Another IAGenWeb Project







THE EARLY HISTORY of the town of Spirit Lake is so closely interwoven with that of the county at large that much of it has already been given, and yet there is so much that has not been given that a chapter or two devoted exclusively to the early history and subsequent development of Spirit Lake as a town seems almost necessary. It has already been related that in the summer of 1856 three brothers-in-law by the name of Howe, Parmenter and Wheelock, all living at that time in Newton, Jasper County, Iowa, but formerly from Erie County, New York, conceived the idea of organizing the county, locating the county seat and entering the land upon which it was located, lay out a town and make a nice stake in the sale of lots. This was before the massacre of 1857 and also before the financial collapse of that same year. By the successful manipulation of such enterprises men had accumulated comfortable fortunes in Illinois and Wisconsin and why wasn't their chance as good as anybody's? Their trip to the lakes in the fall of 1856, when they encountered Inkpadutah's band in camp at Loon Lake, and also their winter trip in February and March, 1857, when they discovered the massacre and made the report on the strength of which the volunteer expedition under Major Williams was organized, have already been given. Also the second trip and the incidents connected with it.


As has been previously stated the location for the town site was decided upon in June, 1857. The point at the Okoboji crossing would have been selected had it not been held at that time by the Grangers. Indeed, the Grangers cause from Red Wing, Minnesota, about the same time and with the same avowed project in mind—that of laying out a town and securing the location of the county seat, but after the financial collapse, Granger gradually allowed his scheme to die out and abandoned the county for good in 1859. The government surveys were not made when the site for the town was selected. The plat was made in Newton by a surveyor by the name of S. W. Foreman, who was to have a one-tenth interest for making the survey and plat. The plat was made to cover a half section without making any allowances for either excess or deficiencies.


As has been heretofore stated, the site chosen was about half a mile north of the present business center. In addition to the stockade and the building it enclosed there were erected on the town site in the fall of 1857 three or four 1^g cabins, the first one of which was built by O. C. Howe and occupied by him that winter and at part of the next summer. It was afterwards turned over to his father's family who arrived during the following summer. Mr. Howe went down to Newton for his family the latter part of June and arrived here with them the seventh of August. It was no part of his original plan to bring his family up that season and possibly not at all, but events so shaped themselves that he became convinced that it was absolutely necessary that his family should be here.


The fact has heretofore been noticed that the four women wintering here the winter of 1857 and 1858 were Mrs. O. C. Howe, Mrs. R. Kingman, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Thurston. Mrs. Howe and Mrs. Kingman were remarkable women. While they were as unlike each other as it is possible for two women to be they each represented a type and were leaders of the type so represented. Mrs. Howe was the more scholarly of the two, having been a teacher in Buffalo. In addition to her literary attainments she possessed a rare fund of general information, and what is still more rare a remarkable versatility of character, which enabled her to adapt herself to her surroundings without fuss or friction. She was equally at home with the sturdy pioneers by whom she was surrounded as she would have been in the environments of polite society.


Mrs. Kingman, on the other hand, was modest and retiring even to the verge of bashfulness, and yet she possessed intelligence and refinement of a high order. While not as intellectual as Mrs. Howe, yet her refined intuitions and native good sense made her a prime favorite with every one coming within the sphere of her influence. Of the other two women perhaps the less said the better. For a period of over eight months, or from the seventh of August until the latter part of April of the following year, these four women comprised the sum total of female society for a large portion of northwestern Iowa.


There were three or four families in the neighborhood of Peterson that winter, two or three more near Sioux Rapids, one or two at Estherville and three or four at the Irish Colony. These comprise all of the settlements at that time in the state west of Algona and north of Cherokee. What of toil and privation, fear, hardship and apprehension were endured by Those few heroic women during that memorable winter may be imagined in part but cannot be described and will ever remain an important chapter in the unwritten history of northwestern Iowa.


The bringing in and getting into operation of a small saw-mill in the fall of 185i has been noticed. The first lumber cut by it was used by Mr. Howe in putting in floors and a roof to his cabin, of which he had, already rolled up the body. Several were clamorous for the first lumber made, but inasmuch as Mr. Howe's family were already here and were obliged to go into camp until his house could be completed, the rest yielded to him and he had fairly comfortable quarters for his fancily when winter set in. An arrangement was made with Mr. Kingman whereby he moved his fancily into the old fort and kept it as a hotel. The space between the rear of the building proper and the stockade surrounding it was about ten feet. This space was roofed and floored and divided up into rooms. Floors were also put into the main building which made quite a roomy affair of it for that day.


