Cedar County, Iowa
Community News

West Branch Times, West Branch, Iowa, Thursday, the October 12, 1922
Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, July 10, 2018


     The Rock Island Lines have been celebrating their “Seventy Years of Service.” In recognition of this, and as a community courtesy, the Commercial Club, composed of the enterprising business men and citizens of West Branch and vicinity, arranged a very fitting entertainment for last Tuesday evening.

     The Club issued invitations to the local employees of the Rock Island, the G.A.R., and to its own members, to attend a banquet at 6:15 o’clock, served by the Ladies Aid in the dining rooms of the Methodist church. This met with an enthusiastic response and none were disappointed in either the dinner or the service. Three long tables graced the banquet hall and they were beautifully decorated with vases of pink and white cosmos and trailing green among the gleaming china and silver. Sixty-five plates were served. The menu follows: Roast Chicken, Dressing, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Lima Beans, Sweet Potatoes Glace, Waldorf Salad, Pickles, Jelly, Rolls and Butter, Coffee, Pumpkin Pie and Ice Cream

     The orchestra played a number of selections during the dinner.

     The outstanding feature of the evening was the presence of Mr. O’Hare of the Rock Island Lines, who is Custodian of Records. Mr. O’Hare was met at the train by Mayor T. A. Moore and Hon. J. E. Larson of the Commercial Club, who entertained him until the hour for the dinner. During the dinner it was a pleasure to note the members of the club, the Rock Island employees and the G.A.R., wearing the medals issued by the Company in celebration of their 70th anniversary. Each of those present was presented with a souvenir issue of the Rock Island Magazine, which is issued each month by the company for free distribution to its many employees.

     Following this the company repaired to the High School Auditorium where they joined a large crowd in listening to a program unique in local interest. Radio music was enjoyed during the seating of the audience. The local orchestra, under the direction of Mr. Gratke of the high school faculty, also played a number of selections. Dr. L.J. Leech gave an address on the revolution in transportation facilities. The doctor’s remarks were replete with living memories of transportation conditions and their changes within his own recollections, and were very interesting both to the younger generation and to those present who could share the past with him.

     Miss Alice Claussen sang in her usual pleasing manner and responded to an encore.

     Rev. W. G. Rowley then gave a very interesting history of West Branch gleaned from authentic sources, and teeming with entertaining facts. It is surprising to recall the romance and history connected with our little city and to discover that we have had a small but important share in public events. Rev. Rowley’s address follows:

     The first settlement that was made in this immediate vicinity was in the winter of 1850-51, when three families came seeking a new home. There were then no other settlers between Hickory Grove and the timber on the Iowa River. Samuel King, who resided in a shack in what is now the west part of town, had the first postoffice and grocery store in his home. These were the days when all the necessities of the frontier had to be brought over land by wagons from the nearest river towns. All that the pioneers could not make themselves was brought from Muscatine, or some other point on the Mississippi River. Some might ask why there were no markets or lumber yards in Iowa City. The railway did not go through Iowa City till 1856. The mail was then carried in the stages that covered the route from Iowa City to Davenport and the driver was Joseph Albin who had a contract to carry the mail for twenty years. Mr. Albin used to go through here when there was only one house and that stood about where the Grant Hayslett home is on the west end of Main Street. Travel in those days may at times have been very pleasant when the soft prairie breezes were blowing, but sometimes the trips were made by the stage coaches under extreme difficulties if not danger. One night Mr. Albin made the drive with the wind in his favor when a fierce blizzard was sweeping the eastern part of the state. That same night a family that had been to church at Brick Chapel and started home were lost and froze to death only a few rods from their home. We probably do not appreciate as we should the debt we owe those who endured the harsh phases of pioneer days while we know little but comfort and luxury.

     In 1860 the only store in the community was in the home of Mr. Steer, whose house was situated where LeRoy Stuart now lives. At that time the excellent street which now takes us to the Rock Island depot was not there because the road followed off south to the higher ground to avoid the low, swampy stretch between Downey street and Fourth street. A small creek crossed Main street about where the gas station now stands and there was a wooden bridge in front of the present location of the post office. A few years later the road was straightened and then it was no uncommon sight to see several teams mired in the flats east of Downey street.

