by W. A. Conrad
extracted from Atlas of Grundy County Iowa, 1911
Clay township derives its name from Henry Clay, an eminent statesman. Clay township is located in the southeast part of Grundy County. It is bounded on the north by Palermo township, on the west by Felix township, on the south by Marshall County and on the east by Tama County.
On March 6, 1856, Grundy County was organized as a separate commonwealth. At that time what is now Felix township and Clay township was all known as Felix township. In June 1863, a petition signed by Isaac Young and others was presented asking for the division of the said Felix township. The petition was granted and township 86-17 was designated as Clay township, and ordered that the first election be held at the Wolf Grove school house. S. S. Beaman was the first Supervisor elected from the new township; Harrison Brooks, the first township clerk; Isaac Young, the first Constable; Jonas T. Wiley, the first Assessor. Charles Jones and S. S. Beaman acted as judges of the first election, and Harrison Brooks and Jonas T. Wiley were the clerks.
The first three school houses were built in 1860 by Solomon Wilhelm and Jonas Wiley at Wolf Grove, Conrad Grove and one in the west part of Felix.
First birth in the township, Charles Perry; first death, Cheney Thomas; first wedding, Mary Ann Clay and Able Meach; first minister, John Montgomery; first school teacher, Caroline Thomas; first real settler, Cheney Thomas in the spring of 1854. Oldest living Settler, W. W. Brooks, in the autumn of 1854.
J. W. Conrad made the second entry of land in Grundy County, on December 6, 1853, on what is now the North half (N. ½) of the Northwest Quarter (N. W. ¼) of Section Thirty-one (S. 31), Clay township. He began breaking in the spring of 1854, and planted some sod corn which yielded twenty bushel per acre. He built his house in the spring of 1855 and moved into it the 16th of April, 1855, after having lived in Albion from August, 1853, until the spring of 1855, he having built the second house in Albion.
In the autumn of 1854, H. H. Brooks came and located on the farm now owned by W. W. Brooks. Dr. Elias Fisher and Joshua Wiley came in the spring of 1855-56. In 1857, Solomon Wilhelm and Richard Lynn came and located in Palermo township. The latter part of the fifties brought a large emigration. Among them was Solon Beaman who bought land in the fall of 1856 and who located on the farm where the town of Beaman now stands, in 1860. Duncan McMartin and Henry Van Ness locating on the McMartin farm north of Beaman.
Duncan McMartin came to Grundy County from New York and bought two thousand acres of land in what is now Clay township and made the trip back home every summer until his death.
The first Fourth of July celebration we had at Conrad’s Grove in 1857 and about all the settlers for fifteen or twenty miles around were here. Dr. Elias Fisher delivered the oration, and then we all had our dinners spread on a long table, and we marched around and lined up to the table, when some reverend gentleman returned thanks. After dinner we all had a good visit, and as the sun began to close down in the western horizon, we were reminded that the day was drawing to a close. Then there was shaking of hands and many goodbyes and farewells said, all thinking it was a day well spent.
At this time Iowa City was our nearest market. In the latter part of the fifties the Illinois Central Railroad was built as far west as Waterloo. Then we thought we had things handy, for it was only forty-five miles across the prairie to Waterloo. We have hauled many a load of grain to Waterloo. When hauling grain, there would be several of the neighbors together; each man had his grain in sacks, so if he got stuck, we would carry it out. In the winter, we ofttimes upset, and in the summer when crossing some of the sloughs we mired down. There were very few bridges in those days. It was three days’ trip there and back, yet we thought that was nothing. Those cold winter days, all that any man wore on his feet was common cow hide boots. You did not see any overshoes or felt boots, and a great many did not have an overcoat.
J. H. Cannon came in 1866 and began improving the farm he had bought in the early fifties. Mr. Cannon, like some more of us, has seen this country when it was one vast scope of wild prairie.
In the latter part of the sixties, Joseph Arnold came and began improving the farm now owned by Harrison Alexander, Samuel Arnold his father, having bought it in the early fifties. Samuel Arnold the first one to pay tax at Grundy Center after Grundy County was organized as a separate commonwealth.
Rev. S. E. Daggett, came in the 60’s and began improving the farm he now lives on. He, too, has seen quite a change in South Grundy.
Chas. Teil came in the 60’s and first broke and began improving the A. H. Barnes homestead. When Mr. Barnes came he sold it to him.
A. H. Barnes, S. S. Barnes and Dr. W. P. Penfield came at the close of the 60’s. A. H. Barnes located on his farm four miles north. Mr. Barnes has been in the stock business for years and is well known all over the county. S. S. Barnes improved the farm now owned by Lou Gohner. When the town of Conrad was located, he came and engaged in the hardware business. His death occurred in 1883.
