Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
PHIL STONG’S HOME IN PITTSBURG
In April, 1837 James Duffield used the help of friendly Indians to cross the Des Moines River at Pearson Ford near the mouth of Paul’s River. This stream later became known as Chequest Creek, named by the Indians for the well known half breed Jake West.
The large family of fifteen Duffields settled on a claim near the river just above Chequest Creek that included what was later known as Linwood Farm, and the Old Church Tree where the first religious service west of the Des Moines River was held in August, 1837.
This had been the spot of Indian pow wows, ceremonies, and races. Pieces of ancient pottery unearthed in 1878 near the creek were identified as those made by the Mound Builders, a group of prehistoric Indians who inhabited the region many centuries ago.
As the Duffield family grew, they fanned out over a wider area expanding to various other land claims. Like many other men of the area, George Duffield left Iowa for California during the Gold Rush. In 1852, George returned with enough gold to buy the original farm and build a brick kiln. From the clay fired in his own kiln, George built the handsome brick home facing the river that identified Linwood Farm.
At the corner of First Street and Madison in Pittsburg (across from Sam and Louise House’s home) was erected a two-story brick building which housed the grocery store on the first floor with living quarters above for the Oliver Wilkins family, the proprietors.
After purchasing the vacant land next door, Pittsburg’s postmaster Jake Stong built a general store operated with the help of his brother-in-law. A small post office was installed in the back of the store.
On July 5, 1892 the spelling of the village was changed from "Pittsburgh" to "Pittsburg" and Jake’s son Ben became postmaster. Ben Stong served from 1892 until the post office was closed in 1903 and Ben Stong moved to Keosauqua to become postmaster there.
Ben Stong lived in a large brick house along the Des Moines River, now the home of Sam and Louise House. Ben married Ada Duffield, granddaughter of pioneer James Duffield. Both sons Phil and Jo Stong were born while Ben and Ada lived in this house in Pittsburg, and their brother Benton followed soon after the family moved to Keosauqua.
While Jo Stong gained a reputation as one of Keosauqua’s best attorneys, Phil Stong became Van Buren County’s most prolific writer. He authored more than 30 books including "Buckskin Breeches," and "The Farmer in the Dell." He was a delightful story teller, often using local places and people he once knew, or ancestors as characters with fictional names. His best work was in a collection of children’s stories, but his most famous was the novel "State Fair" that was made into a movie around 1932 followed by two musical versions, one in 1939 and an updated version during the 1960s.
In spite of living in New York with success as a writer that gained the attention of Hollywood, Phil Stong kept in close contact with his family and friends in Van Buren County. During the success of State Fair, he purchased Linwood Farm from the Duffield heirs which were also part of his extended family. It amused him that his grandfather Duffield bought Linwood with California gold from Sonora, and he bought it back with California gold from Hollywood! Phil Stong loved Linwood Farm because it was his ancestral home, but he was born in the big two-story red brick along the river owned by Sam House.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick