Historical memories of northwest Jasper County
BEEMS, DUNCAN, FISHER, GARDNER, GARWOOD, MAHER, MCLAIN, MCLAREN, PEIFER, PENQUITE, PINK, RUMBAUGH, WITMER
Posted By: JCGS Volunteer
Date: 7/17/2022 at 10:31:08
Editor’s Note: This letter was written at the time of the Colfax Centennial. It was found by Lila Maher in and old box of papers that belonged to Hugh Maher. With the Mingo Centennial coming up, this letter could also pertain to it.
I was born in Greencastle in 1875 and may well be one of the oldest if not the oldest surviving inhabitant of that once very thriving town. My parents were Robert and Agnes McLaren and our home in which I was born was on the east side of the street which bordered the east side of a spacious school ground with its very substantial and commodious school building. May father was the blacksmith of the town, the shop being just north of our home as the street turns toward the east.
My mother was the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Gardner who came by train to Jasper County in the fall of 1868 (Colfax would then be 2 years old and my mother in her 13th years). They purchased and occupied a farm home about a mile north of town; I believe the farm is now known as the Maher farm. Archibald K. Gardner, a younger brother of my mother, after becoming a successful lawyer in South Dakota, was appointed by the President to the position of judge of the U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. He died at the age of 94 being the oldest Federal judge in the United States. My mother attended the same Greencastle school which I later attended.
When I was about 4 years old my father quit blacksmithing and became a farmer and a few years later purchased a farm then known as the Nedro place about a quarter of a mile north of the cross roads just east of town. This was our home until about 1892, when the farm was sold to Jerry O’Mara.
I began attending school when 5 years old being accompanied on my first day by my mother’s younger sister Mary (Mrs. Ed Duncan). My first teacher was Lydia Fisher and I distinctly recall how kind and sympathetic she was on the morning of my arrival in trying to make me feel more at ease in such unusual surroundings. She was accustomed to giving small ornamented cards at the end of the term to those pupils who had been neither absent nor tardy. I still treasure one of these cards bearing her signature. I was too young to remember the grist mill owned by Mr. Peifer and Mr. Fisher, but do recall the high graded approach which stood in front of it to enable the farmer to deliver the wheat more readily. This stood just east of the road leading north.
Grist mills were rather common in those days. There was another one called the Berry Mill which, although abandoned, still stood on the banks of Indian Creek near the road which led to Newton. There was a third grist mill still in use in Mitchellville which my father patronized.
One of my school mates was Maynard Penquite, who lived a short distance north of town. He became a lawyer practicing in Colfax and I believe was its mayor at one time.
In the school year 1887-1888 our teacher was Charles McLain who later became a lawyer practicing in Newton. He decided to have a “county” examination for six of us pupils. We all passed successfully and to our consternation he also then decided we should have graduating exercise on April 20, 1888 in the “Albright” Church which was still in use. As I recall it, there were six of us, namely, my cousin Arthur Gardner, whose father Matt Gardner owned what was called the Baker farm just north of Greencastle, my second cousin Charlotte (called “Lottie”) Beems (Mrs. Foster Garwood), Emma Witmer (Mrs. Pink), and Augusta Fisher and her brother Emory, concerning whom I have no present knowledge. Mrs. Pink died less than a year ago and so as far as I know, I am the sole survivor of that small group.
The earlier settlers sin Jasper County must have been a very hard group of pioneers. An acquaintance of my father’s, whose farm was several miles north of ours, stated that it had been his custom to drive his farm wagon every six months to Iowa City, the nearest railway station 45 mile distance, and bring home a load of general supplies for the ensuing six months. At that time the only railroad in the state was that portion of the Rock Island between the Mississippi River and Iowa City. No railroad construction was possible during the Civil War period. Apparently the Rock Island lost no time in pushing its way westward so as to be in Colfax by 1866.
The construction of the Chicago Great Western Railroad, known locally at the “Diagonal” with its railroad station at Mingo marked the beginning of the end of Greencastle. Some of its larger buildings were moved bodily to the new town. I remember distinctly seeing some of these buildings being hauled northward across the snow-covered field north of the schoolhouse on improvised sleds drawn by 14 yoke of oxen.
Greencastle had two churches, two general stores, a wagon maker’s shop, a harness maker’s shop and two physicians. Among the buildings moved were the Methodist Church, the general store of Wilmer and Marsh, both of which were near the northeast corner of the square. The Albright Church and the old two-story school building were still in use in 1908 when I made my first visit after coming west. I took snapshots of each of these buildings, but unfortunately they have become lost. The last two visits I have made I found there was nothing left in the way of buildings, the village square being the only sign that there had at one time been a very substantial, thriving inland town.
I learned of the ancient 1850 tombstone from my Uncle Frank Gardner, the youngest of my grandfather’s family. He was born and spent his boyhood days on his father’s farm which was only about one-quarter of a mile from this particular burial ground. As a young boy he had discovered this stone with its startling inscription “I was strangled”. He visited the place some years ago not long before his death and upon his return, mentioned the matter to me.
Here is a somewhat strange coincidence, namely: In volume 35 of the Washington State Supreme court decisions at page 655 (same case was reported in 77-Pac 1082 (1904)) there is a decision involving the validity of an adoption by a Mr. Newton Rumbaugh who lived not far from a farm which my parents occupied for a short time. The reason why this litigation took place in the very distant State of Washington was that it involved the right of the adoptee to inherit some real estate within the State of Washington. For this reason, the only state court having jurisdiction would be that in which the real estate was located.
I recall being taken to the Rumbaugh home by my father one evening for the purpose of seeing some very small wolf pups which someone in the Rumbaugh family had found in the wooded tract near where we lived.
With all good wishes for the success of your Centennial celebration and with thanks to you for your attention to my reminiscence.
Yours very truly, W. G. McLaren; Seattle, Washington
Source: The Jasper County Tribune (Colfax, IA); Thursday, July 5, 1984, page 2
Jasper Documents maintained by Barbara Hug.
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