by Solomon Wilhelm
extracted from Atlas of Grundy County Iowa, 1911
On March 14, 1857, Dick Lynn and I started for Iowa, Lynn coming with the teams to Iowa City where I met him, having come by train with the women and children. The wagon was on the road forty-one days, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Iowa City. Here we bought another wagon as we had four horses, but how to reach Grundy Center was a question. We were referred to an old banker who advised us to go to Cedar Rapids as we would have a ridge road nearly all the way.
We arrived at Grundy Center on the 29th day of April, 1857, right after one of the worst storms that Iowa has ever seen. The cattle walked on the Iowa barrens, as they were called, on top of the snow, and we thought we had surely reached the Arctic regions. The next day after our arrival, we tried to get a house, but did not succeed, so moved in with B. Jennings. The following day we went to Waterloo where we got provisions and feed for the horses which we had bought near there. Later we drove to Marshalltown where we got a cook stove, and from there went to Albion. Now, at that time, Albion, or Lafayette as it was then called, was a larger town than Marshalltown. After leaving Albion we started for home with our purchases, which was no easy task as you must understand, there were no laid out roads and no bridges as there are now, but after sloughing down several times, we reached home that day.
Our next lookout was for lumber. The first loads we hauled from Steamboat Rock, but hearing that Benson had a saw-mill out near Union, we secured the rest of our lumber there. One load of pine flooring we hauled from Iowa City, but decided this was too expensive, so did not return. We commenced to build our home on the prairie, with not another within sight of us. There were four or five houses at Conrad Grove, but these were too far away to be seen, and these were our nearest neighbors. Our firewood we were compelled to haul from the Iowa river and it was thirteen miles to our timber.
We built our houses and broke a little prairie the first summer and then we had the ’57 money panic, and those who were old enough will never forget it, for then hard times commenced.
In the early 60’s we were snowbound for six weeks at a time, but we were fortunate enough to have flour and fuel enough to see us through. We could go afoot on top of the snow but could not take a horse out. At about that time, I do not think a man could run fast enough to give me a thousand acres of this flat land, and Dick Lynn and I would have left that country but that we were too poor. Now, the land is all tilled and selling at from $125 to $150 an acre, for we have the finest farming land in the state.
After the money panic, the war broke out and half of the men enlisted while the others took care of things at home. When we raised a little more than we could eat, we had no market. Our wheat we hauled first to Cedar Rapids, later to Independence, then to Waterloo. When the Northwestern was laid into Marshalltown, we thought we were all right as we could make a trip in one day and parts of two nights. Later the road reached Union, then Grundy Center and is now within easy reach at Conrad.
At the time we reached Grundy Center there were as near as I can recollect, about five or six houses and these were what we called “pioneer houses.” There are only two men in Grundy Center now who were there when we came here and they were then boys, as all the older ones are dead and gone. I believe there are still six persons at Conrad who were there when we came there.
Our early trading and blacksmithing was done at Albion, sixteen miles from home, and our breaking plow lays had to be kept sharp as they were required to cut so many roots.
In the early days we had no schoolhouses, as Jonas Wiley and I built the first one in this part of the county in 1860, at about where Conrad now stands. Prior to that we had school wherever there were children, and held five or six terms in the upper rooms of my house.
When I came to Iowa, I was thirty years of age and have lived here, in the same spot for 53 years, so you can see that I am getting old, and have seen a great many years of Iowa’s hardships, but have lived to see her one of the best states in the Union.
by L. B. DeSeelhorst
Palermo Township is supposed to have been named for an ancient town in Italy of the same name. It is located as Township 87 North, Range 17, and a small part of Range 16, West of the Fifth Principal Meridian.
It is watered by the Black Hawk and Minnehaha creeks and several small branches. One tract of natural timber about forty acres, known as Hickory Grove, is located near the northwestern part of the township and one of about the same size, known as Beckman’s Grove, is located on the northern line. These border on the Black Hawk creek, Grundy Center is located near the northeastern corner.
Prior to 1856 there was but one voting precinct in Grundy County and that was located on the north line. While there were but few voters in the southern portion of the County, they were compelled by force of circumstances to journey, some of them, from twenty to twenty-five miles to vote, or forego the privilege of exercising the right of franchise. The County Judge was petitioned to, for a more convenient voting place.
After due consideration Palermo precinct was organized and set apart as a voting precinct, by Judge Lawerence, in the year 1856. It comprised all of the territory of Grundy County south of the correction line, out of which was from time to time set off by the County Judge and by action of County Board of Supervisors, and organized, the townships of Grant, Lincoln, Colfax, Shiloh, Melrose, Palermo, Washington, Black Hawk, Felix and Clay.
Palermo contains thirty-eight and one-half sections of land, having retained two and one-half sections of Washington Township, six, seven, and north one-half of eighteen, when the division was made September 4, 1877. It is doubtful if a finer and more productive tract of land, of equal size, in one township, can be found in our vast domain. It was in this township and adjoining territory that the late “Uncle Jake Slifer” said he could count, while standing on the roof of the old “Cheese box” Court House in 1869, one hundred and twenty-five teams turning the virgin soil. The country was but sparsely settled and no groves or trees to obstruct the view.
Then the writer first drove across the unbroken prairie on April 80, 1869, there were but two or three houses on the public highway, between Grundy Center and six miles west to the township line. The only ones I call to mind were the Wass house, one mile west, and the W. C. Williams house, four miles west of town, one broad expanse of undulated prairie that spread out in a grand panorama of beauty and grandeur.