Mr. Kingman didn't make much in the hotel business at first from the fact that a majority of those traveling through here at that time were never guilty of having money. Paying customers were the exception and not the rule, and yet the pioneer instinct was so strong in the host that every one applying was bountifully fed, pay or no pay. When the soldiers under Captain Martin came up the first of March, Mr. Kingman turned over the main building to them, reserving the two or three rooms that he had made between the wall of the building and the west side of the stockade for his own use.


Quite a number of sawlogs were hauled in to the twill that winter, and although from eight hundred to a thousand feet a day was good work for them, still they kept pegging away at it and got out what they could. It didn't pay them to run in the winter except to get out what was imperatively demanded.


The first frame house built was by H. U. Wheelock. This was the first frame house built in Iowa north of Sioux City and west of the east fork of the Des Moines River. There were none at Cherokee and none between here and there. There were four or five on the west fork of the Des Moines near Humboldt built the year before. O. C. Howe, B. F. Permenter, Henry Schuneman and Doctor James Ball built that season on sites now occupied by C. Chandler, E. L. Brownell, F. W. Barron and the Presbyterian Church. Parmenter afterward sold his place to Ethel Ellis for a hundred ratskins and that was more than some of the rest realized for theirs. A. Kingman built a small house the same season.


A. D. Arthur built a fair sized house just west of town. The place was afterward known as the Barkman place. Henry Barkman first took his claim across the lake on what is now known as the Pollard place. A year or two later he sold it to Thomas Wyckoff and bought the Arthur place, where he resided up to the time of his death. Several other frame houses were built on the town site that summer. George E. Spencer built the largest one, which he afterward sold to L. Congleton, who occupied it until 1863, when he left the state. Years later the house and the land on which it was located became the property of A. S. Mead, who tore the house down. In the meantime it had been occupied for various purposes; first as a store, then as a school room, and for miscellaneous purposes. Miller and Jones, the mill owners, built a good sized house which they afterwards sold to A. Kingman, who moved it up on his farm (the Stevens place), and, lived in it for several years.


The arrival of different parties of settlers that spring, and early summer, has been noticed. They had come, some from central Iowa, some from Illinois and many from western New York; other parts of the country were also represented. The first social event which brought them together, and in which they all participated, was a regular old fashioned orthodox Fourth of July celebration held at Spirit Lake, July 4, 1858. The chief promoters of the scheme were R. U. Wheelock, C. F. Hill, R. A. Smith, R. Kingman and a few others. The place selected for the exercises was in the grove east of the north end of town, and near where the steam mill was put up the fall before.


Lumber was brought from the mill for a platform and seats. It didn't require a great deal as the crowd was not expected to be large. O. C. Howe presided and Doctor Prescott delivered the oration, his eloquence, versatility and tact as a speaker never being more manifest than on that occasion. He was not notified until the evening before that he was expected to speak, and yet his oration would compare favorably with any that have ever been heard here since.


The choir, composed of J. D. Howe, R. U. Wheelock and F. A. Blake and Misses Sarah and Mary Howe and Belle Wheelock would command respect and attention anywhere, and their rendition of the old patriotic songs was applauded to the echo. The Star Spangled Banner, Red, White and Blue, Uncle Sam's Farm and other favorites were given to the enthusiastic and delighted audience, after which R. A. Smith read the Declaration of Independence. At the close of the exercises in the grove, all parties repaired to the old fort, which had been vacated by the soldiers a few days before, and was again being fitted up for the accommodation of the public by Mr. Kingman. This was made to do duty as a dining room and he and his wife soon had ready a repast that, considering the surroundings and the difficulties in the way of procuring necessary material, would have been a credit to any locality. It goes without saying that the repast that followed was keenly appreciated and hugely enjoyed by all participants.


When the repast was over some time was spent in toasts and responses, impromptu remarks and sly hits, which were participated in by the crowd at large and tended much to increase the enjoyment of the occasion. One noticeable, feature of all the social events of the early days, was the absence of all conventionalities, the hearty good will and good fellowship which characterized the relations of one with another. As evening came on seats and tables were removed and old and young proceeded to enjoy the first dance in Dickinson County, Daniel Caldwell and R. U. Wheelock furnishing the music. Good church members, whose dancing days had been over for years, threw aside their scruples and prejudices for the time being and joined in the general hilarity and "all went merry as a marriage bell."


