Black Hawk Township
by W. W. De Wolf
(Courtesy of Reinbeck Courier)

extracted from Atlas of Grundy County Iowa, 1911

(At the earnest solicitation of a number of our citizens and the editor of the Courier, Mr. DeWolf has favored us with the above “Early Recollections of Reinbeck.” which we are confident will prove interesting reading to the readers of this paper.

Mr. De Wolf was for about fourteen years actively engaged in business in this city, to say nothing of four and a half years spent as postmaster of Reinbeck under Cleveland’s last administration.

During all these years Mr. De Wolf has held many positions of trust and responsibility in the city and community. For about eight years he was a member of the school board, for three years more he was president of the board. He was also chairman of the township trustees for a number of years, and chairman for a number of years of the democratic county central committee. He has always been identified with every movement towards the upbuilding of our city, and today he is one of our most highly respected citizens. He is now living a retired life in our city, where also resides his only son, Senator S. W. De Wolf and Mrs. C. C. Lamp. Another daughter, Mrs. Dr. Mullarky, resides in Cedar Falls. His has been a well spent life, and now that he is spared to enjoy the fruits thereof his many friends will hope that he will be permitted to live many, many years to come. –Editor.)

In the fall of 1876 I was keeping a store at Montour, Tama county, Iowa, and had been buying some of my notions for the store from Chas. Campbell, who was traveling for Fairwell & Co., of Freeport, Ill. During one of his visits to the store in the fall of 1876, he informed me that the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern R. R. contemplated the extension of the railroad in the spring to go from Traer northwest and he had been told that a new town to be called Reinbeck, had been platted and was to be situated in a nice farming community. I immediately informed my friend, Truman Pierce, of the prospect and we decided to drive over in the spring and see what prospects there were for business in the new town.

One March 13, 1877, Truman Pierce, John Maholm and myself started overland thirty miles to find Reinbeck. The roads were in bad shape and after driving about twenty miles we concluded to stop at the first house and inquire concerning our destination. At last a farm house met our eyes and Mr. Pierce got out and went to the door. The man of the house was a German and in answer to Mr. Pierce’s query, “How far is it to Reinbeck?” could only give the same answer which was “nix for stay” (nichts versteh). The laugh was on Truman. After driving several miles further we again came to a farm house and John Maholm was chosen as interpreter this time. The door was opened by a German woman and John fared no better than Truman in ascertaining our destination. The next place we came to was the old Adam Miller homestead and he directed us to A. Methfessel’s farm for further information. After going to the next turn in the road and going east we met a funeral procession going to the old Petersen cemetery. Mr. Pierce remarked that it looked rather unhealthy here and that perhaps we had better return home.

When after great difficulty we reached the home of A. Methfessel, we learned that he was in Traer but was expected back that evening. As it was getting dark, Mrs. Methfessel finally decided to keep us all night.

Mrs. Methfessel is a daughter of Johann Lusch who emigrated to America from Reinbeck, near Hamburg, Germany, in 1858, and after residing in Wisconsin for six moths came to Grundy County and settled in Section 22 about one and one-half miles east of the present site of Reinbeck. Johann Lusch is the father of August B., Adolph T., John C., and Mrs. Methfessel, who is now Mrs. Louisa Beuck.

Adolph and John became bankers, August taking over the old homestead which is located on the main road connecting Waterloo and Grundy Center. There was a great deal of travel on this road and Mr. Lusche’s home was a stopping place and established as a U. S. postoffice and named Reinbeck, but this was discontinued as soon as Mr. Methfessel got the new town opened.

After supper we were introduced to Pete Moeller and he showed us the proposed plat of the town. More details were given us later by Mr. Methfessel upon his return from Traer. We sat up late discussing plans for the future but finally went to bed. It was a cold night and the wind blew hard but with all the wind I could not feel the cold for I slept with a feather bed over and one under me.

The next morning Mr. Methfessel took us out to see where the town would be. All we could see was the end of corn stalks where they been cut off and once in a while we saw a stake that had been driven in by the surveyors. The snow was from 4 to 6 inches deep on the ground and the outlook in general was very dismal. We returned to the house after talking matters over decided to locate here as soon as we could arrange our affairs at Montour. An agreement was drawn up between Mr. Methfessl and myself for a lot on the corner of Main and Broad streets where I later erected my store.

Truman Pierce also purchased a lot which he soon after used for the erection of his house which building is now owned by Mrs. Lizzie Junger. A lot for a home was also purchased by John Maholm at this time.

