By 1930, the Tillotsons are prospering — with a radio set!

By Ronald Ahrens

On April 4, 1930, the census-taker knocked at the Tillotsons’ door at 624 N. 41 St., in Omaha, and found them prospering.

Charles H. Tillotson, 51, was head of household and gave his occupation as superintendent in construction. Census code 73X1 supports this. It appears he was an employee.

Rose Tillotson, 52, was home. The age given here corroborates my belief that Rose’s age, given as 38 in 1920, was incorrect.

Charles was 23 and Rose 24 when they were wed.

Son Joseph, 23, was employed as a salesman in the wholesale grocery business, as census code 4590 supports. Son Reginald, 21, as well as daughter Mary, 19, also lived in the home.

The Tillotsons owned their home, which was valued at $3500. And they cooperated in supplying an extra bit of data: they had a radio set.

By 1935, Reginald would be the father of Charles J. Tillotson, the first of six children with Margaret Irene McDunn Tillotson. The grandson would barely know his grandfather: Charles H. would die in June 1938 at Concordia, Kansas.

1920 census finds the Tillotsons settled in Omaha

By Ronald Ahrens

After their sojourn on Alda Street in Elba, Nebraska, where they were living at the time of the 1910 census, the family of Charles H. and Rose A. Tillotson found their way to Omaha.

When the census-taker came to the door in 1920, my great-grandfather gave his occupation as a “mechanic” in construction. This tells me several things. One is that just fifteen years earlier, the term “mechanician” was frequently used in the press. So it might be said that the language was in a sense settling.

Another thing is that mechanic was rather loosely defined. During the 1930s, Bill Knudsen, who became president of General Motors in 1937, gave speeches and interviews in which he insisted that every boy should learn the mechanic’s trade. This didn’t necessarily mean auto mechanics. It was more a case of learning the manual arts: sheet-metal work, electrical, maybe even plumbing or pipefitting.

But in the case of “Chas. H,” as he’s here listed (he was Charlie in 1910), I suspect it has something to do with assembling the legs and other internals of grain elevators.

Note that, whereas he was evidently an employer in 1910, he’s now a worker. The family was living at 624 N. 41 St, where they would be found again in 1930.

My grandfather’s name is entered incorrectly as “Oscar R.” instead of Reginald Oscar.

Joseph H. was 13, Reginald was 11, and Mary V. was 9. (Although that numeral may at first glance look like a 7, inspection by magnifying glass of a printed copy shows that it’s in fact a 9 with the loop nearly closed.)

Meanwhile, it’s certainly unusual that my great-grandmother Rose was thirty-five years old in 1910 but here is thirty-eight. Hers had to be the most effective anti-aging strategy ever!

Census data, genealogical work establish Tillotsons from 17th-century onward

In the following passage, Kristen, an experienced genealogist, destroys the myth that my grandmother, Margaret Irene McDunn Tillotson, always perpetuated about the Tillotsons being an Irish family:

I seem to have had a run of very good luck. Your [Tillotson] tree is verified back to 1816 with the census and before that, other researchers have the family back to the 1750s in Connecticut. It was an early family. Lots of families moved west around the time of the Civil War, and some of these very earliest families seem to have gravitated toward Nebraska. It does not surprise me at all to find a New England root for your family.

Charles [father of Reginald] was the son of John W. Tillotson, and his father was John W. Tillotson. They came from Cazenovia, Madison County, New York. The younger John moved to Missouri, then Iowa, then Nebraska. The online researcher has an Ephraim as father of the older John, and an Abraham before that. (I have evidence that Abraham Tillotson served in the Revolutionary War, and got a pension.) The researcher said they came from Hebron, Connecticut. I have not chased down wives. The elder John had a good amount of land—220 acres—in 1860, improved and worth quite a bit of money.

One webpage has data as far back as the 17th century.

The 1910 census reveals important information. Charlie and Rose Tillotson were 30 and 35 years old, respectively, were able to read and write, and lived on Alda Street in Elba, Howard County, Nebraska. (The seat of this east-central county is St. Paul.) They had already had brought Joseph, age four, and Reginald, age two, and an as yet unnamed baby daughter into the world. Both boys were born in Iowa, but the girl, undoubtedly Mary, had been born in Nebraska, so the Tillotson family had come there within the last two years. Charlie’s occupation is given as carpenter, his place of occupation was an elevator, he evidently had employees, and the family rented a house.

1940 Omaha directory shows new home addresses for Tillotsons

The Omaha city directory for 1940 shows new information for the Tillotsons as compared to the year before.A change within the business organization was that Rose Tillotson had relinquished her duties as treasurer to daughter Mary V. Tillotson. But Rose continued to serve as company secretary.

