Description of Grundy CenterGrundy Center is the county seat of Grundy County and is located exactly in the center of the county. The C., R. I. & P. Railroad (Cedar Rapids and Sioux Falls branch) furnished the transportation and freight facilities, and the prospects are very good for an inter-urban connecting Grundy Center with Marshalltown and Waterloo in the near future.
The population according to the 1910 census is 1500. Morality of the people of Grundy Center is far above the average for towns of this size as they have six live congregations and six first class churches, namely: M. E., Baptist, Catholic, Brethren, Presbyterian and German Presbyterian.
The water supply of this town is strictly first class, being furnished from a very deep artesian well and the sanitary conditions are very well taken care of as a complete sewering system has just been completed during the year 1910 at a cost of over $15,000. The lighting system of this town as well as the steam heating plant are away above the average for towns of this size.
Grundy Center has two first class schools, and all lines of business that are generally found in a live up-to-date county seat town of this population. The two newspapers, Weekly Republican and Democrat are far above the average and the hotel and livery service also are in keeping with the other up-to-date assets of this city.
Taking it as an average it would be very hard to find any town of the same population in the entire State of Iowa that would make a better place for a home or place of business than the city of Grundy Center.
--Atlas of Grundy County, Iowa, 1911
Grundy Center's First Settler Built Cabin Here In 1855[Editor's Note: The following story is based on the observations of the late William G. Kerr of Grundy Center, who was a frequent contributor to The Grundy Register.]
Grundy county 122 years ago was a vast ocean of grass, broken only by an occasional stream or tree, when Thomas G. Copp started his long trek across the central Iowa prairie in search of a new home.
Copp was by no means the first man to set foot on then virgin Grundy county territory.
The county's first white settler, William D. Peck, sank his roots in Fairfield township in October, 1853, and a few months later John Freal permanently located on Black Hawk Creek in the eastern part of the county.
They were soon followed by Thomas G. Hoxie, who became the county's first sheriff; and C. F. Clarkson, who settled in May, 1855, in Melrose township.
Copp eventually arrived at a promontory overlooking the Black Hawk and Minnehaha creeks, and because the site offered timber as well as water, he decided to stay.
He constructed a log cabin, with hay for a roof, on what is now the site of the Bethany Presbyterian Church.
Grundy Center's first resident had arrived.
The year was 1855.
It was not long before Copp had a neighbor, John Overdear, who erected a frame house on the northwest corner of the block where the Austin Fernow house now stands.
The first plat of the town was made by Copp and Overdear in 1856--the same year Grundy county was formally organized, and the new settlement of Grundy Center was designated as the county seat.
At the time they laid out the original plat, Copp and Overdear dedicated to Grundy Center a square in the middle of the town as the site for the proposed courthouse.
That building--the now famous "cheesebox," so-called because of its squat, octagon shape--was constructed in 1857 at a cost of $10,000. The lumber was hauled from Sanderson's Mill on the Iowa River, near what is now Gifford.
The present courthouse was built in 1891, and two years later the "cheesebox" was purchased by Jake Slifer and torn down.
The seed planted by Copp and Overdear grew steadily.
Rufus S. Wass ran the first blacksmith shop in 1857 and 1858. It was located in the southwest corner of the block just south of the courthouse. Wass shod horses used on the mail route between Waterloo and Fort Dodge. R. W. Pitkin ran the first harness shop in town.
Also in 1857 Copp constructed the town's first hotel, the Eagle House.
Grundy Center's first store was built in 1860 by D. E. Munn. It was located in the northwest corner of the block just east of the courthouse.
Munn operated the business for seven years, and hauled merchandise from Jesup.
The second store building in town was erected by R. W. Pitkin, who kept a general stock, and the third was put up in 1868 by Jake Slifer on the present site of the Grundy Hotel.
Slifer for many years was the town's leading merchant.
The Slifer building later was moved away, and a two-story building erected in its place. The upper story of this building was used by The Atlas, later The Republican, while the first floor at one time was used as a bank by Shuler and Williams.
Up to 1875 only about a dozen buildings had been erected in Grundy Center.
Soon after Slifer constructed his store building, Clifford H. Clark put up a building just south of the Slifer store and sold farm implements. Cook and Carrier bought out Clark, and later a Mr. Billings purchased the interests of Carrier and at a later date D. M. Fay took possession and for a number of years supplied the town with dry goods and groceries.
Just south of the Fay building was a small office occupied by Dr. Etter and later used by G. N. Stark as a dry goods store.
South of Dr. Etter's office was a drugstore and residence of the noted Dr. Randall, and the second floor was used as a meeting place for the various lodges of the town, and later was used for a time as a school room.
The west half of the block north of the courthouse square was the residence property of A. F. Willoughby, and the east half of the same block was owned by R. W. Pitkin, where he kept a store. Pitkin had harness in the second floor of his building, and the first floor was the grocery department.
