Crawford County, Iowa, IAGenWeb


History of Charter Oak

charter oak

Main Street, 1908

Before Charter Oak

The land along the Maple and the Soldier Rivers north of Charter Oak was first settled as the open prairie and was not supposed to be of great value. The great land companies, however, became interested in the vicinity and it was exploited by the Providence Western Land Co., the American Emigration Co., and the Iowa Railroad Land Co.

Charter Oak was first mentioned in an early newspaper dated August 13, 1869. The news item stated that W. H. Crombie of Davenport, Iowa, had purchased a large tract of land near Charter Oak, had many acres broken, and had seven houses built.

Our town received its name from the American Emigrant Company which was organized at Hartford, Connecticut. The story is told that, during the time the territory was being surveyed by that company, a sudden heavy cloudburst made it imperative for the surveyor to protect his maps and papers. He bundled them up and thrust them into a hollow spot of a large oak tree.

This is a story similar to the "Charter Oak" story that took place many years before in Connecticut regarding the Connecticut charter given by Charles II in 1662, which was the legal basis for all governance in Connecticut. The accession of James II to the throne required the charter be kept from his agents. The story is that it was hidden in an Oak tree, hence, the name "Charter Oak". Our "Charter Oak" tree was located somewhere in the northwestern part of town.

By 1870, immigrants came into Crawford County in much larger numbers than anyone had anticipated. The Crawford County census taker, Newton Richards, reported the population in the organized township of Charter Oak as 67. The land there was owned by the Emigrant and Railroad Companies and only two schools were maintained in Willow Township. In 1871, the school census showed 22 males and 18 females, and for a long time, school apportionments showed that Charter Oak Township had the fewest inhabitants of any township in the county.

In 1872, Charter Oak embraced what is now Soldier Township. A board of trustees was given as: H. W. Bristol, Jacob Barrett and Barnes Dowd. In 1874, the township officers were as follows: O. M. Criswell, clerk; Barney Brazell, A. P. Hart, and E. LeValley, trustees; A. P. Hart, assessor, E. LeValley and J. H. Hubbard, justices; O. Cribbs and E. Adams, constables; and O. M. Criswell and O. Cribbs, road supervisors.

In 1874, the statement was made that the Iowa Railroad Land Co. owned nearly half of the non-resident lands of the township. Mr. O. M. Criswell was one of the pioneer settlers and around his hospitable farm house finally grew the nucleus of Charter Oak. This settlement was in North Charter Oak. Mr. and Mrs. Criswell were open-handed, hospitable people and their home became a well recognized halfway house between Denison and the settlement along the Maple River. From Mr. Criswell, the Milwaukee Railroad Company purchased 27 acres of land which was to become the town of Charter Oak.

The increasing immigration to the county finally reached the vicinity of Charter Oak, although it was a long way from a market and this discouraged settlement. For many years, the hay lands in Willow and Charter Oak Townships were considered "common property" and we find records of Denison people going there to make hay upon the non-occupied lands.

The government post road from Denison to Sioux City went through Charter Oak and Soldier Townships and the mail was distributed from different points. Soon there was a post office located at Charter Oak and a blacksmith shop and a store were built. The postal records in the National Archives show that the Charter Oak, Crawford County, Iowa, Post Office was established on May 4, 1876, with O. M. Criswell appointed as the first postmaster

It was not until the building of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway from Manilla to Sioux City that the present town of Charter Oak took form. At the sale of lots, the competition was brisk and business sites brought high prices, as it was felt that the new town was to be one of the best trading points in the county.

Advertisement for the sale of lots by the railroad company.

The first building was The Old Oak Store, occupied by W. W. Cushman. The building was moved from the old site of the Charter Oak post office on the Criswell farm, and it remained one of the chief business centers of the city for many years. The old building was later replaced by a handsome brick structure. Many other buildings followed and the town sprang up as if by magic. Numerous business houses including a bank and a newspaper were soon established and the town at once became a busy market.

The Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad grade for the track was built through Charter Oak in 1887 by means of "slip scraper" and teams of horses. Rails were laid sometime later. Warren A. Brown had a team on the job and a cook tent in which Mrs. Brown cooked for the workmen. Carl Brown, then seven years of age, drove his father's team for two weeks; however, Carl was too small to dump the slip scraper unless someone had dumped the slip in front of him and then the horses dumped the slip when Carl lifted the handle.

