Van Buren County Iowa
American Guide Series
Compiled by workers of the Writers' Program
of the Work Projects Administration
in the State of Iowa
FEDERAL WORKS AGENCY
JOHN M. CARMODY, Administrator
WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION
F. C. HARRINGTON, Commissioner
FLORENCE KERR , Assistant Commissioner
GEORGE J. KELLER, State Administrator
The Van Buren County American Legion
Population: 507; Platted: 1839; Railroad: C. B. & Q.; Highway: State 1; Churches: United Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal; Schools: High and grade schools; Public Library: Opened Sept. 1, 1938; Legion Post: Haney-Brannan, No. 181.
Birmingham, a quiet village of retired farmers, is a trading center for the surrounding agricultural community. Many of the citizens rent out their farms and live in town.
The town park is a block-square grove; the log cabin shelter there is used regularly by the local Legion post for its meetings.
This most northern town in the county now has five hundred inhabitants; it was once a larger manufacturing center. The empty places in the stretch of businesses along Main Street recall the fires of recent years. This street, paved in 1928, was not only the first town-street in the county to be paved, but it still is the only paved village-street. On all sides of the business district are the residences, mostly frame houses.
An inland town and an early settlement, Birmingham was laid out in 1839, at one of the main stage coach stops on the Fort Des Moines Territorial Road, by John Harrison, who owned the site. The town was named after Birmingham, England, and received its first charter on June 1, 1839.
There were settlers in the community before the town itself was platted. Rev. Joel Arrington, a minister in the service of the Methodist Missionary Society, was preaching in the Union log school. Titus Moss had come into the neighborhood in 1837, and built a cabin of peeled hickory logs that was also used as a place of worship. Robert Hawks had come to the adjoining site the same year and was the first Methodist minister to hold services in that vicinity.
During the year the town was platted, a Methodist Society was organized in the log school; Rev. Solomon Cole formed a Presbyterian Society in a barn; a United Presbyterian Society was begun: and the first school, taught by Dr. Norris, was opened in a log building. Among the first settlers were Mr. Berry, a blacksmith; James Steel, hotel owner; Dr. William Miller; H. C. Clinton, a lawyer; and Jacob Lawton, postmaster.
Birmingham, located on the divide, was one of the chief stop-ping places on the old Blue Grass Road. The town frequently was crowded with western emigrants, for in those days it was a one or two day trip from the Mississippi, according to the speed of the conveyance.
During the middle years of the nineteenth century, new business sprang up, and new church buildings and a new school house
Legion Log Cabin
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were built. The United Presbyterians and the Methodists erected their first church in 1848; the Presbyterians erected theirs in 1850. Later the two Presbyterian groups merged. A saw and grist mill was erected by Gwinn and Bott in 1850; a woolen mill was put up by D. C. Cramer & Co. in 1856; a plow and wagon factory was established by Scott and Hope in 1866; a tannery was built in 1856 and was sold the next year to Benjamin Smith, who converted it into a pork-packing plant; and a cheese factory was built in 1871 by C. L. Moss.
Birmingham seemed destined to become one of the county's most important towns. When the Des Moines Valley Plank Road Company was organized, the planned route ran from Keokuk to Birmingham, and then branched off to Salem and Fairfield. The road was hardly begun before its planks were ripped up and sold to the nearby farmers.
In 1857 the Birmingham Collegiate Institute was established by the Reverend McArthur of the United Presbyterian Church and a stock company. The owners and teachers of the academy were church members. Mr. McArthur sold it to the Reverend G. P. Bergren, also a Presbyterian minister, and he in turn sold it to the Reverend J. W. Wolfe, who became principal and managed it success-fully until 1882, when the institution burned to the ground. An independent school district was established in 1860 and a new public school was erected in 1872.
In 1869, Charles Sheura established the Birmingham Enterprise.
19th Iowa Volunteer Infantry
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Mary Ann Rutledge Monument
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Birmingham Fife and Drum Corp
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Old bass drum is original carried in the Civil War by "Uncle" Bob Johnson, now owned by his grandson Robert H. Johnson. Reading from left to right: C. Calhoun, F. Workman, R. Campbell, F. Williams, R. Johnston, J. Norris, J. Workman, F. Pratt, V Bradfield, B. Snively.