Dr. E. A. Crouse had a small office at the corner of G Avenue and Seventh Street, where the Legion building now stands.
In the block west of Eighth Street was the blacksmith and wagon shop of Thomas Armetage and W. B. Elliott.
The building now occupied by the Skogmo Family Store was once the site of a small store owned and operated by Sophia Severance, and she ran the postoffice in connection with her business.
Dr. T. M. Lynn and E. M. Heffelfinger had an office east of this.
J. C. Bourne came to Grundy Center in April, 1875, and opened a general store in a building near the center of that block, and to the east of that, about where the Grundy Register building now stands, A. J. Hyde had a blacksmith shop.
On the south side of Main street was the home of D. S. Wass, built in 1857 by Fred Cole, and west of this just across the street was the home of Oscar Clift, built in 1857 by Sophia Severance.
Where the High Hardware store is now located stood a small frame residence.
The Baptist parsonage and a few residences north of it, and the old Methodist church where the present church now stands, were practically all of the improvements in Grundy Center up to 1875.
The Baptists, Presbyterians and other congregations held their services in the courthouse or in the schoolhouse, which was constructed in 1860 in the block west of Eighth and G.
In 1875 Daniel Kerr platted the Troutman farm, which joined the south line of the original plat of the town, and this new plat was called Kerr's Addition to Grundy Center, and newcomers bought lots from Mr. Kerr on which to build.
About this same time the original cemetery, which was located in the southwest corner of block four of the original plat, was moved to its present site west of the city.
Grundy Center was incorporated on April 17, 1877.
There were 437 inhabitants of the town a the time, and 47 signed the petition asking for incorporation ,which was presented before Judge Bagg at the March Term of Circuit Court of that year.
Among the original signers were F. G. Moffett, R. S. Raymond, George W. Walker, Daniel Kerr, W. C. Williams, J. C. Bourne, W. C. Shimer, Jabez Tompkins, W. F. Wilson, J. A. Colvin, G. F. Wass, C. I. Keiter, Frank Jones and E. A. Crouse.
On May 25, 1877, occurred the first town election.
Daniel Kerr was elected mayor, W. C. Shimer was named recorder (clerk), and trustees (councilmen) were R. W. Pitkin, J. A. Colvin, I. F. Clark, Volney Kenyon and C. C. Shuler.
The officers were installed the following day. Mr. Kerr served as mayor from May 26 until October 3, when he resigned, and J. W. Walters was elected to fill the vacancy.
Another great event in the history of Grundy Center occurred that same year.
In the fall of 1877 the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railroad reached the city, and the citizens of the town planned a huge celebration in honor of the occasion.
A few hundred posters in German and English, and a few thousand program bills were distributed over the county and in the surrounding towns in order to advertise the celebration. They made preparation for a free public dinner consisting of two roasted oxen, 15 roasted pigs, and 40 boiled hams with bread and butter.
A number of bands were invited, and there were speeches and toasts.
On Wednesday, September 5, 1877, when the first train pulled into town, it is estimated that from 5,000 to 8,000 people were assembled to celebrate the event.
In the spring of 1877 C. W. Reynolds erected a frame building, and in 1877 Daniel Kerr and Charles Campbell began the construction of a two story double brick veneered building, known as the Campbell Block.
The residence of A. F. Willoughby stood on the site of the Campbell Block, and it was moved to the northwest corner of the block, where the Farm Bureau building now stands.
Holt and Beckman put up a two story frame building for banking purposes, and on the southeast corner of that block 25, Dr. E. A. Crouse, W. C. Williams and G. C. Shuler built a frame building called the Grundy County Bank.
In the same block the Sargent brothers, Joe and W. C., who had recently come from Ohio, put up a two story building in that year.
Not long after R. T. Miller and the Elliott Bros. erected a building known as City Hall Block. It was on the west end of the business district. R. T. Miller and G. N. Goodwin occupied the first floor and city hall was on the second floor.
On January 16, 1879, Grundy Center had its first great fire. All the buildings from the corner of Seventh and G to the Kerr & Campbell Block were burned to the ground. About two weeks later the City Hall building was destroyed by fire.
Plans for rebuilding the burned business district were soon perfected.
In the spring and summer of 1879, C. W. Reynolds together with E. H. Beckman erected the brick building known as the Central Block, and the Sargent Bros. along with M. K. Swartz built the double brick building known as Commercial Block.
In 1880 H. G. Geer put up a substantial brick building joining the Central Block on the east, and for a number of years the upper story was used as a hall.
Two or three years later Shuler and Williams moved an old warehouse up from the depot, and in that warehouse, Horace Boies, before he was nominated and elected Governor of Iowa, made a speech on the Temperance question that was commanding public attention at that time. That warehouse was converted into an opera house and named Orchestra Hall, and later it was purchased by P. M. Robinson, and remodeled and enlarged.
