by F. C. Hess
extracted from Atlas of Grundy County Iowa, 1911
Being requested to write the history of Melrose Township, Grundy County, Iowa, will say that Father Klein and family and myself came to Grundy Center May 1, 1866. It snowed that day until the ground was covered, but the snow did not stay long and we then went on across the burnt prairie until we came to Melrose where we stopped with the family of James Casey who was living in a house about 16x24 without an upstairs, owned by Robert Kelso, on section 15.
While here, Father Klein commenced to build an house, hauling the lumber from Marshalltown and Steamboat Rock. The houses were boarded up and down, and as some of the outside boards were green elm, when the sun shone on them they would warp and leave in plenty of fresh air and when it rained they would shut up again. Our nearest neighbors were Daniel Sheller on the north, who came to Melrose in 1866 and bought the farm of John Landes. With Mr. Sheller came his two sons-in-law, Wm. Miller and George Moore and his son Henry Sheller; then there was Homer Taylor and Mr. Bude and John Nolan (who died that year); west of us was the John Way farm now occupied by S. B. Sayer who came in the fall of 1866; west of him were Farmer Walker, Ben Moser, Geo. Reynolds and J. Q. Adams, Walker, Moser and Reynolds living in log houses and Adams in a stone house. In the northwest corner of Melrose lived C. F. Clarkson, who owned one section of land and the only schoolhouse in the township was on his land. This land is now owned by M. E. Quick; south of us was Solomon Lighter who had built a blacksmith shop and moved his family into it. Jacob Lighter was at that time living at Grundy Center but built a house during the summer and moved on his own farm; Wm. Boyer and H. E. Sliffer moved on to eighty-acre farms, they both coming from Illinois the same year, and from that state also came most of the other settlers. David Billington and Phil Gelwicks settled close to us and after we were here a year or two the township settled up very fast. We bought our three “eighties” for $3.50 per acre, one-third down and the balance in two payments. As money was very scarce and winter coming on we were obliged to sell a horse and there were three families that lived and kept warm on the money we got for it.
There were then no roads in the country, only those we made as we went anywhere across the prairie. Then we went to making roads, for the sloughs were very soft and often a team and wagon would go down in a slough so that we would have to take the wagon apart and carry it out on solid ground and get the horses out as best we could. We had no grader then and we used the hay-knife and pitchfork to make roads with. One man would cut the sod and the other take hold of it with a fork and pull it until it became loosened and then throw it in the middle of the road.
Father Klein then started a Sunday School and commenced to preach in the schoolhouse near Sol. Wilhelm’s where he organized the Sunday School and the Church of God at Alice. There being only one schoolhouse in the township, and that in the northwest corner and as there were pupils in the southeast part of the township, we wanted a school, too. Then Father Klein let one of his rooms out in which to hold school. The first teacher was Miss Josephine Watson, whose father, with his family of four sons and three daughters, came to Melrose the same summer, 1866, from Wisconsin and settled on section 19.
Henry Thomas settled on section 18 in 1867; Ira Aiken on section 19 before we came; Wm. A. Strickler settled on section 4, in 1867; Thos. Rodd, section 32, in 1867; J. Q. Adams, section 19 before we came; David Strickler, section 25 in 1869; Adams Freed, section 23 in 1867; Fred Ludy, section 22, in 1866; Sam Beery, section 28, in 1866; Elias Macy was living on section 4 and settled there in 1854. He was foreman in the woolen mills at Marshalltown.
Jonathan Calloway settled on section 33 in 1866; M. W. Coffin on section 32 in 1867; Andy Coler, section 18 in 1865; L. L. Hess, section 22 in 1865; F. C. Hess, section 26 in 1866; M. Klein, section 26 in 1866; Sol Lighter, section 36 in 1865; Geo. Harris, section 34 in 1866; Jacob Lighter, section 36 in 1866; Hen. Newell, section 11 in 1866; James Gorlick, section 35 in 1866; J. W. Klein, section 26 in 1866; Fred Rodacker, section 33 in 1865; David Billington, section 24 in 1866; Israel Otto, section 35 in 1868; James Reynolds, section 26 in 1868; Ishmael Haas, section 18 in 1868; Wm Hollister, section 30, was here before we came and was in the nursery business; Wm. Hartman, section 33, in 1867; Geo. Reynolds, section 30, was here before we were, and so was David Brown on section 7, in 1866; James Walker, section 20, Thomas Basken, section 20 in 1865; Robert Booth, section 9 in 1867; Dan Diehl, section 2 in 1868; Philipp Gelwicks, section 35 in 1866; A. W. Fink, section 24 in 1867. No doubt some of the readers wonder where the people stayed until they put up some kind of a house (or rather a shack). Some of them lived in wagons in warm weather and others moved in with the nearest neighbors as it didn’t take as much house room then as it does now. When we moved in with Mr. Casey the house was about 16x24 without an upstairs. There was one room which was used for kitchen, dining room, parlor and bedroom. There were nine in our family and not less than six in Mr. Casey’s, and a big dog and we didn’t seem to be crowded.
