West Branch Times, West Branch, Iowa, Thursday, January 18, 1917
Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, September 22, 2018
HISTORY OF WEST BRANCH
By Priscilla Club Member
The first settlement was made in West Branch in the winter of 1850-51 when three families settled in or near the present site which were the only settlers between Hickory Grove and the Iowa timber.
The first post office and grocery store was kept by Samuel King in his residence or perhaps shack, would be a better term, located in the west part of town. Mr. King moved away after a few years and no other store was opened until 1860 when Mr. Steer started a general store in his home, situated where LeRoy Stuart now lives.
The post office was removed to a Mr. Kirk’s where E. L. Hollingsworth now lives, then to a Mr. Townsend’s who lived where Clarence Crew now lives. Later on it was moved down town where it rotated from one side of main street to the other until it was located in the present building in the year 1907. The mail had to be transported by team and Joseph Albin had the contract for 20 years of carrying it between Davenport and Iowa City.
In 1862 Mr. Steer erected the first store building, situated about where the library now stands. In 1869 the village was laid out and in 1875 and at the date of incorporation it had a population of 375.
The railroad was completed in 1871 which was a time of great excitement and hilarity, for many of the older residents had hauled all their lumber and supplies from Muscatine. After the building of the railroad the town grew more rapidly for a while and soon began to assume city airs. A separate village was laid off and all east of Blazek’s store and north of Main street was called Cameron in honor of the chief civil engineer of the railroad whose name was Cameron. The people of Cameron urged naming it all Cameron, but the residents in West Branch objected and the government refused to change the name of the post office so it was all changed to West Branch.
The inhabitants of West Branch were principally Friends and their meetings were held at the residence of Wm. Townsend then in a little shop until the school house was erected, where they were continued until the erection of a building which is now used for a picture show and a new one, completed in 1916.
In the early days the ministers David and Hannah Tatum came to church in a lumber wagon with an ox and a cow hitched to the wagon. There was also a good sister came with a bottle of smelling salts and when ever she saw anyone overcome with drowsiness this bottle was passed to them for “sniff” which always had the desired effect.
In the year 1882 because of innovations many of the older Friends felt they could not subscribe to there was a separation in the church. The Conservatives withdrawing and in the year of 1883 they erected a building on 2nd street, which they have since occupied.
The Methodist society was organized in 1869 and preaching was held irregularly in the school house until the next year when there was a church built, where for 46 years services were held until the new church was erected in 1913.
The Presbyterian church was organized in 1877 and the building erected in the fall of the same year.
The Baptist church had their first regular service during the summer of 1877.
The Wilbur Friends had a little church on the corner of Green and 5th street where services were held for a few years but services there as well as at the Baptist and Presbyterian churches have been discontinued.
The Danish Lutheran church was erected on South 2nd street in the year 1896.
June 3, 1853 a school lot of one acre occupying the land at southwest corner of Main and Downey street was purchased by the school board for $10.00. The same summer a school house, then considered commodious was built for $800. In 1869 the main part of the new house on the hill was built and operated by the Friends for a short time with Joel and Hannah Bean as instructors. It was then purchased by the Independent School District and the old building moved near to and north of it and used as the primary school room and a new building erected, which years later was burned. Another building erected which was struck by lightning and burned and the present building erected.
There was also an Indian boarding school held here for 2 or 3 years situated about when the library building now stands.
There were also singing, spelling and geography schools, where they sang geography with nothing to guide but a tuning fork and the harmony that prevailed must have been an inspiration to the teacher as well as any listener.
In 1858 the first flood that we have an account of which in someplaces was ¾ of a mile wide. A lady who was fording it on horse back had the misfortune to have her horse stumble and fall and she went under the water all except her plain white silk bonnet which staid with her head on top of the water. This same lady or girl wore her plain bonnet to Tipton normal, where they called her the Quaker girl.
People were rowed across this stream in a skiff from where the East Side Store now stands to the corner of Main and Downey street.
In 1879 the second flood came which undermined the railroad bridge south of town and the first train crossing it which was a passenger went down.
In Sep. 1916 the last one occurred of which you may all have some recollection.
In the early history of West Branch it was no unusual thing to see from one to five or six teams mired in the mud between 4th and Downey street.
In the stirring times of the 60’s many of the boys in and around West Branch responded to the call and a few to their last call.
In 1899 the West Branch Index, a small paper was published by Geo. Barrington. In 1870 or 71 this was taken up by A. M. Russell and C. M. Craighead, who continued it about one year. The West Branch Times, a weekly paper was established April 1, 1875 by S. W. Raber, who sold the office and paper to Edwin Gruwell and he sold to C. Wickersham, who sold to Mr. Gruwell, Mr. Leech and then to the present editor.
West Branch has also had the distinction of holding a fair a few years. The first one was held in the Friends church where there was a fine display of woman’s handiwork. The lots above the church was used for a race track, there then being no buildings between the old cemetery and Main street except the church which then faced Main street and later on was turned to face Downey street. The fair was later held on the ground south west of town where the foot-prints of the race track are the only thing left to tell the story.
The first hotel was run by a Mr. Way later Mr. Crook started a restaurant with two rooms for travelers, then his business increased so he moved to the Witter building, but is now known as Julien Hotel.
Jan. 15, 1875, the State Bank was established by a stock company with a cash capital of $50,000. In 1877 the company built the brick building recently torn and replacing it with a building that would be a credit to a much larger city.
The Citizens Bank was established in 1878 with cash capital of $20,000. The present building was erected in 1908.
Dr. Townsend was the first dentist and when we remember the agony of the extracting of the first tooth by him in comparison with present day systems we cannot even smile yet at our fears of the dentist chair.
The first millinery store was started in 1869 by M. A. Albin, the first harness shop by Joe Broadhead, the first furniture store by Geo. Boon, first drug store by Harvey Harris, first public hall was over the hardware store on corner of where Citizens’ Saving bank now stands. The first rural telephone toll line built in Iowa was between West Branch and Springdale and built by Dr. Bailey.
B. A. Gill and T. T. Hathaway have been in business the longest of anyone in town. Dr. Leech is the oldest professional business man and there is no one in any business now who was when he came in 1882.
Mr. Crook collected the money to build the first piece of sidewalk in town which was the width of two planks run from the depot over to Downey street, a good width only for lovers.
The library of which we are justly proud was erected in the year 1904. The electric light plant was started on May 5th, 1899.