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From wedding gowns to gardens
Historical village looks back 100 years (and more)
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Several wedding gowns, dating from 1900 to 1960, are on display at the Barton County Historical Museum and Village. - photo by Susan Thacker

The Barton County Historical Society Museum and Village is currently exhibiting a collection of wedding gowns from the 20th century, including one from a 1916 wedding with an unusual story. Meanwhile, Barton County Master Gardener are planning to plant a garden at the village, using the herbs, vegetables and flowers that a Kansas family may have grown more than 100 years ago.

The museum is located just south of the Arkansas River Bridge in Great Bend on U.S. 281. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The wedding gown exhibit in the main museum building features dresses dating from 1900 to 1960, said Leslie Helsel, office manager. One white satin gown was worn by Ruth Bauer as she married Dr. Clark Zugg on Nov. 1, 1916. The Topeka Daily Capital published a story about their wedding cake that began, “A man in western Kansas will be forced to eat a cake two years old on the night of Nov. 1 in Topeka. Dr. Clark W. Zugg, of Great Bend, is the victim.”

Two years earlier, the newspaper reported, a group of young Topeka girls had a party and they baked a fruit cake for amusement.

“Romance surrounded the mixing of the cake. ‘We will make this cake in honor of the first bridegroom in this crowd,’ said the girls. Services were held over the ingredients. Each girl dropped in a date to insure herself of some attention. The will of the cake was drawn up. It was to go to the first honest-to-goodness husband selected by one of the bakers.” The will was signed by eight girls, including Miss Ruth Bauer.

“Two girls in the crowd were outlawed from signing the will because they were suspected of being engaged,” the newspaper story added.

The cake was baked, covered in white icing and sealed with sealing wax, then carried to the Bank of Topeka and placed in a vault. When the seal was broken two years later in preparation for the wedding, the cake was still moist, witnesses reported.

1870s garden

Meanwhile, plans are underway for a garden at the Dodge House, one of several historic structures on display at the Barton County Historical Society Museum and Village. The Dodge House, a native stone structure built in 1873, contains authentic furnishings and will eventually sport a historic garden, said Alicia Boor from the Cottonwood Extension District. The garden is a project of the Barton County Master Gardeners.

“You could not go to Dillons or Wal-Mart to get fresh tomatoes 100 years ago,” Boor said. Boor noted that the Cottonwood Extension plans to offer Master Gardener training again in 2020. Meanwhile, Master Gardener Veronica Coons, a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune, is coordinating the project at the historical village.

“We took our cue from the Post garden at the Fort Larned National Historic Site in Pawnee County, and from the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” Coons said. “It will take a few years, but this will call to mind the sort of frontier garden one might find at the homes of Barton County’s first settlers in the 1870s.”

The gardeners are starting with herbs and flowers around the house, but a full family garden will be planted eventually.

“Many we can only produce from seed,” she said. “In fact, right now, we have a variety of medicinal herbs under lights at my house — things like “bull's eye” toothache plant, horehound and valerian.”

Valerian is commonly used for insomnia and horehound is used for a variety of complaints, including digestion problems, gallbladder complaints, and lung and breathing problems. The bull's eye was used as a toothache remedy due to its antibacterial properties.

Coons said she found the seeds in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalogue.

“As the seedlings are hardened off in the coming weeks, some of the plants currently in the Dodge House border, including the irises, will be lifted from the bed so amendments can be incorporated into the depleted sandy soil there. They will be divided, and some returned to the bed. Then, new plants will be added in September, in time for the roots to establish before winter,” Coons said. “Extra plants and seedlings will be offered to the public through the Barton County Master Gardener Facebook page.”  

Later in the fall, Barton County Master Gardener members will prepare a small vegetable garden bed where heirloom vegetables will be planted next spring.  

“As the garden takes shape, the Barton County Master Gardeners look forward to partnering with the historical society to provide instruction to the public about a wide variety of gardening and historical topics,” Coons said.