Plaques to honor Greene County history
By ANDREW MCGINN
Jefferson’s Albert Head was a lawyer, a bank president and a thrice-wounded officer in the Civil War who was less than a decade away from his first of four terms in the Iowa House when, in 1876, the telephone was invented.
Soon, visitors to the Square will be able to scan a QR code with their smartphone to learn a little more about Capt. Head — which no doubt would have seemed like the work of Confederate witches during the good captain’s lifetime.
Head is among a who’s who of Greene County historical figures to be honored with bronze plaques affixed to the new brick lamp post bases around Jefferson’s Square.
Each plaque will contain biographical information about a person or thing that made Greene County what it is today.
But, for those curious for more, each plaque also will sport what’s known as a quick-response — or QR — code.
Scanning the code with a smartphone will pull up a few more interesting facts about that particular person, in addition to a photo.
“There are a lot of good things happening here right now, if we can just keep ’em rolling,” said Dave Sloan, co-owner of Jefferson Monument Works.
Sloan, who will be installing the first five plaques soon, sees the plaque project as another way to entice people into staying longer when visiting Jefferson.
“It could potentially get them walking our Square,” he said.
The project is a collaboration between Jefferson Matters: Main Street, the city of Jefferson and the Greene County board of supervisors.
“It’s almost like a walking tour,” said Mike Palmer, Jefferson city administrator.
Future QR codes around the Square will take users to information and photos of historic buildings.
The plaques are part of the overall Streetscape project that recently overhauled the look of the Square.
In all, there are 21 potential spaces for plaques around the Square.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Palmer said. “There’s a lot of room for plaques.”
But, at $1,500 apiece, only the first five have been purchased.
The first plaques will be placed at each alley entry.
With bronze on the metals market, “I got them done before the price went up,” Sloan said.
“Usually when the cost of bronze comes down, my wholesalers don’t lower my price,” Sloan observed.
However, the committee responsible for selecting those persons or places to be honored have so far approved eight total plaques.
“There was a vetting process,” Palmer said.
The criteria is strict — for starters, an individual must be dead for 25 years to be considered.
“Once people start seeing those things, we’re going to see a lot more nominations,” Palmer said.
Aside from Head, who also served as Speaker of the Iowa House, the initial plaques will honor the likes of famed pollster George Gallup, a Jefferson native, and Ziegfeld girl Eva Marie Leonard of Grand Junction.
The QR codes are being produced locally by Ogren’s Custom Graphics, and will take users to information hosted on the city’s website.
The first eight plaques will honor:
• Albert Head — An Ohio native who came to Iowa with his family in 1855, Head served as a captain in the 10th Iowa Volunteers during the Civil War and was wounded at Corinth, Champion’s Hill and Vicksburg.
After the war, he settled in Jefferson, where he served as a lawyer and bank president.
With brother Mahlon, he developed the Head House Hotel (the present-day Lincoln Building) and the Head Brothers Opera House (the present-day Sierra Theatre).
In 1883, Albert Head won election to the Iowa House, and later served as Speaker of the Iowa House.
• Mahlon Head — Albert’s older brother, Mahlon Head was a banker and landowner who served as Jefferson’s first mayor in 1872.
He also was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives multiple times beginning in 1899.
A lieutenant in the 10th Iowa Infantry during the Civil War, Head had been seriously wounded at Missionary Ridge in Tennessee in 1863.
As the largest contributor of local funds, he was instrumental in developing the Lincoln Highway through Jefferson and Greene County.
• Eva Leonard — The New York City press called her “the Venus of Iowa.” Famed producer Flo Ziegfeld said of her, “She came, she saw, she conquered!”
Leonard, of Grand Junction, came to fame in the roaring ’20s as a star of the “Ziegfeld Follies.” In 1927, Ziegfeld cast her as the title role in “Rio Rita” on Broadway.
She died in 1947 under mysterious circumstances in which her neck was broken.
However, no autopsy was done and no one was ever brought to justice.
• Guy C. Richardson — A local aviation pioneer, Richardson established Jefferson’s first airport north of town on family land.
He later helped create the present-day municipal airport and served as first chairman of the Iowa Aeronautics Commission.
• George Gallup — Believe it or not, the famed pollster from Jefferson felt strongly that political campaigns should last no more than two to three months.
He conducted his first survey in 1925, to find the prettiest girl on his college campus. Ophelia Miller won — and they soon married.
• Drs. George and Augusta Grimmell — The father and daughter, who were early Greene County doctors, will share a plaque.
• The Lincoln Highway — Conceived in 1913, the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway connected New York with San Francisco.
Greene County was the first in Iowa to completely pave its portion.
• The Scranton Water Tower — In operation since 1897, Scranton’s water tower is the oldest-working water tower in Iowa and the ninth oldest in the entire nation.
Built at a cost of $4,026, it can hold 48,000 gallons of water — and presumably not the same 48,000 gallons of water since 1897.