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Later M. D. Hope took over the publication, which continued under his management until 1937, when it was merged with the Van Buren Record. Hope is still editor of the Birmingham Department. In 1862 when the Des Moines Valley Railroad reached Mt. Zion (Summit), a hack line with daily service was established between that town and Birmingham. In 1872, increased freight made it necessary to put extra trains on the Narrow Guage on certain days. In 1882, when the Fort Madison and North Western Railroad extended its line through Birmingham, the town had its first direct rail connection.
By 1900, however, most of the manufacturing plants had either closed down or left Birmingham, and it had become a quiet small town. In 1928, the United Presbyterian church celebrated its 75th anniversary; and in 1938 the Haney-Brannan Post of the American Legion marked the graves of William Grousbeck in the United Presbyterian Cemetery and John Randall in the Methodist Cemetery; the two men had fought in the War of 1812.
The McKee flower gardens are about three miles east of Birmingham. In July 1938 there were thirty varieties of perennial phlox in bloom and thousands of gladiolas.
POINTS OF INTEREST IN VICINITY
1. OLD RAIL FENCES (on Woodrow Farm. 4 m. N. W. of Birmingham on County Road). About four hundred rods of old
"worm" rail fence are still in on the Woodrow farm. When Anthony and Katherine Woodrow came to Van Buren County in 1865 and purchased five hundred and sixty acres of farm land, they found some rail fence on the property they had acquired, dating back 1845 and 1846. As time went on Woodrow enclosed more of his land, using for fence material native oak timbers, which he arranged s criss-cross fashion, following a serpentine course.
2. MASONIC HALL AND ANTI-HORSE THIEF ASSOCIATION (see Points of Interest, Stockport). This old building is all that is left to mark the site of the once busy little town of Winchester.
3. GRAVE OF MRS. MARY ANN RUTLEDGE (in Bethel Cemetery, near Bethel Church, 5.4 m. NW. of Birmingham). The grave of Mrs. Rutledge, mother of the sweetheart of Abraham Lincoln, in the first lot south of the church and the second east of the driveway, is marked by a tall shaft monument. Mrs. Rutledge died on December 26, 1878 at the age of ninety-one. On the stone is inscribed the following verse, typical of the time:
"Oh, Mother dear, a short farewell,
That we may meet again above
And rove where angels love to dwell
Where trees of life hear fruits of love."
Population: 678; Platted: 1837; Railroad: C. R. I. & P.; Highway: State 79; Churches: Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian; Schools: High and grade school; Newspaper: Van Buren Record; Des Moines River Bridge: 1878; Tourist Camp: free; Legion Post: Clare Sargeant Post, No. 563.
Bonaparte, one of the old Des Moines River towns, celebrated its centennial in 1937. On the gentle north slope of the Des Moines River, it lies chiefly in a small valley, but includes the hill back of the business district, which extends for three blocks along Front Street. This main street of the town parallels the river at the foot of the slope. Here an Opera House, once the center of community entertainment, and Whiteley's Department store, one of the largest in the county, gives an air of importance to the street lined with grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores and other places of business.
On the quiet side streets are the residences-comfortable houses in roomy yards, well-kept and neat. On the hill overlooking the business district is the schoolhouse, its playground covering more than a block.
At the western edge, lying along the river, is Riverside Park with its band shell and free tourist camp. In the summer, band concerts draw crowds from the surrounding rural communities. The ornamental stone arch at the entrance was constructed of stone taken from Meek's old Woolen Mill. Portions of the old "lock walls," one of which still has its iron mooring rings, stand up out of the river in front of the park as reminders of Bonaparte's former importance as a manufacturing center. The old Government dam here was once the subject of a legislative controversy concerning the need of providing an opening to let the fish through the dam to the upper Des Moines River (see The Bonaparte Dam, History of Van Buren County). The most important of a series of dams in the Des Moines River Slack Water Navigation Plan, it was swept away in the floods of 1903 and 1905.
Meek's old Woolen Mill standing near the river was converted into a Community House in 1938. Two of its five stories were re-moved, and the rest were renovated to house the town's fire department and city council rooms, an auditorium, a library, a kitchen, and the American Legion rooms. Four or five murals, showing scenes from the city's history, have been planned.