All the home addresses were different for 1940.

Joe and Sylvia Tillotson were living at 2205 Jones, apartment 213.

Rose and Mary Tillotson, mother and daughter, shared a place at 3100 Chicago St.

And Reginald’s address is given as RD 2, Florence. RD could be the abbreviation for rural delivery. His family lived in the hills north of Florence, which was the village at the far north of Omaha.

1939 Omaha directory locates Tillotson Construction in Grain Exchange Building

The Omaha city directory for 1939, found by Kristen on, verifies the status of the Tillotsons. From these pages it emerges that Tillotson Contruction Company kept offices at 720 Grain Exchange Building. Joseph H. Tillotson was president, Reginald O. Tillotson was vice-president, and their mother Rose A. (Brennan) Tillotson was secretary-treasurer in this  year.“Grain elev,” as seen in the listing, would refer to the company’s specialty.

Company president Joe Tillotson appears to have lived at 345 N. 41 St. with his wife Sylvia.

For the other Tillotsons, what could be a residential address of 1804 Dodge St. is given, although the directory’s abbreviations aren’t clear. Included here are Mrs. C.H. (Rose) Tillotson, who was by then the widow of Charles H. Tillotson, and Mary Tillotson, Reginald’s sister.

It seems unlikely that Reginald lived with his mother and sister at 1804 Dodge St. because by 1939 he and his wife Margaret already had at least four children of their own.

All this is in keeping with the announcement the previous autumn of Tillotson Construction Company’s establishment.

‘Stored Potential’ will expand art themes at Tillotson’s Vinton Street elevator

Illustration from Emerging Terrain, a Nonprofit Research & Design Collaborative

The Vinton Street elevator represents a bellwether for Tillotson Construction Co. Not only was it high and mighty but also close at hand for the company with headquarters in Omaha. Family and friends who never went to the small grain-belt towns where Tillotson put up elevators could see this one for themselves. In fact, they couldn’t miss it. And this was particularly true after Interstate 80 was completed: the superhighway went right past the complex that had risen and then expanded and finally fallen into abandonment.When I worked for a time at Omaha’s very first Federal Express office, a part-time job during my freshman year of college, I reguarly drove past the complex while on my way to the airport, having no idea my grandfather’s company had built the key elevator. And in the many times I’ve gone by since then on my return visits to Omaha, I still had no idea.The other day, speaking with my Uncle Tim Tillotson, he mentioned Vinton Street and said that Uncle Charles, the oldest son of Reginald and Margaret Tillotson, worked the night shift during the construction phase.

He also told me about the public art project.

Photo from Emerging Terrain

The abandoned elevator and silos are “bombproof,” as he put it, not readily lending themselves to any scheme for demolition. Even though my own grandfather and uncle had a hand in putting up this structure, I will admit it became rather tedious.

But I object to the invective of the blogger who used the term “visual pollution” and casually denigrated the elevators. Tillotson Construction took pains to erect symmetrical buildings with graceful cupolas.

In language more suitable for a grant proposal than a black eye, Anne Trumble, a thoughtful woman, describes the Vinton Street elevators as a blank canvas for “a large-scale installation re-purposing a prominent grain elevator no longer used for its original purpose.”

In September of 2010, her nonprofit, Emerging Terrain, weighed in with “Stored Potential: Re-Purposing the Mid-Century Grain Elevator” exercise, which allowed artists to work on a large canvas, draping thirteen banners, each of twenty-by-eighty-feet, on the silos.

The theme was land use, and the result was stunning.

Good news: next month, thirteen new banners will be added, this time addressing transport–the physical kind, not the ecstasy some will experience when seeing the finished result.

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Omaha World-Herald went high above the Vinton Street elevator in ’47

Omaha World-Herald photo in 1947 by John S. Savage, from


During the summer of 1947, the Omaha World-Herald published a series of 45 aerial photographs depicting the city of Omaha. The pictures were later published in a book entitled “Omaha From the Air.” The photographs were taken by World-Herald staff photographer John S. Savage. The plane was piloted by Marion Nelson of the Omaha Aircraft Company.

Omaha is known around the world for many things. Not the least is its giant grain and milling industry.

This view from the Magic Carpet shows just a segment of the industry which employs thousands here, puts bread and cereals on tables over the world.

From the Magic Carpet you are looking south. The large structure in the foreground is the 1,750,000-bushel elevator of the Westcentral Co-operative Grain Company. Seemingly rising out of the elevator at the rear are the buildings of the Maney Milling Company. South of the elevator is the plant of the Famous Molasses Feed Company.

