The village of Irving lies partly in Benton County and partly in Tama County. It was one of the early Benton county towns and was platted October 10, 1855.
Prior to the building of the Chicago and North Western Railroad, Irving was a trading center of considerable importance. Before the railroad crossed the Mississippi, Irving was a link in the chain of trade between east and west and supplied wagon trains and early pioneers with supplies on their long trek across the North American continent. As one author said, "What a railroad surveyor's transit can do to the future of a thriving community." When the railroad was built three miles south of Irving the community had reached its peak and thereafter declined, while towns fortunate enough to have rail connections, grew.
The first class of the Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1857 with the Sam Hutton family, Mrs. Martin Smith, Mrs. Betsey Travis, Nancy Blair, Mr. and Mrs. Washington Benson, Adelia Jackson, A. Shevils, Mrs. John Travis, Hattie Royce and Mr. and Mrs. E. Grubbs. A church building was erected in 1864 with J. G. Wilkinson as pastor and dedicated in 1866 with M. A. Barnes as pastor.
Restitution Church, A Society of Adventists, was organized in 1872 or 1873 and a building was erected in 1874. In 1875 the Irving Lodge was organized.
Irving was known as a "seat of learning" in the middle west. Irving Institute was the first institution of higher learning in this area. With donated labor and money a brick structure was built in 1862 to furnish a high school education to both boarding and day pupils. At this time Irving was a town of some five or six hundred people. Reverend A. Sawin, a Baptist minister from Massachusetts, was the driving force behind the school and had the whole-hearted support of Levi Marsh, George S. Williams, J. M. Yount, Andrew Hale, S. W. Hutton, T. G. Arbuthnot, Martin Smith, Samuel Miles, I. R. Compton and E. Thompson. The school opened in Marsh Hall in the spring of 1862 and continued there until a brick structure was finished in 1863. Soon after the opening, smallpox claimed the President, Rev. Sawin. Mrs. Sawin and her brother, Prof. Lauren A. Scott, carried on the work until 1872 when Prof. J. G. Craven became superintendent.
There were many businesses in Irving: blacksmith shop, cooper shop, broom factory operated by the Weymer Brothers, Steffa brick yard, grist mill and a hotel. When the north-south railroad was built in 1900 a depot was constructed and a lumberyard and stock yard started.
The Salt Creek Road became the main street. A few stores and a post office were started but soon closed and the streets became over-grown along the creek. Some people moved north to Elberon and others moved south to Belle Plaine. A few stalwart people still maintain homes in Irving. There is a combination service station-store to serve their needs and they commute to other towns for supplies. The Irving public school closed July 1, 1961, under the Belle Plaine reorganization plan. Nadene Dudek was the last teacher and had 21 pupils.
Irving was a lively spot with its political gatherings, picnics, and parties, and according to E. E. Blake, an old settler, it had its share of pretty girls. When he was young there was a saying, "If you want a girl, go to Irving." Much of this information has been taken from writings of Mr. Blake and Lou G. Roberts, a son of an early Irving resident.
Diary of Z. T. Shugart
The most absorbing hours of research and reading are without doubt those hours spent poring through personal diaries kept by men and women who lived fifty and a hundred years ago. They describe the everyday events of living matter-of-factly. We read them in wonder and amusement.
George Wilson, Elberon, provided the diary and journals kept by Z. T. Shugart who operated a drug store in Belle Plaine with his brother, Dr. K. D. Shugart. Z. T. Shugart lived in Irving and kept his diary during the early months of the year 1867 when he was over 60 years old. His brother, Dr. Shugart, left Belle Plaine in 1870 for California.
Mr. Shugart was apparently a county supervisor for he describes trips to Toledo to take care of county affairs. With Mr. Wilson's permission we will print some of the most interesting excerpts from the diary and journal:
"Sunday, January 6, 1867- Sabbath came in clear, beautiful, and warm. Went to the M. E. Church. Heard some good singing. Listened to a pretty good sermon delivered by Mr. Kinet and witnessed the dedication of the church ... also listened to them two hours begging for money to pay for the same. About three thousand was subscribed."
