If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Today’s edition of the Mount Ayr Record-News marks a milestone: on page 9 appears the 500th installment of the “Snapshots of History” column researched and authored by local historian Mike Avitt of Mount Ayr.
With such a prolific portfolio of historic documentation, one might assume that Avitt has had a life-long interest in area history.
That assumption would be mistaken.
It wasn’t until he was nearly 45 years old that Avitt would find his passion.
“In 1998, I was moving to Des Moines from Creston,” he said, “and I was carrying a box of stuff up the stairs to the third floor. I just got the thought in my head I should have joined the Ringgold County Historical Society when I lived in Mount Ayr. I thought, ‘Where did that thought come from?’”
Two years later, Avitt acted upon that thought, moved back to Mount Ayr and joined the Ringgold County Historical Society.
In 2001 Avitt left the Ringgold County Historical Society and joined the Mount Ayr Depot Preservation Corporation (MADPC), the organization responsible for operating the Depot Museum.
After attending his first MADPC meeting, Avitt noted the lack of historical pictures and items on display at the museum.
“At the next meeting, I threw down two railroad pictures that they had not seen before in Ringgold County,” Avitt said. At that point, “Bob (Sickels, MADPC president) gave me a key to the museum and said, ‘Do whatever you want.’ And that was what I needed. I still didn’t know what I was going to do, but it gave me the opportunity to explore what I could do, what I wanted to do.”
Since that day, Avitt has devoted practically all of his free time to collecting historical artifacts related to Ringgold County and surrounding counties. He joined the Burlington Route Historical Society, which he said led to everything else.
“I started getting newsletters, and in the back were classified ads,” he said. “I started writing to these people.”
Soon Avitt was receiving timetables and photographs and other railroad-related memorabilia. The connections he made led to a vast network of other collectors, enthusiasts, and writers, all of whom have helped furnish artifacts for the museum collection.
Avitt credits two other local historians who inspired his interest in writing about local history.
First was Shirley Hickman, who wrote an Ayr Views column for the Record-News in 1988-1992. Those articles consisted mainly of historical photographs but with little additional information. Prior to the Internet, researching information related to such photographs was extremely difficult.
“But what she did was generate interest,” Avitt said, “and she got more and more pictures for doing it. And so did I.”
Avitt’s second inspiration was Sharon Becker, whose historical work can still be found in the Ringgold County section of the IaGenWeb website. Becker and Avitt co-wrote the book “Images of America: Ringgold County.” During the course of that project, Becker and Avitt collected several photographs that didn’t end up being included in the book.
“I thought ‘what am I going to do with these?’” Avitt said. “Maybe I’ll put them in the newspaper… [and] just start out writing that line of articles ‘til I run out of pictures.”
That was in 2010. Today, 11 years later, does Avitt have any intention of bringing a close to “Snapshots of History”?
“I was going to quit at 500,” he said, “but I got a letter a month ago saying ‘Oh, I just love your articles!’”
So it’s likely Avitt will continue to follow his passion for history for years to come. Besides his weekly “Snapshots” column, he continues his interest in collecting vintage match books, counter checks, ticket stubs, business cards, postcards, ink blotters, and calendars.
Besides collecting history, Avitt is constantly contributing to the historical record of Ringgold County and the surrounding area. In 1994 he began building his own personal historical archive by taking photographs of different buildings and locations both near and far, including Iowa railroad stations as a member of the Railroad Station Historical Society. His other photos and related research can be found on numerous online platforms including the Forgotten Iowa History Facebook page.
“I want to collect, preserve, and make publicly accessible local history,” he concluded.