MT. PLEASANT — Midwest Old Thresher’s North Village came alive once again Saturday as its director took guests through the past, present and future of the summertime attraction.
Rich Seberg, director of Midwest Old Thresher’s North Village, presented a program on the past, present and future of that special place Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Henry County Museum in Mt. Pleasant.
Seberg showed a crowd of a few dozen people old photographs of the buildings that comprise the North Village. The event was sponsored by the Henry County Heritage Trust.
The North Village is in the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Park. The park is so large that it has been divided into 12 sections, each with its own director. North Village is its own section, and it is noteworthy because it contains some of the oldest buildings in the park.
Seberg talked about the early days of the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion. The annual event, which debuted in 1950, was a competition between farmers to see who had the best steam engines and thrashing machines. Both of those innovations were obsolete by then, having been replaced by gasoline-fueled tractors and combines, respectively. Even though the new devices made farming more efficient, the farmers couldn’t shake the nostalgia they had for the old machines of their youth.
Seberg said that, after World War II, threshing machines had become rare. Not only that, but the end of the war brought prosperity to the heartland, and farmers were able to purchase new equipment. Seberg said that was for the best, because the steam engines were a ticking time-bomb, prone to exploding.
The reunion grew and grew over the years, and by the late 1950s, old buildings were being brought to North Village. The idea was to give reunion attendees a taste of what life was like a century or more ago. The old barbershop from Mt. Union was the first building to be moved into North Village. It contained facades manufactured in Washington, Iowa.
In 1958, Pleasant Lawn School, which was a few miles outside of town, was moved onto the site. Seberg said the interior of the school has been adorned in a way that models one-room schoolhouses of the era, so it looks familiar to anyone who would have attended such a school. Also in 1958, the Depot was moved to the site from Hillsboro.
The 1960s saw the construction of new buildings that were made to look old, such as the saloon, built in 1964, followed by the print shop and the bank the next year. Seberg said the gunfighters and the saloon girls who occupy these buildings have become staples of the reunion.
In 1961, the car club built a structure that today is used to showcase not only cars but also gun shows, 4-H events and Halloween festivities.
A church built in 1874, Center Chapel in Wayland, was moved in. Seberg said the church gets plenty of use during the rest of the year, and has hosted two weddings this year alone. He mentioned that it needs new siding, and he hopes to get a grant to pay for it.
Another building brought to the site was the New London bandstand, built in 1902. It received a new roof courtesy of student Kane Jacobs, who remodeled the building as his Eagle Scout project in 2015. Rich’s wife Jeanie is from New London, and she mentioned that she remembers dancing on that bandstand when she was 8 years old.
The General Store, also built in 1902, was moved to the site. The jail in North Village came from the jail in Burlington.
“And I can lock people in because I have the key,” Seberg chuckled.
Seberg spoke about the future of the North Village, too. He said the Butler Building is slated to receive new LED lights and guttering. He mentioned how the church needs to be protected with a metal roof. He acknowledged that it doesn’t fit the period, but it’s necessary to save the building.
Seberg said the plan is to move the fence around the area to free up more space and encourage the public to rent the buildings for parties such as graduations and birthdays.
A member of the audience thanked Rich and Jeanie Seberg for the work they’ve done to beautify the park with flowers. Jeanie said that when she and Rich moved into the house across the street from the park, they started planting flowers in the North Village in the ground and in elevated boxes. One of their displays consists of 21 flower pots in a century-old horse-drawn manure spreader.