Charlie Meier: 'People are amazed at how much family history I have in this house'

News-DemocratDecember 5, 2013 

Charlie Meier's 1907 farmhouse has a clapboard exterior, a metal roof and an antique-filled interior.

"People are amazed at how much family history I have in this house," said Charlie, 54, whose great-grandparents built the stately Okawville house that's part of a 1,400-acre farm (of which he owns about half). "Many people have given me stuff. They know it's a place that won't be sold, that everything will be kept for future generations to enjoy."

Charlie, a farmer and Illinois state representative, likes sharing the home's history with visitors. He'll do that Saturday and Sunday during Okawville's 30th Annual Country Chrismas Stroll and House Tour.

"There's a certain charm of coming into an old house at Christmastime," he said. "It's going to remind them of going back to their grandparents' houses and what they were like."

The Meier farmhouse is regularly the center of activity.

"We have 4H Christmas parties and 4H projects out here," Charlie said. "Many a Jaycee committee meeting has been here."

Along with church hayrides, Jaycees poker runs and Republican fund-raisers. Two years ago, his nephew married on the front porch.

Walk through the two-story with Charlie and you'll get a feeling for how much the place means to him.

It's where he grew up.

"I got up and fed the cows from the time I was 5," he said. "By the time I was 7, I was milking the cows. ..."

He'll introduce you to near and dear ancestors whose photos fill the walls and point out a sweet handprint painting by his great-nieces and great-nephews. He brought the framed piece home from his Springfield office.

Ahead of the house tour, Charlie's sister Linda Knolhoff and her husband Bruce had come over from Centralia to polish the silver. They sat at a well-used black and red kitchen table.

"I still remember before Mom painted it red and black," said Charlie. "It was an old tavern table. After milking was done, Dad (Alfie) would tear down buildings uptown to get lumber and make money.

"Mom (Barb) said her first bathroom sink and toilet came from the old Town House tavern when it was torn down. There was no plumbing in '48 when she moved here."

His great-grandparents, Henry and Caroline Borgmann, bought the farm in 1905. Before that, the family lived 2 1/2 miles away in Bottom Prairie, northwest of town. After repeatedly being flooded, they moved to higher ground. They dragged logs from the bottoms, cut them into lumber, then built the house and big red barn with help from their children, William, Charles and Christina.

"My grandma Christina was 17, 5 foot tall and 100 pounds," Charlie said. "She pulled the logs home with a team of mules."She married a guy named Louis Meier. Her petite-size wedding dress still hangs in an upstairs bedroom not far from Grandma Elsie Schmitt's quilts.

"Grandma Schmitt never quit quilting," said Charlie.

Handsome wooden wardrobes and cabinets are just about everywhere you turn.

"This big piece cost many cords of firewood," Charlie said of a solid walnut wardrobe with rosewood veneer.

By the time you're done, you'll know what that German saying above the bedroom fireplace means ("Let my blessings be enough"), and how the carved wooden horse toy came to be. It was made by Great-Uncle John Meyer from 1920s or '30s wood shoeboxes.

You'll likely learn something new about something old.

"The melodeon is the predecessor to the pump organ," he said of the wood piece that looks like a writing desk when closed. "This one, from the 1840s came from some theater out of New York. I had a friend who was looking for one for seven years. He had all these different bidders looking. He managed to buy two in the same day. I use mine for a desk now."

The lamp that sits on it is another story.

"The base is a core from a Texas oil well. It comes from 4,700 feet beneath the ground. It's 250 million years old. Our great-uncle Gus, his stepson worked in the oil industry. He sent that up to us."

It's fitting that Charlie sleeps beneath a history quilt with the lettering "Okawville Township."

"Neat things are quilted into it, log cabins, covered wagons, a church," he said, pointing out the quilt border. He won the quilt in 1993.

"When Washington County celebrated its 175th anniversary, every township made a quilt," said Charlie. "I bought $20 worth of raffle tickets."

What not to miss: The ornaments on the parlor Christmas tree are family photos that go back seven generations. Be sure to look for the one of Charlie and big sister Linda when they were kids. The tree stands across from a well-lit corner cabinet of dolls his mother collected. Charlie built the cabinet to hide a furnace pipe.

See if you can find: A musical carved bread tray. As you pass the tray, it plays music. A butter dish with a lock. You don't want the help sampling.

What was the first antique you bought? "The pump organ for $35," said Charlie. "My other sister (Marilee Roethemeyer, of Jackson, Mo.) will be here and will play it. It's kind of a step back in time. Growing up, every house had a pump organ. For a person my age and older, it will help them remember their youth as they go forward."

About Okawville Country Christmas Stroll and House Tour

Tour time: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Other events are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 am. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Sponsor: Okawville Chamber of Commerce

What the tour includes: Four homes and St. Peters United Church of Christ, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. You may also tour the historic Original Springs Hotel. A craft fair, flea market, festival of trees at the Community Club and a breakfast with Santa at 9 a.m. Saturday will also be part of the Country Christmas Stroll.

Cost: $10; $5 for ages 6 to 12

Information: 243-5694 or email tourokawv@606front.net

Pick up tour tickets: Community Club Building, 511 S. Hanover St., or The Schlosser Home, 114 W. Walnut

Bonus: If the weather is right, there will be a horse-drawn sleigh, Charlie said.

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