updated Aug 9, 2008
Celebrating New Albin, Iowa
100 Years and Still Growing
1895 - 1995
Railroad Influence Brings Town Site to Ross' Bench
The City of New Albin, located in the extreme northeast corner of Allamakee County, is the most recently founded of all the surviving county towns.
Allamakee County was organized in 1849, but land in this farthest corner of northeast Iowa was not put up for sale until 1851. The government price for land was $1.25 per acre.
The land where the City of New Albin now sits was first purchased from the government by John Ross in 1854. It remained no more than a wheat field until as late as 1868.
That year two men, Robinson and Hays, built a stone warehouse a short distance upriver from the Iowa-Minnesota border to provide a convenient outlet to the Mississippi for farmers. A few other buildings were erected there and the site was first known as New Landing. Later on it was called Jefferson.
However, the steep bluffs so near the river prevented further expansion and town development. To the south, just across the border, Ross' Bench seemed to be the ideal location when representatives of the railroad sought a town site about four years later. September, 1871, John Ross sold interest in the land that he had purchased in 1854 to representatives of the Clinton, Dubuque and Minnesota Railroad. Twelve days after the sale, Ross died, and his widow, Hily Ross, executed the sale of the town plot.
Too Late for 'Albin'; Town Became 'New Albin'
Development of the new little town in Allamakee County hit full swing in 1872, and residents began the processing of choosing a name. Many of the people were moved to name the town Rhomberg, following the tragic death of ten or eleven-year-old Albin Rhomberg. Albin was the son of Joseph Andrew Rhomberg, a railroad financier influential in choosing the location of the town site. It is said that on July 4, 1872, the young fellow and a group of friends were celebrating the holiday by tossing handfuls of gunpowder into a bonfire. A boy opposite Albin threw a handful into the flames and the sudden burst ignited the powder in Albin's pockets, and he was severely burned, dying within days. J.A. Rhomberg suggested the name Albin, instead of Rhomberg, in honor of his son. However, when application was made for the name, postal authorities said that there was already confusion with Iowa towns called Albia and Albion. Thus, the name became New Albin.
Indian History Goes Back to Prehistoric Times
The town of New Albin, the cornerstone of northeastern Iowa, lies in an area called the Hiawatha Valley, flanked by rocky bluffs and the Mississippi River.
Geographically, the town is situated on an extensive terrace of sand and gravel, extending out from the bordering hills of the Mississippi valley, just north of where the Upper Iowa (Oneota) River enters the labyrinth of sloughs of the Mississippi River.
Long before white settlement, both prehistoric Indians, and the later American Indian Sauk, Fox, Sioux, and Winnebago tribes used the site.
It was the scene of many Indian battles previous to the establishment of a neutral zone by the United States government in 1824.
The area in and surrounding New Albin is rich in Indian relics. Copper beads and other trinkets have been found from time to time in the gravel pits at the north end of town. And a noted stop for tourists is the Fish Farm Mounds, located just a few miles south of the town.
One of the most interesting Indian artifacts found in New Albin is called the New Albin Tablet and was found by men excavating for a cellar under the residence of August Welper in 1915. Archaeologists speculate that the tablet is of late prehistoric origin. It is now a part of the Effigy Mounds National Monument collection at the national park near Marquette.
New Albin 'Firsts'
Edward Jones, Lumberman
Ole Price, Tailor
Dr. J. Hover, Druggist
Peck, Harness Maker
Samuel Stevenson, Drayman
Doolittle, Furniture Dealer
Joseph Haberkorn, Sr., Butcher
J.B. Murray, Grocer
Dr. Ambler, Physician
O.H. Maryatt, Attorney
A.C. Miller, Veterinarian
Fred Spaulding, Jeweler
First School: 1874 (Cost of $1,800)
First Teacher: H.G. Smart (Lived in New Albin until his death in 1893 at age 90)
First Newspaper: The New Albin Gazette in April 1873, Dr. J.L. Taylor, Editor
First Post Office: 1872, Wm. E. Wicke, Postmaster
First Mayor: Wm. Coleman, 1895-1900
First Marshal: H. Hendricks
First Bank: New Albin Savings Bank in 1898, L.H. Gaarder, Cashier
First Street Lights: Hand-lit street lights were purchased in 1898 with the first electric lights being installed in 1918.
