The Weber files: Part 2

Last week we began a three-part series about the Weber Family Collection at ACHS. This week, we’ll look at some more records that are part of that collection.

The Weber farm was handed down through three generations of the family. Some of the legal documents that trace these ownership transfers tell us another interesting story as well: How did older people plan for retirement in the years before nursing homes and assisted living facilities became common? Donald Weber signed an agreement with his parents, Leonard and Mary, in which they sold the farm to him for one dollar. In return, he agreed that they would be able to live on the farm (have room and board) for the rest of their lives, or were to be paid a monthly stipend of a specified amount if they chose or needed to move elsewhere. Interestingly, Leonard Weber had signed almost the same agreement with his parents Joseph and Annie when they were ready to retire, and Joseph in turn had signed a similar agreement with his father Johann. This arrangement seems to have worked well for the Weber family, since they made the same agreement over three separate generations.

We find similar documents relating to other families as well, suggesting that this was a common solution to the issue of where one would retire prior to the mid-20th century. Especially when there was a farm or other land and a child to pass it down to, many families made similar arrangements. Under other circumstances, we see older men and women (often widowed), taking up semi-permanent residence at small, private hospitals (such as the Kline Sanitarium in Anoka), in lieu of a nursing home as we would think of it today. This was also a time when many elderly people ended up in the State Hospital system categorized as “senile”, suffering from what we now know to be ailments such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Other records in the Weber collection tell us interesting stories as well. There are draft cards for Leonard Weber for both World War I and World War II – he was temporarily exempted from service both times, mainly due to the fact he was a farmer, which was considered a vital occupation. He and Mary received special rations during WWII for the same reason, and Leonard received the Minnesota Agricultural Award in 1943, in “recognition of your efforts to increase vital war food production.” Being heavily into dairy farming, the Webers were members of the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association, and many of those documents are in the collection.

There are records which tell about health problems in the family, including some suffered by Leonard’s brother Jacob, as well as Leonard’s own illness and death in 1952. Later records tell us that Donald and his mother eventually sold the farm, and Donald went on to work for the railroad for many years. He and Mary liked to travel, and family photographs show them visiting many different places over the years. Older photographs show us the Weber farm, livestock, and equipment, giving us a direct look at farming in Centerville in the first half of the 20th century. The most recent photographs show us Donald’s final few years, when he lived in a nursing home.

This collection is large and varied. How does ACHS handle a collection like this once it comes to the museum? Read the final part of this series next week to find out!