Mother’s Day at Harkin Store

Staff photo by Gage Cureton Ruth Grewe, Harkin Store Site Manager, leads a tour of the Harkin Store Sunday as attendees listen in and examine historical items in the building. The Harkin Store celebrated Mother’s Day with a display of aprons from many different styles and ages.

WEST NEWTON — The Harkin Store celebrated Mother’s Day with a display of dozens of aprons during its Sunday program.

The privately-collected aprons — which were displayed on the building’s front porch or inside over the counter — included many different styles, craftsmanship and ages.

Some were handmade and others were of the more contemporary seasonal variety. Most of them are owned by Site Manager Ruth Grewe. She said aprons have served a variety of purposes throughout history — particularly during the 1800s.

“Back in this time frame they would’ve used them to keep their clothes clean because of the lack of clothing all the women didn’t have that we now have,” Grewe said.

Before the Industrial Revolution and the ability of factories to mass produce clothes, women’s clothes were considered a greater commodity than they are today. The aprons would help keep garments clean and serviceable as women worked and went about their everyday lives.

Grewe said she enjoys the history of aprons and fondly remembers her mother and grandmother using them to carry everything from vegetables to wood kindling and even small animals.

“My grandmother did it all the time,” she said. “She would gather eggs or baby chickens to put in the house to keep them warm because the mom had abandoned them.”

Many people who lived on the prairie in the late-1800s reused many common items to maximize their use, Grewe said. Aprons could even be made out of sacks that animal feed was delivered in.

“They made things serviceable like that, and more and more people were using aprons through the years,” she said.

Although aprons were generally cheap garments, most women still only had a few and the feed sack aprons were a cheaper economical alternative to handcrafted ones.

A few styles at Harkin included seasonal aprons, with spring-themed embroidery and machine stitched lines. There were also gingham-style aprons with checkered patterns.

“A lot of these come from the 50s and 60s because they were very popular back then,” Grewe

Aprons also played a big role in weddings when waitresses were commonly used to serve food — compared to today’s catered ceremonies where people serve themselves at a buffet, Grewe said. Brides would also handcraft their own aprons for waitresses or bridesmaids.

“It depended upon what time of year for what your color scheme was,” she said. “So that’s how they decided what kind of aprons they were getting.”

The Harkin Store is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors (65 or older) and college students, veterans, or active military, and $4 for children ages five to 17. Children ages four or younger or Minnesota Historical Society members are free.

The store has special programming most Sundays from May to October. Sunday May 19 the store will feature 1870s Minnesota riverboats and trade in West Newton.

Gage Cureton can be emailed at gcureton@nujournal.com