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Asa Turner


Posted By: Deborah Gilbert (email)
Date: 9/12/2016 at 18:45:05

Maxwell Book: 1883-1983

Asa Turner, (3rd), one of Iowa's best known pioneers, lived on a farm south of Farrar for nearly 40 years, retiring to Maxwell in his later years. A brief article in The Des Moines Tribune, September 6, 1922, after his funeral, explains: "Mr. Turner was better known as 'Uncle Asa.'

He was born in 1842 in a New England settlement at Denmark, Iowa. He was a Civil War Veteran, having taken part in the Battle of Shiloh, and captured by the enemy, was exchanged and later commissioned to lead a company of liberated Negroes through the rest of the war.

H was the chief benefactor of Piney Woods Mississippi School for Negroes, supported several missionaries in Africa and inaugurated missionary work among the Chinese in San Francisco.

'Uncle Asa' was active in so many areas that it is hard to know where to begin. He was the subject of a full page article with photographs in the January 29, 1911 Sunday Edition of The Register and Leader. The headline read, "Uncle Asa Turner, Justly Called Great Citizen by P. G. Holden." Holden was a professor and agronomy expert at Iowa State College where Turner began attending mid-winter short courses when he was in his 60's. When the article was written, he had not missed a short course in the preceding nine years. Not only did he learn a lot, but each year he was popular with the young men who attended. And he became a close friend of Professor Holden and worked with him to promote better farming methods in Iowa. Turner was one of the men who organized the Iowa Corn Growers Association and served as its first President.

In the article, it was noted that Turner said he would rather be 'Uncle Asa' to the people of Iowa than be President.

In the 1860's, when Turner and his wife Fannie came to their farm near Farrar, they sat on a pile of lumber planning and dreaming of the future. Their personal motto became, "Let us strive to be good, to do good, and make some money."

The Turners spent more than 40 years on Maple Leaf Farm, both of them working in the community. Asa helped organize the first school district. Next, he helped organize the first Sunday School, which met in the school building for 17 years. And he participated in a variety of social gatherings of the community, all held in the school building. In 1889, a fine community church was built - with help from the Turners - and for 15 years he was class leader of the congregation. The present Farrar Church is dedicated to the Turners.

'Uncle Asa' was one of 11 children of a famous man, Asa Turner, who founded the First Congregational Church in Iowa, Denmark Academy, and the first college west of the Mississippi River.

'Uncle Asa' was born October 23, 1842, on the Turner homestead near Denmark, Iowa, in a large brick house which was a landmark for many years. He told of watcing sorrowful looking Sac and Fox Indians that had been driven from their hunting grounds and were trudging through the town of Denmark. The people hid in their homes in fear although the Indians had no weapons.

Father Turner planted 500 fruit trees on the farm. They thrived and in a few years produced so much fruit that the boys picked peaches and sold them for 6 1/2 c bushel. It was hard to find buyers even at that price. Asa and his brothers worked hard on the farm.

When he was 18 years-old, Asa enlisted in the Infantry and fought in the Civil War, being promoted to the rank of Captain by the war's end. Because of his sympathy for the blacks, he took advantage of an opportunity to join the newly organized 52nd Regiment of liberated Negroes and was later promoted for distinguished service. He was filled with admiration for the bravery of the Negroes in his regiment.

It was during the darkest days of the Civil War when the men were ragged, dirty, hungry, wet and cold, and the whole country was discouraged, that Turner determined to lead a quiet life of usefulness. He saved his army pay and sent it home to his father who put it at interest. There was $1500 waiting for him when he returned from the war.

Asa's father had bought 300 acres of land near the present town of Farrar and Asa spent a year working on the portion of the land that was his and then went home for a devoted sweetheart who became his wife and 'went out west to the raw prairies with him.'

Jesse Parr remembers that Asa won first prize with ten ears of corn at the St. Louis World's Fair. Turner tried to invent a corn picker. W. J. Parr made a lot of parts for him in the blacksmith shop and the remains of a strange machine were found on the Turner farm after his death. Later, Mr. Parr identified it as the experimental corn picker. Jesse says that he doesn't know how successful the picker was.

Susie Dunlap remembers that Asa Turner was responsible for bringing many cultural and educational events to Farrar. Students from Piney Woods School came to give talks and Piney Woods singing groups came to entertain. They didn't charge because of Turner's generosity to the school, but local people always took up a collection for them. These black students were entertained in the Turner home, as were black students from Iowa State University.

Susie Dunlap remembers that the senior Henry Wallace came to the church to speak as well as professors from Iowa State University. Each year the community planned and carried out a Farmer's Institute and a Seed Corn contest. Doctors from Des Moines were invited to come to Farrar and examine the children.

Church services played a big part in the life of the community. Fannie Turner, who had taught school near Denmark, Iowa before her marriage, taught primary and lower Sunday School classes. She was also the missionary leader and even had a children's missionary society.

'Uncle Asa' taught the older children. When they were 16 or so, they began going to his class The Turner's had no children of their own but they reared a boy, Bert Munson, and they did a lot fo the community's young people.

There were Sunday School picnics and parties at Maple Leaf Farm.

Susie Dunlap remembers Asa's habit of standing on one foot and resting the other on a seat as he talked to them, often about his experiences in the Civil War.

Fannie Turner and Susie Dunlap had the same birth date and they often celebrated together. Fannie was exactly 60 years older than Susie. One year, the Turner's had just finished building an impressive big barn and before it was used it was the scene of a birthday party for Fannie to which the community was invited. Long tables were set up in the barn.

Both Fannie and Asa Turner were active in the community, but they also gave generously to causes outside the community. Piney Woods School was Asa's chief project. He was instrumental in organizing the school, gave to it throughout his lifetime, and left the bulk of his estate to it. It is said that Asa and Lawrence Jones, who became head of Piney Woods, sat on a log and talked about plans for the school. It was fitting that at his request his tombstone in the Maxwell Cemetery faces his beloved Southland.


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