In 1882, Wm. Hartman started a creamery and carried it out until 1890 and afterwards a creamery was started at what is now called Ivester.
The town had a general merchandise store, a blacksmith shop, a Brethren church, a schoolhouse and four dwelling houses and postoffice, but now the creamery is gone and so are the store, blacksmith shop, postoffice and two dwelling houses.
In 1866, there was only one schoolhouse, and no church in the township, while now there are three churches and nine schoolhouses.
C. F. Clarkson was about the only officer in the township, J. M. Klein was County Supervisor, the first one after we came to Melrose, and the first preacher in Melrose.
The first death was John Nolan; the first couple married was David Billington to Miss Bute; the first child born was a daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Miller.
Most of the houses were boarded up and down, some with pine boards and some with elm boards. Our farm machinery consisted of one horse cow-plow, a two horse walking stubble plow and two horse wooden drag. The grain was sowed and all bound by hand on the ground. After a while we got what was called the Marsh Harvester where two men could stand on it and bind all day.
The threshing machines were all run by horse-power and the grain was all stacked and sometimes we didn’t get our threshing done ‘till snow came.
All the old settlers that are still living on their farms are S. B. Sayer, Thomas Rodd, Wm. Miller, Geo. Moore, Henry Sheller, Wm. A. Strickler, J. R. Strickler, David Stricker, and the younger farmers that are still living on the old homesteads are Harm Beery, Ira Rodd, Frank Newell, Frank Freed, John Hess, L. R. Hess, James Calloway, Charles Diehl and Judd Smith. This is as near as my memory will serve me.
by R. M. Finlayson
Coker F. Clarkson, familiarly known as Father Clarkson, owned all of section 6, now owned by Mr. Quick, and it was his home for many years. In 1866 the corn crop was a failure, owing to late frosts in the spring and early frost in the fall. Mr. Clarkson had a large amount of old corn which he sold as high as $2.00 per bushel. People came for it a distance of thirty miles in some instances. Mr. Clarkson served for a number of years as a member of the Board of Supervisors, and was instrumental in procuring patents to certain swamp lands for the County, under an old United Stated law. These swamp lands, about 2,600 acres in all, were located in Emmet County. They were sold in 1891-92, and the proceeds were used in paying in part for the then, new Court House. This was in a sense, a violation of the law, as they were granted for the express purpose of assisting in drainage of wet lands.
This diversion of the funds arising from the sale of these lands was authorized by a vote of the people at a special election held in 1891.
In the earlier 70’s, C. F. Clarkson’s sons, J. S. (“Ret”) and Richard (“Dick”) Clarkson, purchased the Iowa State Register, published in Des Moines. Ret Clarkson, as editor, wielded a great influence in the politics of this State, and he had a prominent part in bringing out J. P. Dolliver and other young men who developed into statesmen. Ret Clarkson had a leading place in trying to nominate James G. Blaine for the Presidency. Dick Clarkson was the business manager of the concern, while C. F. Clarkson edited the farm department, and for years he was the foremost writer of the State on all matters pertaining to agriculture and stock raising. His farm articles were extremely forceful and vigorous.
In the summer of 1870, Whipke Martin, a German girl about 16 years of age, was found dead in a cornfield on the east side of section 7. It was evident that she had been strangled to death, and the footsteps of a man in the soft earth were plainly to be seen, leading off through the cornfield toward the west. The few settlers in the vicinity joined in a search for the brutal murderer. Finally a young man, calling himself Wilbur P. Glyndon, was arrested. Later he was tried and convicted but obtained a second trial, and a change of venue to Story County, where he was convicted a second time and sentenced for life in the penitentiary at Fort Madison, where he was confined almost forty years, but was granted a pardon in 1909 or 10. He always claimed that Glyndon was an assumed name, and that he was a member of a prominent and wealthy family in Ohio, and that he was innocent of the crime with which he was charged. The writer has heard nothing of him since his release.