Thursday, May 20, 2010

Suzi Barnes, her husband Jim, two cats, a dog, a cockatiel and the many friends in waiting who make reservations at their bed and breakfast share the 12,200 square feet of the historical Hartwig House in Denison. And now, no matter what the future may bring, their home will be a permanent part of the area’s history.

Today, Barnes is releasing her book, “Memories From the House on Silk Stocking Row, Denison, Iowa.” In doing so, she is not only offering to let everyone take a peek at the historical treasures that were buried in the attic of her family’s four-generation home, she is also providing accounts of the people who lived, laughed and worked to build the community into what it is today.

Barnes says it was her memories and the hours she spent sifting through the family mementos in the attic of the Hartwig House that were the impetus for the book.

“My grandfather always used to talk about Silk Stocking Row when I was a little kid, and I always thought it was such a neat name, but not really understanding what it meant,” she said.

“It (the name) came about because, in those days, if you could afford silk stockings, you were of the elite,” she added.  “Otherwise, you had to wear cotton.”

Barnes said that her grandmother, who was born in 1885, and her great-grandmother had clippings, old magazine pages, newspapers and letters from relatives in hat boxes in the attic, and she always got a kick out of looking through the things they found so important to keep.

“I always put those away and thought that someday I was going to do something with them,” she recalled. “This had been going on for years, and last year I thought I should do something with those before I get too much older. That is when I started getting really serious and I wrote every single day.”

Barnes got to work on compiling data about the seven large houses that spanned a few blocks of what is now 4th Avenue North. She began writing in September 2009 and really did write every day until the book was completed in March this year.

“It took about seven months, and I didn’t miss a day, even Christmas,” Barnes said. “I just put my whole heart into the book, and I got it done.”

And the book tells not only of the homes and families of Silk Stocking Row, it also tells of the other notable members of the Denison community and their businesses and homes, including some very interesting insights about healthful hints, recipes and how the people of the 1890s threw a successful party.

“A group of friends of Mr. and Mrs. T.J. Kelley surprised them on their wooden anniversary,” begins an entry from the 1894 social pages. “Fifty assembled at the Louie Seemann home and marched in a body to the Kelley home and demanded admittance. They brought food with them, sandwiches, chicken, cake and fruit. They gave the Kelleys a beautiful sideboard.”

Some of the ads from the 1890s to early 1900s were a great source of entertainment for Barnes as she researched material at the local library.

“There is one ad here that the farmers would get a kick out of,” she said. “It is called ‘More Eggs,’ and it is some kind of potion you give your chickens to get them to lay more eggs. These were quotes and comments from the people that used it, and they are so funny. One lady wrote that the chickens were almost dead and they gave them this ‘More Eggs’ and they not only survived, but they started to lay eggs immediately.”

 Barnes begins the book with the seven houses of Silk Stocking Row and includes the additional information later in the book. She gives a glimpse into the homes and families of famous Denison citizens such as actress Donna Reed and longtime executive director of the Iowa Boys Athletic Association, Bernie Saggau.

Reed’s daughter provided some photos of her mother as a baby and of the family and their home for the book, and Saggau contributed writings about his life in Denison.

Barnes also includes a tribute to her German heritage by numbering all the chapters in German.

It was this connection to her heritage that resulted in her meeting someone who would coax her to follow through on her ideas to write this book.

Last year, during the German American Conference, they had Eric Braeden, an actor on the CBS daytime drama “The Young and the Restless,” as a guest at their bed and breakfast.

“Eric was instrumental,” Barnes said. “He kept talking about how neat it would be to do something with the household hints.”

After Barnes completed her manuscript and received her initial copies, Braeden was one of the first to congratulate her on this extraordinary effort.

“This should be interesting reading to anyone living in Denison or (the) surrounding area,” he wrote. “What an enormous amount of research had to be done by you to write this very detailed account of the history of that very charming little community.”

As of today, everyone can take a step back into a grand time while learning a little more about the history of this community at the same time.

“Silk Stocking Row” will be available in Carroll at Hy-Vee and the Good News Book and Gift Store.

It will also be sold at Roscoe’s Jewelry (owned by Barnes’ husband, Jim); Reiny’s (Candy Kitchen); Bean’s on Broadway; Cronks Restaurant; the Denison Chamber of Commerce office; Arts on Grand in Spencer; and in the Harlan, Spirit Lake and Denison Hy-Vee stores.

Meet the author in person at the Denison Hy-Vee location from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 22, for a book signing. Special pricing of the book will be available that day.

For a preview of the book, log on to