At far left in the background is the Omar, Inc., mill. Nearby, but not shown, is the Allied Mill. The Butler-Welsh Grain Company elevator is behind the span shown in the background. Also not shown is the Kellogg plant. It is off to the right in the foreground.

The span in the foreground is the Bancroft Street viaduct. Behind it is the Vinton Street viaduct. Far in the background is the Dahlman Crossing. The street at far right is Twenty-seventh.

The two sets of tracks shown at left in the foreground are those of the Burlington. The center string belongs to the Union Pacific and the area is known as its Summit yards. At right are yards of the Chicago and Great Western Railroad.

Through the yards shown here come much of the grain that makes Omaha the nation’s fifth largest grain and milling center.

Carload grain shipments so far this year total 46,508.

Most of the grain pours into Omaha through the Omaha Grain Exchange, organized in 1904. Actually, only little pans of samples appear on the floor of the Exchange. The rest stays in box cars until it is bought, or is stored in elevators.

The market’s 18 elevators have a capacity of 28,185,000 bushels. They include one of the largest in the world, the 10 million bushel elevator of Cargill, Inc.

The railroads serve the grain market.

A good share of Omaha grain receipts is turned into food products here. There are three flour mills, with a daily milling capacity of 10,800,000 pounds. Allied Mills, Inc., has a capacity of 1,200 tons daily in its feed and alfalfa meal plant. The Kellogg Company‘s daily corn products capacity is 7,200 bushels.

A major Omaha grain consumer is the Farm Crops Processing Corporation’s alcohol plant. It can gulp up 40 thousand bushels a day.

One more view, approaching driveway, of Tillotson’s Dallas Center elevator


Photo by Kristen Osborn Cart

Approaching Tillotson Construction’s Dallas Center, Iowa, elevator from a different angle yields a view of the driveway used by co-op members when unloading grain.

This original elevator built in 1955 boasted capacity of 250,000 bushels and rose 166 feet in height.

Dallas Center Farmers Cooperative had contracted Tillotson to do the job for $151,000.

Handsome headhouse adds distinction to Tillotson’s Dallas Center elevator

Story by Ronald Ahrens

Photo by Kristen Osborn Cart

In a phone conversation today with my Uncle Tim Tillotson, who lives in Virginia, he initially had no recollection of Tillotson Construction Company’s elevator in Dallas Center, Iowa.

He put this down to his hitch in the Army from 1955 to 1957.

After a while, though, the name Dallas Center started to come back to him a little. Uncle Tim reckoned it was indeed among the dozens and dozens of Tillotson Elevators.

This was the first he had heard about Our Grandfathers’ Grain Elevators. (We played phone tag in January and now finally got in touch.) He said he would look at it at one of his neighbors’. He doesn’t have a computer.

We’re hoping he can come up with some pictures and maybe a few documents, and that his memory is sparked.

One question to me was whether we’re aware of the distinctive architectural styles of individual construction companies. I could answer that indeed we are, thanks in large part to Gary Rich’s expositions through words and pictures.

A Tillotson characteristic is the rounded headhouse, also called a cupola, which Kristen has so graphically captured in this image.

It’s good to see the window panes have been replaced as they’ve broken: I presume that explains the checkerboard pattern.

But then after all, in Dallas Center, as Kristen points out, the Tillotson elevator is at the center of the community, so naturally it’s kept up.

After 57 years, springtime blossoms enhance Tillotson’s Dallas Center elevator

Story and photos by Kristen Osborn Cart

On the way home from spring break in Nebraska, we went through Dallas Center, Iowa, on a perfectly beautiful day.

The kids got ice cream cones while I took out my camera.

A worker at the complex let me wander around and take pictures. He pointed out the older elevator with the rounded headhouse.

This elevator (seen far right in the photo above), built by Tillotson Construction Company in 1955, is connected by a run to the annex, which adjoins a T. E. Ibberson elevator (far left), built in 1967.

A grain dryer stands between them.

No railway is in evidence, other than the re-purposed station.

Everything appears to be in good working order with a fresh coat of paint.

The elevators dominate Dallas Center as a true prairie landmark, rising at the end of the main street and extending more than a block, with a library and ice cream shop next door.

A blooming redbud tree brightens the scene.

Standing before the annex: a veterans memorial.

The whole property exists in harmony with the town, unlike the many derelict elevators in Midwestern towns where progress has moved past, and only the wrecking ball awaits.

This elevator complex is worth a visit. It’s a beauty.