From the sesquicentennial pageant presented August 3 and 4, 1996; script written by John Walker (Brayton) and Elaine Bowen (Audubon); World War II section by Retired. General Jack Peppers (Exira)
It all started back in 1803 when we were a part of the Louisiana Purchase from France. Until 1851 we were part of Cass County. Then Audubon County was formed and the legislators named each county. We were undoubtedly named after John James Audubon, the famous naturalist.
Mr. Jenkins took a claim near where Oakfield is now located and Wm. Hamlin settled across the line in Cass County, but returned to Audubon County. In the autumn of the same year Dr. S. M. Ballard and B. M. Hyatt took claims in Big Grove and Wm. Powell located where Exira is now situated. In the spring of 1853 a settlement was commenced near the boundary of Big Grove by Alvin Herrick and his son.
By 1853 there were six houses in the county and the next year a general store was started at Oakfield.
By 1855 a log cabin school house was built on the Hamlin ground and was taught by Ella Northgroves.
The first religious service was held in the log school house in Hamlin's Grove by the Methodists.
That same year, the first water mill was put into operation on Troublesome Creek near Hamlin's Grove.
The decade of 1856-66 saw much activity in the town of Exira. The town itself was platted in 1857. One year later the first school was built which also served as a courthouse and a church. The first hotel in Exira was built in 1859, and in 1861, the county seat was moved to Exira. The First Congregational, Christian and Catholic churches were established, also.
It was during this time that the first frame barn was erected in Audubon County in 1857. Several neighbors showed up to help, but they refused to do any work until the landowner got them all something to drink!
Our county also saw its first newspaper The Audubon County Pioneer which was published in Audubon City in 1860. It was also during this decade that the first county fair was held.
However, the event which warrants most of our attention during this time period was the eruption of the Great Civil War. More Iowans died in the War Between the States (13,000) than in both World Wars combined (12,000).
The population of Audubon County was less than 500 at the outbreak of the Civil War and its quota of men called for by the government was 22. Thirty-one Audubon County men volunteered or were drafted and did active duty in the army. (Several more Audubon County men enlisted through other cities rather than through our own.)
Many of the Union troops had no training. They received their arms on the way from their homes to the battlefield. They received 13 dollars a month and lived on hard tack and bacon.
The first Dane to settle in Audubon County was Jens U. Hansen who came in 1869 from Shelby County and lived temporarily in a shanty in the north part of Section 5, Exira Township, near the home of John W. Dodge.
Hansen was a carpenter and a very industrious man. He worked with Dodge and helped him build a big barn on a piece of land known as the Pray place, later owned by Martin P. Mardensen in Section 27, Hamlin Township.
He also helped build the Congregational Church in Exira in 1870, built a house for Charles Van Gorder in Exira in 1871 and built the John D. Bush house in Exira. Hansen improved a farm in Section 36, Sharon Township in 1870 and settled there in 1871.
In 1870, I. P. Halleck refused to let the railroad run through the Oakfield property, John S. and John T. Jenkins offered the railroad $500 to build the track across their land and in 1878 the town of Brayton was plotted.
In 1878 the city of Audubon was laid out by the Chicago and Rock Island and Pacific Railway. The first sale of lots was Oct. 15th and the sales totaled over $6,000 - mainly for the business section. The biggest problem for the erection of the business section was getting materials from Atlantic or Carroll.
Two outstanding men, Capt. Stuart and E. J. Freeman were the two who presided over the town of Audubon at that time. It was a busy place as the railroad employed a lot of people and Stuart and his son employed many others to build their elevators and work on their farms near Audubon and Exira.
The first post office in Audubon was opened in 1871 and also in that year the first child was born in Audubon. She was Daisy Audubon McKinley and was presented with Lots 1 & 2 as a gift.
The Odd Fellows Lodge was instituted in Louisville in 1871.
The first religious meeting in Audubon was by the Methodists. Fifteen men attended and no women - there were only five women in the whole town. The Presbyterians were the first to erect a church.