The town, now about half as large as when it was a manufacturing center, depends for its existence mainly on the glove and mitten factory. The Midwest Packing Plant, opened in 1938 at the western edge of town, employs sixteen in the new brick and concrete building, situated on the company-owned 260-acre Old Meek Farm.
Bonaparte Baseball Club of 1894-95
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Back row, standing, left to right: J. S. Entler, dean of Iowa
umpires, Sturdivant, cf., Phil S. Whitely, Mgr., Thompson, 2b..
Schwartz, 3b. Middle row, left to right: Rees, lb., Watts, rf.,
Weistler, ss., Ziegenfus, If. Front row, left to right: Eby, c.,
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Hides, tankage, and soap greases are its chief products. The Fairfield Glove and Mitten Factory, opened in 1920 as a branch of this concern in Fairfield, employs thirty-five in the making of wool-lined jerseys and leather-faced gloves, some of which have twelve pieces. The patterns are original, and the output is four hundred dozen weekly. Wool for the gloves comes from Tennessee, California and Texas. From ten to fifteen are employed in the Grew Heath Orchards. The Hamlin and Cummings Coal Mines. the Meek Nursery and the saw mill east of town provide employment for other residents.
Bonaparte, originally Meek's Mills, passed its hundredth birthday in 1937. One of the dams of the Slack Water Navigation Project on the Des Moines River had been built there, a group of Mormons trekking west to Utah had camped for some time at the edge of the town in 1846, and Kelley's army, floating by on the Des Moines River, hail camped just below the town over night.
The first owners of the village site did not plat Meek's Mills.
Robert Coates located a homestead on the site of the small park area along the river in 1836, but his claim was surrounded by forest trees. Desiring a tillable farm, he sold out almost at once to Robert Moffett, who in turn sold the land to William Meek in 1836. About the same time, Dr. Roger N. Cresap purchased adjoining government land to the east of the village site. In 1837 he and William Meek laid out the town as Meek's Mills, Wisconsin Territory, and Meek and his sons built a brush-wing dam. Meek had come to Iowa to find water facilities for a mill and factory. Dr. Cresap, a Virginian, had been traveling up the Des Moines River in search of a place to settle.
Crowds of people settled here during the summer, and many of them had time to erect only flimsy, uncomfortable cabins before winter came. Some had raised a little corn; but there was no mill nearer than Waterloo, Missouri. The winter of 1837-38 was perhaps the worst experienced by the early settlers.
Soon after Meek's Mills was platted two other towns were laid out-Napoleon, just across the river, and New Lexington, one mile to the west. Napoleon was never settled, and New Lexington did not exist after 1842.
From 1837 to 1839 Joseph Perkins, Otis and Hiram Thompson, Samuel Ray, Jacob Farnum, Washington Proper, Lewis Meyers, Ashbury Ryland, Jacob Robb, Ervin Wilson, David Sewell, and Lewis Christian all became identified with the village.
On January 17, 1839 the Iowa Territorial Legislature gave William Meek & Sons permission to build a dam (one in the series of the Des Moines Slack Water River Project) completely across the river, but the dam was required to have a lock of not less than 130 feet in length and 35 feet wide for the passage of boats. For more than ten years many boats passed through the locks (see Navigation On The Des Moines River, History of Van Buren County).
The water power created by this dam, acquired by William Meek when the Des Moines River was officially declared not navigable, made it possible for Bonaparte to become a manufacturing center. William Meek and his sons had much to do with the industrial development of Bonaparte. They net up the first of their mills, a grist and saw mill, soon after the dam was built. Settlers from as far as Centerville, taking a week to make the trip, came and waited several days, sometimes, before their grain could be ground. The town flourished.
There was a good fording point at the western edge of town. A large boulder here, visible when it was safe to cross the river, was soon known as "Ford Rock." The rock was also used as a fixed place from which to survey land.
The town had its first store, credited to both John Bundy and William Meek and its first hotel, "The Tavern," constructed by Dr.
Meek Flouring Mill Farmers
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Cresap, only a short time before William Meek renamed the town Bonaparte, in honor of Napoleon, on April 8, 1841. Near the tavern not far from the river, was a livery stable and a bank barn with large iron rings inbedded in the stone walls to which the ferry cable was anchored. Here the stage drivers and travelers cared for their teams. Sometimes there were peddlers with four-horse vehicles laden with all sorts of commodities. Later the river boats anchored here. One boat, still remembered, unloaded its cargo of salt at this building and the floor broke down with the weight of the salt.
