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Esther Allen Ridley, 1832-1918


Posted By: Emmet County IAGenWeb Coordinator (email)
Date: 3/10/2009 at 06:51:29


Who Braved the Hardships of the Wilderness; woman after whom our beautiful city was named, passed to her reward on last Saturday morning [March 2, 1918] The business houses of the city were closed during the funeral services.

The remains of "Aunt" Esther Ann Allen Ridley, the first white woman who braved the wilds of the wilderness and settled in Estherville and who our beautiful city is named after, were laid to rest in Oak Hill cemetery on Monday last. "Aunt" Esther's life has been a shining example of womanhood coming as she did into this wilderness. Living through the hardships of necessity endured by those early settlers, always patient, home loving, neighbor loving and God fearing she has passed her life in this city which will ever hereafter stand as a monument to her life. She has always been an active worker in the Baptist church and was an ardent supporter of the church and its teachings until the very last. The death angel called her to rest on last Saturday morning and the tidings cast a gloom over the entire community to which she had become endeared by years of love and service.

The funeral services were held at 2:00 p.m. Monday, March 4th in the Methodist church so as to accommodate all who wished to attend. Mayor M. J. Groves, A. O. Peterson, Chas. Barber, W. J. Pullen, N. B. Silcox and Dr. W. P. Galloway were the pall-bearers. Mrs. Ira Stanley presided at the pipe organ and the mixed quartette composed of Misses Moe and Lyman and Messrs. Cox and Myhre sang sweetly such comforting songs as "Asleep in Jesus", "Going Down the Valley" and "Jesus Lover of My Soul." Rev. R. C. Mitchell read the Scripture lesson, Rev. E. E. Evans offered prayer, Rev. J. Fredrick Catlin, Mrs. Ridley's pastor, preached the sermon from Mark 14:8, "She hath done what she could." The closing prayer was offered by Rev. Mr. Torbett, pastor of the Methodist church. Rev. C. D. Priest, the Christian minister, sat with the other ministers on the platform. There was an unusually large and beautiful collection of flowers showing the love and esteem in which Mrs. Ridley was held by her many friends and acquaintances.

As a fitting token of the esteem in which the entire city holds Mr. and Mrs. Ridley, the mayor issued an order that all places of business be closed during the time of the funeral services, from 2:00 to 3:00.

The following taken from the files of the Enterprise of Aug. 23, 1911, will give in detail the life of this worthy woman:

"Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Ridley, pioneers of Estherville are both living in the city, and are each enjoying good health. They reside in a comfortable home on North Eighth street. Mr. Ridley came to Estherville in June, 1857, just after the Spirit Lake Massacre, which was in March, 1857. There were no railroads west of Dubuque and when they came west they came by train to Dubuque and& then by ox team to Estherville which was nothing but a prairie. Mrs. Ridley came west by train to Dubuque alone and Mr. Ridley who had come before to prepare a home for his bride, met her at Dubuque, and together, with an ox team, they made the long journey to this place. It took them twelve days to make the trip from Dubuque. After coming here they settled upon [later known as the] Kettleson place north of town and lived there from August until December, when Mr. Ridley built a log house where the Rock Island roundhouse now stands. This log house was 16x22 and the logs were prepared by Mr. Ridley with the crude instruments he had on hand. In this log house they lived two years. Then Mr. Ridley pre-empted a claim west of [the now] town across the Des Moines river. On this place he built a mill and put in a dam. It might well be mentioned that the dam in the river has the same foundation Mr. Ridley put there over fifty years ago. After living on this claim four or five years they took a homestead south of town. This was the first homestead taken in the county. On the homestead the family lived for fourteen years. Then they moved to the house on North Sixth street. Since that time they have lived within the limits of Estherville. When they first came to this vicinity there were no other persons that they saw. Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Ridley, Algernon Ridley and Jesse Coverdale spent the winter of 1857-8 here alone. Mrs. Ridley saw only one white woman the first year. They had some thrilling experiences. The first store in the settlement was in their log house where the roundhouse now stands. There were about 50 people in this settlement when Fort Defiance was built. The fort was located on Mr. Ridley's land. Stockades covered about one half block. Fort Defiance was built in the spring of 1863. In the winter of 1862-3 the schoolhouse which stood about 50 feet north of where the Court House now stands was fortified, a stockade being built around it. After the Northern Brigade left, a U.S. cavalry came and was stationed in the fort and remained about a year. The U. S. government auctioned the fort off afterwards, and the Northern Stage Company purchased it. They later sold it to Ike Skinner, who owned it for a number of years. Later it was sold in parcels. At the time the fort was being built Mrs. Ridley kept nine boarders without charge. Her place was always the stopping place of ministers, travelers, and everyone in need without any charge. In fact the Ridley home was one of the most hospitable homes in northern Iowa in pioneer days. As instance of their hospitality, L. H. Smith of Algona, who was quarter-master of the Northern Iowa Border Brigade and who located the county seat here, said in a recent letter to the Enterprise he well remembered their kindness in entertaining him without charge. Back in those days with trials and hardships on every hand a pioneer settlement was fortunate in having such sturdy characters as Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Ridley. When R. E. Ridley, Howard Graves, and others incorporated this place they called it Estherville in honor of Mrs. R. E. (Esther) Ridley as she was the first white woman to settle here.

