interest than a lecture by Frank Lloyd Wright did 107 years ago.  Join us if you can.

“Fire” in Susan’s Own Words

April 6, 2013 § 2 Comments

fireLast week I recounted a story about Susan caught in the great Western forest fire of 1910 (to read, click here). When I discovered this seemingly forgotten incident, I was struck by the drama of the event, Susan’s compassion, and her ability to graphically recount her experience.  Although this letter to Susan’s cousin Flora is a little longer than most of my posts, I want to share this vignette which reveals surprising aspects of a very complex woman in her own words.  Susan wrote:

“I suppose experience is a great educator, and that everything has its value.  This experience, however, has indeed been remarkable.  The last few days have been days of varying emotions and activities. 

We had no occasion for alarm here in Wallace until Saturday, August 20. About 3 o’clock on that day they had all of the fires back on the mountain ranges apparently held in check. Then suddenly there came a fierce wind, and the way it blew was the most diabolical thing I ever saw.  No tornado nor cyclone ever accompanied such a whirlwind of fire and wholesale destruction. As I looked out toward the mountains, I was astonished by the appearance of the heavens which were a brilliant orange color, heavily banked with smoke.  The sun was barely visible.  The burnt pine needles and bits of bark were falling everywhere like rain.

All out-going trains for the day had departed.  The last one to go out was at 8 o’clock, leaving for Spokane.  That evening, shortly after 6 o’clock things were getting worse every moment.  The smoke was then so dense we could hardly see across the street.  I made inquiry whether arrangements had been made for another special train.  They said there were cars on the side tracks, and that they were getting steam up in four engines.

I packed my things hastily and prepared to go to the train.  The flames were then leaping over the hill back of the hotel, and there was a column of fire fifty feet in the air.  They were running down the hill sides like great tongues of molten ore from a colossal smelting furnace.  Such a sound I never heard.  I never want to hear that awful roar again.  It was a veritable flood of furious flames, fanned by the rushing wind.  For miles the mountain as solid flame, the fire leaping higher and higher as we stood in awe and watched.  As at times we saw the fire leap through the tops of the trees for a distance of half a block, the scene was beyond description.  Surely it was the most awful disaster this country has had.

Again as I looked I saw a flying brand hurled by the wind, fall upon the Times newspaper office a block east of the hotel.  Instantly it was a seething mass of flame.  Fortunately for us, the wind was blowing away from the hotel.  The frame hotel on the opposite side of the street was now enveloped in flames.  Seeing that we could not do anything to help anyone at that time, a group of us made for one of the trains.

The run to the train was a lively one.  We could see the flames had crossed to the opposite mountain.  The entire east end of town and the hills on both sides were flaming.  The other trains had pulled out and ours was the last.  The men became frantic, thinking our train would be on fire before they could get it off the siding. I never shall forget that sight as I looked from the train window.  Two mountains of solid fire appeared to be coming together, but in fact they were divided by a narrow canyon.  Fourteen solid blocks of buildings were on fire in the city.  The flames were following our train on each side of the track.

Monday morning when I was again in touch with Wallace, I heard things were improving there and went back to see if I could be of any assistance.  There are so many homeless, and every hour brings dozens of dead and burned from the surrounding country.  The canyons were full of men fighting fire.  Every little while they bring in about a score of bodies.  The injured are being cared for in every conceivable place.  We have offered our services as nurses day or night.  Moaning, heart-broken women walk the streets.  I have sought to console them as best I could.  Such a scene and such an atmosphere.  The smoke lays so thick and dense over the city one cannot tell if it is day at all.  From all sides terrible reports come in.  Whole towns are reported to have been wiped out.”

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