By February of 1887, the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul tracks were completed between Manilla and Sioux City. By the end of June, trains had begun running regularly over the Milwaukee road from Manilla to Sioux City, taking 3 1/2 hours to make, the 90 mile run. There were two trains on weekdays but only one train each way on Sunday.

charter oak

Charter Oak Depot, 1909

Charter Oak Founded

Residents petitioned to incorporate the Town of Charter Oak, Crawford County, Iowa, and an election held on February 6, 1891, resulted in 93 votes cast with 70 being in favor of Incorporation and 23 against Incorporation. On February 14, 1891, Articles of Incorporation were filed at the district court.

By 1911, Charter Oak prided itself not only upon its volume of business, which was very large, because it had a splendid agricultural territory from which to draw, but upon its residential streets, its well-kept lawns and substantial cement walks. The businesses of the city were represented by four general merchandise establishments, one jewelry store, two hardware stores, two millineries, one shoe store, one furniture store, two banks, two drug stores, three implement houses, three cream stations, two barber shops, one meat market, one elevator, one flouring mill, two lumber yards, one livery, two garages, one cigar factory, one hotel, one restaurant, one lunch room, one photograph gallery, one newspaper, three saloons, three physicians, two dentists, two blacksmith shops, one harness shop, a telephone exchange, gas plant, four churches, and one schoolhouse containing eight rooms with a school system of which it was very proud.

The year 1929 marked the end of our mud streets when the town had a large section paved, consisting of 30 blocks.

The freight train service of the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railroad between Manilla and Sioux City ended in 1980 and the rails in the Charter Oak area were soon removed. The old railroad depot was sold and moved to the Charles Greene farm east of Ricketts in June of 1982.

The following population figures were supplied by the Charter Oak City Clerk:

  • Year Population
  • 1897 1,000
  • 1900 772
  • 1905 785
  • 1910 734
  • 1920 750
  • 1940 766
  • 1950 709
  • 1960 665
  • 1970 715
  • 1980 615

Town Government

Upon incorporation as the town of Charter Oak in February 14, 1891, Judge C. D. Goldsmith appointed as commissioners, O. M. Criswell, H. F. Arff, S. Schurke, F. Dubois and W. P. Mulhoren to carry out the formalities of incorporation. W. P. Bullhorn was the first Mayor and Ed Hass, the first Clerk. Others appointed were: A. S. Criswell, Treasurer, F. Dubois, Assessor; and William Marr, Marshall. The first councilmen were: C. Schurke, J. W. Staugh, Dr. Hart, Dr. McWilliams, and J. O. Shumaker. It is significant of the prosperity and enterprise of the city that Ordinance No. 1 would provide for bonds to the extent of $3,500.00 for a system of water works

Residents who petitioned to incorporate the Town of Charter Oak, Crawford County, Iowa: P. H. Simons, H. Bark, John Bolster, M. D.Hawarth, John M. Frahm, F. W. Brewer, W. A. Duncan, N. Hawarth, J. M. Gaister, R. W. Baniford, O. B. Gain, H. S. Criswell, John Balieu, C. A. Cooper, J. O. Schumaker, Theo. Drake, George Irwin, and J. E. McMullen, W. P. Mulheron, O. R. Knight, C. Schurke, F. DuBoise, W. S. McVey, E. D. Butts, W. L. Cale, Chris Freese, H. F. Arff, and D. Barnhaldt.

City records beginning in 1895 show the following serving as Mayors:

  • Mayor Years
  • W. P. Mulhoren 1891-1892
  • P. D. McMahon 1892-1897
  • W. C. Johnson 1897-1899
  • John Bolieu 1899-1902
  • O. S. Waterhouse 1902-1906
  • J. J. McWilliams 1906-1917
  • John Grabow 1917-1918
  • A. F. Barber 1918-1918
  • Chas. Robertson 1918-1919
  • Dr. C. C. Herren 1919-1920
  • J. A. Kofmehl 1920-1926
  • B. H. Runge 1926-1929
  • Otto H. Hoefer 1929-1930
  • H. C. Amstein 1930-1936
  • John Grabow 1936-1944
  • Otto H. Hoefer 1944-1944
  • John A. Thomsne 1944-1946
  • Otto H. Hoefer 1946-1948
  • George Sander 1948-1950
  • Wm. M. Nellor 1950-1952
  • Robert Butler 1952-1954
  • O. S. Omundson 1954-1957
  • Clarence J. Kortman 1957-1958
  • O. S. Omundson 1958-1960
  • Frank Staley 1960-1962
  • Wm. M. Nellor 1962-1963
  • Clarence Kortman 1963-1964
  • Arthur Binningsdorf 1964-1965
  • Wm. H. Remmes 1965-1966
  • Laverne Freerking 1966-1968
  • Frank Vogt 1968-1972
  • Alvin Kutschinski 1972-1974
  • Arnold Schmidt 1974-1974
  • Donald Friedrichs 1974-1976
  • Robert Harbaugh 1976-1978
  • Bernard Kult 1978-1980
  • Robert Harbaugh 1980-1982
  • Alvern Klinker 1982-present

Charter Oak Schools

In the very early days of Charter Oak, the children attended rural schools. By 1888, when Charter Oak had a population of 400, the first school in town was opened over a furniture store, taught by Professor Healy. Rural children did not attend this school. Even so, the facility was soon over-crowded, and the need for a different school was seen. An independent school district was formed in 1889, with board members Dr. R. J. Hart, C. H. Weed, Theo. Drake, Franz Reidesel, and O. M. Criswell. Their main task was to select a site and erect a new school. The present block was first rented for five years with the option to buy when the lease expired. The lot was purchased in December 1894 for $383.30.

A two-story frame building, with a steeple containing a large bell, was erected and classes were commenced in the fall of 1889. Eight grades were accommodated, but the town was growing so rapidly, it soon became necessary to use other buildings in town for classroom. The decision was made to enlarge the existing building to double its size and by 1896 it was possible to offer a full four-year high school course, founded by Professor Garrett.

After the school was accredited in 1909, it continued to grow and by 1915 two grades were moved to the City Hall to make room for the Domestic Science Department. Later, Manual Arts were added, as well as a 900 volume library, and it became very evident that the building had again become inadequate. In 1915 the question was put to a vote and 170 votes out of 209 cast were in favor. Bonds in the amount of $45,000 were quickly sold. A man by the name of G. B. Goin is credited with the idea of the present school - one that would be fireproof, and constructed so that if a fire did begin, students could not be hemmed in. Work began on the building September 30, 1915 and by the fall of 1916 school opened in the new $55,000 structure.

From 1923 to 1946 the school was approved as a Normal Training School, and many young people graduating from that course taught in the surrounding schools or went on to college to prepare themselves for teaching in a town or city school.

In the year 1927, Miss Ida Hartwig, vocal director in the High School Music Department, organized the first High School Orchestra. It was not like the school band of today. Its members were anyone who was interested and played an instrument. "Lucky 13" was the name given this small group.

During the 1950's many rural schools were closing and the children in the surrounding districts began at tending the public school. Reorganization of the school district was voted on in 1954 and 1955. In 1961, Charter Oak and Ute merged and became the Charter Oak-Ute Community School, combining districts in two counties, which involved transporting rural children into the assigned school. In the beginning, each town kept its own elementary students, with all junior high students going to Ute and high school students attending in Charter Oak.


United Methodist Church, 1877

>Officially organized as the Methodist Episcopal Church on July 11, 1877, although not recored as such until June 4, 1887. The first meeting was held in a schoolhouse.

Early in 1887 the church services were held in the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Station. The first church building was built late in 1887 on land purchased from the Milwaukee Land Co. The building was used until destroyed by fire on November 6, 1921.

A new building was erected in 1927 and enlarged in 1934. In 1943 plans were started to build a new church and on August 29, 1949 the present church building was started and completed on August 6, 1950.

Presbyterian Church, 1895-1935

The Presbyterian Church began organizing in January, 1895. A committee, appointed by the Presbytery, held their first organizational meeting on October 8, 1895 in the Odd Fellows Hall in Charter Oak.

The church was organized by the following charter members: Mrs. Priscilla Snyder, Mrs. Alice Cooper, L. R. McGee, W. H. Bates and wife Alice Bates, Frank Bates, Stella Adams, Jessie Adams, Mrs. Routzong, W. F. Miller and wife, C. F. Garret, J. J. McWilliams and Mary McWilliams.