The town of Hamlin was plotted in 1873 and this also proved to be a strong Danish settlement.
The decade from 1876 to 1886 saw a growth towards the north of the county. In 1878 the city of Brayton was platted. In 1878, the railroad was extended north to Audubon, in 1879 the county seat was moved to Audubon and by 1881, 800 people were living in that city.
In Exira, the first Christian Church building was constructed in 1877 and later the first edition of the Audubon County Journal rolled off the presses in 1885. In 1887, a large fired destroyed many businesses on the north side of main street.
1878 saw the Chicago, R.I. & Pa.
This decade saw the construction of Brayton's first general store and in Audubon the Presbyterian Church, its first school, the Masons and IOOF organizations, and Audubon's first fire department. In Kimballton, the first school was built, also, in 1885. Despite these examples of civilization coming to Audubon County, the period was also one of occasional lawlessness. In 1882, Dr. Ballard, a respected member of the county, was robbed of $2700 in a well-publicized case of that time, and in 1884 the Jellerson lynching occurred in Audubon.
Probably the most extreme example of lawlessness was the infamous Crooked Creek Gang which terrorized Audubon County and surrounding areas in the 1870's and 1880's.
In the winter of 1883, the years of lawlessness finally caught up with the gang. They began shooting up the town of Exira one night in February as they were leaving in a sled. Shooting into a crowd of bystanders, Roll Strahl, one of the outlaws, was hit by a bullet fired by a vigilante and died the following day. Church bells and applause rang though Exira when news of the outlaw's death reached that town.
Roll's father Carl Strahl, blamed his son's death on young George Halleck, 17, a respected member of the community in Exira. In March as Halleck drove past a saloon in Oakfield, he was followed by Carl Strahl and John Millhollin. As the outlaws confronted Halleck north of Oakfield, Halleck shot and killed Strahl and wounded Millhollin. This confrontation signaled the end of the gang. Two more members were killed in a shotgun fight in Wiota in June. Two members of the gang were left, but their sting was gone and the county sighed a collective sigh of relief.
Kimballton had their first school in 1885 and in 1887 a gym hall was opened where exercises and games were played.
As you drive into Kimballton from the south, you can still see the buildings which housed the Crystal Springs Creamery which was organized in this decade. Other businesses in Kimballton were the general store and post office. The first church was built in Kimballton in 1890, and the Kimballton Gym Hall was built where gymnastics, acrobatics and dances were held.
In Audubon, the Columbian Club was organized in 1892 and in 1893 created a reading room which became the precursor to the Audubon Library. The County Home was erected in 1890, and the Farmers Hotel was established in this city in 1893.
Brayton saw the establishment of the first school and in 1894, the first Baptist Church was built. But probably, one of the most memorable moments for Brayton was the establishment of Doc Koob, a fixture in Brayton until his death in 1947
It is said that Doc Koob's decision to reside in Brayton was a direct result of the road conditions in that area. His plan had been to go to Exira from Atlantic to "hang out his shingle." Driving his horse hitched to a two-wheeled cart, he left his fathers farm one March morning. But the roads being what they were at that time, rutted and muddy, Doc Koob was forced to stop in Brayton to give his tried horses a rest.
It was at this time that a farmer seeking medical aid for his child sick with the measles confronted Koob and asked him to help his child. Times were tough without modern medicine for young children. In fact, 17 children were to die from scarlet fever in Exira just a few years later in 1897.
Doc Koob consented to see the sick child, and before he could continue his journey, others came for medical attention, and before he knew it, he decided to remain in Brayton. In 1942, Doctor Koob and his wife celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary and Brayton gave a large party. The doctor believed that he had delivered 1500 babies at that time.
The first telephone company called "The Iowa Telephone Company" was organized in 1896 and exchanges were established at Audubon, Exira and Manning with toll lines to Gray and Harlan.
This decade opened with the starting of the PEO in Audubon and the Rebekah Lodge being organized.
