Reinbeck History


Early Reinbeck History Made By Men With Vision

Public Spiritedness and Co-operation Helped Community Growth

The Reinbeck community has been less fortunate than many Iowa communities, who have had their early history immortalized in some work of fiction. What Herbert Quick did for western Grundy county and Margaret Wilson, for the Tranquility neighborhood of Tama county, has not yet been accomplished by any descendant of Reinbeck's earliest settlers.

But memory of the old days is kept green by a number of the older residents who have seen the town grow on what was unbroken prairie when they were young. Among these still living are Mrs. Margaret Avery, who came as a bride to live in rooms over one of Reinbeck's first stores owned by her husband, H. W. Avery; J. R. Stewart, whose lumber business in partnership with Peter Moeller, started when their first shipment of lumber arrived on the first train to reach Reinbeck; and A. M. Robinson, still active in business in the town where he broke prairie and killed rattlesnakes as a boy, years before a town was plotted.

Mr. Robinson's father, Thomas B. Robinson, moved to a farm two miles southeast of Reinbeck in 1866. There were at that time nine other families living in Black Hawk township. The names, as recalled by the boy who was six when the family came west, were J. F. Sherratt, Wm. Meissner, A. B. Whitney, E. H. Beckman, August Lusch, and families named Smith, Kemp, Tipman and Frost.

This was at the beginning of the settlement of this section. Two years after locating here Mr. Robinson counted thirty-eight teams at work breaking prairie in sight of his farm. When the railroad came through in 1876 and 1877 the country was becoming well populated and needed only better transportation to take on the look of an old established community.

Much of the Reinbeck territory has a unique history in that it was owned by Wm. Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn bridge in New York City. For his achievements as a builder and in part pay for the job Mr. Roebling was given a grant of many thousand acres of land in Iowa. There is no record that he visited this country, but he sent a competent land man to select his land and they picked the country bordering Grundy and Black Hawk counties for his location. He sent William Meissner here to oversee his land and to farm much of it and the early day operations of the Roebling-Meissner partnership had an old-country flavor with dozens of men at work at farm jobs, supervised by foremen under Mr. Meissner's direction. So large were their operations that Mr. Meissner had a tower erected on the house he occupied, where he could survey his crews at work with a spy-glass.

But "corporation farming" proved poorly paying in those days as well as now and the Roebling holdings were gradually broken up by sales. Mr. Meissner bought a large acreage and A. Methfessel, a nephew of Roebling, took the farm that later became the site of the town.

Even in 1866 ownership of the land in this section had passed from the government to private hands. A. M. Robinson recalls that his father paid $5.25 an acre for their farm and he remembers but one piece of land going on a government "claim" after they came here.

When the railroad reached Traer and were casting about for a town site at a suitable distance, Mr. Methfessel made successful negotiations to have the town located on his farm. He met opposition from the Petersen Brothers, Adolph, August and Otto, who owned the farm adjoining on the west. While Methfessel secured the depot concession, Petersen's laid out a town site with a business and residence section and competed for lot purchasers.

This has led to some complications in street alignment and in abstracting of property and settling property lines which continue to this day. Partisans of Petersens called their town Petersburg and the distinction continued for several years until two sites grew together and Petersburg became Petersen's Addition to Reinbeck.

This also led to a friendly controversy between W. W. DeWolf and H. W. Avery, which continued until Mr. DeWolf's death, as to which was the first merchant in Reinbeck. Avery's store was undoubtedly here first by a few weeks but Mr. DeWolf contended that it was not then in Reinbeck but in Petersburg. The matter was never settled between them.

The original idea was that Broad street was to be the main business street of the town but after a few years the east and west street that is now Main street attracted most of the business houses and took the distinction of being "Main" street.

Before the railroad actually reached Reinbeck, Mr. DeWolf, John Malcolm and Truman Pierce drove here from Montour to locate business sites and were the first purchasers of business lots. John Moeller, now living in Des Moines, was a young man visiting at the Methfessel place, and assisted the engineer in laying out streets and lots in the town. His brother, Peter Moeller, had been working through here as a carpenter and a short time later bought the interest of Ishmael Lunsun, who with J. R. Stewart, started the first lumber yard in Reinbeck, their first stock in trade arriving on the first train to enter Reinbeck.

Mr. DeWolf hauled his lumber for building and his stock of merchandise from Montour and his general store was soon in operation. Mr. Pierce built an office where John Ramsey now lives and was engaged in sort of legal work, along with real estate and similar lines. He was the first justice of the peace and was for many years mayor of Reinbeck.

Business men came to the new town from various directions. H. W. Avery, a young man from New York state, and Dr. J. G. Sibert, had been partners in a rural store at Deanville, four miles northwest of the town site. Dr. Sibert tended store and practiced medicine while Mr. Avery ran a peddling wagon among the farm homes. With a town projected they moved to Reinbeck, their store being erected on what is now Grundy avenue, but in Petersen's addition. Dr. Sibert withdrew from the business but continued as the community's earliest physician.

Thomas Salt, who had left the Manchester looms in England where he had been a weaver, to try his fortune in the new country and was farming near Grant Center, moved to town and engaged in the mercantile business. He was later postmaster for many years and a leading citizen until his death.

Two young men equipped with a little type, a hand press and boundless optimism, started Reinbeck's first newspaper. Their names were Hand & Palmer, but they remained only a short time. The first banking house was started the year following the railroad's coming and operated for many years under the name of Brooks & Moore. The Moore interests were owned by Ralph and Taylor Moore, the latter being cashier. Ralph Moore was founder and head of the First National Bank at Traer until his death and his son continues in his place.

