Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 5 - Page 14, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, May 26, 2012

For 40 Years the County’s Oldest Literary Society
Has Participated in Regular Study, Social Meetings

Muscatine county’s oldest rural literary group, the Excelsior Literary society, was organized over forty years ago, Jan. 27, 1900. Invitations were sent to ten families living in a rural community six miles north of Muscatine, to meet and lay the foundation for this organization, the purpose of which was to provide suitable entertainment for the young children.

The public literary or lyceum was held in the rural school houses at this time, but these were not altogether satisfactory, so it was decided to organize a home literary society to meet at the homes of members each week.

It was decided to meet each Saturday night during the winter months, a miscellaneous program to be given at each meeting, and light refreshments to be served. And they were light to begin with, popcorn balls and apples, or sandwiches and coffee. Gradually, of course, this was added to until the lunch grew to be almost a banquet. Then, in 1917, the war came along, and all clubs and societies were asked to curtail. The Excelsiors fell in line and the menu was reduced to sandwiches, pickles, ice cream and coffee. This proved so satisfactory that they have held to this rule since.

The meetings continued to hold the interest of the members, and when some of the older members died and others moved away from the community, new families were asked to join, so that the number of active members was about 40 or 45, and could be entertained in any of the homes.

The first meeting of the society washeld at the home of b. F. Greiner. The first president was Mrs. John Klein; vice-president, Lizzie Greiner; secretary, Pearl Greiner; and treasurer, Margaret Hoskins.

For several years a debate was the main feature of the program. Practically all questions which were current issues of the day were discussed. These debates were interesting and instructive because they were along educational lines. The first topic of debate was, “Resolved, That More Knowledge Can Be Obtained by Travel Than By Literature.”

Members for a number of years have seen many changes in modes of transportation to and from these meetings. At the first meeting, one of the families came with a horse and buggy. On the way home they had a break-down and the best way seemed to be for the mother and little son to ride the horse, but the horse would not allow the woman to mount, so the man and little boy rode while the woman was obliged to walk the remaining distance.

Many a merry bobsled party and over the snow to attend these gatherings, and when the roads were bad “Old Dobbin” was called upon to pull the buggy or spring wagon. During the early days of the society bad weather and roads often necessitated postponements, today with improved roads and motor car, meetings are seldom deferred.

The society claims the distinction of being the oldest society of its kind in this part of the country. Other literary societies have been organized, but in the course of a few years have disbanded. The Excelsior society has, without exception, held its meetings during the winter months of each year since its organization – over forty years ago.

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The Slough Bridge

Photo of Slough Bridge - Muscatine men who have gained world fame in the literary world and hundreds of others remembered down through the years the excitement of fishing trips along the banks of the Muscatine slough. This picture of the bridge which once spanned the slough, located about eight miles below Muscatine, was one of the most popular in years gone by. It ws taken near the turn of the 20th century.

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No Adjectives Were Missed By Journal’s Editor of 1883 When He Told in Glowing Words the Events of the “Calico” Ball

In the midst of the surrounding darkness of last night May 4, 1883 the bright scene of the calico ball shone and sparkled from Union Hall like the splendor of a star in a driven storm cloud. In no other city in Iowa could the lights and bright forms of a social assembly illuminate so large a range of windows as threw their broad bright bars from Union Hall and the continuous parlors of the Hooks and Company C. Within this charmed interior the scene more than filled the beauty of its fair promise.

A calico party to those unfamiliar with the poetry of Whittier and the romances of the country suggests something cheap and scant of beauty. But from the minds of such uninitiated persons the idea of the common place was instantly banished before the brilliant resources and display of this calico soiree. There was everything to promote the success of the evening. The Hooks “builded better than they know” when they rented this fine hall and suite of apartments for their headquarters and furnished them with their present elegance and comfort, and the popularity of the resort was not lessened on Company C making it their armory and adding their handsome parlor to its attractions.

The ladies last evening occupied Company C’s parlor as their dressing room and the gentlemen the snuggery of the Hooks. Passing these brilliantly lighted apartments the visitor was ushered into the hall which in its full tide of gaiety was a scene of great beauty. The stage was occupied by Eichoff’s orchestra of eight pieces, and on the three other sides of the hall were seated a large company of spectators. On the floor in the grand promenade, sixty-five couples were counted, and until the wee sma’ hours these one hundred and thirty ladies and gentlemen seemed moved by but one impulse – “On with the dance!”

The toilets of the ladies challenged one’s admiration for their beauty of bright contrasts, and many were noticeable for their elaborate ornamentation. Pink was the favorite color, twenty-five dresses being counted of this roseate hue, but they were so “killing” that nobody but their most distracted victims could wish them less. Another no less attractive combination were the “blue and gold,” as the blondes in the cerulean robes were called. Some of the gentlemen were arrayed in calico suits, and most all were the courtly vest or prescribed cravat. The new floor of the hall, hard and smooth as nature and art could produce, made dancing a luxury and the splendid music of Mr. Eichoff’s band put everybody under its harmonius spell. Mr. Ostrander was the master of dances and his exact calling heard through all the winding mazes of the dance, was appreciated by the whole company.

The refreshments were served in the dressing rooms of the stage, and being furnished by the Episcopal ladies, any word in their praise would be inexcusable tautology. As we have mentioned before the Trinity Ladies, a remark of an observing Episcopalian is in order – that much to his surprise, the Methodists seemed to outnumber the Congregationalists at the party.

Among the guests from abroad were Messrs. James Graham, George Gillett, Harry Wadsworth, Harry Smith, March and Darrell of Davenport, Thos. Gaynor and Deitz, of Iowa City, and Miss Berrell and Mr. Warren Moore, of Washington – Muscatine Journal – May, 1883.

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A high wind storm on this day destroyed buildings at the old fair grounds, unmoored logs from the sawmills, but did little other damage. – April 20, 1883.

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