Cedar County, Iowa
Community News

Clarence Sun, dates of November 30, 1944 and December 14, 1944
Transcribed by Sharon Elijah March 6, 2017

By Gordon Smith

    We usually think of history as having to do with wars and dates when certain events happened. The really important phase of American history is the emigration westward of families of people with their subduing of forest and prairie and bringing the land into cultivation. Such is the case with the history of the township in which we live.

     It has been 100 years since the first white people came to make permanent homes in the township. In 1844 Thomas Robinson and his wife, nee Margaret Spear settled in the timber on the banks of Mill Creek, where Art Larick now lives. They were the grandparents of the late Ernest Robinson, Rena Buckley and Willie Robinson of Clarence. In 1847 a son, William S., was born to them, the first white child born in the township. Mr. Robinson was also the first postmaster. The early settlers found quantities of wild onions growing along the banks of Mill Creek. From this circumstance they called this body of timber Onion Grove. It formerly extended almost half a mile further south and west, but has been cut off to provide more farm land. Other than the body of timber along the creek, the earliest settlers found the rest gently rolling prairie covered by rich tough grass. At one time it was possible to drive across country to Tipton without being hindered by fences or roads at all.

     In 1847 the Moses Garrison family coming from Jones County, settled where Robert Kelly lived. As near as can be ascertained they were the second family to settle here. They were the parents of the late Mrs. Martha Van Wormer. Other families soon followed. The Wm. Laughrey family settled where Chas. Starr now lives. There was also a family named Snow that lived on the McConkie farm now tenanted by Walter Hartwig. Mrs. Snow is credited with bringing the butter print to this locality. It was a door yard plant to her in Ohio which she admired and in order to enjoy its bright yellow flowers she brought some seed to Iowa. In the rich soil it multiplied until it has become a weed that is almost impossible to eradicate. The James Girard family lived where Harold Ruther does now. Mr. Girard erected in 1855, a store building which stood on the north side of the lane leading to that set of buildings. When the railroad came through it was moved to town and stood for many years on that location until in 1882 when the present brick building was erected by the late George E. Smith to house his drug store. It was moved to the location on the Dr. H. A. Bouschlicher property where it served as a barn. A couple of years ago it was torn down. Till then it was the oldest building in the community. The Girard family above referred to, moved to Kansas where they gave their name to the city of Girard, Kansas.

     A postoffice was established in the community which was served by the carrier on the route which led from Iowa City to Dubuque. Mail was carried by horseback in saddlebags, deliveries were weekly or bi-weekly at the most.

     At an early date, a cemetery was laid out on a knoll in the timber. It was never generally used because of its being unwisely chosen on a ledge or rock coming close to the surface making the graves shallow in depth and also the fact that the Diamond Cemetery was established in 1856 and the Clarence Cemetery in 1868. However it contains the graves of the earliest settlers, the Robinson family, the Laughreys, a family named Brown who lived in the timber east of Kellys, members of which died within two years time of tuberculosis, a sister of Mrs. Martha Van Wormer, some children named Dorr and a few others. The grave of no person there can now be identified.

     In 1853 the Frink and Decker families settled on the banks of the Creek in what we know as Dayton Valley. This brought a large number of settlers of a substantial character into the northeast part of the township. Descendants of these people still occupy farms in that neighborhood, one of the most beautiful rural spots in the middle west.

     For election purposes the three townships in the northern tier of the county were combined in one called Polk Township, named in honor of President James K. Polk. One of the early elections was held at the house of a man named Ayres, who lived where John Feddersen does now. The late Mrs. Eunice Cartwright is authority for this that the ballots were strung on a needle and yarn as they were counted, in order to keep them together. As the county became more fully settled, these townships were separated and the eastern one of them called Massillon for the village of that name which in turn was named for Massillon, Ohio. The other two were called respectively, Fremont and Dayton, for the first Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates in the election of 1856, John C. Fremont and William Dayton. Thus these two townships in their names are a perpetual memorial to the entrance of the Republican party into national affairs.

     In 1856 regular religious services began to be held in the Dayton Valley neighborhood. This was the origin of the Dayton Valley Wesleyan Methodist Church, the oldest religious organization in the township. The building was erected in 1869 and has had an unbroken existence till the present. Incidentally, this church is the oldest one of its kind in Iowa and perhaps west of the Mississippi River.

