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A. F. Willoughby


Posted By: Tammy (email)
Date: 3/21/2015 at 08:48:36

A. F. Willoughby

Came to Iowa Before We Had Any Steam Cars

A. F. Willoughby Gives Recollections Of Iowa And Grundy County 70 Years Ago

Held Many County Offices

Mrs. Albright Only Other Person Now Living Here When He Came to County

A. F. Willoughby, of this city, came to Iowa before a foot of railroad was built in the state. He came from Near Fredonia, New York, in 1854, to Davenport. That was the western terminal of railroads at that time. The next year the Rock Island laid the first railway track in Iowa. It extended from Davenport to Iowa City which was the capital of the state at that time. The town of Iowa City offered the Rock Island Company a bonus of $10,000 if they completed their track and had trains running on it by the first of January, 1856. They won the bonus by a scratch.

In the year 1855 Mr. Willoughby, with a number of other parties, drove in a spring wagon from Davenport to Cedar Rapids. He remembers that he took dinner at Lisbon with a relative of R. L. Kurtz of this city. From Cedar Rapids he went to Vinton where he worked in a sawmill for a short time and later taught a two months' term of school. A relative of Ray King was one of his pupils in this school. From Vinton Mr. Willoughby traveled in what was known as the "mud wagon" at that time to Cedar Falls and later accompanied a medicine man from this place to Charles City, which place had just been platted as a town. He found no employment here and started west on foot with his compass as his guide. He swam across the Cedar River near Rockford and at this place he joined a number of pioneers and with them went to Mason City. One of these pioneers, named Blakley, traded his horse, saddle and bridle for an 80 acre piece of land on which the large gypsum mills at Mason City now stand. Mr. Blakley owned a piece of land at the time in Hardin county near Whitten and he induced Mr. Willoughby to join him on an overland trip on foot thru woods, swamps and over prairie for a distance of about 100 miles. It took them ten days to make this trip, which is now made by automobile in three hours.

On arriving in Eldora, Mr. Willoughby associated himself with J. D. Thompson, who was county judge at that time and they entered into the real estate business. Mr. Willoughby's duties consisted largely in showing and locating government lands in Hardin and adjoining counties. This work was easy for him as he had had a course in engineering and surveying in the east. A little later he entered into the services as an all around deputy to the officers of the Eldora court house as a side line. The Eldora court house at that time consisted of a structure 14x16 feet. The following year he drove a yoke of oxen from Eldora to Algona and filed and proved up on an 80-acre government claim. It was during the winter while he was there that the Spirit Lake massacre took place which aroused and frightened every settler in northern Iowa and Minnesota. Every town in that locality prepared itself against an Indian raid by surrounding themselves with log fortifications. On his way back from Algona Mr. Willoughby stopped at Fort Dodge and at the time Webster county was organizing and equipping a company of soldiers to send against the Indians. The company, as history has recorded, was not needed because after the Spirit Lake massacre the red men migrated to Minnesota. The fear that they might return kept the pioneers on the alert for a year or more following the massacre.

Mr. Willoughby came from Eldora to Grundy county where he was given a job to write up records at the court house. That was in 1860. The following year Wm. Lane, who was county Treasurer-Recorder at that time, resigned and Mr. Willoughby was appointed to take his place. The salary for filling the two offices at the time was $300 a year. Mr. Willoughby married in 1961 a daughter of Elias Macy of Melrose township, who was the first county superintendent of Grundy county. The young couple were given a two room apartment in the house in Grundy Center in which Ed. Cole now lives. They paid $3.50 a week for this apartment, which included their board and other incidentals.

From the time he entered politics in Grundy county, Mr. Willoughby filled all of the office at one time or another. He was treasurer-recorder, clerk-auditor, county judge for one year, and he served one term as county supervisor. There were but three men on the county board at the time.

Mr. Willoughby returned to the farm in Melrose township in 1873, where he and his family lived for ten years, when they moved to Grundy Center.

Mr. Willoughby knows of but one other resident of the county now who was here when he came. She is Mrs. A. E. Albright, of this city. Mrs. Watson, who now resides at New Hartford, lived with her folks in the southwest part of the county at the time.

Coming to Iowa ahead of the railroad and being permitted to remain here until the state has 600,000 automobiles is a privilege that has been accorded to very few people; and further to be able to remember and to relate these experiences at the age of 91 as Mr. Willoughby is still able to do is a goal that we are all heading for but one that very few of us will ever be permitted to reach.

--The Grundy Register (Grundy Center, Iowa), 26 February 1925, pg 1, 10


Grundy Biographies maintained by Tammy D. Mount.
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