French Icarian Colony Foundation
The French Icarian Colony Foundation is a non-profit corporation organized with the goal of perpetuating the memory and the spirit of the Icarian Colony and providing information about the precepts upon which the colony was founded, Fraternity, Equality, and Liberty. The Foundation is developing a historically accurate, living history village on original Icaria land. The heart of the development is the restored Icaria Pioneer Cemetery, the restoration of the 1878 refectory, communal dining hall, and the 1860 one-room Icaria school. The work of the Foundation will compliment Adams County's unique and rich heritage by creating a living history open air museum, the French Icarian Village. The village will provide an Icarian experience that will invite, educate and engage visitors.
Mission and Objectives
The mission of the French Icarian Colony Foundation is to convey the importance of the French Icarian heritage through preservation, restoration, and education. The objectives of the FICF fall into three major categories of Historical, Cultural and Financial.
- Develop a historically accurate reconstruction of the French Icarian Village in a suitable environment on a portion of the original site in Adams County, Iowa.
- Serve as a repository for historical artifacts.
- Provide educational opportunities about French Icarian heritage and Icaria lifestyles.
- Provide descendants of the original Icarians a link with the past, on-site and on-line.
- Encourage public awareness.
- Recognize and promote French Icarian contributions to Iowa's agriculture, education, women's rights, architecture, inventions, transportation, arts, music and humanities.
- Promote cultural history through events such as reunions, festivals and family gatherings.
- Provide educational opportunities about French Icarian contributions to culture.
- Creat awareness by active participation in French Icarian culture, on and off site.
- Create a self-sustaining French Icarian living heritage site that will add to the economic vitality of Adams County and Southwest Iowa.
- Provide brand specific products and services to generate revenue and to provide opportunities for Entrepreneurs
- Create a robust revenue plan.
- Promote marketing of the Adams County site for heritage purposes, tourism and product sales.
Only in recent years has the impact of the Icarians on Adams County and Iowa history been realized by local community leaders. One of the many social movements to emerge from Central Europe in the last half of the Nineteenth Century, the Icaria Colony was the longest existing, non-religious and pure communal experiment in American history. Its lifetime covered a full 59 years with stops in Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri and California. Of deep significance is that 46 years of this experiment initiated by French Democratic Socialists searching for their Utopia was dramatized on 3,000 acres of Southwest Iowa rolling prairie near Corning.
Etienne Cabet, founder of the movement, was born in Dijon, France in 1788, the son of a cooper. After receiving a law degree at 22 and a doctorate at 24, Cabet advanced rapidly in the circles of an unstable French government, becoming a member of the Chamber of Deputies. A champion of the working class, his actions and outbursts became so irritating to the government that he was found guilty of libel and exiled to England for five years. He returned to France armed with his book, Voyage en Icarie, which described a community based on Fraternity, Equality and Liberty, brotherly love, equal rights, no private property and no division between rich and poor. It depicted the perfect life, a Utopia, where it was all for one and one for all. His ideas caught the imagination of many people in the educated classes as well as the working class. Since a revolution was brewing in France, Cabet looked to America to find a home for Icaria.
On this quest, 69 French citizens sailed to the New World on 03 February 1848. Included in the first group was a young architect, Alfred Picquanard. Later he designed the state capitals of Illinois and Iowa as well as the Madison County courthouse in Winterset, Iowa. The first Icarian work party followed the Mormon Pioneer Trail to southwest Iowa in October 1852.
Cabet believed in an egalitarian community where there was no money, no private property, no courts of law, no secret police, and no crime. Icaria was created as a complete political democracy with voting privileges for both men and women. Since the Icaria economy was not based on money; distribution of food and clothing was supplied through an efficient system of mechanized workshops and scientific agriculture. The code of conduct prohibited talking in workshops, arguing over food in the refectory (dining hall), or smoking. Education was provided free for both sexes, aged five to twenty-one.
Cabet died in 1856, four years before the Majority decided to relocate from Nauvoo, Illinois to the land in Iowa. By 1870, a prosperous self-sufficient community had been established with two-story, two-family frame buildings replacing the log structures, including a 30 by 60 foot refectory (communal dining hall), that included the kitchen, a sewing room, and a library with over 2,000 volumes. The log buildings housed the village shops. Barns, other farm buildings, a slaughterhouse, laundry building, and school house occupied the site.
