Saturday, March 24, 2018

It's Old Abe Forever: The Nunda Lodge Quilt

Quilt known as the Nunda Lodge Quilt
Collection of the Chicago Historical Society

This flag-strewn quilt gives us much narrative information.

"It's Old.Abe

Gen's Grant 
Nunda Lodge No, 86 Wc.Henry.Co
Ill '65

Pure Water 
Faith Hope and Charity
Union Peace Love and Truth"

All those words and pictures. As I wrote in 2009 in my book Quilts from the Civil War:
"Several memorial quilts leave no question as to the maker's intent, as words and portraits give us a code that is easy to read. The Chicago Historical Society's Nunda Lodge quilt, made in McHenry, Illinois, features the words ' It's Old.Abe Forever.' "
Wrong! Despite the imagery the quilt's origins and date are obscure.

Here are some facts. The quilt came from a family named Tomlinson in Montclair, New Jersey. Somehow it came into the collection at Colonial Williamsburg. Because their collecting focus is an earlier era they transferred the quilt to an Illinois museum--- the Chicago Historical Society in 1971.

We can begin with the central sentiment:

Which Old Abe? I assumed it was President Lincoln.

Sheet music from about 1860. During that election
Lincoln was often referred to as Old Abe.

Lillie Harvey's Crazy Quilt with image

of "Old Abe...dead & gone....Died in 1881."
East Tennessee Historical Society

But Old Abe the eagle had his share of fame during and after the War. The captive bird was the mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Union Army, nicknamed the "Eagle Regiment."

Nunda in McHenry County is under the pink arrow. Note it says
"Crystal Lake or Nunda" for the town's name.
They changed it at some point.

Nunda or Crystal Lake.
1935/1975 it didn't look much different

I lived in Illinois for a couple of years in the 1970s and spent many weekends antiquing in McHenry County so I remember several things about the area---one that it's almost Wisconsin. Old Abe the Wisconsin eagle would have been a popular bird in Northern Illinois.

Old Abe the President (also extremely popular in Illinois) died in 1865 and because there is a number '65 on the quilt I assumed that it referred to the date of his assassination and the year the quilt was made. 

Old Abe the eagle died in 1881. The words could refer to either. 
See more about Old Abe the Eagle on quilts at this post:

How old is the quilt?  I'm not so sure about '65 as the date. We don't get many clues to date from fabric, patchwork pattern or quilt style. The cottons are all solids in Turkey red, blue and green on white. The best clue and it's really quite weak is that the colors have not faded in that distinctive way that solids after 1880 fade to tan. 

Quilt date-inscribed 1884 with discolored greens.

But maybe it's never seen the light. Or maybe the quiltmakers were careful to use reliable colors, so it could have been made after 1880.

Most of the pattern is unique. Images that are familiar---the florals--- are rather generic 19th-century patterns like the 8-lobed flowers, tulips and buds. 

The style is also unique---but I guess we could consider it in the broad category of a medallion format patriotic quilt---there are many others.

Elizabeth Holmes, patriotic medallion quilt.

Banner Quilt made for General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War

by the Ladies' Social Circle of Eureka, California.
Collection of the Clarke Museum, about 1865.
That eagle in the center looks like Old Abe.

The two above from the 1860s.
The border is somewhat helpful too as an appliqued floral vine is more common before 1870 than after. But again, it's a weak clue. If we could see the quilting in the photo it might provide another weak clue to date.

More mysteries to solve. We certainly recognize the "Gen's Grant, Sherman and Sheridan" as Union heroes. But who is Thomas?

Probably General George H. Thomas, Virginia-
born General and Union hero of Chickamauga, who
as far as I can tell had nothing to do with McHenry County, Illinois.

And who or what was Nunda Lodge No. 86?

Obviously some kind of fraternal organization. Another thing I remember about that Illinois/Wisconsin border country: The presence of ghosts---reminders of old fraternal organizations like the Masons, Odd Fellows and Modern Woodman were everywhere. Every town had a lodge hall or two; every antique mall a Masonic apron or a Modern Woodman ax charm.

Nunda Lodge No. 86 would seem easy to decipher in the era of the internet. But no-o-o-.

The only lodge I can find with that name is the Nunda Lodge No. 169 of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, begun in 1855.  No. 169 is not No. 86. Complicating my search is Nunda, New York for which Nunda, Illinois was named and the 19th-century name change of Nunda, Illinois to Crystal Lake. 

Quilt from "Columbia Lodg No 44 Oh, 1867"
Collection of the Milwaukee Museum

The Nunda Lodge quilt could very well be a Masonic quilt. Many of them survive as reminders of the importance of fraternal life in America. The Ohio quilt above has a vine border and similar lettering. But the Nunda Lodge quilt has no obvious Masonic symbolism. 

I looked for other fraternal organizations (and sororital) with the number 86. The Mason's female branch is the Eastern Star - no luck. The International Order of Odd Fellows maintained a Nunda Lodge #701 between 1882 and 1887. Their female branch, the Rebekahs, were Lodge 908.

Charlotte Gardner
attributed to New York or New Jersey, late 1880s.
Collection of the International Quilt Study Center & Museum 

Above a spectacular quilt with IOOF imagery including the triple link chain,  heart and hand and the worlds Hope & Charity. It also has an ax and a goat.

I don't know too much about fraternal imagery but the ax and
the goat are found in Modern Woodmen of the World or 
Modern Woodmen of America imagery.

I remember doing restoration painting on this
MWA hall in Valton, Wisconsin decades ago.
The Goat originally was painted by Ernst Hupeden in the 1890s.

The Modern Woodmen organization was founded in 1883 in Iowa and soon moved its headquarters to Rock Island, Illinois. It's influence on the folk culture of northern Illinois and Wisconsin is everywhere, particularly in cemeteries where skillfully carved stone trees grow .

So I looked up MWA (Modern Woodman of America) lodges in McHenry County. In a list of MWA "camps" (they were nicely consistent with that woodman theme) is No. 86, the Boxwood Camp in Harvard, Illinois.

The county history notes the Boxwood Camp No. 86 was organized in 1885.  Harvard is just below the C in Wisconsin on that map of McHenry County above, about 20 miles northwest of Crystal Lake/Nunda.

No. 86 is the right number but MWA lodges are called camps, and it's not in Nunda. The female versions of the Modern Wooden are the Royal Neighbors. Nothing there. So I still know nothing about the quilt, its date or its meaning. But it was a good excuse to poke around McHenry County again (if virtually) and  to look at some fraternal imagery in quilts.

Sallie E. Hasson, full of Masonic imagery, from
an ad in the Clarion magazine in 1985


Barb said...

Fascinating post. I always love picking up more information on Abe and Illinois (I lived in Illinois for almost 40 years).
Love studying these Patriotic quilts.

Nann said...

What an intriguing post! I live 40 miles northeast of Crystal Lake, best known for TECO pottery. ( I had no idea that Nunda came from somewhere else, but many early settlers in northeastern Illinois came from "York State."

Janie said...

Thanks for the history journey. I don't know a lot about the east coast, but you're filling that in.
Great stories are told in the old quilts.