On our way back to Montour I arranged with Truman Pierce to begin the erection of my store as soon as I could send the lumber over from Montour and also to put in a grocery as soon as he had his house built and which I was to take off his hands as soon as my store was finished. We did not have any stone for the foundation of our buildings and had to use small piling until we could procure stone by way of the railroad. As soon as my building was enclosed I began to move in my goods from Montour. Owing to the mistake of the carpenter the front of my store was boarded up for some time and I was forced to sleep in the store until the mistake was rectified. I boarded with Mr. Pierce for some time until I could get my family and furniture hauled over from Montour. Mr. Pierce’s home was not all lathed at the time I stayed there.

There were quite a few buildings started by this time. Sauer Bros., Rouse & Wheeler, Otto Kerchhoff’s meat market and one other, all quite near together on Broad street, and Mr. Maholm’s building which was enclosed. Soon after this Mr. Salt and Dr. Sibert started to erect a building. It first faced the Grundy road, but afterwards it was turned around so that it faced Broad street. H. H. Greenly bought between Maholm’s and my property and had his lumber hauled all ready to build a store, but changed his mind when he learned that the Traer people intended to build on Main street. Brooks & Moore bought a lot on Main street, also Porterfield Bros. and Messrs. Blanchard & Beeman. It was not long before they began the erection of these buildings. Mr. Greenly bought the lot on the corner of Blackhawk and Main streets and commenced the erection of a store. This is the one which is occupied by Mr. Avery at the present time. August Frahm now began the erection of his building situated just west of mine on Main street. I think it is the building now occupied by Mr. Gange as a clothing store.

About this time the saloons made their appearance in Reinbeck and they were very numerous. D. J. Hawlely & Co. started their hardware store on the corner of Broad and Main. Soon after this Levi Baxter, from Hudson, began hauling lumber from a hotel on Broad street, also D. Jacobsen & Co. began the erection of a drug store on Broad street, afterwards known as the Junger drug store. Peter Sleck in a short time started his hotel on Blackhawk and Main street, also P. C. Dethlefsen began a store on the corner of Broad and Main recently used as a skating rink. Boggs & Connor now built a store on the corner of Main and Blackhawk streets where Ehler’s store now is and Mr. Woulk built a store where Claussen’s shoe store is located.

About this time additions were rapidly being made in the Petersen addition now called West Reinbeck. Mr. Avery’s store was built, also a building facing the Grundy road, on the east side of Mr. Avery’s present home. The next store erected was by A. M. Andrews, who built the one occupied by Stewart Bros. and started a private school in the rooms above. Ben Thompson and Andrew Wilson, fro Traer, began to build elevators about this time. M. M. Lewis had established a lumber yard and soon after Lawson & Stewart started another lumber yard. It is almost impossible to enumerate all the different buildings that were erected at this time for you could get up any morning and see the frames of new buildings in all parts of the town. They came up like mushrooms in the night. Numerous mechanics, carpenters, plasterers and lathers now came to town to work. Wolf & Dows,who had the contract for the extension of the Burlington railroad built a store for the purpose of supplying goods for their employees. It was located on the present site of the State bank.

Our doctors at this time were Dr. Sibert and Dr. Gillen. The former came from Deanville and the latter, Hudson, and shortly after Dr. Powers and Dr. Bradford came. The post office was at Lusch’s Grove and was kept by Aug. Lusch, but after a time it was moved into a building put up by Mrs. Townsend on Main street and she was appointed postmistress. About this time a church organization was formed. Mr. Bissell came up from Traer and held meetings in different buildings that were being built and a Sunday school was started also. They were soon circulating a subscription paper for funds to start a Congregational church. At a meeting held later they perfected a permanent organization with John Porterfield and Andrew Wilson as trustees and a little later with Mr. Martin as pastor.

About this time a number from Traer came here to locate. Mr. Shortress, in the jewelry business; Mr. Benedict, as a druggist, and Mr. Bryson as agent for the railroad, a position which he held for a long time.

I do not remember the first birth in our town, but I think the first death, with the exception of Mr. Mundt, was a child of Wm. Bracken’s. We had to go by the way of the Peterson place and up south of where McCullough’s now live in order to get to the cemetery. Andrew Wilson died and was buried at Traer. He had erected a house on the corner of Broad street where Mr. John Wilson now resides. Mr. Martin, the pastor, built the one north of Mr. Wilson’s which was formerly occupied by Herman Miller. John Porterfield also built a house on the lot William Cook now owns. Houses were going up steadily in all parts of the town and towards fall a number of buildings on Broad street, among them being Sauer Bros.’ hardware store which Mr. Glines now occupies, also Rouse & Wheeler. Otto Kerchoff moved his meat market around also. It was the old post office building that Mr. Salt and myself occupied at one time. About this time the Reinbeck Herald was started by F. B. Hand.