M. M. Lewis was another early day business man, starting a second lumber yard in Reinbeck soon after the first. A few years later he sold the business to Mitchell & Bradley. Mr. Mitchell was at one time county treasurer of Grundy County and during his life a leading citizen of the town.

The Brooks & Moore bank was sold after a few years to the Pierce family of Dysart. They sent a young man, John Wilson, here to manage the bank and probably no other man had a larger hand in making the town and community than Mr. Wilson. As head of the Bank of Reinbeck he built up the community as only the old-time banker could. Character was the basis of credit and no man with character suffered from lack of the necessary money in his business.

Herman Miller, now head of the Iowa Insurance Co. in Waterloo was another who came here when the town was young and still holds the community in affectionate remembrance. Mr. Miller's reception was most discouraging. Two trains a week ago ran to Reinbeck from Cedar Rapids and he missed the first one. He had no money, knew no one in Cedar Rapids and had but one acquaintance in Iowa, Frederick Kolb, Reinbeck furniture man. When he finally reached Reinbeck, Mr. Kolb's whole family was ill with diptheria and Mr. Miller's first job was as nurse to the sick Kolb children.

Another business man still active in Reinbeck is Alex Green. He was a year or two later than the railroad in coming here, working as clerk in a general store in Traer when the road was built. He recalls that his first connection with Reinbeck was that he sold a batch of unroasted coffee to W. W. DeWolf for his opening day in Reinbeck. Mr. DeWolf's coffee had been ordered but had failed to arrive. Two years later Mr. Green came to Reinbeck and has been in business here since.

Reinbeck was always predominantly German blood. The territory seemed to offer a special attraction to persons from Scott county and most of these had been in this country from Germany only a few years. In two directions, the surrounding country was settled by Irish families. The conflict of these two nationalities made many interesting incidents of early life.

Peter Sieck managed a tavern in Reinbeck and his place was often the scene of such incidents as the following. The narrator and his companion "Long Jack" were both Irish. "We had a few drinks and nothing would do Jack but to shout his opinion of the "Dutch". The opinions were not complimentary. I had some drinks too, but not enough so that I didn't realize that this was no place to talk that way. I tried to get Jack shut up and out of the place, but before I could do that, trouble busted loose and d'y'know I went out of that saloon on my hands and knees with fifty big Dutchmen fighting each other to get at me." It was years before the teller of that tale returned to Reinbeck.

--The Grundy Register (Grundy Center, Iowa), 13 November 1931


Reinbeck Leads As a Livestock Shipping Point

Wilson & Co. Produce House Does Large Volume Of Poultry Business

Reinbeck is the second largest town in Grundy County, but loyal Reinbeckers are slow to accept a second-place in any classification. The census figures prove that Grundy Center has more people, and cannot be denied. All other claims to being bigger and better than Reinbeck are hotly denied.

Served by two railroads, Reinbeck has long been known as a heavy stock-shipping point. Little grain is shipped from this town, most years seeing more shipped in than out, but the crops are marketed in the form of hogs and cattle. In recent years trucking has taken the place of much of this railroad shipping and figures are thus more difficult to secure.

The place of shipping has been taken now by the output of eggs and dressed poultry. The Wilson & Co. plant here, headquaters for produce buying of the company in this section, has made the town a center of shipping. During 1930 forty-eight carloads of eggs were shipped from Reinbeck by rail while several more carloads were taken direct to Chicago markets by truck.

The records for 1931 so far indicate an increase in the marketing of eggs from here. The first four months of 1930 saw seventeen cars shipped from here and this year during the same period twenty-one cars were shipped.

On the basis of forty-eight cars for last year this means at least 19,200 cases since the cars will average 400 cases each, some running as high as 500 cases and few containing less than the regulation 400. This means 576,000 dozens of eggs or nearly seven million eggs.

A plant of the Bell Canning Co. and one of the Reinbeck Pressed Brick Co. are also big factors in the town. One of the best known manufacturing plants in the town is the Reinbeck Bakery, which trucks bread and pastry goods to all nearby towns, even serving a number of neighborhood stores in Waterloo. Reinbeck Bread is one of the best known makes of that product in this section.

Reinbeck has seventy-five blocks of asphalt pavement, with practically all other streets in the town surfaced with gravel. It has two railroads, the Rock Island and Chicago Great Western. An up-to-date water and sewer system serves the people here, while the substation of the Iowa Railway & Light Co. is a junction point for electrical service for the Toledo division of that company and represents an investment of $100,000.

The spiritual side of life is served by five churches, the Congregational, First and Second Methodist, United Presbyterian and Ev. Lutheran.

The Reinbeck library has one of the largest circulations per capita in the state. Last year's circulation totaled 28,000 books and the present year will show a gain which may well put it above 30,000.

A playground is operated during summer months under the direction of full-time supervisors and a tourist camp with stoves, lights and running water is maintained by the city.

Reinbeck is also becoming noted as the home of breeders of fancy pet stock. Emil Runft operates a large kennel farm at the edge of town, which sells dogs in all states of the union. In addition he has built up a reputation as breeder of fancy waterfowl and unusual poultry breeds. Warren Hall and W. H. Harris are well known Iowa breeders of pigeons, the former operating a plant which is now squabbing some hundreds of birds each year. Albert Bros., just west of town, are breeders of silver fox and will pelt more than a hundred fox this winter from their kennels.

--The Grundy Register (Grundy Center, Iowa), 13 November 1931