WAVERLY'S FIRST RAILROAD BRINGS PROSPERITY
The war of 1861 brought to the county a complete change in every way. The Illinois Central railroad had reached Cedar Falls in the latter part of 1860, and thus opened up a market for the products of the country, which had been long looked for. Waverly and Janesville were united in trying to have a line established in the Cedar Valley, which finally was done; the road reached the former place the last of December, 1864, and stopped there for more than a year. This made Waverly a market for all the northern and western part of the state, as far as Osage on the north and Algona on the west. The arrival of the railroad within reaching distance inspired .new courage in the people and they redoubled their efforts to open up farms and produce more stuff. From that date the prosperity of the people grew by leaps and bounds, until the whole land became a garden spot in beauty and a gold mine in wealth. The war demands inflated prices to a dizzy height for the pioneers, who had been used to begging for a market. With the coming of a railroad came troops of new settlers to find homes upon the rich prairies of the county. From that time until now, the county has grown and prospered beyond the expectations of the most sanguine of the pioneers of the 50's.
The first cemetery located at Waverly was on the hill on the east side of the river and north of town, near the residence of Jim Garner. It was in a brushy and forbidding looking place then, and I suppose it is worse now. Not many burials were ever made there, and most of the bodies were disinterred and removed when Harlington was laid out. But my information is that some remain there, but are lost in identity and totally neglected. Not for years has a burial been made there. It is a lamentable thing that the American people are negligent about caring for the cities of their dead. A wise law, would be to levy a small tax in the budget of revenue to be expended in clearing up and caring for the neglected cemeteries. In many states such laws are upon the statute books, and in all such states desolate and neglected cemeteries are not found. Iowa is usually up-to-date in all matters of progress, but in this case she has stood still.
The first bridge across the river was the one built on Bremer avenue in 1857, connecting the east and west sides of the town. The floods of 1858 swept it out and another was built in 1859, which was replaced some years afterwards by a better one, and still later by the present steel structure, which is a highway for teams, autos and trolley cars.
The first flouring mill in the county was built in 1855 in Waverly, by W. P. Harmon and B. M. Reeves, and a saw mill nearby it was built earlier, so as to cut the lumber for the flouring mill. Shortly afterward a flour mill was built at Janesville; by the Morehouse's. All these mills did a fine business in their day. In 1863 Carr & Hopkins erected a steam saw mill near the river on the east side, and north of the mills built by Mr. Harmon. They operated their plant for a few years, when Hopkins sold his interest to Carr, who moved it into the timber on the Cedar river between Nashua and Charles City, where the station of Carrville now is located on the Illinois Central railroad. In Waverly the mill was located near the home of Jimmy Hayes, who hated the plant, as only a hot-tempered Irishman can hate, because it made so much noise. Jimmy tried many times to have it declared a nuisance and abated. When he heard that the mill would be removed, he took great credit to himself for its going, and said: “Begorra, 'Hop' knew I was after the varmint, and quit, and Carr moved it away, so he did, and now I can slape in peace."
Two of the old-styled hunters and crack rifle shots in Waverly in early days were Uncle Conrad Fritz and Uncle Benjamin Fobes. In their prime, to shoot a squirrel out of the tallest tree by hitting any part of the little animal except the head was a "pothunter's" way, and they had a hearty scorn for all such marksmen. Whenever they got together they talked about target shooting and never hitting any part of a squirrel except the head. Each doubted the other's skill and in a diplomatic way was not backward in saying so. After I returned from the army one day they, with Squire Ellsworth, Uncle Charley McCormick and Elder Skillen, met by chance in my store, and the shooting question came up in their general talk. At once Uncle Conrad and Uncle Ben told of their unerring skill with the rifle. The crowd edged them on until a challenge was given by Uncle Conrad to settle the championship by target test the next day, and that Ellsworth, McCormick and Skillen should act as judges. The cartel was arranged that they should each fire three shots "offhand" at a distance of fifty yards, and three shots with a rest at one hundred yards, and the target should be one and a half inches in diameter, the shots to be measured by string measure, the shortest string to, be declared the champion. All the preliminaries being settled, the event was waited for with a good deal of anxiety. In the meantime, the story of the meeting of the two old champion marksmen was circulated and the sporty fellows about town lined up as backers of one or the other of the principals. Dave Clark, as usual, was selected as master of ceremonies and umpire of the match. The place of meeting was selected on the west side of the Cedar, above the dam. A heavy and wide slab from the saw mill was set firmly in the ground and the inch and a half mark tacked on it. It was a good target and a plain mark. At the hour set for the meeting a crowd of quite a hundred were present with the judges and the rivals in the match. On a toss for first shots, Uncle Ben won, and promptly he toed the line and fired his three shots "offhand." The committee measured the target, after which Uncle Conrad stepped to the line and drove three shots at the target, which were very ceremoniously measured by the judges. Then they moved back fifty yards and made their shots from a rest. When the shooting was over the judges announced a tie, which neither of the contestants was willing to accept, for each claimed he had won and both insisted on another trial; but the judges and the crowd declared if another trial was had it must be on another day and with a new committee. The match was the event of the time and the old sports were eager to try it over, but they never did. The fact was that they did some very close shooting, so close that their hits were near the bull's eye and broke into each other so it was really impossible to tell which did have the shorter string. When they learned that fact, both were satisfied.
Last updated 4/13/15
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