     In 1858 the railroad called then, the Chicago, Iowa and Nebraska Railroad, was graded and track laid as far as the lane leading to Henry Pruess’ house. Here the work stopped for lack of funds and the approach of winter. A box car was switched to a side track to form the first depot. A farmer named Wm. Hoey who lived where F. J. Bachman does now, was the first station agent. The next season the track was completed into town. A celebration was held on the Fourth of July that year, the principal attraction of which was a train ride to Lowden and back. With the advent of the railroad the few buildings in the Onion Grove community were moved to the present town site. The new community was known by that name. In 1863 L. B. Gere, a merchant at that time, made the suggestion to change the name to Clarence, in honor of his native town of Clarence, New York. Mr. Gere erected about that time the brick house now owned by Mrs. Ida Engelking. The telegraph call letters for this station are still O. G. for Onion Grove.

     On Sunday, June 3rd, 1860, a most devastating tornado swept into the township from the northwest. It struck a house standing north of Robert Kellys, occupied by Mr. and Mrs. John Baker, great grandparents of Mrs. Vern Freeman, demolishing the house and killing them both. It proceeded east roughly following the creek and struck another house standing on the site of the Fred Decker farm and occupied by people named Mackie, killing the entire family. Mrs. Elizabeth Decker who had just lately been made a widow and her family, Henry, Fred, Chas. and Carrie were living in a house where Robert Decker now lives. The tornado had sucked up the water and mud from the creek and just as it got opposite the house that sheltered the terrified family, let loose a blast as from a gigantic hose and literally plastered the outside walls with mud and sticks. It shortly lifted and passed out of the township to descend again after dark on the town of Camanche and lay it waste killing and injuring a number of people.

     The coming of the Civil War found the people of the community ready to support the Union. Almost a whole company was raised in this community, Company G of the 31st Iowa Infantry which saw action around Chattanooga, Tennessee. Only one person from the township lost his life in battle in the war between the states. He was Carlon Frink, a young man of 20 who lost his life in the battle of Shiloh.

     During the war there was some emigration into the township, but after the war another movement of population began, particularly from Ohio and New York. David Claney, a native of Holmes County, Ohio, was the first settler in the northwest part of the township. He and his family came in 1859. His presence here induced a number of other Holmes County families to emigrate to Iowa, which formed a substantial and permanent addition to our population. The principal families being those of James and John Claney, brothers of David. The Hoyman, Boling, T. B.Miller, Albert Miller and Bixler families. Other families settling in that locality were Peter Flansburg and John Van Wormer in 1855, Nathaniel Dewell in 1855, James Beatty 1865, P. B. Sylvester 1867, G. C. Wilkins 1868, Andrew Nicoll 1868, Matthew Springstead 1857, Walter Flansburg 1867, Berryhill in 1868, J. P. Ferguson 1956.

     During the 1870’s lured by the prospect of cheap land, many families from this section began to move on to western Iowa and Nebraska. This displacement of population made an opening that was filled by the coming of German immigrants in the late 1870’s and 1880’s. The Decker family, who came in 1853, were the first German immigrants to settle in the township. The grandparents, Casper and Margaret Decker, were Hessians to come first to New York where their son, Henry, married in to the Frink family and came with them to Iowa. The Bauman family came to this community in 1868 as did John Hoffner, Sr., and John Dettmann. Peter Dettmann and Chris Hoffmeiester in 1870, Wm. Bachman in 1872, and also Heinrich Goldschmidt. In 1873 Fred and Henry Goldsmith, Mary VItense, Joe Gehrls and John Gehrls. In 1874 Joe Goldsmith and family and Hans Goldsmith.

     During the 1880’s a stream of immigrants poured into this section. It would seem that as fast as that generation got old enough to go for itself, the young people, both boys and girls left Germany and came to America to find permanent homes in this section. This seemed to be especially true of the inhabitants of the villages of Estorf, Hanover and Laese, and Landesbergen in Mecklenberg. The virtues of thrift, integrity and frugality were deeply implanted in these people. Given an adequate economic opportunity these people were bound to prosper. They were God fearing people which led them to band together for worship as soon as there were a few families in this section and as a result St. John’s Evangelical church was organized in 1882.