From The Estherville Enterprise, Wednesday, March 6, 1918:

Aunt Esther was born in New Gloucester, Maine on April 8th, 1832, the daughter of John and Sarah (Bennet) Allen. She lacked a few days at the time of her death of reaching her eighty-seventh year of life. On October 15th, 1855, she married to Robert E. Ridley at Brunswick, Maine. To this union three children were born, Mrs. Annie J. Dana who lives at Sparta, Wisconsin. She was the first white child born in this county and grew to young womanhood in Estherville. George E. Ridley of Cheyenne, Wyoming and Mrs. Evelyn Hoover who died on December 16, 1888. She is survived by the husband, daughter and son, eleven grandchildren, and seventeen great grandchildren. She was always active in the up-building of Estherville. She with her husband donated the ground for our beautiful city park which will ever stand a living memorial to the name of Mr. and Mrs. Ridley. Aunt Esther was deeply interested in such organizations as the Women 's Relief Corps. She was at one time president of the W. C. T. U. and labored earnestly in behalf of the temperance cause.

Contributed by: Ruth Hackett. Source: Estherville Enterprise, Estherville, Iowa, Aug. 23, 1911 & Estherville Enterprise, Estherville, Iowa, March 6, 1918.

Addendum: the following is an excerpt taken from a newspaper clipping about a letter written by a well known pioneer resident of Estherville, Frank Davey, who later died in Salem, Oregon. Originally published in 1911 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the building of Fort Defiance at Estherville.

"Of those who deserve a page in the history of Emmet county, whenever it shall be faithfully and truly written, the one that will ever claim the most lasting remembrance, will always stand the name of MRS. ESTHER RIDLEY who came to this country in the month of April [1857] just after the Indian depredations. The bravery of this estimable lady, who, nurtured amid the luxuries and refinements of the Atlantic coast, could thus dare to penetrate and make her residence in this then uncivilized region with dangers threatening on every hand; who, not withstanding the urgent entreaties of her numerous friends, persisted in remaining during the subsequent winter of 1857-8, during which time she did not see the face of a white woman for more than four long lonesome months. Even Mr. [George C.] Granger dared not brave the uncertainties of another outbreak, but preferred to spend that part of the season among his friends in Tama county and felt sure that when he returned he should find only charred and blackened remains of the dwellings. When he came back the next spring he left his team among the ravines south of town and cautiously made his way on to the high bluffs behind the grove and peered over. When he beheld the smoke peacefully curling from the chimney top, it was some time before he could persuade himself that his eyes were not deceiving him. During the winter Mr. Ridley had caused the time to pass off more briskly by preparing the timbers for the erecting of the Estherville Mill.

Contributed by: Ruth Hackett.


Emmet Obituaries maintained by Lynn Diemer-Mathews.
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