The Icarian Colony was significant as part of a major east-west transportation corridor across Iowa from 1954 through 1898. The Icarians gained a reputation of fair dealing and hospitality and although the Colony was not directly located on the Mormon Pioneer Trail, it served as a major supply depot for early westward travelers. The U.S. Army also relied upon the colony as a source for horses, meat, oats, wool and other supplies. The settlement also was a stop on one of the first mail routes to cross Iowa in 1854 along what is today US Highway 34.
In 1848 France, the Icarians pursued a special vision for their future. To carry out this ideal, they made a remarkable journey from France to Adams County in the new state of Iowa. The French Icarian Colony Board of Trustees are now shaping another remarkable journey the development of a living history museum that will authentically tell the Icaria story, capturing the public's attention and imagination.
The FICF is restoring and rebuilding the French Icaria Village on 33.69 acres of original Icaria land that includes the rededicated Icaria Pioneer cemetery three miles east of Corning, Iowa. The 1878 refectory (communal dining hall) and 1860 one-room Icaria school are being restored and will be open in 2009. Currently, you may visit the Icaria Museum and Research Center in Corning open Thursday and Fridays or by appointment.
Development of the village will include replica's of the original log cabins and the later two-story, two-family dwellings, barns and other farm out buildings, and a visitor's center that will house the Icaria museum and Research Library. Plans also include the development of a natural outdoor amphitheater, a vineyard, an orchard and gardens.
Following the break up of the Icaria Colony in 1878, two new colonies were born. The original colony became known as the Young Icaria Colony and the New Icarian Colony was established about one mile southeast of the original site. The challenges that were faced by the break up were: first -- moving 8 houses, some sheds, and some barns (including the foundations of all these buildings), and secondly - the construction of a new refectory hall. In the spring of 1879, professional carpenters were called in to build the 50' x 30' dining hall on a limestone rock foundation. Since both the Young Icarians and the New Icarians were short of cash after the break up, New Icaria sold 112 acres of land for $1,800 and borrowed $2,500 for working capital to move the houses and to build the refectory. In addition, the Young Icarians were to pay the New Icarians a removal fee of $1,500.
The new refectory included a large dining hall and a small kitchen on the first floor with a full basement for food storage and wine cooling. The kitchen featured a big Charter Oak range "with an oven large enough to hold 28 pies" and one long table. The dining hall was stocked with one large cupboard, five round tables (that each seated 8-10 people) and chairs that were allotted from the original colony. A beautiful addition to the refectory was a grandfather clock that Hippolite Claudy brought from France. The decor of the dining hall was now complete.
By the fall of 1879, the refectry was completed in time for the traditional Fete Du Mais, Feast of the Corn, which served as an occasion to christen the new building. Friends and neighbors helped with the corn picking and a feast was prepared on the final evening of the harvest. After the meal, several toasts, and the christening ceremony, the tables were pushed aside and the first dance was held on the new floor.
That same fall, professional movers continued the process of moving the 8 frame houses to the new location. The houses were located east and west of the dining hall and then to the north on both sides in a rectangular formation. Water from the wells that were bored by the refectory and by the horse barn were good and plentiful. Inside the fence that enclosed the village, a large windbreak of maple trees was planted to the north and west of the dining hall to protect it from the prairie winds. The huge beds of flowers, asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb as well as the orchard which contained many varieties of fruit and berries and vineyards were established.
An Icarian's day began at 6 a.m. with a typical breakfast served in the Refectory that included vegetable soup, coffee with milk, butter or cheese and often eggs. Dinner was served at noon, usually a meat with one or two vegetables. In the summer, salad, cream cheese and often fruit, honey, molasses or preserves were part of this meal. In the evening there was soup, a serving of vegetables, stewed apples, jam, or during the summer cream cheese. Drinks were milk and water. Wine was served on days of celebration.
The refectory also served as a setting for musicals and theater productions. The following quote was inscribed on the theater curtains - "Theater Entertains, Instructs and Moralizes". All of the songs, poems or dramas presented on stage were submitted to a commission that carefully eliminated all that "could have a demoralizing influence".