"Monday, January 7, 1867- Clear but quite cold and chilly. Left Belle Plaine for Iuka (Tama). About 400 soldiers on the cars bound for the Indian country. Went to Toledo and met with Board of Supervisors and was appointed chairman of the committee on the poor."
"Tuesday, February 12, 1867- 36 degrees above. Cloudy, but warm and thawing. Went to Toledo and drew $250 bridge money. Returned to drug store in evening. Trade dull. Rained steady all night. The waters pretty flush with mud a- plenty."
"March 5, 1867- Clear all day and pleasant. Still in drug store. Trade very good. Some time in the forenoon M. T. Shugart was called to Dock Coxes and sometime in the night Mrs. Cox had a fine daughter."
"April 19, 1867- Clear and pleasant, the boys plowing and myself doing chores. Susanna finished making soap and then made a kettle of hominy. I arranged her soap house and made some preparation for gardening."
"May 25, 1867- Clear and cool with some frost. Went to J. Weever's and bled a sick woman. In the afternoon L. H. and I finished planting corn."
"September 10, 1867- Clear and pleasant, went to Belle Plaine, took charge of drug store. First day of the B. C. Ball. There were five clubs met. Streets jam full of teams and a throng of people."
A journal kept by Z. T. Shugart for the years 1862-1880 gives a fascinating account of prices of goods and services for those years. Some entries are reproduced here to give the reader a small insight into the times.
1862- A coat $12, hotel bill 60 cents.
1863- Bottle castor oil 10 cents, thimble 3 cents, 1/2 lb. nails 4 cents.
1864- 1 pint liquor 50 cents, 2 lbs. sugar 60 cents.
1865- Almanac 20 cents, car (railroad) to Iuka 85 cents, 2 bottles hair dye 50 cents.
1866- Pair specks 50 cents, dinner 15 cents, buffalo robe $15.
1867- Temperance lecture 25 cents, Masonic ring $1.50, 2 spittoons $1.
1868- For making three shirts $1.50, six collars 45 cents.
1869- Cherry bark 5 cents, sassafras bark 5 cents, shirt bosom 75 cents, 3 yds. calico 30 cents.
1870- Setting horse shoes 50 cents, dinner boarding house 25 cents.
1871- 2 neck ties 75 cents, corset $1, State Fair ticket 50 cents.
1872- Chestnuts 20 cents, silk hat $6, Every-day coat $8.
1873- Gallon whiskey $2.50, gospel 1.40, 3 barrels 30 cents.
1874- Pen points 5 cents, vinegar cruet 10 cents, mustard server 10 cents.
1875- Six qt. pan 30 cents, English currants $1.02, Belle Plaine Review $1.50.
1876- 2 parasols $2.70, tub and wash board 90 cents, 20 yds. carpet $5.
1877- Candle wick 5 cents, fancy hat $1.50, gold ring $1.75.
1878- Medicine from Dr. Cox 50 cents, barrel salt $1.60.
1879- 11/2 lbs. bologna 15 cents, sewing machine $25, 3 toy guns 50 cents.
1880- Spelling book 35 cents, suit $16.25, 2 blankets $3, 5 lbs. beef 25 cents.
Mr. Shugart also made notations of moneys paid for livestock, amounts received for animals sold, wages paid for domestic help, ($1 a day) and listed various amounts due for county matters. His handwriting is a marvel of legibility, and no financial transaction was too small to escape notice. It may be safely concluded that he was a man of some erudition, since he made notation of many papers, books, and pamphlets bought. A March 29, 1878, copy of The Belle Plaine Review, in the possession of Mr. Wilson, features an article written by Mr. Shugart entitled, "Death and the Resurrection."