     In 1853 a school lot of one acre occupying the south-west corner of Main and Downey streets was purchased for ten dollars. A school building costing eight hundred dollars was erected and considered to be very fine. In 1869 the Friends were operating a school on the present school site under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Bean. Later this building was purchased by the independent district and the district schoolhouse was moved to the hill beside the building erected by the Friends. Since that time two other buildings have been erected and both have burned and then the older of the two present buildings was a necessity. For two or three years there was an Indian school under the management of the Friends and it was situated about where the public library is, and in the building now located next west of the State Bank.

     An interesting item in the history of West Branch is the fact that where there is now one town there were once two towns. After the coming of the railroad in 1871 the village grew rapidly. A new addition sprung up east of Blazak’s store and north of Main street and it was named Cameron in honor of the chief civil engineer of the railroad. It was the hope of the people in this new part of town that the name might be changed to Cameron but the rest of the community objected and the government refused to make the change. The post office remained by the name of West Branch.

     In 1871 besides the schoolhouses and the churches there were the following houses: A residence stood on the corner across the street south of the Methodist church. There was a drug store where the Blazek grocery store is located. A shoe and harness shop was on the Citizen’s Bank corner. Mr. Steer with his store lived where the Vern McKarahan home is, and the first house east was where the J. D. Vincent home stands on east Main street. There was a tavern where the residence of J. C. Crew is located. There may have been one or two other residences on Main street.

     Of course the event that turned the history of the town was the coming of the railroad in 1871. There are yet a few people who remember the excitement and the joy when the first trains went through town. This was done after the grading was completed from Burlington to Cedar Rapids. From Vinton on north for some distance the grading was previously made. At that time the station was built on the east side of the tracks but in later years it was moved to the west side. One of the problems of the early days for the railroad was fuel and the other problem was water. The engines were the old balloon smokestacks and burned wood. It was necessary very frequently to stop and reload the tender with wood. The first year or so that the railway went through West Branch, Mr. Nate Crook and another man had the task of pumping water by hand for the water tanks. This was no easy undertaking because the engines were small and they took water very often, even on short runs. In a few years the water for the railroad tanks was pumped by a horse on a sweep. When the railroad first went through stocks were sold to the farmers with the understanding that each stockholder was to get a certain amount of complimentary free transportation. Some remember the flood in August, 1879, when a passenger train went through the bridge just below town. With the coming of the railroad there were many new industries introduced into the thriving Quaker settlement.

     The Methodist church was organized in 1869, but from the very earliest days the community of West Branch had been settled mostly by people of the Friends sects. The Presbyterians and the Baptists both held their first services in their churches in 1877. The Lutheran church was erected in 1896. Opera house in house where Mrs. Mattie Stewart now lives.

     In the early days there was a large grist mill standing on about the location of the W. A. Brown residence. At one time, also, a match factory was conducted by Mr. Rummells. This was destroyed by fire. There was also a button factory at one time. The first record of a local new sheet of any kind goes back to about 1869 or 1870. The first hotel, although there were taverns all along the stage routes, was established in 1873. The State Bank was established in 1875 and the Citizens Bank in 1898. The city water system was installed fifteen years ago. Since that time business and other types of improvements have come in their turn until West Branch is second to no town in her pride and community spirit.

     The history of West Branch is not complete unless there be something said of some of the historic characters who have been associated with the past. It was in October, 1856, that a man alighted from a shaggy mule in front of the “Traveler’s Rest”, which was the name of the little frame tavern kept by James Townsend in the village of West Branch. The traveler asked the landlord if he had ever heard of John Brown of Kansas and this was all the introduction that was necessary. Tradition has it that Brown’s hat and coat were chalk marked with an X and that his mule was also marked to indicate that the men and the mule were forever on the free list at this tavern. John Brown came to this community because the Friends were in hearty sympathy with him in his plans to free the slaves and they could be trusted to protect and co-operate. John Brown spent much time in the Springdale settlement from 1856 to 1859. He made this region sort of a base of operations preliminary to his attack upon Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

     Early in the winter of 1857-58 Brown came to the Springdale settlement for the fifth time and brought his little band of men with him. His plan was to spend the winter in this community. In the little group of picked followers were artists, poets, orators, a war correspondent for the New York Tribune, and other talented persons. Others from here joined Brown and among them were George B. Gill, Edwin and Barclay Coppock and Stewart Taylor. The old gravel house is still standing on the Wm. Maxson farm three miles northeast of Springdale, in which Brown quartered his men for the winter. The time was spent in drilling and study and debate. The drill master was Stevens who had been court-martialed and sentenced to be shot because of a quarrel with Col. Longstreet, who was afterward General Longstreet of the Confederate army. Stevens had escaped and joined the fight for freedom of the slaves.

