Fundraiser features 19th century tools, household items
JANESVILLE TOWNSHIP—Kay Demrow carefully placed a human yoke around her neck and onto her shoulder.
“They probably balanced a pail on each side like this,” she explained.
People in the 1800s used the well-worn wooden frame to carry water. More than 150 years later, the yoke is a reminder that oxen were not the only beasts of burden.
Earlier this week, Kay demonstrated how the yoke was used. Then she placed it among some 600 hand-woodworking and farm tools, lamps, crocks, cast-iron utensils and household items.
She has spent hours brushing the dust and dirt off the relics, which date from before the Civil War to the 1950s.
“I owed it to the people who once used these things to get them looking decent,” Kay said.
She does not know how a few of the items worked.
But one thing is certain: Everything is for sale, even the mystery tools, and some of the money will benefit the Luther Valley Historical Society.
Included in the sale are a primitive butter churn, rug beaters, various woodworking planes and chisels, cow bells, an ice-cream maker, even a fork with three tines made from a single piece of wood. A hatchet to trim bark off trees might date to the early 1800s.
The public is invited to Kay's garage Labor Day weekend and again in late September to buy or to get a glimpse into the everyday items of 19th-century life. Earlier this summer, a similar sale was held, with items being priced by members of a local history group.
Kay's love of the past makes her a good person to host the event.
In 1992, she volunteered to index thousands of newspaper articles in the archives of the Luther Valley Historical Society. The detailed work began her long relationship with the group, dedicated to preserving and sharing local history.
Today, Kay is an archivist two days a week at the historical society, located in the 1910 bank on Depot Street in Footville. She also is the group's treasurer and editor of its newsletter, where she has printed stories of Rock County immigrants. In addition, she has taken photos of vintage tractors and old barns in Luther Valley for the society's annual calendar.
Luther Valley historically included Plymouth, Spring Valley, Newark and Avon townships, mostly settled by Norwegians. The historical society, founded in the 1930s, collects and preserves the history of Luther Valley and Magnolia and Center townships.
“The reason the antiques are so interesting to me is because I've researched the lives of the people who settled Luther Valley,” Kay explains.
Many of the tools and household items date to settlement times.
“There's an awful lot of history here,” she said, picking up a Civil-War-era lamp. “It's not beautiful, but it's history.”
In 2011, Kay was researching the 100th anniversary of a tornado that cut a deadly path through Rock County. In the process, she met the Rock County resident who collected the antiques across 40 years. The collector, who wants to remain anonymous, agreed to the sale, with 60 percent of the proceeds going to the owner and 40 percent going to the historical society.
The 200-member society will use the money to maintain three buildings in Footville: the historic bank, which houses the archives; the 1914 telephone museum, and the building behind it that holds telephone-dialing equipment.
Before discovering her passion for history, Kay spent many years in food service in the Milton School District and as a restaurant owner with her husband.
“These things are history,” Kay said. “The tools provided pioneers with their livelihoods. They survived because of these things, and I am proud of this heritage.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.