     The first settlers in the southeast part of the township were the William Robinson family who came in 1853. They were soon followed by the Rudy and Omo families. A man named Fawcett, a Quaker, settled on the hill south of town in 1860. Henry Garland whose wife was Catharine Frink lived on the Cosgriff farm in the Civil War days. James Beach was another very early settler in that neighborhood as well as Robert Safely, a Scotchman.

     West and south of town there were also substantial people. The Peter Gortner family came to the Shuck farm in 1857. In 1860 they moved to the present farm where John Gortner still makes his home. Peter Gortner in 1870, erected on his farm a frame barn, still standing, which was the first barn in this locality. Before this time farmers had sheltered their cattle and stock in sheds made of poles covered by prairie grass or straw as a protection against the weather. The Woods family came in 1869, Gabriel Sawyer 1863, the Wm. Cassie family to the hill west of town in 1854, the Bromell family 1865, Jessie Britcher 1856, John Spear 1855, the Shucks, James Burgess 1875.

     Another event of considerable significance is the tornado on May 18, 1898. The cloud formed two miles west of town and swept along the north edge of the Clarence cemetery between it and the creek, laying everything flat in its path. It headed a little northeast where it hit the farm long owned by the late Thomas Brink and tenanted then by the Chas. Deke family. Fred Koch, Sr., was working for them, and spied the storm in time to hurriedly herd the family into the cellar. It was not a second too late for the tornado struck the house demolishing it and wrecking the place generally. The house floor was left over the basement and strange to say the only object on it was the baby’s high chair. A trunk belonging to Mr. Koch which he had brought from Germany was carried in the storm for five miles and dropped near the Wapsie river at Massillon. The barn roof was ripped off and carried beyond the Wapsie river where it was dropped largely intact. The place was littered with lumber, broken machinery, small grain, chickens without feathers were running around. The storm also up-rooted about 100 feet of hedge fence that grew on the line between this place and the Greig farm to the east.

     The first settlers broke up the tough prairie sod with a large breaking plough which had a sharp knife or disc mounted on the beam ahead of the plough share itself to cut the sod so that the share itself could turn it over. In order to rot the sod the ground was planted either to flax or wheat. This country produced much wheat for a number of years until in the 1880’s the chinch bugs came to be a serious pest.

     Gradually the change was made to corn and hogs. Every farmer raised wheat enough for his own flour and mills were operated on the Wapsie River at Oxford Mills and Thorn’s Mill at Toronto, where people went to have it ground into flour. It was profitable for years to have two elevators in operation at Clarence to handle the volume of grain that went from this community to eastern markets.

     When the change came to corn, people did not have the specially selected strains that we have today. There were yellow, white and calico corn raised, the latter being a mixture of white and red grains on the same cob. Farmers as they husked corn saved out the best formed ears for seed for the coming year. The much famed Reid’s Yellow Dent, did not appear until about 35 years ago.

     The great problem of the early farmer was that of drainage. There was no system of drain tile on each farm as we have now. The slope of the land was so gradual that there was little chance for water to get away when there was any considerable amount of moisture. Farmers worked only the high ground and let the lower flatter portions of the farm grow up to slough or prairie grass. In a wet year a man was forced to farm only patches of ground and let the most of it go.

     One of the early devices to drain land was what was called a mole ditcher, which went along below the surface about four foot deep and reamed out a narrow tunnel in the earth like a mole’s burrow. While this helped they would soon fill in or clog up by roots or bodies of animals. The season of 1892 was a very wet one and in desperation farmers began to turn their attention to the possibilities of clay drain tile. The first tiling done in this township was put in on the farm one mile north and half a mile west of Clarence then owned by Walter Flansburg in 1882 and 1883. Two inch tile were first used. Because of their small diameter they soon filled up and it was found advisable to substitute three and four inch tile for them. The “draws” on high ground were tiled out first because they were more easily accessible rather than going to the lower ground and providing adequate drainage for it.

     Mention should also be made of the following people all of whom are seventy years of age or older who have spent their lives in the township and who have contributed in one way or another, information which has gone into the preparation of this sketch. They are Willie Robinson, Mrs. Sadie Decker, A. R. Bixler, C. G. Sawyer, John Gortner, John and Henry Bauman, George Sylvester and Miss Lucy Woods. John Kroeplen and others have supplied information as to the arrival of the German element of our population.

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