     Brown did not stay at Springdale all winter but went east to seek recruits and money and counsel. Upon his return to Springdale Brown disclosed to a few, among them Dr. Gill, what his plan was and of the intended raid on Harper’s Ferry. All who knew of his scheme tried to dissuade him from such an attempt but Brown was unmoved in his faith in the venture.

     On April 27th, when Brown returned from the East with funds in hand and more promised, he told his men it was time to move. It was a sad day when this band of talented, young men took their leave from ties that had been forming through the winter. The destiny of the move proved to be Chatham, Canada, where more preparation was made for the Harper’s Ferry attack which for several reasons was not made in 1858. In February, 1859, John Brown again appeared in Springdale and he was accompanied by a party of negroes taken in Missouri. By the help of friends he had brought them this far through Iowa and this was the beginning of his underground railway for the smuggling of slaves to Canada. The federal authorities were then looking for Brown with his escaped slaves. By strategy a freight car was secured, brought to West Liberty, and the negroes put aboard after much excitement and anxiety. The old gravel house, which is still standing, was one of the stops in the movement of the negroes. Here they were fed and well treated.

     In November, 1859, Mrs. Ann Coppock received a letter from her son, Edwin. It told of the capture of the band. December 13th, after he had had his trial and was sentenced to be hung, Edwin Coppock wrote the following letter from Charleston, Va., to an uncle in Ohio:

     “My Dear Uncle:--I seat myself by the stand to write for the first and last time to thee and thy family. Tho far from home and overtaken by misfortune, I have not forgotten you. Your kindness and hospitality toward me during my short stay with you last Spring is stamped indelibly upon my heart; and also the generosity bestowed upon my poor brother, who now wanders an outcast from his native land. But, thank God, he is free. I am thankful it is I who have to suffer instead of him.

     The time may come when he will remember me. And the time may come when he will still further remember the cause for which I died. Thank God, the principles of the cause in which we are engaged will not die with me and my brave comrades. They will spread wide spread wider and wider and gather strength with each hour that passes. The voice of truth will echo through our land bringing conviction to the erring and adding members to the glorious army who will follow its banners. The cause of everlasting truth and justice will go conquering and to conquer until our broad and beautiful land shall rest beneath the banner of freedom.

     I had fondly hoped to see the principles of the Declaration of Independence fully realized. I had hoped to see the dark stain of slavery blotted from our land and the libel of our boasted freedom erased; then we can say in truth that our beloved country is the land of the free and the home of the brave. But that cannot be. I have heard my sentence passed—my doom is sealed. But two more short days between me and eternity. At the expiration of these two days I shall stand upon the scaffold to take my last look of earthly scenes.

     But the scaffold has but little dread for me, for I honestly believe that I am innocent of any crime justifying such punishment. But by the taking of my life and the lives of my comrades, Virginia is but hastening that glorious day when the slave will rejoice in his freedom. When he will say “I, too, am a man,” and am no more groaning under the yoke of oppression.

     But I must close. Accept this short scrawl as a remembrance of me. Kiss little Josey for me. Remember me to all the relatives and friends. And now farewell for the last time. From your nephew, Edwin Coppock.

     The final resting place of the remains of this young martyr are in the cemetery at Salem, Ohio. A Salem paper of the time said, “The man who Virginia branded as a traitor and a murderer, the people of Salem have honored as a patriot and an honest man. Charlestown gave him the gallows, Salem will build him a monument and on that monument will be inscribed the vindication of his acts.”

     West Branch has also a right to boast because in the cottage standing on the corner one block south of the hotel Herbert Hoover was born August 10, 1874. His name may still be found in some of the old school records. It must have been that from his good Quaker parents and rom the traditions of West Branch he gained the foundation for his conception of service and of greatness. The name of M. W. Savage, who became one of the great financial successes of Minneapolis, must be mentioned.