"The Tavern," a two-story building, had a huge fireplace in the dining room as well as in the west room and was a sort of community center where Dr. Cresap and his wife, known as "Aunt" Polly, kept open house. No one was turned away. Neighbors gathered here for dancing or for a "stirring of maple sugar." Frequently there was a baptising in the river at the back of the house. sometimes, in winter, when a hole had to be cut through the ice, the shivering converts dashed to the Tavern to get into dry clothes again. It was the place for weddings, too, which were often solemnized before the huge fireplace. It was quite the thing to be married here; there was seldom room in the small pioneer homes. During the Civil War the post office was in the northeast corner of
this building. Aunt Polly always kept a pot of coffee hot for those who might have come a long way for mail. She especially remembered one little old lady who often arrived with her skirt frozen stiff because she hail to ford the river; she came to see if there were letters from her three boys, all serving in the army. At the time of the big ice gorge, water stood three feet deep on the floor. In 1874 Dr. and Mrs. Cresap turned over the management of The Tavern to their niece, Mary Cresap Eason, and her husband, and it was continued as the Eason House until 1895, when it burned to the ground.
In 1842 the Baptists, the first religious group in Bonaparte, organized the Mt. Zion Baptist Church through the efforts of William Sherry, a circuit rider, and erected a structure three miles north of the town. In 1853, the congregation accepted Dr. Cresap's offer of two lots in town, and erected the foundation and first story of their church, out of limestone. They enclosed this and used it until 1857, when the top story was added. In 1862 the Methodists erected a church, and in 1868 a Presbyterian Society was organized under Rev. H. R. Lewis. The Presbyterians used the Baptist Church until 1871, when they built their own. Dr. Cresap gave land to each denomination.
In 1844 the first school, taught by Thomas Carlton, was opened. Later the Bonaparte Academy Association was incorporated in 1865 by Isaiah Meek, Thomas Christy, Joseph A. Keen, J. G. Vale, Benjamin Wagner, John T. Stewart, George W. Sturdevant, and A. H. Leach. A $20,000 building was completed in 1867. In 1878, the Academy had 168 pupils. This school, first called Howe Academy in honor of its first principal, E. P. Howe, was sold to the Bonaparte Independent School District in 1871 for $12,000.
In 1846, the Mormons came up the Des Moines River as far as Bonaparte, and crossed the river on March 5, 1846. Several thousand were in the vanguard, and they had about five hundred wagons, and a band. Some of them stayed a while at a settlement near Reed's Creek, just east of Bonaparte. A number died there and were buried on what is now the Gabby Farm, two and a half miles east of town. A few members of the Mormons worked in the Meek's Woolen Mills, taking woolen cloth in payment for their labor. Others were brick masons. Others are said to have crossed at Ford Rock, and others at a point north of Bonaparte where they placed a big red boulder just one mile east of Utica.
The first road, a state road, was laid out in 1847 from West Point to Bonaparte.
Meek and sons opened their woolen factory in 1853. Fabrics were shipped from the factory to many points the United States
and England. It is said that trousers made by Meek and Sons were some of the finest ever made. Isaiah and Robert Meek in 1848 owned close to a thousand acres of land on which they raised thousands of sheep to provide their wool supply, In 1878 they employed seventy- five workers to card and spin the wool, and weave the 22,000 yard of cloth and 1,800 pounds of stocking yarn that they produced every month. Later they manufactured woolen blankets that won country-wide fame. The ranch is now owned by Harold Fritzel, who is noted for his breeding of Angus cattle.
Anyone coming to Bonaparte from the other side of the river had to cross at Ford Rock, until 1856, when Joseph Perkins began to operate a ferry just below the present bridge.
In 1866 Morris Demple started a furniture factory, Parker and Hanback built a pottery that could turn out 125,000 gallons of pottery per year, and a Mr. Wycert erected a cigar factory. In 1874, Rees and Riggle built a carriage factory in which they made the carriages by hand. Brick kilns were operated near the town, one by Meek for his own use, and the other by a Mr. Whitmore, who furnished the brick used in many of the residences.
