What’s the fuss about?

Frank Bonebright

Just what is all the fuss going on about Wilson Brewer Park?

The City Council soon will make a decision concerning a park that 90 years ago a previous City Council promised to maintain, and they made the promise in writing December 19, 1932.

First, you need to know how Webster City obtained this park. Frank A. Bonebright and his wife, Katherine, and Harriet Bonebright Carmichael and her husband, George Carmichael, who had no living beneficiaries, made the decision to give their family’s land to the City of Webster City. According to the Agreement, their purpose was to create a “perpetual memorial of the first settlement and founding of Webster City, Iowa by their grandfather, Wilson Brewer.”

Included were the log cabins, including the Frank A. Bonebright Museum, relics and other items and personal property connected with the museum now upon premises which were to be used as a public park, burial place and memorial forever.

The agreement further stated that “the log cabin museum now upon said premises and such additional cabins as may be hereinafter erected and the appurtenances thereto shall be preserved by the City, but all other buildings upon said premises may be altered or removed by the City…”

We know how the park looks now, but in 1932 there were only the Bonebright residence and outbuildings, and not the church, school, old courthouse, depot and caboose that were added later over time.

Most people living today have no recollection of Frank Bonebright or Harriet Bonebright Carmichael. I admit as a life-long resident of Webster City, neither did I. But while volunteering and then as a seasonal employee at the Depot Museum for nine years, I found I was surrounded with unique items and pioneer and Native artifacts collected by Frank.

Who was this man who would save and mount parts of a mammoth and mastodon tusk and molars in viewing cabinets built by Andrew Raven?

What was the story behind the wooden Indian and did it have a connection to the City?

How did he accumulate so many different Native artifacts?

Thus began my quest to get more information. After all, we can’t tell the stories to visitors to the park if we don’t know any.

The Depot was fortunate to obtain research done on his relatives, the Brewer and Bonebright families, by Dale L. Lange, PhD, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. I also found that bits and pieces of Brewer history were included in other books I owned or read such as Early Days in Hamilton County, Then and Now by local graduate and teacher Bessie L. Lyon, written in 1946. Find a Grave, Graceland Cemetery on the internet also provided names and dates of those buried there.

I spent many hours reading news articles from the Digital Archives of Kendall Young Library. Since there is no one alive now who has personal knowledge, these books and references were invaluable.

Frank Adel Bonebright

Frank Adel Bonebright was born in the second Brewer log cabin on April 16, 1868, and died at the family home on March 5, 1934.

The original — first — Brewer cabin was occupied only one year, from 1848-1849, according to the book written by Sarah Brewer Bonebright. He married Katherine Poe, a milliner, in 1905. They never had any children.

He was a 25-year member of Company C of the Iowa National Guard, eventually becoming a lieutenant. He served as one of the Columbian guards at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. It was called the Columbian Exposition because it commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s sail to the new world.

Frank Bonebright served during the Spanish-American War and spent six months in the typhoid-infested camp at Chicamaugua, Tennessee.

He was quite a rifle marksman and won many competitions during his years in the National Guard. In 1902 he won a rifle competition by making 10 straight bulls-eyes at 200 yards. His many medals are displayed in the military room in the Depot Museum at Wilson Brewer Park.

During his lifetime he had many occupations. He was a farmer and dairy farmer; became an electrician and ran an electrical supply shop on the corner of Des Moines and First streets; was appointed the official city electrician; ran a rock quarry near his land; and was the official weather and crop reporter for Hamilton County.

He was quite an interesting and hard-working man.

Harriet M. Bonebright Closz


Harriet M. Bonebright Closz Carmichael was also quite an interesting lady.

She was born in Webster City on February 26, 1861, and attended public schools in the community. She began teaching at age 16. At age 18 she married 23-year-old Theodore Closz, who was born in Germany on April 28, 1856. They were married 36 years and had one daughter, Inez Rosalie Closz, who died at 8 months.

The family moved to Chicago where she became a freelance magazine and newspaper writer. They returned to Webster City in 1900. Harriet was granted a divorce in 1915 after alleging that her husband was brutal and beat her. She was granted a property settlement and petitioned the Iowa Supreme Court for more alimony, which was granted.

During her marriage to Closz she suffered from rheumatism and in 1907 she began a 45-day fast. She weighed 98 pounds when she began and 80 when it concluded. Afterwards she believed she had been cured.

In 1926 Harriet married George A. Carmichael who was 11 years older than her. She also took in a deceased cousin’s orphaned 4-year-old son to raise. He was Jean G. Johnston, who later was the father of Webster City Fire Chief Terry Johnston, who is now deceased.

At almost 60 years old, Harriet graduated from the Palmer School of Chiropractic.

The Carmichaels lived at 539 First St. in Webster City until moving in with Sarah Brewer Bonebright on the Brewer homestead.

Her husband George Carmichael hung himself in the barn on the Brewer property in Webster City in 1937. He had become despondent due to failing health. For five years Harriet was the official United States weather and crop reporter for the community after the death of Frank Bonebright.

During 1933 she helped care for her brother Frank A. Bonebright and his wife. She maintained the pioneer exhibit after Frank’s death in 1934 and entertained visitors in her capacity as caretaker for the museum.

In addition to the book she co-wrote with her mother, Sarah Brewer Bonebright, titled Reminiscences of Newcastle, Iowa, 1848: A History of the Founding of Webster City, Iowa, which can be read online, Harriet wrote another book in 1902 titled: Woman and Her Relation to the Church or Canon Law for Woman.

Harriet died September 9, 1940, at the family home at Wilson Brewer Park. She was 79 years old. She requested her body be cremated and her ashes scattered upon the soil of the old homestead or to be permitted to find a resting place beside the remains of her parents in the burial mound which was the location of the first Brewer cabin.

Soon the City Council will decide what to do about Wilson Brewer Park. Does it keep its promise of 90 years ago?

Do promises expire when the donors are no longer are alive?

Can they morally turn its ownership and/or operation and maintenance over to City-County Trustees?

Or is there some other answer to relieve the park’s burden on Webster City’s budget?

Perhaps start over from scratch with new people and new ideas and ignore the five-month closeted negotiations already done?

Perhaps an ad hoc committee appointed by the Council?

As citizens, don’t be afraid to voice your opinions or ideas politely to the City Council members soon.

Darlene Dingman is a committed volunteer at Wilson Brewer Park and Webster City resident. This is her opinion.


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