KCRG TV Our Town Road Trip submission
The people and parishioners of Spillville and St. Wenceslaus Church invite you to celebrate with us our Sesquicentennial (150 years) on Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3, 4, 5, 2010. There will be concerts with Joan DeVee Dixon (organ) and Maritza, Larry Novotny Band, St. Paul Czech and Slovak Folk Dancers, Mushroom Picker (storyteller), parade, pageant/fashion show, Walk of Ages, volleyball tournament, raffle, beard judging, auction, 5K run/walk, traveling genealogy library, old school, collectibles, food, beer tent, music, dancing, fun & games for young and old. On Saturday night there will be a street dance in the town square and a non alcoholic teen dance at The Inwood. You may check our website for the latest information at www.150years.org.
Spillville is the most historic Czech village in America and it is the oldest Bohemian community north of St. Louis and west of the Mississippi River.
Ironically, the town was founded by a German. Joseph Spielmann and his family, along with five other families, came from Oldenburg, Indiana in 1849. They first lived in the barracks of the recently abandoned Fort Atkinson.
It was the frontier. This land had been in the Neutral Ground, a 40 mile wide strip of land, established as a buffer zone between the natives. Settlement of this land was not allowed. The situation ended with the relocation of the Ho Chunk to Long Lake, Minnesota during the summer 1848.
In 1850, the Spielmanns were the only people in the Spillville area. In the spring in 1854, six Bohemians filed land claims. Settlers from northern Switzerland, one of whom would become Spillville’s principal merchant, started arriving. By the end of 1855 a total of 39 Bohemians filed for land around what would become, but was not yet, Spillville. The plat for Spillville was filed May 7, 1860.
In 1856 some of the Czechs had joined with the Germans to build the brick St. Clement church just south of Spillville. With a capacity of about 80 persons it soon became too small for the quickly growing population.
In 1860, the St. Wenceslaus church, in true Czech fashion, was designed and built of rock on rock. The 1876 Pfeffer pipe organ, played regularly by Antonin Dvorak during the summer of 1893, restored and still in use, has great historic value. The unique cemetery, east of the church, features metal grave markers molded in Spillville by Charles Andera. Three small outdoor chapels were built in 1893 for use during the annual Corpus Christi commemoration, which still takes place every year. The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes was built onto the southeast corner of the church in 1907.
In 1870, 15 years after arrival, the Spillville Czechs had their own parochial school. Standing and restored today, it is the oldest Czech parochial school in America. It is located next to St. Wenceslaus School and is used by the St. Wenceslaus Heritage Society whose purpose is preservation of the structure. Prior to that Martin Bouska held classes in his 1854 log cabin. It is the oldest Czech log cabin school in America, preserved and standing today on the grounds of the Bily Clocks museum. In 1862 a public school was established in Spillville. The early settlers valued education.
Spillville is very proud of its connection to Antonin Dvorak, world famous composer from Bohemia. In 1892, he came to America to serve as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. After several months, he needed a break from the unpleasant stresses of the city. His assistant, Joseph Kovarik, invited him and his family to come home with him and spend the summer of 1893 in Spillville. It was the ideal place for him with the rolling countryside, riverbanks, Czech speaking people, reminding him of his homeland. During this time, he and his family lived on the 2nd floor of what is now the Bily Clocks museum. This is where the Dvorak exhibit is today.
Spillville was also home to the Bily Brothers, Frank (1884-1965) and Joseph (1880-1964). These two bachelor farmers created in their lifetime a unique collection of hand-carved clocks. This feat was accomplished during the winter months and evening hours when they could take time away from farming. They had no formal schooling beyond the fifth grade and never traveled more that 35 miles from home. The brothers purchased the former Dvorak home as the place to display their clocks – giving the building and the clocks to the City of Spillville with the stipulation that the collection remain intact – never to be sold.
Spillville is also home to The Inwood Ballroom, one of the few ballrooms remaining in Iowa as well as the country. It began as an open bowery in 1920, built on the grounds known as Riverside Park. This temporary structure had a wood floor, no roof, and was enclosed with a railing and benches. In 1922, it was made into a permanent amusement pavilion. In 1929, a ten-sided annex to the pavilion was added. It had a yellow pine dance floor, spectator rooms on the east and west sides and fireplaces. The pavilion was renamed The Inwood (name chosen via contest).
During the 20’s you could go golfing on the Riverside Golf Links and attend Gymnastic Exhibitions. In 1925, a memorial to Dr. Antonin Dvorak was erected in the park. In 1935, a new maple floor was installed (and again in 1985). In 1938, the ball diamond was graded.
Many big bands have performed over the years, such as Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Lawrence Welk, Glen Miller along with The Byrds, Canned Heat, Commander Cody and more. The Inwood was the place to be for many years. It was recently inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Inwood has survived major flooding in 1933, 1993 and 2008.
The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, commonly known as the bandstand, was built in 1921 by the Civic Improvement Association, a non-profit organization organized in 1919, whose purpose was to find ways and means to secure and develop the public square in the heart of Spillville with a memorial to the Soldiers and Sailors who served in World War I. It now includes military personnel through present times including General Clarence Haug, a native of Spillville.
Like most small towns (population approx 400) we have a post office, a bank, a library, a bar and grill, a convenience store. We also have a tire and repair shop, a feed store, an auto body shop, a garage, a car dealer, a campground, two bed and breakfasts, an old blacksmith shop, and a restaurant. But not your usual restaurant. The Old World Inn is located one of Spillville’s original historic buildings. Tunnels in the basement that were used for bootlegging during prohibition days now provide seating to enjoy a great meal! The upper floor has seven rooms for overnight guests.
And finally when we think of Spillville we think KOLACHE! That delicious little sweet roll with four eyes filled with prune or apricot or poppy seed or raspberry or cherry! There’s nothing like biting into a fresh kolache, still warm from the oven, and the smell -- YUM!! The ladies of St. Wenceslaus parish bake hundreds of dozens of these traditional Czech delicacies every year for the Easter and Thanksgiving bake sales, the annual Craft Show and the county’s annual dairy banquet, also when RAGBRAI has been here and of course the upcoming sesquicentennial celebration will have them too.
My name is Wanda Cole. I own a Curves in West Union, I am one of the managers of the The Inwood Ballroom and I am on the advertising committee for our Sesquicentennial celebration. I grew up 2 miles east of Spillville on a farm, the oldest of twelve children. Large families were not uncommon while I was growing up. One bathroom for fourteen people would be unfathomable today but for the most part it is a blessing to have an abundance of something money can’t buy – that sense of belonging and being loved. Other than one sister in St. Charles, MN (70 miles) and a brother near Cresco, IA (20 miles) the rest of my siblings live in town or within 10 miles. Two of my brothers operate Howard’s Tire and Repair and Ernie’s Ag Center in town. Two of my sisters work for them. My mother still lives on the home farm with one of my brothers working the land. Around here roots run deep. We obviously love it here and choose not to move away to “the big city.”
It is a sweet little town with tree lined streets with lots to offer our visitors.
Major events at The Inwood this year include/included:
• A “prom night” for the impaired individuals on April 24
• Memorial Day weekend, we will have Polka Fest on Saturday and Sunday, 12 noon to 8:00 p.m. and potluck supper in honor of our veterans on Monday
• WMT Tractorcade on June 15
• Day long 4th of July celebration with the best fireworks in northeast Iowa
• Bluff Country Cruisers car show on July 18
• Our annual town picnic on September 19
Thank you for considering us. We hope you will include Spillville in Our Town Road Trip.
If you want to contact me: Wanda Cole
P.O. Box 132
Spillville, Iowa 52168