Above: On the porch of the Porter House, the board president, Cam Forde, left, and Norma Wangsness admire the doll buggy that Norma purchased from Bert Porter in the 1950s and recently donated to the Porter House Museum. (Submitted photo)
Above: On the porch of the Porter House, the board president, Cam Forde, left, and Norma Wangsness admire the doll buggy that Norma purchased from Bert Porter in the 1950s and recently donated to the Porter House Museum. (Submitted photo)
In the late 1940s – as a “child bride of 17,” Norma Wangsness and her husband, Willis, moved into an apartment in the Lennon house at the corner of West Broadway and River Street – directly across from Bert and Grace Porter’s stately home.

Wangsness fondly remembers watching Bert work in his yard and observing Bert and Grace sit on the back porch, drink coffee and chat together. For the five years the Wangsnesses lived across the street from the Porters, they had a neighborly friendship.

This spring, Wangsness became aware of the year-long sesquicentennial celebration of the Porter House. Recently, she reminisced about her relationship with Bert Porter, and recalled purchasing several unique items from him over 60 years ago.

After thoughtful consideration, she decided to donate the items back to the Porter House. She talked her idea over with her two daughters and they determined that these pieces of local history belonged back in the Porter House.

“They said, ‘Yes, Mother, we agree,” she noted. “‘This is where they need to go. They need to go home again.’”

About the items
Two local ladies who were antique collectors told Wangsness that Bert was starting to sell some of his things in the early 1950s. She remembers talking to him and telling him, “Bert, you shouldn’t be doing this.” But Bert persisted, and continued to sell a number of his collectibles and personal items.

Doll buggy
In 1951 Wangsness had a baby girl; and, when on a visit with her friends to see Bert Porter, she bought a doll buggy he was selling.

“I never allowed the children to play with it, though, so it’s in its original condition,” she stated, smiling.

Although the umbrella was missing, Wangsness found a child’s umbrella and did some decorating and sewing to bring the buggy to its pristine condition. She recently did some investigative work and discovered the buggy was manufactured by the Ludlow Toy and Manufacturing Company of Ludlow, Vt. (established in 1873).

A drawing of it is included in the company’s 1874 catalogue. The company produced children’s buggies, toy carts and wheelbarrows, but discontinued making toys in the spring of 1889 to devote its efforts to the production of lumber and chair stock.

Bugs and butterflies
Wangsness bought the bugs and butterflies in a box from Bert. The insects were encased in plastic or had glass on the top of them, and Bert sold them as a set of 12.

Bert was a pioneer in the use of butterflies and butterfly wings in artwork, and he also “fashioned pieces of jewelry – brooches, charms, cuff links, hat pins, scarf pins, and other articles – from iridescent wings of moths and butterflies mounted under glass.” (“A. F. Porter – Butterfly-Hunter Extraordinary” by Dale Ahern, The Iowan Magazine, March, 1956).

Wangness mounted these treasures in a frame for decoration in her home. Norma remembers her daughter used to sit on the porch with Bert and play checkers, and that after one game Bert gave the youngster one of his colorful butterflies.

China plate
The china plate Wangsness purchased was hand-painted by Grace Porter. It is identical in size, quality, and subject material to plates that are in the Porter House collection now.

Wangsness has been a perfect caretaker of these Bert Porter keepsakes for the past six-plus decades, and she is delighted to return them to their “home.” She would like to encourage other people who may have purchased or received items from Bert Porter “back in the day” to consider donating them back to the Porter House in this, the home’s celebration of its 150th year.

Sesquicentennial event
In commemoration of the Porter House’s sesquicentennial, the Porter House board is hosting a special event, “Soiree 150,” Sunday, April 23, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Upstairs event space of T-Bock’s Sports Bar and Grill. (See sidebar).

The festive event costs $10 for a single ticket and $15 for a pair. Tickets may be purchased at the door.

The celebration will include finger food, music, a silent auction and a cash bar.