Brayton was incorporated as a town in 1899 and Dr. Koob was elected the first major.
Almost every home has heard of the sewing school that opened in Exira around the turn of the century. Mrs. Alice Connrardy, a resourceful individual, aware of the needs of the community in the line of home sewing, equipped herself by enrolling in the Baughman School of Dressmaking in Chicago, about 1886. Prior to the turn of the century, she had taken into her home a few girls to train in the Baughman System. In the years that followed, it is incredible the number of young women who learned the art of sewing.
Her classes would number as high as 30 or 40. She held continuous classes, each course requiring six weeks. Her students came from many parts of the country, and after completing the initial course, would often return for advanced work.
The students were first taught to draft patterns, after which they learned the rudiments of sewing. In their refresher courses they would often sew garments for other people who were hiring the sewing to be done. Mrs. Connrardy would return at intervals to Chicago to take a refresher course herself. The school closed around 1925.
In 1901 the first school in Gray was erected at a cost of $2500, just north of the Methodist Church. They even purchased a bell for the school the same year.
The Gray school was a modern two-story building with four rooms and two study halls. The school was to be completed in the fall of 1901 but when September 12 arrived, it was decided to begin the primary and intermediate classes in the old school
In October the new school was completed enough to begin the high school rooms. There were eight grades with an enrollment of 68 pupils. This was a ten-year school, so in order to finish their remaining two years of high school, the students took the train into Audubon and returned each day as Gray had four trains running daily. Soon people began to consider a new school and this brought a vote for consolidation in 1920.
Billy Sunday came to Exira in 1901 and some 260 people were converted.
On February 23, 1902, the Evangelist Billy Sunday conducted union services in Audubon. At that time more than a hundred new members joined the Presbyterian Church and 434 in all were converted. It was sponsored by the Presbyterians, Methodists, Evangelical and Christian churches. 112 joined the Methodists.
In 1902 Charles Van Gorder, Audubon was the first man to come into town with a new auto.
Also in 1903 the Orphan Train came through Iowa from New York and stopped in Audubon. The City Park provided space for the children to run and play and stretch their legs after the long ride.
A Mr. Herndon saw a little red haired girl and said, "I've always wanted a red haired girl" - so, he marched over to the courthouse for the papers. He took Carrie home with him, surprised his wife and gave her a home. She grew to womanhood here and later married Ben Twist.
Electric lights began shining in Brayton and Kimballton during the decade of 1906-1916. The Audubon depot, library, and Middle School building were erected and Market Street was paved. The Kimballton Hotel was built and the Danish Reading Club organized. A roller skating rink was begun in Gray and in 1911 citizens of Gray were entertained by moving picture shows at the Gray Hall.
Tony Juhl opened his blacksmith shop in Brayton and a new brick schoolhouse was built in Exira in 1914.
The big news was World War I which began in Europe in 1914. The United States, however, did not enter until 1917. In Kimballton, the Kimballton Military Company was organized. Twenty-five men drilled at 5:15 a.m. in preparation for their entry into the war.
When war did come to our country, the American Red Cross was overwhelmed with the duties it performed and money was badly needed. Each community in our county held fund raising benefits to raise money for the Red Cross.
In Fontanelle, in December 15, one of these fund-raisers was held which would have a dramatic effect on an auctioneer named D. R. Jones from Casey, Iowa, and a small brown rooster donated by the Mark Dunkerson family. That small bird would soon be responsible for earning over $40,000 for the American Red Cross.
In Fontanelle, Jones sold the bird for fifty cents, but the bidder did not want it, so it was sold again for another fifty cents. Soon the crowd joined in the spirit of the bidding game, and by the end of the evening, the bird had netted $292.00. Since the last buyer did not want him, Jones took the bird home, built a coop and named him "Jack Pershing."