Not much of importance occurred during the fall and winter of 1858 and 1859 that has not already been related as a part of the history of the county at large. It will be remembered that it was in February, 1859, that the vote was taken on the question of disposing of the swamp lands for county buildings. The history of that transaction and the events growing out of it have already been given in full. The foundation for the court-house was laid that fall and the walls for the building put up the following summer, and a few more houses were built on the town site about this time. Al Kingman also commenced the erection of a house which, after he had it well under way, he sold to A. D. Arthur who moved it up town and finished it off as a store, the mechanical work being done by W. B. Brown and Harvey Frantz. It was not much of a store, but it was the first west of the east fork of the Des Moines and north of Sioux City.


The first stock of goods put on sale in Spirit Lake, and that means the first stock for a vast region in this part of the state, was by M. M. Mattheson, a Norwegian, from Mankato, Minnesota, in the fall of 1859. He remained in trade there until some time in 1863, when he took his stock of goods and moved to Yankton, South Dakota. Some time during the winter of 1863 and 1864 the store was again occupied by G. Blackert, who put in another and larger stock of goods, and remained in trade until the summer of 1867. About this time the building became the property of George C. Bellows, who moved it to the corner now occupied by the Stevens Block, ,and rigged it up for a shoe shop.


It was during the summer of 1859 also that Mr. R. Kingman commenced the erection of the first hotel in the county. Previous to that time, those interested in the old fort had turned their interests, whatever they might have been, over to him, and he tore the old building down to make room for the projected hotel. There wasn't much in the material that could be used for anything but firewood. Though not wholly completed that season it was so far along that it was opened to the public that fall. At that time there was not another hotel building between Mankato and Sioux City. Of course every farmer on the route kept travelers if they wished to stay, and many of these farmer stopping places became widely known and deservedly popular. Notably so Thomas, at Jackson, and Kirchner's, at Peterson. It is marvelous the number of wayfarers a well-regulated log cabin would make room for in those clays.


Mr. Kingman named his hotel the "Lake View House." Owing to the scarcity of money in the country, it was not very profitable at the start, but after the breaking out of the war, in the spring of 1861, he had all the business he could handle until the Minnesota massacre in August, 1862. At that time it became apparent that the danger the early settlers here had subjected themselves to was much greater than was formerly supposed and Mr. Kingman, with many others, decided he could not or would not require his wife to endure the fear and apprehension which a further residence here would create. Consequently he sold out to Mr. Joseph Thomas of Jackson for what he could get.


Mr. Thomas kept the place about two years, during which time he had all of the business he could handle. During the three years that Spirit Lake was a military post, the hotel business was rushing. Mr. Thomas sold out in 1864 to Mr. J. H. Johnston, who ran it until 1867, when he sold to Thomas Wyckoff, who moved it to the present site of the Crandall House, and afterwards sold it to Orlando Crandall. It was afterwards moved back to make room for the present Crandall House, and finally torn down in 18--.


The fact has already been referred to that the government surveys had not been made when the town site was selected. Indeed, they were not wholly completed and the plats filed in the local land office until about January, 1860. Of course, nothing could be done towards securing the title to the town site until after the plats were filed. This was nearly three years after the site was first selected. The ardor of the first projectors of the scheme had cooled off materially by that time, and none of them cared to advance the $1.25 per acre necessary to secure the title, and so the matter was allowed to drag along year after year.


The writings that had been given for lots were not worth the paper they were written on. People bought and sold and trafficked in the buildings, but so far as town lots were concerned, they were a standing joke, a laughing stock and a byword.


Matters pertaining to the title of the town site drifted along in this uncertain and slipshod way until some time in 1864, when Mr. Barkman conceived the project of claiming it under the provisions of the preemption law and proving it up as a private claim. Other parties had considered the same scheme previous to that time, but so far no one had cared to undertake it. Mr. Barkman made his claim some time during the summer of 1864, and proved it up June 10, 1865. It may be well to remember right here that none of the land in either Center Grove or Spirit Lake townships was ever offered at public sale or was ever subject to sale by private entry, and the only way title could be acquired at that time was to prove up either under the preemption law, the homestead law, or the town site law. The preemption law was the least trouble, provided there were no contestants. The other townships of the county had previously been offered at public sale and were for several years subject to sale at private entry, but these two townships were left out. Barkman's claim comprised the east half of the southwest quarter, the northeast quarter of the south-west quarter, and the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of section 4, township 99, range 36, and contained 175 35-100 acres, which was one-half of the original town site. Of the other half, the northwest one-fourth of the northeast one-fourth was claimed by G. Blackert as a part of his homestead, and the balance, consisting of the west one-half of the south-east one-fourth and the southeast one-fourth of the southwest one-fourth was taken by Joseph Currier and proved up February 1, 1867.