The first pastor was Rev. Steele and services were held in various halls and homes until 1898 when a church building was erected at a cost of $3,200.

The history of the church was one of many hardships and tribulations and for many years a cloud of indebtedness hung over the congregation. In 1935 the church was disbanded, the church building torn down, but the old bell still rings in the Methodist Church.

St. John Lutheran Church, 1881

The history of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church dates back to 1873 when five Lutheran families met in homes for services conducted by Rev. G. Haar of Denison. On March 13, 1881, St. John congregation was organized.

Charter members were: George Neddermeyer, Heinrich Kuhlmann, Friedrich Bockelmann, Christian Neddermeyer, George Schelm, George Kuhlmann and Dietrich Vanier. Services were conducted every second Sunday in the Timm schoolhouse and later in Charter Oak by Rev. C. Bretacher from Hanover Township.

In 1888 the first church was erected, at a cost of $1,399 on lots obtained from the railroad company. In 1890 St. John became independent and called A. Amstein who served as pastor for 44 years.

In 1892 the congregation joined the Missouri Synod. A new church building was erected costing $12,000 and was dedicated on March 29, 1908. On September 28, 1924, the church was completely destroyed by fire. The new and present church was dedicated on February 7, 1926.

St. Boniface Catholic Church, 1883.

Read these pages for the St. Boniface history, marriages, baptisms and photos of the parish.


Prior to 1887, before the Times was established, Mr. J. Fred Meyers issued a small sheet from his office in Denison "for the benefit of the booming town". He "gracefully retired" and sold his paper to J. Edward McMullen in June 1887. The only place he could find into which to move his little printing outfit from Centerville was a little tar-paper shack that stood behind The Old Oak Store. It had been used as a bedroom for a wagon maker "but for a newspaper be gladly vacated".

The first issue of the Times was a seven-column folio, printed on pink paper. Owing to illness, Mr. McMullen sold out in 1891 to Hills and Jennings. Later, under the name of The Republican, the plant was conducted by W. S. McVey, A. A. Jenness, and A. A. Shoup, who had called his paper the Herald. They effected an agreement by which the two papers were merged and the old name of the Times, which had been dropped on a former merging, was revived.

In July 1894, the town was cut off from the rest of the county for a week by a cyclone and hail storm which made roads impassable even for the mail. The editor of the Charter Oak Times printed that week's issue on wrapping paper.

F. L. Hills purchased the paper in 1900 but had possession for only 16 months when, because of illness, he sold it to H. H. Sturgis on June 23, 1901. "Hiram" was known by many of the present citizens for his colorful commentary. In 1908, power was added and the type-equipment doubled. After 24 years, he sold the paper to Leonard A. Bramson in 1925 who sold it to Lloyd Lane in 1933. L. A. Bramson again bought it in 1933 and sold it to Carl Lighter on January 11, 1934.

On August 1, 1938, W. M. Nellor bought the Times from Mr. Lighter. The newspaper remained the same large size until August, 1969, when the size was reduced to tab size. Wm. and Clara (Pautsch) Nellor successfully ran the paper until his death on March 4, 1971. After Mr. Nellor's death, the paper was sold to William F. Schrader of Wall Lake, Iowa. Copy was gathered in Charter Oak and was taken to Wall Lake to be printed.

W. F. Schrader sold the paper to the Lyon Publishing Company on November 1, 1981. Mike Lyon became the Publisher and Editor of the paper. Copy was now sent to Mapleton, Iowa, to be printed. On November 12, 1981, the Ute Independent, also owned by Lyon Publishing, was merged with the Charter Oak Times and the name was changed to Charter Oak - Ute Newspaper.

U. S. Post Office

The nearest Post Office to Charter Oak was Como, established in 1875 and located four miles north, in Section 2 of Charter Oak Township.

The Charter Oak Post Office was established on May 4, 1876, with O. M. Criswell appointed as the first Postmaster. It was situated in the Southwest quarter of Section 23, Charter Oak Township.

The mail was carried by Pony Express from Denison to Sioux City through Charter Oak Township, and was distributed from Criswell's farmhouse. Charter Oak at this time had a population of 25 people. Later, the mail was delivered to Charter Oak by the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. At the present time it is delivered by truck.

