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updated 04/12/2021

Allamakee Album
Harpers Ferry People

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Thomas Parrell and the Harper's Hotel

McGregor - To see Iowa fall coloring at its best, one could probably do no better the next two or three weeks than follow the winding road through the timber and along the Mississippi river from McGregor to Lustre Heights, Waukon Junction, Harpers Ferry, Wexford, Lansing, and New Albin - then turn westward up the Upper Iowa river to the quaint village of Dorchester, and return to McGregor over 13 through Waukon.

At Harpers Ferry, to add a little of the glamour of old times at the Mississippi river towns to the enjoyment of fall coloring, a visit is suggested to ancient Harper hotel, almost hidden by trees now aflame with color.

The rambling, paintless frame building near the river, so long deserted that residents shake their heads when asked how long ago it ceased to be used as a hotel, has the distinction of being the very last one standing of the hotels or taverns as they were called, which in early steamboating were near the river at every landing in Iowa. The date 1859 is in raised letters in a round panel above the double doors.

Harper's hotel, like most of the other river taverns of the fifties and sixties, was built of lumber rafted down the river. The small, low-ceilinged, ill-heated rooms offered slim accommodations, but those where not the days when guests at hotels in Upper Mississippi river communities demanded a room with bath. Just a shake-down, a bar where drinks could be had in plenty, side pork, potatoes, beans and coffee were enough to satisfy hotel patrons. They were river men from the rafts and steamboats, the incoming settlers who arrived on the steamboats and put up at the hotels before leaving for the interior, and the farmers who came from inland areas to market their wheat and hogs.

Thomas Parrell, builder and keeper of Harper's hotel, was in the rafting business on the Mississippi. He and a partner one day in the summer of 1859 tied up at Harpers Ferry a raft they were floating down river from the northern pineries Parrell found a good deal going on in the new landing, and then and there decided to quit the rafting game and get in on the ground floor in the hotel business in the "coming river city." He and his partner split the raft, and Parrell sawed up his half of the logs and put up the hotel.

The place was a popular tavern as long as the big river days. It is now the property of Mrs. James Berry, postmaster at Marquette, and a grandniece of Mr. Parrell, and is occasionally used for summer camping by the Berry family.

The old time bar that was the center of many a drinking bout in frontier days, and some of the rope beds which were the sleeping accommodations provided his guests by Landlord Parrell, are still in the building. The same old huge brass key unlocks the door. The lumber in the building is the kind one can't buy nowadays, white pine with not a knot in it, and after 81 years, is still in a good state of preservation.

~Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 29, 1940
~clipping provided by Mollie Meade & transcribed by S. Ferrall

- The article in the Gazette (with very few changes) originally appeared in the Dubuque Times-Journal, November 4, 1923
- Thomas Parrell's wife was Mary Beirno, who died in 1915 Obituary
- Thomas & Mary are buried in the Paint Rock / St. Joseph's Catholic cemetery, Harpers Ferry. Gravestone photo
- Mrs. James Berry who is mentioned in the news article, died in 1940. Obituary


Luther Stepp

Special to The Gazette.
Harpers Ferry
On 4.5 acres of warm, sandy soil along the Mississippi, which until this year had raised nothing but native grasses, Luther Stepp has cultivated a bumper crop of watermelons and muskmelons, Stepp came here last spring from West Union, where he and his father, James,have grown melons for 45 years. He sensed the melon-producing possibilities of the land along the river, leased 45 acres at a small rental, plowed up the wild grasses, and planted 28.000 hills. When the melons began to ripen in late August, Stepp hired carpenters to build portable, knock down stands, which were trailed behind truckloads of melons and set up at the five county seat towns of Cresco, Decorah. and Waukon in Iowa, and Rochester and Austin In Minnesota. Seeds saved from the crop at West Union last year were planted. That has been the Stepp way of melon culture, to build quality by saving seeds each year from the best and sweetest melons. "The muskmelons are yielding about five to a hill." remarked Stepp, "and the watermelons three to a hill." From the reclaimed "waste" land trucks have been running night and day to haul the thousands of green and yellow melons to the stands and stores in northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota.
~Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 18, 1940
~contributed by Mollie Meade

Grows Melons for Soldiers on Hapers Ferry Farm
Louis* Stepp, whose melon crops north of Harpers Ferry have grown to large and remunerative proportions, is reported to have recently sold and delivered a consignment of 14 tons of muskmelons to Camp McCoy, the government camp near Sparta, Wis. Numerous big truckloads of both watermelons and muskmelons from the Stepp tract have been sold here in Waukon by Ed. Hansmeier, the resident salesman, at his stand on the Earle lot.
~The Democrat, Waukon as published in the Postville Herald, October 13, 1943
~contributed by Mollie Meade

Notes added by S. Ferrall: His correct name is Luther Stepp, as in the 1940 article. Luther died in a Racine, WI hospital following an accident near Union Grove, WI in June 1972. He is buried beside his wife Louise in Pleasant Hill cemetery, Fayette, IA


Agnes (Cota) Conway

Great-grandmother to 101
Mrs. Agnes Conway, 91, of Harpers Ferry, has 101 great-grandchildren, but only one of them bears the name Conway. Number 100, shown here with Mrs. Conway, was born late last month to Mr. and Mrs. Leo Conway of Lansing. Mrs. Conway's 101st great-grandchild was born last week to a granddaughter in California. She has seven daughters, one son, and 58 grandchildren.
~newspaper clipping, hand-dated July 1967

~articles & photos contributed by Errin Wilker

Note: Agnes Mary (Cota) Conway (1875 Nov 10 - 1974 Sep 19) is buried in the Paint Rock / St. Joseph's cemetery, rural Harpers Ferry, with her husband Martin.

Great-Great-Grandmother to Observe 95th Birthday
An open house for relatives and friends will be held in the parish hall at Wexford on Sunday, Nov. 8th from 2:00-5:00 p.m. honoring Mrs. Martin (Agnes) Conway. She is the mother of nine children: Mrs. Joe (Celia) Delaney and Mrs. John (Ellen) Howes of Wexford; Mrs. Harry (Sarah) Wargin and Mrs. Nick (Marcella) Strub, New Albin; Peter, Lansing; Mrs. William (Mary) Evans, Minneapolis, Minn.; Leo, deceased; Mrs. Joe (Agnes) Baum, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; and Mrs. Clarence (Zita) Gavin of Harpers Ferry. Her husband passed away in 1951. No further invitations are being issued.
~newspaper clipping, hand-dated 1970


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