Fremont County, Iowa

Ralph Greenwood
by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
July 15, 2013

A Legacy of Books:
In the early 1980s, a truck arrived at the Fremont County Historical Museum loaded with books. The number is estimated at 6,000. They were the result of the life-long interest of Ralph Greenwood.

Mr. Greenwood, was born in Thurman in 1898, and lived his life in Fremont County. He was the County Engineer for years. Anyone living in the Loess Hills is familiar with the Ralph Greenwood Spillway. It was his design for a cement spillway that stopped roads from eroding away from stream banks. Those that knew Greenwood, such as the Inman family, remember a person who enjoyed telling stories about the local history in which he would be very precise in relating the events. He saw humor in many things. One story remembered is, his first job in Florida, where he helped survey a town. He discovered during the work that the town was 10 feet off. When asked what they did when they found the mistake, he laughed and said the surveyors had left town and that today it remains 10 feet off. As an old man, he could be seen wearing old clothes, socks that drooped and pockets full of stuff, the look completely opposite the brilliant man inside.

Ralph Greenwood died in 1980, so it is possible that he began collecting books as early as the late 1920s. Many of his 6,000 books were acquired through auctions. He would buy boxes and boxes of books. His love of history and preserving the past led him to be involved in the Historical Society and he served as the Society's first president. When he donated his books, he recognized that it would be impossible for the Society to house all 6,000 books so his instructions were to do whatever was necessary. The books were sorted and all those pertaining to the mission of the Society are now part of the research and genealogy area in the new museum. It was decided the rest would be sold. More than half of the books were sold the first 10 years.

When the Society began to renovate in 2006, the books were all boxed and stored. By 2010, the decision was made to go through the books. The result was the rediscovery of a treasure trove of volumes owned by the Society. The best are the history books. Many of Mr. Greenwood's books were written in the 1800s giving readers of today a first-hand account of history. After twenty years of selling, the remaining books for sale still have a variety of titles and topics celebrating history. The Society recently sold a three-volume set of George Washington's life and an illustrated history of Napoleon, both written in the 1830s, for over $1,000.

Because of one man's love of history, he saved books that would have been lost to Fremont County. Instead, they are now in someone's prized collection or the Society's archives.

Anyone interested in knowing about the books still left to sell go to for a partial listing and information on how to review or buy the books.

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