Step back in time as a Midwest farm wife

Commentary: Do you know how the antique items in this slideshow were used around the home and farm?

You likely know why some older folks call the refrigerator an icebox. Try asking anyone younger than 21 what an icebox is and see what answer you get.

At the restored farm home inside Prophetstown State Park near Battleground in Tippecanoe County, Ind., you could teach your kids or grandkids the connection between the terms. Before refrigerators, food that needed to be kept cool inside the house went in an “icebox” — literally a wooden box lined with materials to help keep ice intact. “Ice men” delivered blocks of ice. Or you picked them up in town and placed them inside the icebox compartment. When electrically powered refrigerators finally came to the farm, many people who grew up with iceboxes transferred the term to the new appliance.

The farmhouse also features a telephone hanging on the wall that far predates the black rotary-dial Bell telephone of my youth. This telephone is a big wooden box with a horn-like device attached, which is the receiver. As late as the 1970s, very rural places in southeastern Indiana still used these phones. The earliest days of social media was listening in on your neighbor’s conversation on the “party line.” See how many people under 21 can explain that term!

The Prophetstown farm home and farmstead preserve the era of the 1920s permanently. The site is open to visitors during the summer until Oct. 31, seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Learn more at

Looking back

If you get a chance to visit the Hancock County Agricultural Museum near Britt, Iowa, you will also find many items that were common in Midwest farm homes in the 1930s and beyond. My mother still had an ironing machine in the 1960s. Click through the accompanying slideshow to see what one looks like. The one pictured is very much like the one my mother used.

You may recognize some early cookstoves and other appliances. See how many you can identify. Maybe you can help identify some we’re not sure about.

Some of the items in the museum weren’t likely in the house but still may have been used by the farm wife. Cream separators, butterfat testers and egg washers were often used by the women as much as the men. They were common on average-size, diversified farms in the early and mid-20th century.

Take time to journey back in time through these photos. If you believe something is misidentified, if you have your own story to tell about an item, or if you can identify something we couldn’t identify, feel free to let us know. Email or write to: P.O. Box 247, Franklin, IN 46137.

TAGS: Farm Life
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