Always Something New To Learn
Although we’ve lived in Iowa for over 40 years, we never knew so much history crowded into a small town in the mid-1800s not long after settlement. Our visit to the Lewelling Quaker Museum in Salem, Iowa, brought us up to speed on history. The small museum tells a fascinating, little-known history that impacted people far beyond Iowa’s borders. They focus on three significant areas.
The Museum’s formal name is the Lewelling Quaker Museum. These peaceful people moved to the area during the decades prior to the Civil War. Among their many beliefs was a strong aversion to slavery. Neighboring Missouri settlers owned slaves just 20 miles south of Salem.
The Underground Railroad
Salem area Quakers, joined by others of various faiths, were a significant part of the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves move north to legal safety in Canada. In the museum, located in an old home, we were able to enter the tiny crawl space beneath the kitchen where slaves hid from slave catchers. The process must have been scary for both slaves and those who helped them. Captured slaves were returned to their owner for likely punishment and continued to live in bondage. Whites who helped risked arrest and incarceration. Yet, the Underground railroad persisted and helped many people gain freedom.
The Lewelling Family were nursery people who cultivated and sold fruit trees. They developed several productive varieties of cherries and apples. In the early days of the Oregon Trail travel fever infected the Lewellings. They modified a wagon to hold tiny fruit tree slips and made the arduous trek over the Great Plains and mountains all the way to the Willamette Valley. Most of the baby trees survived the trip and were used to start the Pacific Northwest’s famed fruit industry. People enjoy different fruits and apple varieties to this day in part because of the families that carried the tiny fruit slips west.
The volunteer-operated Lewelling Quaker Museum is open for tours Sunday afternoons from 1-4 pm May through September and by appointment at other times and dates. We found our visit fascinating and encourage others to go. Salem is located a few miles south of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in the SE corner of the state. For information check lewelling.org.