About this time a lime kiln was opened on Slaughter Creek; it was operated for about seventy years. Asa Steadman and his father James, pioneer stoneworkers, took most of the limestone from this point (about four miles east of Bonaparte). The kiln was 24 feet wide, 30 feet high, and had a circular hole extending from top to bottom. Lime from the kiln was used in many older Bonaparte buildings, being used extensively as mortar. After the kiln was lighted, it was allowed to burn several weeks. A layer of kindling wood or brush was placed at the bottom of the kiln, then a layer of heavy wood or coal, then a layer of limestone, then more fuel and limestone in alternate layers. When the kiln was filled, the lower layer was set afire.
In 1869, an error on his part brought Anton Rubenstein, composer and pianist, to Bonaparte. He got off the train at Bonaparte one Saturday, thinking he was in Des Moines; he then had to remain in town until Monday. Inquiring at the hotel, he learned that Miss Lewis, daughter of a minister, had a piano, and he went to visit her. In her parlor he asked her if she could play one of Rubenstein's compositions for him. Miss Lewis, although she wondered at the stranger's request, obligingly played one of Rubenstein's compositions, only to have him shout at her as she finished, "You have butchered it!"
Reverend Lewis, who had come into the room, inquired, "Whom have I the honor of meeting?"
"The great composer?"
"Yes." Then Rubenstein explained his presence in the town, and
New City Hall/Meek Woolen Mill
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sat down at the piano to demonstrate what he meant by a "legato touch". He coached Miss Lewis for two hours and told her he'd return at ten the next day to help her further.
Miss Lewis, usually denied music on Sunday, tried to explain she had to be in church at ten. In the midst of her explanation her father interrupted, telling her she could remain at home. Lewis, now Mrs. Stutsman, says she was more impressed by fact that her father allowed her to remain at home and play the piano than she was by receiving instruction from the great Rubenstein. She says his playing was wonderful, but she was afraid there would not be a whole key on the piano when he had finished.
On January 19, 1870, the first issue of the Van Buren Democrat was published at Bonaparte, Iowa, by George F. Smith, who had just graduated from Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, and had previous experience as a printer. He continued the publication at Bonaparte until 1877, when he moved the plant to Keosauqua.
After the Van Buren Democrat was moved to Keosauqua, John Sterling started the Bonaparte Journal at Bonaparte, which he abandoned a few years later when he moved to Corydon, Wayne County, Iowa, where he started publication of the Wayne County Democrat.
In 1890 Roland Shermann and his family established the Record at Bonaparte. Later publishers were H. C. Cook and Bert Smith. A. G. Roberts, the present publisher of the Van Buren Record, bought the paper in 1900.
About 1905, the Sherman brothers, Roland and Sidney, returned to Bonaparte and established the Bee, which was later moved to Keosauqua, where it became the Independent.
In 1872 Meek added another dam across the river and filled in the space between the two. This gave Bonaparte the best mill dam in the west.
Several years later, in 1876, the Meek Brothers operated a ferry above the dam, using a cable that stretched from a hard maple on the north side of the river to another on the south side. The tree on the north bank is still standing and is known as Old Ferry Tree (see Points of Historical Interest). The ferry was the only means of crossing the river until 1878, when a bridge was built at a cost of $35,000. The bridge was a superstructure of five piers and six spans. The 18-foot wide roadway stood 35 feet above the low water mark. The stone for the piers was hauled from Potter's Creek, a mile and a half away. This was the second bridge across the Des Moines in Van Buren County; Keosauqua had the first.
In 1878, when the town had a population of 1,200, the Meek flour mill burned, and Robert Meek & Sons erected a new one that cost $50,000. During the decade 1870-1880, McQuerin's tannery opened. Later, a department store opened near the railroad tracks, and Bonaparte's Handle Factory was established.
In the 1880's the Lackey Hotel and the Park Hotel were started.
The Lackey Hotel became a favorite for Mammy Lackey's food, which was known in many places in the state. Meals were served family style, and it is said that no one, whether he had money or not, left her door hungry.
In 1886 Whitely moved his store to the corner of Washington and Front Street, where the general store has been ever since. It has been enlarged, and is now the largest department store in the county. Whiteley also erected the Opera House, an entertainment center for years. The newspaper, describing the new Opera House, spoke with pride of the building "whose lofty top overlooks our beautiful little city." The auditorium on the second floor seated five hundred and the stage was large.