First Church: The Methodist Church, served by Rev. H.W. Houghton, and the Catholic Church, served by Father Haxmeier, were both organized in 1874.
First Telephone: William Bock was the first telephone operator. A phone system was built for the town in 1893.
First Fire Department: New Albin Fire Department in 1917
First Circus: The Honest Bill Circus in 1923
First (and only) Hospital: The New Albin Hospital in 1923
First (and only) Airport: 1930
First Street Signs: 1989
A Century of Progress: New Albin Businesses
Lee Aluminum Foundry, Inc.
Lee Aluminum Foundry, Inc. was started by Leon Hosch in October 1956. Three years later, it moved to its present location at 225 Main S.W. The foundry manufactures aluminum castings and farm implement toys. The first street signs erected in New Albin were manufactured by Lee Aluminum, and New Albin's official Centennial key chains with medallions were also cast at the foundry. Since 1982, the business has been under the management of Leon's son, Jim. Employees are Lila Kasten, Brent Hosch, Rick Libke, Joe Baxter, Chad Meiners and Damian Imhoff.
New Albin Insurance Agency
Established over 50 years ago, the New Albin Insurance Agency is located within the confines of the New Albin Savings Bank on Main Street. Insurance agents Allen Meiners, Ray Whalen, Barry Fruechte and Jake Imhoff offer a full line of insurance to clients in both Iowa and Minnesota. The insurance business has not changed dramatically over the years, according to Mr. Whalen.
New Albin Savings Bank
1898 news item -- "The bricklayers commenced work on the bank Wednesday. Mich Moore did the foundation work."
This report is probably referring to the humble beginnings of the New Albin Savings Bank. The New Albin Savings Bank was incorporated July 23, 1898. Officers were H. Martin, William Coleman, L.R. Gaarder, G.A. Erickson, R.H. Thompson, F.C. Meyer and W.O. Bock. For the past 97 years, the bank has operated from its original small brick building situated on the corner of Main Street. When the U.S. Post Office (then located in the adjoining building) moved into a new facility in 1966, the bank bought the vacated building. N.A.S.B. had outgrown the original building and seized the opportunity to expand in order to better serve its customers. New Albin Savings Bank is a full service bank and has grown steadily over the years. The introduction of computers has changed the banking business forever. Computers have eliminated the tedius job of posting every transaction by hand. Bank customers at N.A.S.B. are assisted by nine friendly employees, Ray Whalen, Barry Fruenchte, Allen Meiners, Jake Imhoff, Helen Fink, Joan Meyer, Diane Beneke, Jody Johnson, and Diane Erbe. Serving on the N.A.S.B. Board of Directors are Ray Whalen, Barry Freuchte, Allen Meiners, Bob Bulman, Elsie Weymiller, Jim Hosch and Steve Freuchte. The number of board members (seven) is the same number as the original board. New Albin Savings Bank has grown in assets from $15 thousand in 1898 to $42.6 million in 1995. Says N.A.S.B. President Ray Whalen," We look forward to celebrating our own 100th anniversary in 1998."
Dee Implement began business in New Albin in 1945. Clinton and Esther Dee started the implement business in the former Tabott Garage on Main Street. In 1947, the original shop and parts facility was built and the business was moved to the present location on Elm Street. In 1970, their son, Charles, became invlolved in the business, and the business was incorporated. Dealership started by selling Farmall tractors and equipment for 17 years, and then in 1962, the Oliver and New Holland equipment lines were added. Over the next several years, New Idea, White, Ford and other lines were introduced, for sales, leasing and service of farm equipment. In 1978, an addition that more than doubled the size of the original building was erected, giving the dealership a much larger shop and office area. Besides Charlie, current employees include Dick Reinke, Bob Kasten, Steve Meiners, Tony Schulte, Steve Boland and Shane Halverson.