The Icarians brought a library containing more than 2,000 volumes with them from Nauvoo. During the break up this library was divided in half. At New Icaria, the second floor of the refectory served as the print shop and the library. When the New Icaria Colony dissolved in 1898, Judge Horace Towner secured the Icarian Library. After his death, the library was given to Tabor College. When Tabor College was closed, the books went to the University of Nebraska, Omaha where today they are housed in the rare book room.
This building was used as a dining hall until the New Icarian Colony was dissolved in 1898. Shortly after the colony dissolved, Eugene F. and Leonie (Claudy) Bettannier remodeled it into a home for his family. It was sold to Samuel H. and Jennie (Clark) Bassett in 1903 and members of the Bassett family occupied this home until 1931. Other owners of this house were Walter and Alice Bickford, a McGregor family, Howard and Faye Townsend, and Dan Kretzinger.
On July 17, 2001, the building was moved from its original location to the current location and placed on a new foundation for restoration. The foundation that had supported this building for the first 123 years of its existence was made of limestone and was still in very good condition at the time of the move. As the movers raised this 75-ton building to transport it to this site, they realized that the weight of the building was unevenly distributed due to the heavy walnut and oak wood in parts of the house. After adjustments were made, the move was completed.
Icarians were strong advocates of education, and all children were required to attend formal classes through their 16th birthday. At the Icaria Colony the first school was held in the refectory. They built their first school across the road from Colony's dining hall. Unfortunately, it burned down. Adams County had a school that had been built in the southeast corner of the county in 1860 but had not been used. They gave it to Icaria and it was moved to the Colony to the site where the other one had stood. After the split in of the Colony into two colonies in 1878, the judge ruled the school would be moved to a point half-way between the two sites. At times, the friction that existed between the adults of the two colonies frequently erupted into disagreements at the school where children from both colonies were in attendance. After the New Icaria Colony closed in 1898, the school was taken into the Adams County Rural School System and it became known as Prescott No. 8. Classes first through the eighth grade were held in the school until the rural one-room schools were closed in Adams County in 1948. The Adams County Centurama Historical Society, organized in 1957, selected as their first project the Icaria School to move to Corning for preservation as a museum.
The schoolhouse was allegedly moved one more time in 1920 during a severe tornado. The building was reportedly lifted off its foundation, turned 180 degrees and set back down on the same foundation. Therefore, the children entered the school from the south one morning, but when they arrived the next day, the door to the school was on the north side of the building.
One of the first teachers in this building was Hortence Montaldo. She was only 16 years old when she arrived in Icaria with her father, her mother, and little brother George. She had just finished high school in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was well prepared to teach by the most modern methods.
The school day for the children of Icaria started with physical exercises, next singing, then recitations. The quality of their music was so good that the children were frequently requested for special occasions both in the colony and outside the colony.
The curriculum taught was entirely Icarian until the famous McGuffey Eclectic Reader was introduced. The McGuffey series included chemistry, natural philosophy, physiology, hygiene and spelling. It also contributed to the spirit of nationalism. Many of the original members of the colony received degrees at the university level and often assisted in presenting information on specialized subjects. Most of the early teaching was in French, but German and English were taught as well. Adams County has benefited greatly from the education and the experience that the Icarians brought to this area.
In the late 1860's or early 1870's, the first electric telephone in Iowa connected the Icaria schoolhouse to the refectory. At that time, the school was just across the road from the dining hall on the original site.
The artifacts in the school were common to one-room schools during the late 1800's and early 1900's. Many of the desks were constructed the Icarians from native timber harvested along the Nodaway River. Other memorabilia in the museum include a potbellied stove, a recitation bench, a functional pump organ, a lunch box display, and many of the original school records and report cards. In the original school was a large atlas as well as slates for geography lessons. The slates were engraved with lines of a sphere and the degrees of longitude and latitude on one side and lines forming squares for drawing maps on the other side.
Today the school has moved again for the final time to be an important part of the French Icarian Village and the interpretation of the Icaria children's daily lives.
The Icaria Pioneer Cemetery has been rededicated. Three of the original markers have been re-set in the cemetery. A monument with the names of known Icarian burials in the cemetery has been erected as well as two flag poles, one for the flags of the United State of America and Iowa and the second for the French flag and the Adams County flag. Also planted on the cemetery grounds are lilacs and iris, two plants the Icarians introduced to southwest Iowa.