Early Calhoun County History

Chapter XI

Incidentally and in order that the reader may the more easily note and compare the transitional progress growing from that time of early beginning, where the conditions of nature, though richly abundant, were all in all. A few additional facts with reference to first things, will here be added to what has already been alluded to.

The first school house was a log cabin, with clap board roof, built in 1856 and located just north of Peter Smith's farm house. The territory of the sub-district, in which this house belonged, was all of Calhoun county. The first school taught was in the winter of 1856, and by David Reed, but which lasted for one day only on account of a fearful storm that swept over the country during the day. Many of the children had to be carried home in the evening, and on account of the continuation of the severely cold and stormy weather, that term of school was never opened again. Report of schools therefore for the year 1856 would be, one school, one day.

The second school was taught in the same house in the summer of 1857 and, under more favorable circumstances; was decidedly more successful than its predecessor of the winter before.

The teacher secured for this term of school was Miss Sarah Cole, since Mrs. Moses Sherman. Her school was taught to the end of the term, and was successfully and fairly inaugurated, the school system of our county. The second house built in Lake City was a dwelling erected by Chas. Amy on the west side of the public square, the lumber for which was procured from the saw mill of Wm. Lane at Big Grove, or where Grant City is now located. (Note: Grant City was 7 miles west of Lake City)

The material for the court house which was built in 1857 also came from the big grove, and was constructed by Moses Sherman and H.H. Tabor, and the lumber drawn to the place of building by C.J. Cole. This house furnished the available facilities for court purposes until September 1877, when the county seat was removed to Rockwell City, with the exception that during three or four years of the latter part of the time on account of its being so small and poorly arranged, courts were held at other places, such as the school house, the first store building and Cook's hall. The county officials moved into the court house in 1858.

The school house built in Lake City, and which took the place of the cabin which had been built west of town, was a frame building erected a short distance north of the public square, and now owned by Josiah Hartley. The architects for this structure were Nate Condron and Joe Williams. This house was occupied continuously for school purposes for about 13 years when through various changes of ownership it passed to its present proprietor. The first stock of goods was brought to Lake City by John Lumpkin and David Reed, and was place in their building; and opened up ready for business on Christmas Eve, 1856. The name of the firm changed soon to John Lumpkins and Peter Smith, who carried on the mercantile business for many years. Goods were purchased at Burlington, Keokuk and Des Moines, and sometimes slightly replenished from the supply wagon of Elliott McDaniel, who with headquarters at Oskaloosa made it a business of hauling flour, whiskey, salt and other heavy groceries through this part of the country, making a trip each month during the time from 1857 to 1859.

The first blacksmith shop in Lake City was built in 1857 and consisted in four posts set in the ground, with boards laid on top for roof, and boards nailed to posts for siding on one side with the other three sides of the building open, the siding on the one side so arranged however that it could be moved around from one side to the other, as the wind changed. And here Mr. Blacksmith, in the height of his glory and mechanical skill, in full view of the public and with sparks flying, wrought his works of iron and steel.

The first sermon preached was in the year 1856, at the dwelling house of Peter Smith, and by the Rev. Black of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Later meetings were held from time to time by Sylverster McGeorge of the Christian church. The first revival services were held in the court house, by the Rev. Barnes of the M.E. church. This meeting was carried on for some considerable length of time, and appears to have aroused much interest in religious matters, for people came from far and near to attend these meetings; some from even Sac and Green county.

The amount of grain raised in the county up to the fall of 1855, consisted entirely of sod corn, which although during the latter years yielded a good crop, for the acres planted, but little more than supplied the wants of those who produced it, without having a surplus left for those who came too late in the season to raise sod corn during that year and no wheat from which flour could be made until the following year, consequently all bread stuffs except corn meal had to be brought from somewhere else. The Egypt for the supply of corn after that raised in the county had been exhausted, was down Coon river, at first some 40 or 50 miles, later 25 or 30 miles, and finally down about the Kendall bridge.

Wheat for flour appeared to be out of the question, for several years, so that nearly all flour had to be brought from Des Moines or other places further east.

Pleasant G. Hull, in August, 1857, went 3 miles east of Monroe in Jasper county and bought a load of wheat, took it to Red Rock on the Des Moines to mill, had it manufactured into flour and brought it to Calhoun county. Most of the flour, however for several years, came from Des Moines, for after mills were built nearer, wheat was not raised in sufficient quantity to supply the demand.

For a year or two before the Oxford mill commenced operations, people got corn ground on a horse power mill at Big Grove, operated by Wm. Lane. Some of the time during the winter of 1856--57 it was nearly impossible on account of the deep snow and severe cold, to reach even this horse power corn grinder. Corn meal was much used for bread when the stock of flour gave out--so much so in fact that some pioneers acquired a distaste for food prepared from the product of corn in any shape, and which lasted for years after.

This cold winter and the summer following, was probably the extreme or turning point in the matter of privation and hardships, during those early times. Some prices might be given: flour sold for $7 and $8, per hundred, corn $2 per bu., hay not to be had at any price, soon after spring opened. This was caused partly from the fact, however, that much of the limited supply of hay out the season before had gone up in the smoke of the prairie fire. This was very discouraging indeed, to cut hay by hand with a scythe, as all hay was cut at that time, and then have it burned by the fire fiend, and their horses and cattle left to perish nearly; in some cases, for want of food. The spring of 1857 was late in opening up, but finally grass made its appearance and the trouble for feed was over with, unless it might be for stock that had become so weak that they were continually being swamped in sloughs while feeding. So extreme was this destitution of Provender that straw ticks were opened to furnish feed for work horses in some cases until grass came, after which teams lived on grass as well as cattle until the new crop was harvested or sufficiently matured for use.

The winters of 1855 and 1856-57 were cold, stormy, desperate winters. The latter especially, for the great amount of snow that fell probably taking the precedence. Snow from three to four feet deep on the level, and ravines, sloughs and low grounds piled full. This added to the low temperature prevailing most of the time, and winds that swept over the country denuded of grass, by the fires f the previous fall, made a winter of the most intensely disagreeable and exceptional character. The old settlers remember that for two months continuously there was no partical of thawing took place and that roads were completely blockaded until the snow had become sufficiently compact to bear the weight of teams, when the travel passed over fields, fences and sloughs without reference to roads. When the isolated condition of the settlement is taken into consideration and the slender preparation of many in the matter of warm houses and suitable shelter for stock is understood, it takes no sketch of the fancy to decide that much hardship prevailed at that time.