Harmon's High Chaparall
It was once called the Jefferson Hotel, where you could rent a room, enjoy a home-cooked meal, quench your thirst, and even stable your horse. Today it's known as Harmon's High Chaparal owned and operated by Larry and Robin Harmon. Cold drinks and home-cook food, including a Friday night fish special, are still available, but the rooms upstairs haven't been rent out for years. And the only horses to be found are under the hoods of cars in the parking lot. The old hotel changed ownership and names several times over the years, but it remains popular meeting place New Albin. Harmon's have owned the High Chaparall for the past six and a half years. Their employees include Kathy Goetzinger, Karla Krambeer, Mary Weber, Brent Hosch and Rick Weymiller. Although the upstairs has long been unoccupied, it was recently put to good use. For three consecutive Halloweens, it was transformed into a "Haunted House". Harmon's recently repainted the old white exterior a barn red color, and Robin says she would like to eventually plant big shade trees around the building "like in the pictures of the hotel from 100 years ago." Her ultimate goal is to restore the upstairs and rent rooms once again. Harmon's are glad their three daughters, Bobbie Jo, 10, Abby, 8, and Ellie, 5, are old enough to participate in New Albin's Centennial celebration.
Main Street Market
While the business has changed hands and names over the years, one building on Main Street has remained a grocery store for about the past 75 years. Today, the name of the store reflects its location -- Main Street Market -- and it's definitely the 'new kid on the block'. Leslie C. Fink bought the business, previously named Monge's Foods, just over a month ago. Shirley Richards is the store manager, and other employees include Ardyce Wild, Sharon Weymiller, Linda Sires, Mary Donahue, Julie Mauss, Sarah Sires, Tara Meiners and Denise Ray. Main Street Market carries a full line of groceries and is eager to serve its customers from New Albin and the surrounding territory.
Over the years, ownership of an agricultural supply business in New Albin has been passed down through three generations of the same family. Robert Bulman had owned Bulman Farm Store for 30 years before he sold the business in 1988 to his son, Dan, and Wayne Meyer. Dan and Wayne had formed a partnership and they renamed the business Valley Ag. Dan's grandfather, Fred Weymiller, had been the owner previous to Robert. Dan gained experience working with his father in the agricultural supply business before he and Wayne joined forces. Valley Ag is dedicated to satisfying customers' needs, and looks forward to serving the New Albin agricultural community today and into the future.
Alice's Wonderland of Hair Fashion
After teaching at a beauty school in Burlington, Iowa, for three years, Alice Meyer came home to New Albin to open her own salon. Since June 5, 1969, she has operated Alice's Wonderland of Hair Fashion, now located at 149 Railroad Avenue S.W. Currently, Alice offers haircuts, styling, perms and shampoos for women and men. Linda Smerud works as her receptionist and cleaning lady. Over the years, Alice has noticed extreme changes in hair styles. She says, "Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between a woman's and a man's haircut today." On a personal note, Alice comments, "In the past 26 years, I've seen a lot of my customers go in both death and moving out of the community, and they are sadly missed by me. It has been great community to have business in. I especially enjoy the older customers in conversation, telling me how things have changed. You always learn a lot of history -- both their family's and the community's. All in all, I have enjoyed the past 26 years, and hope for many more years."
City Meat Market
The City Meat Market has been in existence for 37 years, but the store has been in the family of Shirley (Meyer) Wuennecke for 110 years. The store, now owned by Edgar and Shirley Wuennecke, is the third store, while part of the original store is used for storage. The City Meat Market is well known in the tri-state area for its original sausage, such as bologna, summer sausage, dried beef, liver sausage, cable links, and beef tongue loaf. Wuennecke's son, Alan, has also added a list of new items, including bratwurst, beef and pork jerky, barbeque chicken and pork ribs, and turkey legs and breasts. Alan plays a pivitol role in running the store by ordering all the meat and doing all the smokehouse work. Besides Edgar and Shirley Wuennecke and their son, Alan, Karla Crandall is also employed at the City Meat Market. Commenting on how things have changed over time, Edgar says years ago, Wednesday and Saturday nights were big nights in New Albin. The farmers came to town and the women did their shopping. Now, most women drive and shop whenever they need groceries.
Sires Oil Company
Sires Oil Company began operating in New Albin on June 1, 1946. Up until that time, there was no tank wagon service avail available to the community. Today, Sires Oil Company is a licensed distributor in Iowa and Minnesota, offering customers gasoline and fuel, as well as a complete line of petroleum products and equipment. Sires Oil Company is a family owned business, operated by Raymond "Tat" and Gladys Sires, along with their son and wife, Joel and Sharon Sires. The Sires' feel the most significant changes in their business over the years have been due to government regulations.
~Source: New Albin Centennial Commemorative Section, Allamakee Journal, Lansing, Iowa, July 5,1995
~Contributed by Errin Wilker
Growing for the Centennial
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