Monument to a Businessman–a Desk

The Harding Family monument in the Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, Nebraska, sits in the middle of a large family plot that is set off by carved limestone logs marking its boundaries. 

Tree stump gravestones and curbing carved to resemble branches and logs were a part of the rustic movement of the mid-nineteenth century which was characterized by designs that were made to look like they were from the country. The rustic movement complemented the rural cemetery movement which began in the United States in 1831 with the opening of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The rural cemeteries were often located on the outskirts of town and laid out as a park would be—with broad avenues and winding pathways, featuring picturesque landscaping such as ponds, abundant trees, and shrubs. The tree-stump tombstones were a funerary art contrivance mimicking the natural surroundings of the cemetery. The tree-stump tombstones were most popular for a twenty year-period from about 1885 until about 1905.

The centerpiece of the Harding Family plot sitting in the middle is a roll-top desk carved out of limestone, intricate in every detail, right down to the ink well and pads of paper underneath the roll.  The desk has several books displayed on top of the desk and inside it that have the names of various family members inscribed on the pages and covers of the books—Bennett S. Harding Born Jany 28, 1856 Died May 21, 1857; Frederick C. Harding Born Jany 31, 1865 Died Aug 17, 1872; Alice Harding Born Dec 14, 1871 Died June 18, 1872; Grace H. Harding Dec. 15, 1863 Sep. 22, 1937; Mary H. Miller Oct. 13, 1955.  The open book on top of the desk is inscribed: N. S. Harding Feb. 2, 1831 Mar. 30, 1915 and Mary K. B. Harding Oct. 25, 1833 Sept 15, 1900. The back of the desk also has names carved it, too—Mary H. Baldwin Feb. 1, 1804 Feb. 12. 1883; Fanny K. Blackman Born Aug. 8, 1858 Died July 5. 1859; Theodore B. Van [there is damage on this name but it looks like—Horne] Nov 27. 1829 Nov 16. 1858.

If you read about the progenitor of the Harding family, Nehemiah Story Harding, it is easy to see that the desk is a monument to his many careers—most likely doing his work behind a desk much like the one carved for him and his family.  Most likely the desk is a nod to his many years working in an office at a desk much like this one.

An excerpt from A History of Nebraska from the Earliest Explorations of the Trans-Mississippi Region by Julius Sterling Morton, Albert Watkins, and George L. Miller, published by the Western Publishing and Engraving Company of Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1918, (pages 671-672) describes Harding as a civil servant, serial entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist: “pioneer and prominent man of business, he embarked in the mercantile business in Cincinnati in 1852 as a member of the firm of Wright & Harding, booksellers and stationers, at 131 Main Street from 1852 to 1855.  He removed from Cincinnati Ohio in 1855, and arrived in Nebraska City, Nebraska Territory, November 28, 1855…He first served as deputy clerk of the United States District Court for one year, and then became cashier of the Platte Valley Bank, and agent for the Aetna Insurance Company.  He was the first insurance agent and wrote the first policy in the then Territory of Nebraska in August of 1857.  He early engaged in the book, stationery, and …which he followed for twenty-six years.  He has served for thirty-six years as special agent for the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Massachusetts…He served as one of the first county commissioners of Otoe County, as town clerk, and member of the board of trustees.  In 1875, he was named by the state legislature to secure a location for, and to build the institution for the blind in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and served as treasurer of the board of trustees during the years 1875-76… Mr. Harding is a member of the Masonic Order, Western Start Lodge No. 2, A. F. and A. M., of which he has been several times master.  He is also a member of the Frontier No. 3, I. O. O. F., and a member of the Nebraska Society, Sons of the American Revolution.  He is a prominent member of the First Presbyterian church of Nebraska City, of which he has been an elder for about thirty years.  Mr. Harding has been an active and busy man during the half century of his residence in Nebraska and has been an important figure in the business life of Nebraska City, where he is recognized as one of the progressive and influential citizens.”

According to A History of Nebraska from the Earliest Explorations of the Trans-Mississippi Region, N. S. Harding was born at “Iberia, Morrow County, Ohio, February 12, 1831…of English descent; his ancestors were of Puritan stock and settled in Massachusetts in 1623.  Several members of the family served in the Continental army during the Revolutionary war, and others have been prominent on the bench before the bar.  His father, Chauncey Harding, was a native of Pennsylvania, a worthy man of more than ordinary ability and intelligence.  He was an executor and administrator of several large estates, and died in 1880, after a long and honorable career, at the age of seventy-two years.  Rachel (Story) Harding, mother of N. S. Harding was a native of Maine, a daughter of a Baptist minister, a woman of strong and lovely character, and greatly beloved by her six children.  N. S. Harding acquired his early education in the common schools, supplemented by partial courses in the Marion, Ohio, academy and Central college in Franklin County.  Mr. Harding was married August 4, 1853, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Miss Mary King Baldwin of Newark, Ohio, who, two years later, accompanied her husband to the new home in Nebraska City, where she exercised a benign and gracious influence in the social life of the community until her death, September 15, 1900, at the age of sixty-seven years.  Ten children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Harding, six of whom are now living: Mrs. Charles S. Nash, St. Louis, Mo.: Mrs. Walter D. Hill, Beatrice, Nebraska; Mrs. William N. Dekker, San Francisco, California; Grace H. Mary R., and Willard S., all residents of Nebraska City.”

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2 Responses to Monument to a Businessman–a Desk

  1. gsb03632 says:

    Wyuka is a treasure! I was lucky enough to be there for changing colors about a year ago. Thanks for this post!

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