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Shenandoah, Iowa: a case study

November 9, 2013

Mechanisms for the spreading Akron-Auditorium movement were varied (a chapter I’m working on presently). But once the idea had been planted in a community and borne fruit, the domino effect sometimes took hold. Postcards make the point.

I’m fortunate for many reasons, not the least being the coïncidence of the A-A phenomenon and the popularity of the common postcard. “Sold for a penny and mailed for the same” [I quote myself], postals as they were called are a major manifestation of American material culture. And from an art historical perspective, they depend solely on local pride rather than the imprimatur of academics (like me). More of that rant another time. Suffice for the moment to combine these two ideas—”domino theory” and postcards—in Shenandoah, Iowa.


This array of cards from Shenandoah suggests a degree of church construction phenomenal for a community its size. Further research will order the sequence of Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Congregational (UCC) and Baptist projects. I know from experience that at least three of these are A-A, possibly all five. Together they confirm that nothing succeeds like success and also make the point of community pride. Who bought these cards? Who mailed them and to whom and with what messages—actual and implicit?

I think we may also see here the influence on one modest Iowa town of a single architect. Badgley & Nicklas of Cleveland, Ohio were designers of First Methodist circa 1910. Sidney Rose Badgley was a major figure in the A-A phenomenon, attested by many published designs from across the country and an obituary claim that he designed 500 churches in a long career. I believe that one Badgley design may have spawned one or two siblings in Shenandoah and that, in all likelihood, other B&N designs will be found in nearby Iowa communities. Think of First Methodist as only one iteration of a rumor being passed around. Like disease, the Akron-Auditorium plan was communicable.

There is a case study here.

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One Comment
  1. PS: The Baptist church photo is copied from eBay; purchased but still in transit from the seller. Also I recently acquired another better view of the Disciples of Christ.

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