     If West Branch deserves a place at all in this celebrations is not for her size nor for her achievements but for the ideals and for the good homes and for the spirit of brotherhood that pervades the entire community.

     Harold Yetter delighted the audience with a baritone solo. He was accompanied on the piano by Mrs. P.V.N. Myers.

     Supt. C. K. Hayes then introduced Mr. O’Hare of Chicago, Custodian of Records for the Rock Island Lines, who gave a delightful talk, expressing his happiness at being here, his appreciation of our hospitality, and impressed all present with his fine personality. Those of us who were so fortunate as to meet him personally were especially favored, and look forward to a time when he may be with us again.

     A part of the evenings program was the broadcasting by radio from Chicago of speeches by President Gorman and Charles Hayden, chairman of the board of directors. In as much as the evening program was filled, the radio was not tuned in for this, and as the message from President Gorman is of interest to all both in and out of the railway service, same is reprinted herewith:

     Seventy years ago, the history of the United States was in the making.

     In the two centuries which had passed since the Pilgrim Fathers braved the bleak and forbidding shores of New England, the Old World had been wondering what the New World would prove to be. The Declaration of Independence marked the first mile-stone in development and the real beginning of National life. Hardy pioneers, from time to time, penetrated the West and broadened the scope of our civilization. Here and there, settlements were established and towns and cities came into being; but, for the most part, the West was unknown in its characteristics and its possibilities.

     It was a vast area of undulating prairie and boundless plains.

     In the East, railroad transportation had already demonstrated its economic value, and development and progress had followed in its wake.

     The Great West awaited the action of men of vision and of daring.

     Chicago had become a city of some considerable importance. On the shores of the Mississippi, cities and towns were growing into commercial centers, but a connecting link of rapid transit was lacking.

     With the construction of railways from the East to Chicago, this need was emphasized. The stories of the “Forty-Niners” aroused a keener interest in the West and the possibilities of railway construction were given serious consideration. It was during these stirring times that the Rock Island railroad was conceived and seventy years ago began its operation.

     Three score and ten years is but a brief period in the development of a nation such as ours, but it is the span of life allotted to man, and so we pause to review the work that has been accomplished in this single-span and to consecrate ourselves anew to service for the future.

     Marvelous changes have occurred in the last seventy years. The unknown West has become the Nations’ bread basket. Struggling villages have become thriving and populous towns and cities of wealth and beauty, while agricultural developments has resulted in productivity to a value almost unbelievable, as the result of the coming of the railroads.

     The accomplishments of these seventy years in our national growth stand out as a distinct era in industrial and agricultural progress. Inventive genius has startled the world, and the wildest dreams of our fore-fathers seem commonplace in the light of facilities now in common use; and, by a recent mastery of natural forces, it is possible for me to talk to you tonight through miles of space.

     And who will dare to measure the possibilities of the future? What wonderful development there is in store for us yet as a nation.

     The Rock Island railroad is typical of the forces which have brought about the marvelous development of this country of ours, and we of the West may, therefore, take pride together in the accomplishments of the past seventy years.

     So, in celebrating the Seventieth Anniversary of the Rock Island Lines, all of us pay tribute to the men who projected and constructed the railways of our early days, and we commemorate the achievements of those early operators. We celebrate the Seventieth Anniversary of the operation of the first train between Chicago and Joliet, which realized the immediate ambitions and aspirations of that group of men who visualized the possibilities of the hour and constructed the first link of what are now the Rock Island Lines—the first railroad to reach the Mississippi River and the first to bridge its waters. From this modest beginning has developed the system of today, which serves the peoples of fourteen states with its 8200 miles of line.

     To my fellow members of the Rock Island Family, and to you, our friends, within the sound of my voice, I present the thought of our responsibilities. Adequate transportation facilities are essential to our national prosperity. A relationship of confidence and co-operation should be constantly maintained between the public and the railroads. Our interests are mutual.

     And the solution of our problem lies in acceptance of responsibilities and in fair dealing by the managements of the railways, the employees and the public to the common end that satisfactory service may be provided at all times, and the interests of the public, the employees and the railway investors properly protected.

     In our celebration we contemplate with reasonable pride the accomplishments of our “Seventy Years of Service, “ but we should face the future with a fixed determination to play our parts honestly and fairly in the common interest and for the future welfare and progress of our Nation.

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