Homemakers Club Quilt

Caroline C. Morris

Catalog Number: 2011.004.01  

An organization like the Homemakers Club in Barre Mills was a part of the fabric of rural communities, building relationships and creating ties that broadened women’s lives beyond their families and churches. Women enjoyed creating this signature quilt as they built community while stitching together. The Homemakers Club in Barre Mills made this quilt, which was given to either the mother or grandmother of the donor, Vernetta Fish.

The quilt has 16 blocks, mostly wools and other clothing fabrics. Names of club members, and their birthdates, are embroidered all over the quilts, along with the inscription: Homemakers Club, Jan.10, 1924. Individual patches are outlined with colorful embroidery stitches in a variety of different stitches. Backing is flannel, dark pink with a floral print.  

Homemakers Clubs were incorporated into the Wisconsin Extension program in 1939, with a mission to provide demonstrations to local groups of rural women across the state. Over the years, topics ranged from safe canning of garden produce to how to use a computer. 


This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 14, 2015.


This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Three Comedians and a Top Hat

by Caroline C. Morris

Catalog Number: 1997.015.01

Fred L. Kramer, president of First Federal Savings & Loan in La Crosse, evidently knew how to have a good time, judging from his top hat. A few weeks ago, we showed you this Depression-era silk top hat in profile. But pop it over and what a surprise! Big-time comedians Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, and Eddie Cantor have all signed the lining.

In the 1930s, Abbott, Costello, and Cantor were among the biggest names in comedy, and comedy was the biggest thing in entertainment, thanks to radio. Prime-time comedy radio shows, such as The Chase & Sanborn Hour, which featured Cantor, were the most prominent and highly-rated shows of the era, according to radio historian Michele Hilmes. Vaudeville performers Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had listeners in stitches with their “Who’s on First?” routine, first broadcast in March 1938 on The Kate Smith Hour.  Americans sorely needed a laugh, and the radio comedians did not disappoint.

La Crosse residents of the 1930s would have been well familiar with all three comedians, thanks to the growing affordability of radio sets like this one – a Crosley Super 8 – and increasingly reliable signal strength from radio towers near and far.

Now how did all three comedians come to sign Fred Kramer’s top hat? Did he acquire the autographs over time, or did Kramer have an epic night out on the town? The Historical Society asks anyone with information about this mystery to contact us immediately.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 26, 2015.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Nott Steam Pumper

Caroline C. Morris

Catalog Number: 1945.020.01

If La Crosse wanted to be a respectable city at the turn of the twentieth century, it had to have a steam pumper fire engine. Any city that aspired to greatness – and particularly one built mostly of wood – had to have a professional fire department outfitted with the newest equipment. The city of La Crosse had established a professional, non-volunteer fire department in 1896, and by 1905 they had talked the city into purchasing this 1904 model Nott Steam Pumper for the substantial sum of $5,000.

In La Crosse prior to 1900, fire engines were not much more than horse-drawn water carts. The steam pumper, though still reliant on horse-power, was a significant innovation in firefighting, providing more power and more water. The 1904 Nott model could supply 1,000 gallons of water a minute.

The Nott Fire Engine Company of Minneapolis supplied many Midwestern states with steam pumpers in the first decade of the twentieth century. Not only were Nott steam pumpers less expensive than most on the market, but the politics of the period may have earned the company some business. The largest manufacturer in the game, the International Fire Engine Company of New York, had made no secret of its intention to become a monopoly. Nott Co. played David to the monopoly’s Goliath and survived, largely because of patronage from places like La Crosse.

The steam pumper engines had a short-lived heyday; they were all but obsolete by the 1920s thanks to gasoline-powered engines. La Crosse’s 1904 model was most likely out of service about ten years later. The city’s steam pumper lived on, however, in special ceremonies. “Two dandy draft horses” pulled it in the 1962 Maple Leaf Parade, for example, but only after Robert A. Farnam, then-president of the La Crosse County Historical Society, gave it a “full-fledged test” by firing up the boiler. It remains in the collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society, patiently awaiting its next chance to get fired up.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on September 5, 2015.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.