Monday, March 14, 2011

Emily Braden's Chariton Polka

It's unlikely you've ever heard it, nor is it likely you'll find the sheet music in an old piano bench, but there really is a "Chariton Polka" out there, composed during 1859 by Emily Braden, one of Chariton's most accomplished early musicians.

The Lucas County Historical Society's copy of the music turned up during the winter as we sorted contents of a closet in the Stephens House where difficult-to-display items had been stored over the course of some 40 years. Our goal in doing the sort was to return these stored items to accessility by integrating displayable items into the collection and finding a more appropriate archivally-save environment for those items that because of their fragility cannot be on permanent display.

One of the items in that closet was a fragment of the September 1859 edition of Godey's Lady's Book in which Emily's "Chariton Polka" had been published. This fragment, originally in the Chariton Public Library collection, was passed on to the historical society by the library during the 1970s.

Because of the way that fragment is bound, we couldn't safely scan the entire polka, but you can see the opening bars of the piece at the beginning of this blog entry.

Godey's Lady's Book was published monthly for 48 years, from 1830 to 1878, by Louis A Godey of Philadelphia. By 1859, when this copy of the September issue arrived in Chariton, there were 40,000 subscribers across the United States. Aimed especially at women, it contained poetry, articles, music, engravings and fashion news produced in large part by prominent writers and other artists of the time. But reader submissions --- including Emily's polka, were welcomed, too, and often published.

The composer (left), nee Emily Waterhouse, was born Oct. 2, 1837, in London and received there and in France what would have been considered then an exceptional education --- for a woman. She came with her family from England to Dubuque, Iowa, during the 1850s and married at Farley in Dubuque County on Dec. 10, 1854, Joseph Braden, also a native of London.

Joseph Braden (right) had arrived in Chariton from Dubuque during 1853 as officer in charge of the U.S. Land Office. The couple apparently moved to Chariton immediately after their marriage in Dubuque County and Joseph continued his employment with the land office until 1858, when it was moved elsewhere as land opened for settlement farther west. He then went on to become one of Lucas County's leading businessmen and public figures, principally known as a banker. Chariton's Braden Avenue is named after Joseph and Emily.

The Bradens had no children of their own, but raised as their own daughter a niece, also named Emily and also born in London to Joseph's brother, George, and his wife, both of whom apparently died when Emily was a child. Emily Jr. married at Chariton Howard Culbertson, and they had several children.

Joseph Braden died during 1906, but Emily lived on until Jan. 22, 1922, when she died at the home of her niece, Emily (Braden) Culbertson, in Chariton and was buried beside her husband in the Chariton Cemetery.

We have several other items in the historical society collection related to Emily Sr., including a large bound volume of sheet music (Emily's piano reportedly was among the first --- if not the first --- instrument brought to Lucas County) and a small leather trunk in which her belongings came from England to the United States during the 1850s. These Braden-related items were part of one of the historical society's earliest accessioned collections, donated by Edna (Dungan) Culbertson, a daughter-in-law of Emily (Braden) Culbertson, during the 1960s.

Below is an engraving from the same issue of Godey's Lady's Book that contained Emily's polka illustrating the latest in fall, 1859, fashion for women.


  1. That is amazing! I did no know there was a "Chariton Polka." I am a Chariton resident, and a novice accordian player. I would like to try to learn how to play the "Chariton Polka."

    -Eric Hann

  2. Btw. Great site! - and thanks for your work involving Lucas County history.

    -Eric Hann