This sale in Fontanelle had given Jones an idea, so from then on, whenever he went to a sale, he took "Jack" with him also. The bird soon became quite tame and would sit on Jones' shoulder. Finally, Jones became so successful raising money, that he worked entirely raising money for the Red Cross.
Before beginning the bidding, Jones would make a patriotic plea. An Exira sale raised $7075. A small community in South Dakota raised the second highest amount of money with $5040. Audubon ranked third. The bird was auctioned more than 9000 times bringing in well over $40,000.
1918 saw the organization of the Farm Bureau in Audubon County. Paul M. Wolf was the first extension agent and a barbecue dinner and program was held. It was at this time that the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary were organized. In 1924 the Audubon Memorial Building was completed.
In 1922 a block in Gray was destroyed by fire, and in 1925 the present day Gray school building was erected.
In Kimballton, the Danish Players celebrated 50 years of performing pieces for the public there. Also a swimming pool kept the residents of Kimballton cool after it was built in 1925.
Girls basketball was hot on the minds of Audubon residents in the early 20's after the high school girls won the State Tourney two years in a row. Superintendent McIntire was coach.
In 1927 Alec Ferguson requested to sell popcorn on the street corner of Broadway and Tracy without a license. Nearly every year the wagon received a new coat of paint and it was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson for many years. It was always moved to the Audubon County Fairgrounds for fair week.
Paving of Exira's streets also took place in 1927 and a break of infantile paralysis closed schools for a week during this year.
In 1929 the J.O. Club was organized in Kimballton. The ladies spent their time quilting and socializing.
That same year, the north side of the business section of Brayton burned with nine buildings being destroyed.
Elmer and Corrine Jorgensen were married during the Audubon County Fair in 1930 and this proved to be such a good attendance getter that weddings were held in several successive years.
In 1930, Elmer Carlson won the county title in cornhusking with Harry Tibben a close second. Carl Carlson placed third and Walter Johannsen came in fourth. For a few years, Johannsen was the man to beat. He won in 1931 and Elmer second. In 1932 Johannsen still maintained the edge, winning the county contest in 1933, Johannsen won second in the state, but dropped to sixth in national. Nineteen thirty-five was another year. Elmer pulled all the stops and went on to win our county contest, Johannsen was second and brother Carl Carlson placed third. Three days later Elmer won the state contest at the Grover Hahn farm at Davenport and went on to land the National Championship on the Leslie Mitchell farm at Attica, Indiana.
In 1936, Elmer's older brother Carl Carlson, competed in the county contest on the Ira Miller farm and won over his brother and Walter Johannsen. This gave Carl a chance to compete for the state title at Newhall, Iowa which he won. The national contest was held at Newark, Ohio, where the corn was not very desirable and mud was from 4-8 inches deep. When the final gun was shot to end the contest, Carl Carlson, at 38 years of age was declared the winner.
Also in 1930, Hwy 71 through Brayton was paved.
The Signall brothers traded their Nash to John Shaw for a Chevrolet in Gray, and Carl Svensen became famous in the area for his grandfather clocks. Chris Runge came to Brayton in 1931 and operated a blacksmith shop there for the next 30 years.
In 1934 Ralph Cramer was hired as Audubon city clerk for a salary of $50 per month.
Twelve cars of cattle were shipped at one time in 1934 and the Beef Producers were organized in 1936.
The cattle industry was growing in the county as times gradually improved following the Great Depression.
1936 also saw the Legion Park purchased and made ready for use
In the latter part of the 1930's, our country had not yet recovered from the Great Depression - a time when a magazine subscription could be paid for by bartering an old hen and the pattern of the fabric on a bag of feed made new curtains or a dress. Times were still hard in Audubon County.
Horse power literally existed on the farms, although tractors were more frequent. County roads and town streets were often a quagmire after a storm and during spring thaws. The mail carrier and cream hauler managed those roads with great and much-admired skill - and citizens often bummed a ride with them to or from town.