One day in 1894 word came that Kelley's Army was coming down the river on its way to Washington, D. C. Scores of townspeople rushed to the south side of the river to see the boats go over the dam. Even the woolen mills ceased operation so that employees and employers might see the novel sight. The river was dotted with boats and rafts. At night the group camped near Reed's Creek, east of town. The people of Bonaparte gave them six hundred loaves of bread, a whole beef, and other food. In Kelley's Army there were a band, a glee club, and a baseball team.
On June 3, 1903, the greatest flood in the history of the Des Moines River reached its highest stage at Bonaparte. Forces of men with loads of hay, rocks, heavy timbers, and sand bags worked all day in the rain to keep the water from cutting into the south abutment of the dam, but at about four o'clock Monday morning the dam broke. Another flood in 1905 removed the last timbers of the ruin and left only remnants of the lock walls.
With the destruction of the dam in the floods, manufacturing slowed down in Bonaparte; the source of power was gone, and during the early 1900's various industries closed down.
In 1920 the Iamo Poultry Association (Van Buren County, Iowa, and Clark County, Missouri) was organized to protect the interests of the poultry dealers in these counties.
By 1938 the bridge, once the pride of the county, was proving too narrow for trucks and was made into a one-way bridge.
POINTS OF INTEREST IN VICINITY
1. OLD DAM LOCK (in Bonaparte, one block west of bridge, on north bank of the Des Moines River). In the year 1839 the territorial legislature of Iowa granted permission to the firm of William Meek & Sons to build a dam and lock on the Des Moines River. The project was completed within two years.
The lock, 135 feet long and 35 feet wide, still stands. Imbeddded in the large, hand-faced limstone blocks which were joined together with cement to form the walls, are heavy iron rings to which boats
were tied while the water level was raised or lowered. Tons of fish have been taken from the fishway at the downstream end of the lock.
Flood waters in 1903 and 1905 destroyed the dam (see The Bonaparte Dam, History of Van Buren County).
2. THE FERRY TREE (at Bonaparte, .25 m. W. of the bridge on the dirt river road). In the days before bridges were built in Van Buren County ferry boats were poled back and forth across the Des Moines River, carrying passengers, livestock, and other cargoes. To prevent these crafts from being swept downstream, rope was used to connect them with grooved wheels that traveled along a stout cable stretched from one river bank to the opposite shore. The ends of the cables were made fast to sturdy trees at the water's edge.
The FERRY TREE at Bonaparte is a large hard maple about four feet in diameter, bearing a marker, "Ferry Tree Memorial." Time has robbed it of many of its branches; only a few large limbs remain. It was used until 1878 when the Bonaparte bridge was completed.
3. MORMON BURYING GROUND (on the Gabby Farm, 2.5 m. E. of Bonaparte, near Reed's Creek). The Mormon Burying Ground on the Gabby farm is on land now owned by A. L. Heminger of Keosauqua. During the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo in 1846, a temporary settlement was established in this region as a winter's headquarters. Those who died during the winter were buried in the small cemetery established for this group. Many of the grave markers are still standing.
4. GREY HEATH ORCHARD (on graveled road, two miles north of Bonaparte). Comprising 160 acres of fruit trees, this apple and pear orchard is listed as the largest in the state. One hundred and forty acres are given over to the raising of apples, the rest to pears. Its 10,000 apple trees produce from 40,000 to 50,000 bushels of fruit. The orchard is included in the semi-annual tour of southern Iowa horticulturists.
Cantril High School
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Population: 370; Platted: 1871; Railroad: C. B. & Q.; Highway: State 3; Churches: Methodist Episcopal, Church of Christ; Schools: Grade and high school.
Cantril, in the southwestern part of the county, is surrounded by a high rolling bluegrass prairie that makes fine farmland. One of the smaller incorporated towns as well as one of the youngest, it is less than a mile from the newly dredged channel of the Fox River. Its block and a half business section lies in the center of the town, and is surrounded by the neat-appearing residential section. The high school gymnasium, dedicated in 1936, is the largest in the county. The school was erected in 1914.
For a number of years Cantril elected a woman mayor. While she was in office, no beer was sold within the town limits.
Unlike other small towns in the county, Cantril has never tried to he a manufacturing center. E. E. Cantril started a grist mill and saw mill in 1873 and there was a hoop and barrel factory in 1874, but other than these there were no manufacturing enterprises. The grist mill is still in operation, but the saw mill has long been closed.
