Monday, March 18, 2019

Haish Company Billhead Receipt

This billhead/letterhead was an Ebay find. The sale listing did not provide much information, but it's interesting to see an order for "The Haish Mfg. Co., Manufacturers of The 'Eli' Steel Barb Fence Wire, Stretchers, Staples and Nails."

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Haish mansion model restoration underway

Cameron Simpson, NIU student, restoring the Jacob Haish mansion model. | Photo provided by Cameron Simpson
I've posted about the model of the Jacob Haish mansion before: It was a project by a former Northern Illinois University student, W. Joseph Zack, and provides a great representation of a beautiful building that no longer exists. Its condition has worsened over the years, so I was ecstatic to find out that a current NIU student has tasked herself with the big project of restoring it. 

I interviewed Cameron Simpson, the mastermind behind this restoration project, and her responses are below. I'm looking forward to seeing the model once this project is complete. 

Simpson is also blogging about the progress of this project, and you can follow her journey here

Jessi: How did you get involved with this project? 
Cameron: When I first arrived at NIU, I contacted the Glidden Homestead about possibly volunteering with them in some capacity. I went to chat with Rob Glover ... It was the week before the Memories of the Jacob Haish Mansion event, and Cindy Ditzler from the Regional History Center was dropping off the Haish model for use in the event while I was there. I’d had some dollhouse-building experience in the past, and the model was in extraordinarily rough shape, so I just asked Cindy and Rob if I might be able to stabilize it. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen, but Cindy said yes and I ran with it. 

Jessi: Why did you decide to take on this project? 
Cameron: I decided to take on the Haish house project for a couple of reasons. I am in the honors program at NIU and one of their requirements is that students take part in co-curricular “experiential learning” which can take a variety of forms. Since the Haish house project is pretty involved, and I’m interested in public history-related careers, I decided it would align well with my experiential learning requirement as well as my own interests. 

Jessi: What are you currently working on? 
Cameron: As of late February and early March, I am replacing some lost window glass along the top of the gazebo, and reattaching one of the porches that has fallen off. The gazebo has had some pretty significant moisture damage over the years, so adding a new, thicker set of windows will hopefully reinforce it significantly so I will not have to completely replace the top of the gazebo. As for the porches, there are two in bad shape. One has had the roof and columns fall off with the base remaining attached, and the other has lost the base and columns while the roof remains in place. I’m working with the latter first, since the weight of the roof piece is actually pulling the wall downward. Due to the way each column broke off the base, I have been able to replace them with a pretty significant degree of precision. I am 90% certain where each column went, and in what orientation. In the next couple of months I will be working with the other porch, the porte-cochere (which is the overhang which stretches between the house and the gazebo), and creating a base for the whole model to sit on within its case. 

Jessi: What has been most difficult about this project? 
Cameron: Despite my experience with dollhouse-making, the most challenging part of this whole process has been that I came in with a base level of knowledge at just about zero. I’m not an artist, and I had a limited understanding of a) the quantity of work that this project would take and b) the techniques and materials I would need to execute the stabilization. I was very fortunate that I was surrounded by people who could answer those questions for me and the Regional History Center was willing to purchase the things I needed, but I’ve had to proceed very slowly and carefully in order to make sure I’m not leaving anything in worse shape than I’ve found it. 
Details of the mansion model | Photo provided by Cameron Simpson
Jessi: What has been most enjoyable? 
Cameron: When I first saw the model, it was just a collection of related pieces more than anything. After 40+ hours working with it, the most exciting part has always been finding out where something actually goes. There have been a few times where a piece has been totally mysterious to me, but the feeling when I finally figure out what it is can’t be beat. For instance, there was a strip of sandpaper floating around my supplies for nearly two months, but while I was trying to figure out how to affix the tower back onto the main structure of the model I realized that the sandpaper filled a gap between the wall of the tower and the main part of the mansion! There was a matching piece on the other side that I hadn’t even recognized until I looked for it. 

Jessi: What is the final goal of the project? 
Cameron: Whereas in a museum you might see paintings or furniture that look flawless, that is not our goal with the Haish model. Our goal is to stabilize the model so it can be displayed in the Founders Gallery within the Founders Memorial Library, not necessarily a full restoration to its 1981 glory. For instance, I will not be repainting any areas where paint has flaked off or discolored. The Regional History Center has decided that my work should tell the visual story of the model as well as the Haish mansion. 