Dr. Penfield improved his farms and lived on the one north of the creek until the town of Conrad was located, when he built and moved to town. “Doc,” as we call him, did not have much time to farm, he was kept busy looking after the sick. I suppose he has ridden and driven as many miles as any doctor in the state and over some terrible roads.
In 1867, M. H. and D. Steelsmith came, M. H. locating on the farm he now owns west of town. Politically M. H. is a democrat. D. Steelsmith engaged in the lightning rod business the first few years he was here, and many a man has he made tired, talking lightning rods.
At the close of the 60’s, the Iowa Central Railroad was built and that gave birth to the towns of Liscomb and Union. That also gave a market and trading place a few miles nearer than Marshalltown.
In the winter of ’68 there was a company organized known as “The Wolf Creek Valley Prospecting Coal Company.” It had for officers, J. W. Tripp of Liscomb, president; Rev. Charles Jones, Jr., secretary and treasurer; William Boyer, William Goodrich, Solon Beaman, Charles Jones, Sr., Directors. It was organized for the purpose of prospecting along Wolf Creek for coal. It was a stock company, ten dollars a share, a great many taking several shares. There was quite a bit of stock subscribed, and a committee appointed to investigate and get prices on such machinery as was needed, but by some cause, it never materialized.
Rev. Charles Jones, Jr., had a store and was postmaster of Wadiloup postoffice. It was located where Mr. Brown lives south of the town of Beaman. Henry Stall had a blacksmith shop just across the street from the store. The town was named Jerusalem. Mr. Snow had a flouring mill on the bank of Wolf creek a half mile east of the town of Jerusalem. Where the mill was, they called it Jerico. Wadiloup postoffice was a mail and stage route from Marshalltown to Grundy Center. Mr. Jones did a good business with his store.
At the close of the sixties South Grundy prairies were well dotted with houses and wheat and corn fields. They had begun to work the roads on the lines and to build bridges across the sloughs and creeks. At first we just drove across the prairie anywhere and forded the streams where we came to them.
With the seventies immigration increased and there was some talk of a railroad from Liscomb to Traer. J. W. Tripp was the instigator. At that time the Burlington was being built from Cedar Rapids to Traer. Traer was the terminus of the Burlington until 1877. Mr. Tripp’s idea was to get them to Liscomb. Tripp got one or two surveys run and finally got the grade stakes set. There was some grading done out just east of Liscomb, and there was some grading done just across the creek from where the Badger Hill flouring mill stood. I think there were two men did the latter grading with shovels and wheel barrows. Mr. Tripp failed to get the road graded to Liscomb, and we heard no more of a railroad for a few years.
In 1872 was the great grange movement, or as the real name was “Patrons of Husbandry.” Its origin was a secret society for farmers, mechanics and laborers and their wives. Merchants were not eligible. Its purpose was for the consumer to trade direct with the manufacturer, cutting out the middle men or merchants. The grange society seemed to sweep all over the state of Iowa. Some counties had one in each township. We had one at our school house. It was Clay Grange No. 301. Their regalia was a sash with the number and name of the order on, and the emblems were a plow, spade and hoe. About everyone joined and thought it was the way to prosperity. At Albion there was quite a bit of enthusiasm. They organized a company to build an elevator. It was known as the Iowa Valley Elevator Company. It was a stock company. It had for its officers: Thomas Swearingen, president; D. M. Moninger, treasurer. Shares sold for twenty-file dollars. As well as I remember, there was something like $10,000.00 of stock taken. The elevator was built and run for a while and there was dissatisfaction among the stockholders. A meeting of the stockholders was called at Albion. They met and found they would have to nail an assessment on each stockholder and that busted the company.
In 1872 J. K. Smith & Co. built a store just across the creek from where the town of Beaman now stands, on W. W. Brooks’ Farm. He was also postmaster of the Wadiloup postoffice. Mr. Smith was engaged in business there until 1875, when the railroad was built. He kept a good stock of goods in his country store and he had a good trade. In fact, Jake was a good fellow himself.
There was some talk of a railroad from Liscomb to Wadiloup, and from there to Grundy Center. John W. Tripp came over from Liscomb quite often, and he told us there would be a railroad down along Wolf Creek before many moons and we all had lots of confidence in John.
In 1874 there was a company surveying a road from Des Moines to Ames and out by Illinois Grove. It was to be a narrow gauge. J. W. Tripp head of this and he at once began to talk railroad. He conceived the idea of organizing a stock company to build west from Liscomb to Illinois Grove and there connect with the Des Moines road, and east to Wadiloup and then to Grundy Center. It got well talked up and a meeting was called at Liscomb along in the winter of 1875. There were representatives there from all along the prospective line. It was then and there that a new railroad company was born, and J. W. Twipp fathered it, and a proud father he was. He was to have christened it early in the spring, by the time the frost was out of the ground. The new company was called the Farmers Union Railroad Company. It was a stock company, $100 per share. Its officers were: J. W. Tripp, president; Judge Batten, vice-president; J. C. Willetts, secretary; S. L. Emery, treasurer; Colonel Saleigh, superintendent.