As before stated, Mr. Barkman obtained title to this June 10, 1865, but it was nearly five years after this his first survey and plat were made. This survey and plat covered but eighty acres. The southeast one-fourth of the northwest one-fourth and the northeast one-fourth of the southwest one-fourth of section 4, and was made by Emmet F. Hill some time in 1870. This plat had been filed but not recorded, and was lost at the burning of the courthouse in February, 1872. At the next term of court Mr. Barkman procured from the judge an order authorizing him to file for record a copy, the original having been destroyed, which was done.


Previous to proving up his claim, Mr. Barkman had promised those having interests in the town site that in consideration of their not putting any obstacles in the way of his securing title, he would deed to them without further consideration the premises to which they laid claim or to which they were entitled. This part of the bargain was honestly kept, and those having buildings on the town site received title to the lots on which they were located. It was in fulfillment of this promise that the county received title to the block on which the courthouse is located, and the school district the one on which the schoolhouse stands.


Somehow the idea has gained credence of late that Mr. Barkman deeded the courthouse block to the county in consideration of being released from the old swamp land contract, of which he was one of the assignees, and that he be allowed to make a new contract whereby all of the swamp land should come to him. Now this is a mistake. The old swamp land contract had nothing to do with the title to the courthouse lot. Mr. Barkman had nothing to do with the town site when the courthouse was built, and it was not until after the town site was abandoned by its original projectors that he conceived the idea of proving it up as a private claim. He had not observed the details of the preemption law very carefully and had any determined opposition been made could not have proved up and he was only too glad to agree to any reasonable proposition that those living on the land to which he sought to perfect title saw fit to make. He had never lived on the land at all. There were others who had lived on it for years, and had any of them offered any serious opposition he could not have perfected his title, and for that reason he promised to protect the rights of all parties, and to carry out the agreements previously made by the original projectors relative to streets and public grounds, which promise was kept to the satisfaction of all concerned.


As before stated, Mr. Barkman proved up his claim on the tenth day of June, A. D. 1865, and the patent to the land issued April 2, 1866, but it was not until the summer of 1870 that the first survey and plat of the town site were made. Mr. Barkman, in deeding to those having prior interests in the town site, did not in all cases make his descriptions by lots and blocks, but deeded in patches of different dimensions describing them by metes and bounds. This accounts for so many additions, some of them being on ground covered by the original plat. The measurements of these tracts were often carelessly made, which has been a source of much perplexity in adjusting lines and corners and determining the rights of parties. As regards the southwest one-fourth of the northeast one-fourth of the section, Mr. Barkman never laid that out in lots and blocks at all, but sold it off in patches of from one to ten acres. These tracts were afterwards laid out and platted by their respective owners as additions to the town. It was in this way that Rices, Crandalls, Whitlocks, Shroyers and the several other additions on that forty were made.


The military operations and defensive measures for the protection of the frontier have been quite extensively noticed. After the withdrawal of the troops, in the summer of 1865, Spirit Lake as a town presented a sorry appearance. All of the original promoters of the enterprise had gradually abandoned it, Mr. Parmenter being the last to go, and he left about 1865. No buildings had been put up since 1860, and some that had been erected previously to that time were now moved to adjacent claims. The war was over. The life and excitement incident to military occupation gradually died out. A majority of the soldiers enlisting from here came back to their places, but many remained away permanently. It was like commencing anew. About the first move made so far as the town site was concerned was the moving of the old Lake View House from the north end of the town to the present site of the Crandall House, by Mr. Wyckoff in 1866. He did not retain the ownership of it long, but soon sold it to Orlando Crandall, who thoroughly overhauled it and soon made it one of the best known and popular stopping places in this portion of the state.


It was about this time that George C. Bellows bought the old store which he moved to the present site of the Stevens Block and fitted up for a shoe shop. In December, 1868, R. A. Smith made an arrangement with Mr. Bellows whereby he put in a stock of goods in the front of the building, while Bellows conducted his shoe store and repair shop in the rear. P. A. Smith was in business here until the fall of 1870, when he built a store at Milford and moved his stock down there. Mr. Bellows then occupied the entire building, where he continued in business for three or four years, but his health failing, he disposed of his goods, and the store was next occupied by H. C. Nims as a drugstore. This was the first drugstore in the comity conducted by a competent druggist. There had been irregular dealers previous to this time, both in Spirit Lake and Milford, but they knew little or nothing of the business and soon threw it up.