The community was known as Nickleville in 1870, but in 1881 it was partially laid out and named for its proprietor, L. W. Cantril, who became the first postmaster and storekeeper. The "Old Trail, an important pioneer highway, passed through Cantril. Among the taverns dotting the highway every ten miles there was one in Cantril; the tavern is now the Bruce Cabott dwelling. Many cattle
were driven over the trail and often grain was hauled to Alexandria, Missouri.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was erected in 1872. The first school, erected in 1873 and taught by Oscar Cooley, was relaced by a larger school five years later.
When the town was incorporated on April 16, 1874, it had three dry goods stores, two millinery, two blacksmith and two wagon shops, two hotels, a grocery store, a hardware store, a shoe shop, a restaurant, a butcher shop, a lumber yard and a small factory making barrels and hoops.
In 1888 the Cannon Ball Mail Service between Keosauqua and Cantril was popular with travelers of that era. An item in the Keosauqua Republican for for July 7, 1888 states: "The carrying capacity of the Cannon Ball Mail Service between Cantril and Keosauqua has been improved by the addition of a two-seated four wheel coach with the addition of two horse power to the pulling capacity. Passengers can now ride in the shade and enjoy the magnificent country and historic localities as they journey between the metropolitan ends of this great thoroughfare."
The town has remained a trading center for the rural population living in the surrounding territory.
Population: 450; Platted: 1866; Railroad: C. R. I. &. P.; Highway: State 16; Churches: Methodist Episcopal; Schools: Grade and Douds Leando Consolidated high school; Des Moines River Bridge; 1898; Legion Post: Reneker, No. 494.
Douds, a small village on the north side of the Des Moines River, has one of the two consolidated schools in the county -- the Douds-Leando Consolidated School, which stands on the south side of the river in what used to be the village of Leando.
The main street of the village, along which are the town's few stores, follows the old territorial road from Memphis, Missouri to Fairfield, Iowa. Adjacent to the town are several coal mines, the town's chief industrial enterprises. Perhaps the best known buslness, however, is the Douds Quarries, Inc., one of the three large-scale quarries in the Middle West where stone is mined. The present company, which began to mine the 42-foot vein of limestone during the winter of 1929-30, had to lower the weighty crusher, the belt equipment, and iron mule by cable from the hill above. The fifteen men who work in the air-conditioned mine can produce about ten carloads of stone a day. The unlimited supply of limestone is part of a three hundred mile vein. In October and November of 1938, on the average of six hundred tons daily wan mined. Visitors are allowed, but the company assumes no responsibility for accidents. In the quarry, sixty feet below the surface of the earth, is a well, drilled up instead of down to supply drinking water to the workers.
Near Douds is a small tool-manufacturing plant that was started in 1931 by W, A, Kerr and R. A. Grubbs, the present owners. The two men designed an aluminum grinding wheel, cast in only four parts, and patented it. For a while, they had the parts cast in another factory. Then they designed a machine that enabled them to make the complete grinding wheels. They also manufacture chisels for wood turning lathes, and an adjustable calipered chisel that can
be attached to a wood cutting tool; also cold chisels, chisel handles, croquet sets, wood mallets, steel-bladed butchers knives and emery wheel dressers.
Eliab Doud and David Doud, Jr., who had come from Ohio in 1843, laid our the town when the railroad was built through this district in 1866. The town was named by the railroad officials when they learned that the land on both sides of the track at this point was owned by the Doud brothers, who had come from Ohio to settle in this part of Iowa in 1843. The lots were laid out east and west of the old territorial road. The deeds, similar to those in other Iowa towns, contained the stipulation that the lots should revert to the donors should any saloon or other place for selling or disposing of
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intoxicating liquors be established on them. Other settlers already in the community were Samuel Holcomb, Nathan Tolman, Jack Walker, Dr. Peter Walker, John Walker, David Shelby, David Doud, Jr., William Young, David Drake, William Schuyler, Moses Starr, John D. Faker, John Hill, William C. Adams, James Johnson, Elliott Baker, and Dr. Boyer.
Mary. H. Doud, the oldest daughter of Eliab Doud, first taught
Transcribed by Rich Lowe for the
Van Buren County IAGenWeb Project
- copyright 2007 -