The directors were: Solon Beaman, William Goodrich, George Elliott, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Howard, J. W. Conrad, J. W. Tripp, Judge Batten and Col. Saleigh.
The company started with several thousand dollars of stock subscribed. There were several surveys made and a line established and the grade stakes set. Early in the spring work was begun on the grade. A man by the name of Edwards came out from Chicago and took a contract for several miles of grading. Everything seemed to be working all right, but we did not know if our money was going to hold out to track it and get the rolling stock. With one engine and six or eight cars we could get along for a while. The Des Moines Narrow Gauge Company made us the offer if we would grade our road and lease it to them they would put on the iron and rolling stock.
J. W. Tripp and Col. Saleigh had begun to talk to wooden rails. We heard of a road in the northeastern part of the state that was built with wooden rails. A man by the name of Judge Williams was the president of the company. We had some correspondence with him. He invited us up to see his road. We appointed a committee to go and investigate and see what it was like. Our committee made a report when they came back that it was a success, and that Judge Williams said if he had the money to buy iron he would put on wood. Our company at once gave an order to a lumber company in Michigan for hard wood rails 4x6 twelve feet long. An order was placed for one engine and six or eight cars. We received the engine and some of the cars in September. The track was laid from Liscomb west to the river timber first, as they got a good many ties from the river timber for the track east of Liscomb. There was a round house and machine shop built at Liscomb. A man by the man of Brown was master-mechanic and his son was engineer on the road.
The company had located a station on S. S. and H. H. Beaman’s farm, and they laid out the town and gave it the name of Beaman. J. K. Smith moved his store building across the creek to the town of Beaman. There were four or five other store buildings built, a blacksmith shop, hotel, a warehouse to handle grain, and a lumber yard, all ready for business when the train got to Beaman. The first train got to Beaman the first of the year ’76. Beaman was a busy business place. It kept the one train busy to carry the grain from Beaman. There were several thousand bushels of corn cribbed there that winter. We thought it just fine when we could make three or four trips to town with grain in one day. We now had the road running from Liscomb to Beaman and the track laid to the river west. There was some grading between Beaman and Grundy Center, but it proved a failure.
In 1880, the Northwestern road was built from Toledo, Iowa, across to Webster City by Beaman; and town of Conrad was laid out in June, 1880, by Z. V. Shaw, D. F. Hurlbutt, G. J. Hurlbutt, and J. W. Conrad.
Humiston and Benson built the first store building. It was stocked with hardware with Sam Miles as manager. W. L. Seamans was the first groceryman and W. H. Stark first with general merchandise; J. H. Smith and S. S. Waldo were second with general merchandise; B. Fields was proprietor of the first refreshment bar; C. V. Nelson the first druggist; D. Spencer Penfield was the first liveryman. The first hotel or boarding house was built by Doc Nelson. It was some forty or fifty feet long and was boarded up and down, and was about eight feet to the eaves, with board roof. Martin Snyder built the Commercial House. W. B. Elliot built the first blacksmith shop. Hoy and Buchan were the second with a grocery store. O. P. Benson was the first agricultural implement dealer. We had two grain firms, Wall and Rogers, Hollis and Hartman. The first lumber yard was started by Tripp and Barber, of Liscomb; the second by Daggett, Starks & Maulsby. The first shipper of live stock was Bob Allison. The first banker was H. A. Church of Marshalltown. Mrs. C. M. Thompson was the first milliner. Al. Burton was the editor of the first paper, the Conrad Journal. Dr. Penfield was the first doctor. Coe and Sidwell harness and shoe makers. Mr. Myers was the butcher; D. C. Kerr, attorney-at-law; S. S. Waldo, postmaster; Frank Hamlin, station agent. Pastors of the churches were: U. B., Rev. Wilson; M. E., J. J. Littler; Presbyterian, Rev. McMeekin. The town of Conrad has had business men of push and enterprise from its foundation up. One thing I would say for the business men and citizens of Conrad, for they justly deserve it, is that their stores and other places of business, halls for public meetings or civic societies, churches, schools and well kept residences are equal to or better than any town of its size in the state.
Years ago a great many came here and remained but a short time, until they tired of living so far from market, thinking there would never be any change, and, as the saying was, “I am going to get out of here while I can.”
In looking around there are but a few of the first settlers now left. Some have moved away, but the most of those of the early fifties have gone the way no traveler ever returns. Some have lived to see this county, when there was no one living within its borders, now developed into one of the finest agricultural counties within the state, it must be acknowledged that her progress has been rapid.
What must be her future?