Mr. Nims was succeeded by George Haskins of the firm of Haskins & Ballard, of Estherville. About this time the building became the property of Marcus Snyder, and after Mr. Hankins moved away, which was in 1876, he moved it up by the side of the old postoffice building to make room for the Beacon Block. Here Mr. Snyder opened up the first banking house in the county. He associated with him William M. Smith, since prominent in banking circles, and commenced doing a regular banking business February 1, 1877. It will thus be seen that this little insignificant sixteen by twenty-four, one-story building has had transacted under its roof more business and more different kinds of business than usually falls to the lot of many more pretentious edifices, and in all the different lines it was the pioneer. It was the first general store; the first boot, shoe and leather store; the first drugstore, and the first bank in the county, and in each of these several lines the volume of business transacted was exceptionally large.


In the summer of 1869, Roscoe Brown built quite a roomy house and fitted up the front room as a restaurant, which he conducted for several months. It not proving profitable, he sold the building to A. W. Osborn, who moved it down town and fitted it up as u residence. Another of the early day buildings was erected by Dan Bellows for saloon purposes, and was occupied several years that way, first by Bellows and later by E. P. Ring. It was afterwards bought by George Edwards, who moved it back to make room for the Minnie Waukon Hotel, which he built on the site, using the old saloon building for a dining room. The Minnie Waukon Hotel was built by Mr. Edwards in 1874. Later it came into possession of E. P. Ring, who completed it and opened it up to the public, his first advertisement appearing in the issue of the Beacon of March 30, 1876. The buildings erected at this time were mostly of native lumber, although a great many loads of shingles, finishing lumber and siding were brought through from Mankato, which was then the railroad terminus. The road was continued to St. James in 1870, and Le Mars in 1871.


It was in 1869 that the movement for taking homesteads on the prairie away from timber first set in. This has already been noticed. Simultaneously with that move came increased activity in the work of building up the town. One of the first and most important moves in that direction was the building of the old concrete store by Dan Stone on the northeast corner of Hill and Lake Streets. The work on the building commenced in 1870, and it was ready for occupancy the same fall. It was here that A. M. Johnson in 1870 commenced his career as a merchant. Another of the more important buildings of 1870 was the one erected by E. Palmer and H. Barkman, afterwards known as the postoffice building. This was the most pretentious affair that had been attempted up to that time. It was about twenty-four by fifty feet in size, and two stories high. Mr. Palmer put in a stock of hardware, in addition to which he handled agricultural implements. The Beacon printing press was at one time set up in the upper story. This building afterwards fell into the hands of Henry Baxter and is a part of the Baxter House.


The burning of the courthouse in February, 1872, has been noticed in the history of the county at large, also the rebuilding of it the following summer. It was about this time, or shortly after, that the school district erected a building south of the Crandall House and finished off the lower story in two schoolrooms, while the upper story was rented to the Masons and used by them for a lodge room. Several years later this building was moved to the schoolhouse lot and was fitted up and used for school purposes until 1883, when it was torn down to make room for the present structure.


The pioneer blacksmith shop of Spirit Lake was established by Jemerson & Chisholm, their first card appearing in the paper December 6, 1870. Others had been here previous to that time and made a show of starting in business, but they soon played out. Jemerson retired after the first year, his health failing, since which time Chisholm has continued the business in his own name.


The grasshopper invasion (1873 to 1877) has been quite extensively noticed. For the five years preceding this time the growth of the town was steady but not rapid. The depressing effects of that terrible scourge were fully as disastrous to the town as to the country, and the only wonder is that any one attempting to do business was able to pull through. In 1874 Mr. Johnson abandoned the old concrete and moved into the new store he had just erected on his lot opposite the court-house. Here he fitted up what was at that time the best equipped general store in this portion of the state. The necessity for more roomy quarters soon became apparent, and he met the emergency by erecting an addition the same size as the original on the north side of the building.


The next building of importance was erected by Philip Doughty, during the summer of 1873, This was the largest and most imposing structure that had yet been attempted. It was sixty feet long, twenty-five feet wide and two stories high, with a basement full size of the building. The main building was finished off as a general store and occupied as such, first by Philip Doughty, then by J. A. Doughty and later by Palmer & Doughty. It was at this time known as the New York Store. Later still it came into possession of W. S. Beers. After his death it was occupied for several years by J. P. Calvin as the "Variety Store," and was at last moved away to make room for the Stevens Block. The basement was furnished and used for a time by E. P. Ring as a billiard room. It was afterwards fitted up and occupied as a residence, first by J. A. Doughty, and later by W. S. Beers. The upper story was for a time used as a public hall. It was afterwards rented to the Masons and used by them as a lodge room.