After the death of Mr. Wilson I was chosen as one of the trustees of the Congregational church in his place. There were a number of men from Traer who assisted in the financing of the church. Mrs. De Wolf was one of the ladies who first started to organize the Sunday school. Mr. Marble, of Holland, came down here a number of times and held meetings in different buildings. The Methodists had now begun their church organization and were getting ready to build at this time. Brooks & Moore Bros. bank was built with Taylor Moore as cashier and C. Brintnell as assistant. A. Brannaman built an office on the lot next to Boggs & Connors on Main street. This building I afterwards bought from Mr. Brannaman and moved it onto my lot next to my store and rented it for a milliner store.

The next thing of especial interest was our first election for mayor. The Democrats nominated Truman Pierce and the Republicans nominated Thomas Salt. The election was very exciting and very close. If I remember rightly Charley Merrill’s vote decided the election. There were but a few votes difference between them and the Republicans had got Charley into a barn and had him washing a buggy and brought him in just before the polls closed and Mr. Salt was elected the first mayor of Reinbeck.

I think our first marshal was George Depew. One time the boys played a practical joke on him in order to have some fun. At this time our well and our water take were located near Mrs. Slessor’s and Peter Sieh’s places, in the middle of the street and water was pumped into the tank by a wind mill. There was a platform quite high up around it. The boys fixed a dummy and fastened it onto this platform with a string to hold it up with. In the meantime someone had told Depew that some one had been trying to injure the water tank or pump and that he had better look out a little. We did not have any lamp up there and it was quite dark at night. One of the boys hid behind the tank the next night where he could get hold of the string. Another boy went down town and told Mr. Depew that someone was trying to wreck the water works and that he had better hurry up there. He grabbed his revolver and ran as fast as he could. When he got there he espied the man on the platform and ordered him to come down but he didn’t stir. He shot at him and the man came down. Mr. Depew did not stop to look at the man but ran down town as fast as he could go saying that he had shot a man at the tank and for them to get a doctor as quick as they could. A crowd got a light and went along with him but Depew could not find any man.

In the spring of 1878 our school building was built and A. M. Andrews was principal for two years. The building was erected by the Goble Bros. About this time William Riley came here as a lawyer and had his office with Truman Pierce for some time. After a couple of years Mr. Riley became principal of our school and held that position for a number of years, laying the foundation of knowledge for a large number of our young people who today are holding positions of trust in the different vocations of life.

It was not long before a steam mill was located here. Mr. Henry Biebersheimer was the one who built it. It had formerly been built at Hudson and was taken down and moved here. Mr. George Weddle operated it after it was put up. It was located near the B., C. R. & N. railroad on Center street and remained there until it burned down a number of years later.

The next improvement for the town was the location of the Wis., Iowa & Neb. Railroad in 18?2. We held the first meeting in a building on Broad street. There were quite a few here from Marshalltown, Mr. Parker and Mr. Gilman among them. At this meeting a committee was appointed to confer with the business men to see what we could give toward the construction of the railroad through the township. Mr. Holley and Mr. Brannaman were appointed on this committee. At our next meeting the projectors of the road asked that we raise $5,000 and they would pay for the right of way through the township, but I think this was changed afterwards and we gave $4,000 and we bought the right of way. It took lots of begging but we made it. It did not cost us as much for the right of way as it would have cost the railroad. The promoter of this railroad was a man by the name of Wolsten. C. C. Gilman was chief engineer and his assistant was a young man whose home was at Eldora, but whose name I have forgotten. At a meeting held later it was agreed that the location of the depot should be in the center of the block or between Broad and Black Hawk streets on a line running north. After a time the contract was let and the sub-contractors began to make their appearance. They came to most all the business men to buy goods for the men who were doing the grading. I concluded I did not want any of their trade only for cash for I had lost money by the sub-contractors of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern and the experience was all I wanted.

They began work on the different sections and the merchants had a big trade, but it was not long before quite a number of sub-contractors skipped out, leaving most all our merchants in the lurch. Most of the blame was attached to the heads of the construction company, but they claimed they were not to blame. Meanwhile they had to have goods. Mr. Methfessel came to see me one day and brought Mr. Gilman and he made an agreement with me to furnish goods for the different contractors then at work, which I did until the road was built. I remember that one night Mr. Wolsten paid me $800 in gold at Peter Sleck’s hotel. It was a very dark night and the town was not very orderly. It did not take me long to get home. At another time Mr. Gilman paid me $975, nearly all in gold.