Jessi: What have you learned about Haish along the way? 
Cameron: My primary occupation has been with the physical structure of Haish’s house rather than his biography, but nevertheless in the process of my work I’ve realized how important Haish is to this community. I’ve attended events about Jacob Haish and spoken to people who have an unexpectedly vested interest in my work. 

Jessi: Anything else you'd like to add? 
Cameron: This project has given me all kinds of weird and wonderful experiences. The most pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment was almost certainly when I went to speak with a conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago. I got the idea in my head that I would call the Art Institute and ask to speak with someone who could answer my questions about how, exactly, I would do this big and scary project. I ended up calling and they put me in contact with the conservator of the Thorne Miniature Rooms, who invited me to come visit her back in October. I got a tour of her studio, as well as the larger conservation studio within the Art Institute. Everyone I met was very helpful and gave me some great procedural and material recommendations.

Details of the mansion model | Photo provided by Cameron Simpson

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Commemorative Haish envelope

This commemorative envelope, distributed by the Land of Lincoln Barbed Wire Collectors Association, celebrates Jacob Haish's barb wire creation.

The front of the envelope illustrates a spool and a single piece of Haish's "thick set 'S' barb." The envelope is postmarked 1975 and details the Land of Lincoln Barbed Wire Collectors Association Convention in September of that year.

The card inside reads:

"Jacob Haish, of DeKalb, Illinois, patented this wire Aug. 31, 1875. This invention consists of this double-pointed wire-fence barb, made from a single piece of wire, bent at its center laterally so that all its parts lie in the same plane in the form of the letter S, forming two loops adapted to clasp both strands of the twisted wire.

This first invention was manufactured and pieces are still found, but good wire of this first S barb is really scarce.

Haish soon made a slight change or improvement that took place in the barb construction. The barb wires were made a little longer so that each of the two ends of the barbs could make another quarter turn or wrap around the two twisted strand-wire, and made the barb more stable on the wire.

Still another change was made in the "S" by adding more and still another quarter wrap or bend was given the barb ends. There are at least four or five variations in this wire.

The Kishwaukee Valley Stamp Club of Sycamore & DeKalb area thanks the Barb Wire Collectors Club for their cooperation in producing and in the sale of this special envelope." 

Thanks to Danny Wright (editor of The Devil's Rope Museum's newsletter) for sharing this with me. 

Detail of the envelope
Detail of the envelope
The card provided inside the envelope.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Haish cane finds it way to Haish family

Jacob Haish barbed wire cane
A Jacob Haish barbed wire cane has made its way to Haish family... it's now in possession of members of my immediate family!

Haish manufactured these barbed wire canes as a promotional item, another innovative way he advertised his products. These canes vary in design; the brass tops can vary in shape, and there are 10 different versions of the cane that can be collected. It is unknown how many were made, or how many are still in existence.

There is a wealth of information and photos regarding Haish canes here.

Detail of the Haish cane shows Haish's barbed wire design | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Top of the Haish cane reads: "Compliments of J. Haish, 'S' barb. Steel Fence Wire, DeKalb, Ill" | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Detail of the Haish cane | Photo by Jessi LaRue

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Project in the works

I haven’t been blogging as often because I’ve been working on a bigger project... a potential book about Jacob Haish. I’m in the very early stages (this photo is the mess on the floor of my living room) but I’m starting to put my outline and stories together. I’ll keep you updated...

As always, any ideas or suggestions are welcome. Thank you for your support!


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Jacob Haish portrait finds new home

The Jacob Haish portrait now displayed at Founders Memorial Library | Photo by Jessi LaRue
A portrait of barbed wire baron Jacob Haish has finally joined images of his competitors Joseph Glidden and Isaac Ellwood.

The portrait of Haish was dedicated October 9 in the new Founders Gallery, located inside the Founders Memorial Library on the campus of Northern Illinois University. The portrait was always intended to reside on campus, but it had never made it there, until now.

Historian Steve Bigolin gave remarks during the dedication, speaking about the university's founders: Haish, Ellwood, Glidden, and Clinton Rosette. The university, then called Northern Illinois State Normal School, wanted images of its founders to display on campus. Legend says Ellwood paid for the creation of his portrait, along with Glidden's. Haish had his own made, and not much is known about a potential Rosette portrait.

