Valeria – a town founded by romance
JOHNSON, MCBRIDE, STANLEY
Posted By: JCGS Volunteer
Date: 6/28/2020 at 12:25:25
Valeria – a town founded by romance
If you have passed through the community of Valeria your eyes may have been drawn to the two bright green highway signs at opposite ends of the town. The signs were installed by the D.O.T. this summer and the wording says – Welcome To Valeria Town of a Railroad Romance. So you say, what does this mean? Is it simply creative advertising by the town’s leaders? Or is it some type of folklore legend worthy of a soap opera storyline? The answer is probably a little of both as the community of Valeria, like a lot of towns around the state, took advantage of the State of Iowa’s new initiative allowing town’s the privilege of posting their “claims to fame” on signs entering their communities. Now, getting back to the “Railroad Romance.” Legend has it that in the early 1860’s the William Henderson Johnson family left the South to escape the atmosphere and attitudes of the Civil War. They settled in Section 20, Poweshiek Township, where the village of Valeria would one day stand. Nicholas Johnson, a son of W. H. Johnson, and his sister, Edna Valeria; both played major roles in the birth of the village. When the railroad crews came in the early 1880’s to choose a route through Jasper County, Edna Valeria fell in love with a young civil engineer named McBride. She and her beau convinced her father to allow the tracks to cross the Johnson land. W. H. Johnson granted passage through his land on the condition that the depot planned for the area be known as Valeria. Young McBride married his sweetheart and later left the railroad to become a dentist. Nicholas, meanwhile, busied himself with the family’s new real estate interests. His signature appears on the papers platting the town in October of 1883, and on the abstracts of present property-owners in Valeria. By May of 1885, Valeria’s population was 68. The Johnson family told of Indian settlements along Skunk River. The natives were friendly, they said, and were able to live quite well off the fertile soil there. The future of the village of Valeria was greatly affected by two tragedies during the 1890’s. In 1894 the business district was wiped out by a terrible fire. The town was recovering from that blow when in 1896 a cyclone ripped through the area. In 1912 an election was held to vote on incorporating the town. Twenty-one yea votes were cast. Only five voted against incorporation. By this time, the town boasted two railroads. A spur called the Colfax and Northern had been constructed from Valeria to Oswalt because of the coalmines in the area. In 1882 there had been twenty-two mines in Jasper County stretching from Oswalt to Reasnor. 170 men were employed in the mines. During the mining boom, Valeria residents rode the trains to the mines each morning. Coal was worth 75¢ a ton in 1878. A skilled worker could sometimes make $3.00 a day. Some of the area farmers worked the mines during the winter.
Mines in the area included the Valeria Coal and Mining Company, Bealier Mines, Slaughter’s Mines, Adsit and Company, E. G. Fish Mining Company, and Black Heath Mines. Mining was predicted to overtake farming as the county’s top industry. This didn’t happen, of course. The mines were soon worked out, and have been deserted for years. In 1816, Valeria had a population of 92. In early years the streets were lighted by gas corner lights that were lit by had each evening at dusk. Claud DeReus was one of the people responsible for lighting the lights until Iowa Power and Light Company came to town. In the 1920’s, mail came in on the 7 p.m. passenger train. It was loaded onto a two-wheeled cart which J. C. Stanley pushed to the Lynn General Store for sorting. Valeria was a fourth class Post Office. A robbery in 1910 netted the thieves $4.36. Valeria now gets its mail from Colfax by rural delivery. Valeria’s barber shop often doubled as pool halls. The men gathered there to gossip, kid each other, and made trades. During the thirties and forties, many of the businesses closed up and were torn down. The only business house left is a brick store, which has been converted to a dwelling. Dances were held at Town Hall in years gone by. There were also several wood dance floors built outside. All are gone now, but in the thirties Valeria had quite a reputation for its dances and brawls. A new town hall was built several years ago. The city’s firetruck is stored there. It is also used for meetings and elections. Valeria is still incorporated and self-governed, with 27 houses and 85 people. Some of the early Valeria businesses included: Telephone, Depot, Livery, Garage, General Store, Millinery Store, Stockyard, Funeral Home, Doctors, Carpenter, Draymen, Taverns, Barbers, Hotels, Hardware, Blacksmith, Creamery, Drugstore, Lumber, Elevator, and Restaurants. Although all of the original businesses have long been gone and few current residents are aware of their communities’ storied past, they can now point to a sign and tell visitors how the town became known as Valeria.
Historical information courtesy of Mary Lou Morrissey and the Mingo Historical Book. Source: Jasper County Tribune (Colfax, IA); December 7, 2000
Jasper Documents maintained by Barbara Hug.
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