After the road grading was done the location of a depot came up again. Those living on Black Hawk street wanted it at the foot of that street because it was higher ground. I was living on Broad street then and of course opposed it going so far west. The next time Mr. Gilman came down I spoke to him about it. We went down together and he showed me where it would be built. In a few days they sent down the piling and a part of the lumber for the depot, and it was unloaded at the place he had shown me. It was a low, wet place. The water was from one to two feet deep. The carpenters came down the next morning but did not do anything until after dinner and then they began putting in some of the piling. I was busy in my store that afternoon and had forgotten about the depot. The next morning some of the carpenters came to my store and told me that the assistant engineer had ordered them to quit and also ordered the lumber moved west farther on higher ground. I went up the street looking for the assistant engineer and met Mr. Bradley who told me that Mr. Gilman would be in town in the evening and we would hold a meeting and settle the depot location. I then went over to the hotel and found that Mr. Bradley had been circulating a petition the night before and had gotten most all of those that lived west of Black Hawk street to sign it, together with the amount they had subscribed towards the building of the road and had sent the petition to Mr. Gilman by the assistant engineer who started for Marshalltown that morning on horseback.

I tell you there was some hustling done on the east side. I got the boys out in a hurry and we got a petition ready in a short time and the amount we had given. I sent it by telegraph to Mr. Gilman and he got our dispatch before the assistant engineer got to Marshalltown. Before night I got an answer from him saying he had located the depot as far east as the switches would allow. This was more than we had asked. The telegram cost $3.50 besides three pairs of rubber boots which Dethlefsen and myself furnished the carpenters to set the piling. The next day the lumber and piling was brought back and the depot built. There were some sour looking faces in the west part of town.

I think it was 1887 that Mr. Fowler, of Waterloo, came to Reinbeck with the idea of building a cheese factory if he could get the business men to assist in a financial way. He talked with number of us and we had a meeting and Mr. Fowler stated his proposition which was that if the citizens of Reinbeck would purchase a suitable piece of ground that he would erect a suitable building to be used as a cheese factory and if the business paid in one year he would enlarge it. At this meeting I was appointed a committee of one to solicit money to buy a piece of land. I was successful in raising the money and I purchased the land from Aug. Frahm and laid out the street from the Burlington road to the town road. The piece lying west of the street I sold to L. B. Hathaway. It was later owned by Louie Maumans. The next year the cheese factory was enlarged and of late years it has been used as a creamery. It has done a large business and has been well patronized by the farmers and citizens of Reinbeck.

I suppose that there are a large number of people living in Reinbeck who do not know that at one time Reinbeck was an aspirant for the county seat. It happened about the time that Grundy Center wanted a new court house. Reinbeck made a proposition to the taxpayers of the county that Reinbeck would contribute $20,000 and furnish a plot of ground for the location of the building. The ground chosen was the block lying between Black Hawk and Broad streets now occupied by dwelling houses. We sent our circulars out over the country telling them what we would do if the court house was located here. At this time Holland had no love for Grundy Center so of course that helped Reinbeck. There was lots of excitement. Some of the taxpayers thought that Grundy should contribute $5,000 besides their tax, because a new court house would sufficiently enhance the value of their property but they did not see it in that light. They accused us of playing a bluff on them but we were not. We had $10,000 subscribed at that time and would have raised the balance of the money if we had been given the court house. There was a good deal of bad feeling on both sides. On election day there was lots of work done at the polls. At that time I was a member of the board of township trustees and took the returns up to Grundy Center the next day. I was glad that I was a small man and that the sheriff lived there as well. Scores of people gathered round me. You talk about hot people, they were more than hot. The vote of Black Hawk township had decided the fate of Grundy Center. Grundy Center had just one vote east in Black Hawk township in favor of the tax. All the rest was against them. The tax was defeated and Reinbeck and Holland were happy. The question was who cast the vote in favor of Grundy Center?

It took several years before the court house proposition came up again, but in the meantime Grundy had learned something. They put up a guarantee to give $6,000 toward the erection of a court house to be built at Grundy Center. We had at this time a swamp land fund of $11,000. Putting both funds together it was quite an addition towards the erection of the court house. There was not much opposition to the tax and it was carried. It is a fine building and probably could not be duplicated at the present time for the same money. I was pleased because I had worked to elect a democratic board who built it.