In the year 1884, George N. Stark erected his double store brick building called the Hawkeye Block. For a time part of the upper story was used as a printing office by the Grundy County Argus. The First National Bank officials and Dr. E. A. Crouse in the year 1885 built the First National Bank building. For twenty years the rear of this building was occupied by the Grundy Center postoffice, but in 1906 the postoffice was moved and located in the new Kerr brick block.
About the year 1887, Jacobs Bros. put up a double brick block on the northeast corner of block 17, and for a number of years conducted a large department store.
Hummel Bros. put up the substantial brick block situated at the corner of Seventh and G in 1893.
In 1900, the I.O.O.F. erected their handsome brick block on the south side of Main street.
That same year DeSeelhorst & Morse and J. H. Blewett put up a double brick building in that same block, and the south side of Main street, which has suffered several disastrous fires in her history, can now boast a row of solid brick business houses. In more recent years other buildings that are a credit to the city have been built, including the blocks erected by C. A. Schafer, Bailey & Raymond, Daniel Kerr and others.
The first mill in Grundy Center was erected in 1877 by David Kepford, who had been encouraged to build by the assistance he received from the citizens of Grundy Center. In the fall of 1878, Mr. Kepford sold out to MacMurdough. After that it changed hands a number of times, and finally it was torn down a few years ago by Sherwood Burd.
About the year 1880, some of the progressive business men of the town conceived the idea that a first class flouring mill would be a paying investment and would be a fine thing for the town.
J. R. Lynn and J. H. Lighter investigated as to what would be the probable cost of an up-to-date mill, and it was finally decided to build one.
F. G. Moffett, C. C. Shuler, Daniel Kerr, W. C. Williams, Geo. N. Stark, H. G. Geer and others took stock in the mill. E. H. Beckman contributed some money, but took no stock.
They soon found it would cost much more than they expected, and when completed it had cost in the neighborhood of $42,000. It had fine equipment and was first class in every respect. The first year that it was operated it was run at a loss of $5000, for nearly all the wheat used had to be shipped in , and as freight rates were so high and no satisfactory arrangements could be made for a reduction, and as the territory tributary to the mill had passed the great wheat raising period, it was decided that to continue to run it at a probable loss was not wise.
So this mill with its fine equipment was taken apart and moved by M. K. Swartz to Brainerd, Minn., in about a year and a half after it was built. The men who had taken stock in the mill lost nearly all they had put into the investment.
The first lawyer to locate in Grundy Center was Col. John H. Keatley, who afterwards obtained some prominence politically in the state.
He began to practice here in 1868. Soon after, Capt. E. P. Baker came, and later about 1870, J. M. Rea and F. G. Moffett arrived from Carroll county, Illinois. Carroll county has furnished quite a list of solid, substantial men, who were pioneers in the days when Grundy Center was young and needed brawn and brains. Daniel Kerr came from Madison county, Illinois, and settled permanently in Grundy Center in 1870.
After the railroad was secured for the town, a number of men began the practice of law in the city, such men as Captain Strong, Charlie Bailey, A. N. Wood, S. H. Baldwin, T. J. Noll, R. J. Williamson, W. G. Kerr, H. A. Willoughby, C. T. Rogers, E. A. Crary and F. W. Reisinger.
For a number of years, and up to the year 1894, Grundy Center was without adequate fire protection, though measures had been resorted to to give some protection. The first plan adopted was to construct large cisterns on Main street and in case of fire a large force pump, run by levers, was attached to the cisterns, and by hand the water was forced through a hose upon the burning building.
That did not give satisfaction, and then the town purchased what were known as chemical engines, and were in time nicknamed the "Soda Fountain." These engines, it was found, did not meet the needs of the time, and about the year 1894 the question of a standpipe and water mains was proposed and decided upon.
The original waterworks system was put in in 1894 by Fremont Turner.
Up to the year 1896 the town of Grundy Center was lighted by the old-fashioned street lamps on the corners.
In that year, Dr. B. E. Strickler purchased a second hand electric light plant at Savannah, Ill., from B. Pulford, and installed it in Grundy Center. The first current was turned on here on August 1, 1896.
In the spring of 1909, the question came before the city council of Grundy Center, relative to the advisability of establishing a system of sewerage in town.
It was known that a number of neighboring towns had adopted such a system and Boards of Health had recommended that one by installed here. After mature consideration the council, at that time composed of the following persons: Dr. W. R. Lynn, Mayor; R. V. Koons, M. L. Thome, E. C. Kerr, C. E. Thomas, and H. H. Frerichs, passed a resolution providing for the establishing of a sewerage system. Plans and specifications were drawn up and bids received and the contract for its construction was awarded to M. Tschirgi and Sons, of Dubuque, Iowa, for about $15,550. In the spring of 1909 this company began operations, and the sewer was completed and accepted in the fall of 1910.
--The Grundy Register (Grundy Center, Iowa), 7 July 1977, Section Four, Pg 1, 3