Spillville, Dvořák, Jára and brothers Bily

Eva Střížovská 2 2013 Dějiny English

In the near future the International Czech Club, the publishers Vysehrad and the Czech Music Museum will present\ the first of the concert series called “Music without Borders” which will celebrate the tenth year of our programs. “Talks without Borders.”

Please look under the title Akce MCK.  This concert will be dedicated to the memory of one of our greatest Czechs- Antonin Dvorak- who made our country famous through his wonderful music all over the world – including the space.  At the same we will also present an excerpt from a new book by Eva Strizovska entitled The Great Plains.


This little town- we might say a village or community- is about 20 miles from Cedar Rapids. The visit was a part of the SVU Conference program. It was pleasant to find Czech roots in Cedar Rapids and it was equally heartwarming to find them in Spilville where Antonin Dvorak spent one summer.

The bus took us, the Conference participants, to the St. Vaclav church built by Czech Catholics in the 19th century.  It is not a small chapel. On the contrary- it is a big building standing on a hill. Next to the church is a large  Czech cemetery. What makes it unusual are iron wrought crosses on the graves made by a Czech Charles(Karel) Andera. He came from Southern Bohemia, from a community bearing an appropriate name- Zhrobska zahradka  (Near Tabor). He was an artistic cabinet-maker, but when he had access to iron castings he created those beautiful crosses. They became very popular in other localities in the Midwest. For example they can be found also in cemeteries in Texas.  In the years 1875 to 1925 ( for fifty years) Mr. Andera had plenty of orders for those crosses. He married Barbara Dostalova and there is much written about him and his family in Cyril Klimesh’s book.

The first Czechs started coming to Spilville during the second half of the 19th century. Many of them came from Moravia, just like those in Texas. They were all good Catholics. The first thing that they did was to build a church and a school. Cemeteries were rather unusual and unique in America in those days- the locals buried their departed in their own land near their homes.

After all of us were satisfied by reading  many Czech names on the grave stones, we entered the church.  We listened to a lecture about the church history delivered by several descendants of the original Czechs- they were even dressed in national costumes. They mentioned the names of the first Czech priests ( Anthony Urban, Francis Mikota,Thomas Bily, Francis Chmelar, Joseph Gaydousek, Joseph Dostal, etc.).  They also told us how Antonin Dvorak would come every morning during his summer visit and play the church organ. The locals told us:“ The organ has been repaired since but it is still the same instrument that Dvorak played .”

Suddenly we heard organ music. Our heads turned to the balcony where the music was coming from. The organ played Dvorak’s symphony. What was happening? We asked ourselves this question without saying a word.  It was like a caress from above… It turned out that it was Jara Moserova playing and sharing her talent with us. She is not only a talented musician, she also can draw and write a book about people that she had met( the book is sold out), she also worked as a physician and Ambassador in Australia, she can speak several languages, she worked as a translator from English and she was also a senator. In spite of all that she is a normal pleasant woman who likes to just chat with you while sitting on the lawn, or on stairs  smoking a cigarette…

And it was obvious she knew how to do the right thing at the right time – she  walked to the organ in the St. Vaclav church and played Dvorak’s music…

After this  spiritual experience  we went to lunch. It was very American- hamburger and salad.  After lunch we visited the so-called old school where even Dvorak’s children went many years ago,and then we went to see the museum called Bily Clocks. The Dvoraks lived in this house and  many of Dvorak’s famous works were composed here, e.g. Humoreska, Quartet F-major, Biblical Songs,  Sonatina for violin and piano in G-major.



Bily Clocks

Today it is a museum. Several rooms on the second floor contain memorabilia of Antonin Dvorak’s visit. The rest of the house is filled with wooden clocks carved by the Bily brothers. Josef( born 1880) and Frantisek( born 1884) were sons of a Czech couple from Prague. In Spillville the parents became farmers. The two brothers worked for some time also in the fields but eventually they devoted themselves entirely to their hobby which soon became their main occupation and which has been bringing many visitors to Spillville:  They designed and carved very special wooden clocks.

Their artistic clocks are small wooden temples with varied themes, for example we can find here the Chimneys of a Normand Abbey, a clock with the First American Pioneers, a clock with the pilot Lindbergh, the world’s smallest church, a Cuckoo Clock, an Old Swedish clock, a Forest clock, a Walk Through the Nations clock, Eden, Blacksmith Village, and a Violin dedicated to Antonin Dvorak.

The wooden creations are decorated with fine lacework and carved figures; mostly they are reminiscent of small calendar clocks- they have movable parts, they play some music, etc.

This museum contains not only the creations of a unique musical genius but also showpieces of a very rare skill called carving art- a rather popular art in North America and Canada. Congratulations brothers Bily. You left wonderful creations.


Turkey River


I was somewhat surprised that they have, in addition to Cedar River, also Yellow River. I always connected the latter name with a song about a sailor who lost his way and ended in China. I was even more surprised upon learning that they have yet another river called Volga. Our group  took a walk through a thick growth and came to Turkey River near Spilville.  It was named after turkeys that had settled here in rather large numbers at the time when the first Czechs arrived here. Of course the immigrants caught the birds and ate them.

The river moves slowly, the banks are nicely overgrown and the whole area has a calming and inspiring effect.  Dvorak used to spend lots of time here listening to the rustling trees, to the singing of the birds and to the humming bees. Dvorak’s assistant, student Kovarik, son of a teacher and musician from Spillville, came up with the idea to invite Dvorak here because he thought that this area would remind Dvorak of his home and would somewhat alleviate his homesickness. In that he was successful…

Today you will find here a Dvorak memorial with a remembrance of his Humoreska…


The Klimesh Family


Cyril and Michael Klimesh ( Klimes) are brothers. Their ancestors came from Southern Bohemia. They were one of the first families settling here. The brothers are very active among the local Czechs. Cyril wrote a book called They Came To This Place- A History of Spilville, Iowa and Its Czech Settlers. The book is a valuable document about Czech emigration  and about successful settling in a new environment. It also tells about how many people from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia had to leave their home  because of poverty and political repression by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And mostly about how successful they were in the new country.

Michael Klimesh was our kind guide in Spillville and in the nearby countryside which really reminded us of Czech meadows and forests.


Translated by M. Dolanska



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