The portrait of Jacob Haish. Its measurements are 78"x 60"x 7.5" | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Bigolin said once all three portraits were created, Haish was "embarrassed" by the small size of his portrait compared to those of his barbed wire competitors. Instead of giving the portrait to the school, he gifted it to a niece, and it still resides with Haish family in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Ellwood and Glidden's portraits hung on each side of the Altgeld auditorium on campus. 

Haish then decided to have a bust made of himself, and that would sit in the original campus library (until that mysteriously disappeared decades later.)

Haish then had a new portrait created, but ended up liking it so much that he kept it for himself, instead of giving it to the school. The portrait was hung in his mansion, and stayed there until the night before the home's demolition in 1961. 
Portrait of Joseph Glidden in Founders Memorial Library | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Portrait of Isaac Ellwood in Founders Memorial Library | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Local lore tells us that members of the DeKalb Masonic Lodge, which Haish was a longtime member, "night requisitioned" the portrait the night before the home's demolition. The portrait would hang in two DeKalb lodge locations, until this year, when it was decided it would find its way to NIU, the home it was meant to have many, many, years ago. 

Ferald Bryan, member of the DeKalb Masonic Lodge, as well as president of the Friends of the NIU Library board, said it was not an easy decision to relocate the image of "Brother Jacob." But while renovating their temple building, members realized how much Haish loved DeKalb. After all, Haish helped found DeKalb and the university, he said.

"It seemed natural that it should come here," Bryan said. "More people needed to see it."

The portrait dedication ceremony October 9. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Images and a model of the Jacob Haish mansion on display during the portrait dedication | Photo by Jessi LaRue
The portrait now hangs proudly in the new Founders Gallery on the first floor of NIU's library, across from the portraits of Ellwood and Glidden. NIU President Lisa Freeman spoke during the dedication ceremony, noting the appropriate placement of Haish's portrait in the library, because of his "love of learning and passion for literacy."

As proudly as the portrait hangs, it is in need of repair. A tear in the portrait, as well as damage to the frame, are obvious. Experts have looked over the portrait and estimated that it needs $22,000 in repairs. 

Monetary donations are welcome to help fund the cost of restoring the portrait. 

Checks can be made to: "Northern Illinois University Libraries -- Haish Photograph Restoration"

Checks can be mailed to or dropped off at:

Libraries Administration
FO 428
Founders Memorial Library
Northern Illinois University
217 Normal Rd
DeKalb, IL 60115-2828

NIU President Lisa Freeman said in some ways, Haish was the "least credited" of DeKalb's founders. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Steve Bigolin said Haish's decision to make an even larger portrait of himself was because he could not be "outdone" by Glidden and Ellwood. | Photo by Jessi LaRue

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Barbed wire field trips, booklets in the works

The cover of the Joseph F. Glidden pamphlet currently used in DeKalb elementary schools. | Image provided by DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association

DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association (DAAHA) is working to educate DeKalb students on the city's barbed wire barons.

Currently, DeKalb School District #428 has a booklet that teaches the district's second grade students about Joseph F. Glidden. 

"The teachers really like the format and commented that it would be nice to have one on other key DeKalb figures," said Donna Langford, DAAHA manager of operations. 

Dr. Anne Almberg of Founder's Elementary wrote one on Annie Glidden, Ellwood House wrote on Isaac Ellwood, and DAAHA volunteered to do one on Jacob Haish.

The booklets are used to meet the curriculum's English Language Arts standards, combining local history with reading and writing exercises. A grant for the schools will cover the cost of printing these materials.

A field trip is also in the works to help further students' understanding of the barbed wire barons, and funding is needed to bus students to these locations: the Ellwood House Museum, the Glidden Homestead and Historical Center, and the parking lot which was once the location of the Haish mansion.

DAAHA estimates the total cost is $4,435.31 for eight days (8 elementary schools and 22 classes) to visit these locations. A grant application has been made to help with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade busing for field trips.The busing costs for the 3rd and 4th graders is in addition to the $4,435.31.

Want to help DeKalb elementary students learn more about the founders of their very own Barb City?

Monetary donations are needed to make these field trips happen each year, so hopefully the second grade classes can take this field trip each fall. 

Any size donation is appreciated for the second grade field trips and will help the grant funds go further for the 3rd and 4th graders. DAAHA is a 501(c)3 and can provide thank you letters to each donor to document the donation to a charitable organization. 

Donations can be sent by mail to:
111 South Second St.
Suite 204
DeKalb, IL 60115

Please specify that your donation is to help fund the second grade field trips.

For more information, email or call 815-756-8737.