Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 17, 2018

Historic McElhinny House ushering in holiday season

By Vicki Tillis, Ledger lifestyles editor | Nov 28, 2017
VICKI TILLIS/Ledger photo The McElhinny Houes parlor is decorated for the holiday season. Visitors can see the decorations Saturday during “Christmas at the McElhinny House.”

Fairfield Women’s Club is inviting the public to usher in the holiday season during “Christmas at the McElhinny House” from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the historic home.

The women have decorated their club house in Christmas finery inside and out, including the antique organ donated by Jenna Foster in 2016 that sits in the parlor.

As well as being able to see the lovely old home in its Christmas glory, “Christmas at the McElhinny House” includes a bazaar with items made by the club’s arts and crafts department members, including a “North America Bird” calendar featuring photos taken by club member and past president Julie Johnston.

A bake sale will offer homemade pies, cakes, candies, breads and more, and, as in recent years, the women’s club also will be selling its frozen chicken casseroles and its frozen ham balls during “Christmas at the McElhinny House.” The frozen foods can be preordered by calling 472-4248.

The beautifully decorated tea table will offer samples of goodies, which can be purchased at the bake table, as well as hot beverages.

For the fourth year, the Fairfield Women’s Club is offering a limited edition Christmas ornament. The 2017 edition features a springtime photo of the Bonnifield Log House taken by Johnston. The Bonnifield Log House was built in 1838 by the Rhodam and Nancy Bonnifield family to replace the makeshift cabin built the previous year when they settled in what was to become Jefferson County. The log house is known as the oldest still-standing dwelling of any white man in Iowa, but it is probably better known as the place where Fairfield was named.

According to Fairfield history as recorded by Susan Fulton Welty in her book “A Fair Field,” in March 1839, when city commissioners were visiting the Bonnifields, they described the “pretty prairie” of the new town, and Mrs. Bonnifield suggested the name Fairfield. Years later, in 1908, the Old Settlers Association dismantled the long-deserted cabin, marking each log so it could be accurately rebuilt in Old Settlers Park, adjacent to Waterworks Park.

To be assured of getting one of the Bonnifield Log House ornaments, call Johnston at 319-695-3037 to place an order.

In years past, the club sponsored a tour of homes featuring local residences decorated for the holidays. But now, most people don’t decorate with the zeal that once accompanied the season, so the tradition ended a few years ago, and the Fairfield Women’s Club has “Christmas at the McElhinny House.” Proceeds from the event help with the upkeep of the historic house.

The McElhinny House was Fairfield’s first showplace. It was built for pioneer merchant Robert McElhinny in the 1850s. After he died in 1878, the house remained in the family for 69 years before it was sold. Later, in 1933, the Fairfield Women’s Club, through a $10,000 bequest from the estate of McElhinny’s daughter Elizabeth to purchase a club house, bought the home.

Since then, not only has the Fairfield Women’s Club meetings and activities, like “Christmas at the McElhinny House,” been held in the historic house, but it has been the setting for parties, weddings, anniversaries, receptions, reunions, meetings and many other events.

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