Dirt Floors & Rattlesnakes

An interesting factoid from an obituary in The Des Moines Register:

She was active in getting ordinances enacted that prevented builders from building and selling homes with only dirt floors.

The woman, Virginia Lee Foster Johnston, was born in 1923 and lived in Indianola. She helped organize public water districts in Des Moines, too.

It is hard to believe that dirt floors were a problem in the 20th century, although based on family stories I know this was common.

My grandfather, Ray Hill, and his siblings lived in a house like this near Peru, Iowa, though I think they had a floor. During a trip to Iowa in the late 1990s my great aunt, Grace Weeks, took a group of us out to visit the old homestead. The house was no longer there.

The property is a wildlife preserve now, I think. I have tried finding it again using maps and satellite photos, but haven’t had much success.

Grace told of how rattlesnakes were everywhere. Once she overturned a mattress and was surprised by a bunch of snakes.

Being my curious self, I ventured out onto the land, all the while being admonished, by Grace, my aunt Carol and my parents.

“Be careful where you step.”

Grace in particular didn’t seem to want me going out there.

I was wearing shorts, so my legs were exposed and prime targets for any rattled snakes, but I didn’t see or hear any.

My father grew up in a house with no insulation, just scraps of wood for walls and siding. This was in South Dakota, and it got mighty cold during the winter.

The Conner clan was probably quite used to such rough conditions. Family tales have been passed down of them being quite the hillbillies, hunting raccoon and squirrels, and generally behaving badly.


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