Most everyone in the county knew one another. Entertainment had to be inexpensive and often free. Folks made their own fun. Baseball and softball were king. Every community, rural or town, had a team. Games took place every night of the week and often two on Sunday. Movies were big - and sometimes outdoors as in Brayton, Hamlin and Gray. Kimballton had a swimming pool and people flocked there on hot days.
The Audubon Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1937 and a new city dump was beautified with evergreens.
Brayton's first lady mail carrier - Hilda McGovern - started a thirty-year career with the U. S. Postal Service.
Ben Jensen, manager of the Green Bay Lumber Yard in Exira and a Republican - was elected to the U. S. Congress in 1938.
The canning factory hummed and the seed corn business was good.
In 1939, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a barracks encampment south of Audubon and from that camp carried out their many projects.
1940 saw the Brayton Town Hall built and the dedication of the Audubon County Courthouse. The Audubon Municipal Light Plant was built.
The county had four high schools - Viola, Gray, Audubon and Exira. The county basketball tournament was always an exciting contest with a lot of rivalry.
The rest of the world was not as serene, however. In fact, it was in turmoil. Hitler and Mussolini had risen to power and war was raging in Europe. Japan had attacked China.
Toward the end of the decade London was being bombed and controversy prevailed over our Lend Lease policy.
The presidential candidates of 1940 pledged, "We would not participate in foreign wars and would not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign wars outside the Americas except in case of attack."
That attack came on December 7, 1941. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. A declaration of war followed against Japan, Germany and Italy. and war came to the United States, Iowa and Audubon County.
Everyone answered the call! The selective service became the war time draft. Young men enlisted and the National Guard was activated. Many of our young citizens left our communities and farms and paid the ultimate price. They gave their lives to protect and defend our country and homes. Many others were wounded and held as prisoners of war. These were dark days for all.
On the home front, government war contracts were being awarded, mobilization was in progress and production in our economy soared. Women entered the armed forces, the factories and assumed management of businesses and farms.
Victory gardens, rationing, practice air raids, bandage rolling and v-mail all became part of our daily living. Savings bonds became war bonds and in each of eight succeeding bond drives Audubon County was over quota for sales.
Life without husbands, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends went on. Mail became all-important, the radio our main source of news and contact with these young men and women.
Peace came at last. 1945 brought VE and VJ days to the world. Celebrations in our county were everywhere - from church services of thankful prayers to street bonfires. Our young men and women began to come home and happy times returned for most. Peace brought prosperity and many changes to the county.
War brides, the G.I. Bill, a new hospital, the airport and many new businesses came onto the scene. The VFW and Am Vets were founded and the American Legion flourished. The young veterans became our county leaders - the movers and shakers of our future.
In 1946, Audubon County took a very active role in helping our state to celebrate its 100th birthday celebration of statehood - Iowa and our county had come a long way since 1846.
Audubon County residents entered this decade with a celebration of the Iowa Centennial - our state was one hundred years old in 1946. Seven years later Audubon celebrated its 75th "Diamond Jubilee" with a pageant and a parade in 1953.
Glee and Elaine Christensen came to Brayton in 1947 to operate the Brayton Produce and Exira was saddened with Grandma Kilworth, 109 years old, died in 1951.
This was the decade that Red Cross Swimming lessons started, the first bloodmobile came to Audubon in 1952, and the Audubon Campfire girls were organized in 1952. The first shipment of T-Bone cattle left Audubon (50 cars full) in 1951.
As in many decades past, polio was a much feared disease that could strike young and old alike. Gray citizen Lida Shoemaker was interviewed by Bill Riley at Blank Memorial Hospital in Des Moines in 1949.
However, a miracle occurred for Audubon County residents in 1955. Dr. Jonas Salk of the University of Pittsburgh developed a safe and effective vaccine that would protect America's citizens from the scourge. In this year, over 1,800,000 American school children took part in a medical field trial to immunize themselves against polio.