Postmasters, Acting Postmasters, and Officer-In-Charge and the dates of their appointment are as follows:

  • Postmaster
  • Orville M. Criswell
    May 16, 1876
  • William W. Cushman
    November 30, 1885
  • John J. McWilliams
    May 25, 1889
  • Patrick D. McMahon
    May 29, 1897
  • Isaiah A. Mains
    October 4, 1905
  • Edward F. Glau
    June 26, 1913
  • H. Asa Jones
    December 20, 1930
  • Edson L. Glau
    October 23, 1935
  • Bernard G. Remmes
    September 4, 1937
  • Peter H. F. Sievers
    March 31, 1948
  • Earl C. Hiller
    November 29, 1963
  • Robert H. Remmes
    November 5, 1966
  • Donald M. Hopp
    April 4, 1988
  • John M. Johnson
    October 15, 1988
  • Kathryn M. Clausen
    February 25, 1989

Rural Free Delivery was established on September 2, 1901. Names of some of the clerks and mail carriers are: Vinton Reynolds, William Willert, Asa Jones, Franklin Weed, Frank Houlihan, John F. Remmes, Bernard Remmes, Vernon Larson, Blame C. Butler, Charles Jones, Robert Huber, Leonard J. Staley, Glen L. Harris, Joseph L. Remmes, Louis R. Weilner, Walter Watke, Vernon Bielow, Warren Hennings, Ronald Keim, and Gary Wiegel.

Various postal rates through the years have been:
March 3, 1863, (Per 1/2 oz.) - 3 Cents
July 1, 1885, (Per oz.)- 2 Cents
January 7, 1968, - 6 Cents
April 3, 1988 - 25 Cents

Farmers State Bank

At one o'clock p.m., on July 12, 1890, Mr. D. O. Johnson called to order a meeting of founders of the present day Farmers State Bank, in the Village of Charter Oak. Charter directors elected that after noon were: R. C. A. Flourney, as President, D. O. Johnson, as Cashier, and Director D. C. Jacobsen. Clark T. Marshall was appointed Vice President of the bank.

After a vigorous five months in business, the first dividend was declared and paid in December of that year, in the total sum of $1,000 to be divided among all shareholders then of record.

In 1903, Mr. D. O. Johnson became an owner and bank president. President Johnson's tenure was short, due to his untimely death in March, 1905.

The bank was then acquired by a group of wealthy capitalists from Denison, Iowa. New stockholders from the Crawford County State Bank in Denison, Iowa, were: L. Cornwell, George Naeve, H. F. Schwartz. J. P. Conner, M. E. Jones, C. J. Kemming, P. E. C. Laity. T. J. Garrison, and Charles Tabor. Mr. C. L. Voss and P. D. McMahon with the bank of Denison were also new shareholders. Other shareholders from Charter Oak were: Clark T. Marshall who also served as Vice President of the bank, B. C. Jacobsen, J. H. Riessen and A. F. Kadock.

In the years following World War II, the bank and the Charter Oak community prospered. This period of slow, steady, profitable growth continued throughout the late 1940's, when in 1949, Theo. Tokheim of Lytton, Iowa purchased the controlling interest in the bank. While Mr. Fiene remained as President, John T. Tokheim, son of Theo. Tokheim, served as Cashier in the years which followed. Ruth Larson then served under Mr. John T. Tokheim, as Assistant Cashier. Mr. Fiene passed from this life on April 24, 1967, and was succeeded by Theo. Tokheim as President. Paul Fiene served the Farmers State Bank continuously from 1920 until his death in 1967. In May, 1978, Irma Fiene, a lifelong Charter Oak resident and school teacher, joined the Board to replace Director Julie Fiene. Irma Fiene continues to faithfully serve the bank as a Director and as a Preferred Shareholder as of this writing, April, 1990.

The father and son team of Theo. Tokheim and John T. Tokhiem continued to administer the affairs of the bank, until they sold their respective interests in October, 1980. The present management of the bank hails originally from Ricketts, Iowa, Mr. David Paul Claussen. Day to day operations are managed by Ms. Nancy Suisberger, who was hired in 1987, as Vice President.

Main Street photo provided by Candace Lebrun and Deborah Wassgren. Depot photo provided by Jessica Malone

Source: The history of Charter Oak was abstracted from the 1991 Charter Oak centennial book.

We thank Jean Remmes of Charter Oak who kindly provided to us the material from the book.