Two New Exhibits at Carter House

This dress, made in 1900 for the wedding of Mary Oldham to William Hansel, is part of a new Carter House Museum display. Mary is shown in the framed charcoal drawing on the wall.

After traveling a distance of more than 3,300 miles, a richly engraved ceremonial sword has found a new home at the Carter House Museum in Elkader. The sword, which belonged to the great-great grandson of Henry Carter, one of the original owners of the Carter House, joins a hand-sewn wedding gown as the museum’s two newest exhibits.

Passed down through generations of Carters, the sword was most recently in the possession of Aaron Carter, who decided to sell it after making the decision to move from his home in Anchorage, Alaska. Aaron dated the sword to the Civil War era.

“Unfortunately, (Aaron) had the wrong E.V. Carter,” said museum board president Betty Buchholz. “The first E.V. Carter, the one who built this house with his brother, Henry, died in 1866. Though he lived during the Civil War years—1861 to 1865—he wasn’t a solider. But Henry had a son, also named E.V., who was born in 1861 and lived until 1933. I believe the sword belonged to him.”

Buchholz did extensive Internet research on the sword. Based on the helmet-shaped pommel at the end of the hilt and ornamentation in the sword’s grip, Buchholz determined that the artifact was a Knights Templar sword made in Chicago around 1890.

“Because of the secrecy of the organization, I wasn’t able to learn a great deal other than the fact that the swords were given only to Freemasons and it’s not something that’s done anymore,” Buchholz said.

The Carter clan moved from Ohio to Iowa in the late 1848s. The two brothers and their families lived in the brick Greek Revival mansion at the corner of Bridge and High Streets for 30 years. In 1885, many members of the family, including Henry’s son, E.V., moved to Ashland, Oregon. According to E.V.’s obituary, which was printed in an Oregon newspaper on January 3, 1933, E.V. “affiliated with all branches of the Masonic fraternity in Ashland.”

The sword is significant for another reason: It’s the first item ever purchased by the museum.

“Because it belonged to the Carter family we were interested in owning it,” Buchholz explained. “But since the owner wasn’t interested in making a donation of the item, we had to purchase it using funds from donations primarily.”

Nearly a full year passed from the time of Aaron’s initial contact to the time the sword arrived in Elkader. It took another year for the museum to secure a case for the item and its scabbard. The pieces are now displayed in the home’s enclosed entryway under photos of Carter family members.

Also new this year is a wedding gown worn by Mary Oldham who was married in 1900 to William Hansel. Typical of wedding gowns of the era, the dress is a pale brown with a nearly imperceptible print and green and brown trim. The gown also features playful beadwork that replicates garland and a series of Christmas trees on the bodice. According to Buchholz, the wedding took place during the holiday season, which explains the design of the beadwork.

The gown was donated to the museum by the estate of Florine Hansel, the granddaughter of Mary Oldham, the woman for whom the dress was made.

The Carter House Museum is open weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Group tours and off-season visits available by arrangement. For more information, visit the museum website at

By Pam Reinig, Register Editor


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