This decade opened with the Audubon Industrial Corporation being formed in 1956. The same year, Highway 71 was widened through the city and made into four lanes. Mrs. Don Klever was also named rural homemaker of the year in 1956. Exira staged a four-day centennial celebration in 1957 with the publication of a wonderful book entitled One Hundred Years in Exira. It ended with a pageant depicting the last 100 years.
During the night of July 2, 1958, a cloudburst of rain poured down on the Nishna Valley and in a period of six hours or so, 12 ore 13 inches of rain fell, leaving a path of death and destruction all the way from Audubon to Griswold.
Hardest hit was Exira. A swath of water about a mile-and-a-half wide cut through the west edge of town, sweeping up houses and everything else in its path. At the village of Hamlin, at the intersection of Highways 44 and 71, a large steel bridge simply was swept away. A large wall of water in this area caused heavy loss of life and property.
Mrs. Elsie Smith, 46, of Exira, survived a five-hour ordeal on a log in the raging debris-filled river which carried her 40 miles before she was rescued at Griswold. Her son found refuge in a tree and her husband's body was found two days later in the Hensley pasture, wedged between a tree and a house.
Nineteen lives were lost, 68,000 acres of farmland was flooded and 15,000 head of livestock were destroyed. A total of ten million dollars worth of damage was assessed. The Red Cross set up shelter in the Memorial Building to aid the stricken. The Iowa National Guard sent units to all areas of the disaster to help and to guard against looting.
Also in 1958, the Exira Creamery suffered a fire.
Several new buildings were erected in 1959, including a new high school in Exira ,and the Friendship Home in Audubon was dedicated with A. E. Wiuff serving as the first administrator.
The Audubon County barracks were organized in 1959 and the Audubon County Historical Society was organized in 1960.
The Brayton Lutheran Church was erected in 1961. The Travelers Campers Club started in 1962 and in 1963 Albert the Bull was erected.
The first American Field Service foreign exchange student came to Audubon in 1964. He was from Costa Rica and came again to Audubon for their 25th class reunion.
Friends of Ben Jensen celebrated in 1964 on the eve of his 13th consecutive election to the U. S. Congress.
Martha Klever, also left for Malaysia to serve for two years in the Peace Corps.
1965 also marked the start of the Brayton Nursery School and the erection of the new high school in Audubon.
Kimballton's Progressive Danes organized in 1966 in order to promote growth and business in their city.
The Audubon County newspapers came under new management in 1976 when Jack and Kathy Krier purchased both publications. Several new organizations were created in Audubon County during this time. The County Pork Producers, Isaac Walton League, County Rangers Square Dance Club, Kimballton/Elk Horn Brotherhood Lodge, Young Mothers and Audubon Federated Women's Club were all started at this time.
Emma Ludwig, teacher, retired after 47 years of service in the Audubon/Exira school system.
Brayton built its Old Glory Park in 1971, and in the same year Kimballton got a new sewer system. The shelter house at Albert the Bull Park was built in 1970.
The last twenty years have been ones of change for our county. Our population has dropped greatly - it takes fewer and fewer farmers to cultivate more land. We can drive through the countryside and list places on the left and right-hand side of the road where homes used to stand.
Small town businesses find it harder and harder to compete with the "big town" prices.
But do these facts sound out the end of our county? Let's look at some of the changes our county has seen in the past twenty years:
Brayton has seen the addition of a new fire hall in 1977 and Exira saw its new Rec Center and library built. In Audubon the shelter house was added to the Legion Park. Friendship Village was opened and Jumbo Jacks cookbook business has prospered. An addition has been built on to the Audubon library and a new swimming pool has been built in Audubon. Brayton is in the process of rebuilding its town hall after a successful Brayton Big Day celebration.
The Church of Christ in Audubon has a new building and there's new statue commemorating John James Audubon in that city's park.
The Danish dancers now perform for audiences in many parts of the state. With people's positive outlook, their willingness to work, and their eagerness to get ahead by working together, Audubon County has become one of the best counties in the state of Iowa!
This page was last modified on August 30, 2010