The first election for Palermo precinct was ordered by Judge A. W. Lawerence to be held at the Thos. G. Copp house in April, 1856. The officers elected at the April election failed to qualify and another election was ordered for the fourth Monday in May. We are unable to state who was elected at this election, but among the pioneer township officers – commencing in 1857-58, we find the names of Wm. Laue and R. W. Wass, Judges of Election; William Campbell, Geo. Troutman and B. G. Cummings, Trustees; Horace Bancroft, Township Clerk, and J. R. (“Dick”) Lynn, Assessor, who held the office for a long term of years. Wm. Campbell, who lived in the northwest part of the township, was later elected – in 1862 – County Supervisor, and took an active part in providing for the soldiers’ families and bounties for the volunteers. There were but few inhabitants in Palermo in 1861 yet, she furnished her full quota of men for the Union service.
In 1857 the Assessor valued the land in the township at a price ranging from two and one-half to three dollars per acre and the tax on the same amounted to four or five dollars per quarter section. The same land is now worth one hundred fifty dollars per acre and the tax anything that our new laws from time to time may demand.
For a number of years prior to 1865, schools were held in private houses and a school district was almost unlimited in extent, pupils attending from a long distance. The wages paid teachers in those days, were three dollars per week and board. In 1865, a school house was built in the Sol Wilhelm district, known as District No. 5. Miss Indiana Lighter was the first teacher. Later new districts were organized and a schoolhouse built in each until there were nine erected in the township, and the wages for teachers have increased from three dollars per week to forty-five and fifty dollars per month. For a long period, until 1877, Palermo school township was composed of what are now two townships – Washington and Palermo, including Grundy Center. On January 20, 1879, a special meeting of the Board of Directors was convened at Grundy Center to vote on the proposition of setting off District No. 1 (Grundy Center) into an independent district. There were ten votes cast of which seven were in favor and three against the change.
On March 17, 1879, the new District Township Board was organized with D. O. Collins, President; L. B. DeSeelhorst, Secretary, who held the office for thirty years and John F. Lynn, Treasurer, who continued in office for twenty-eight years. Besides the officers named who were directors for their respective districts, District No. 2 was represented by Albert Clark; No. 5, John Estabrook; No. 7, E. Ranger, No. 8, A. P. Walker; No. 9, Henry Bockes, and No. 10, Samuel Bockes.
In 1878 the school districts were re-numbered, Grundy Center being No. 1 and the rest numbered as at the present time from 2 to 10 inclusive. The schoolhouses for some years following 1865 in some parts of the township, were used for religious services. Prior to 1869 and for some years after, the people in the Alice neighborhood had a church organization and held services in the schoolhouse, Rev. J. Kline was, for years, the pastor, and Jacob Lighter the superintendent and choirester of the Sunday School.
The Alice church was built in 1875 and enlarged in 1906 so they now have a very commodious building. The St. Paul’s Reformed Church was built in 1892 and is a very comfortable place of worship. A Sunday School was organized in District No. 4, in 1872, or 3, with G. L. Marshall as the first superintendent and he was succeeded by Thomas Robson and J. K. DeSeelhorst. Rev’s. W. H. Marble and Carpenter preached each alternate Sunday.
In the early sixties Palermo township had but very few voters, in fact, there were but few in the county. It is said there were but two democratic votes cast in Palermo at that time and they were cast by Wm. Campbell and a Mr. Wheeler, who had to write in the ticket the names of their candidates. But times have changed.
In the early days Palermo township was not without its amusing incidents that were instructive as well as mirthful. In 1869, Mr. W. C. Williams had a large flock of sheep that he pastured on the open prairie that surrounded his home. One day in May they were being herded by his daughter, Kittie – now Mrs. S. W. Raymond – near where the writer was breaking prairie, when some wolves suddenly appeared and passed within fifteen rods of the breaker and were about to attack the sheep when a shepherd dog that always accompanied the shepherdess quickly placed himself between the flock and danger and the wolves beat a retreat.
On the fourth of July, 1869, a celebration was held in Grundy Center and among the other amusements there was some horse racing indulged in on a race track west of town, on what is now the Geo. Frost farm. Grundy Center was not a “dry town” then, but everything was “cut loose” on the 4th and some of the “sports” got “overloaded” and it caused trouble on the race track. So one of Grundy’s citizens and one from Hardin County became involved in a spirited discussion which led to something more active and our man got what “Paddy gave the drum.” But it was soon forgotten. A little later there was laid out on the prairie just across the line in Melrose another race track under the supervision of Win McClure – now known as the “Railroad Evangelist” – where horse racing was the pastime on Sundays.
In the summer of 1873 there came to our district to teach the school, a young man, son of a minister of Grundy Center. This young fellow boasted that he would show the young tillers of the soil a good time in various ways. We, of course, were somewhat suspicious of the newcomer. But the boys took counsel and decided to entertain the new teacher. So one evening invited him to assist in catching snipes. He was eager to do all he could to help in the project, so he was assigned the “easy” task of holding the “sack” and the rest would drive in the snipes. He was not to leave his position until the lights went out. He seated himself astride a small ditch and waited patiently until midnight without being rewarded with any game. About that time a lone traveler passed that way and it being quite moonlight discovered “our teacher” and inquired the cause of his being located in such a position. The instructor replied he was “watching for snipes.” He was advised that the boys “had one on him,” so he deserted his post, but he never offered any free or instructive advise to the “hayseeds” again. In 1878 by way of diversion, there was held in the old Court House a debate between three young men of Grundy Center and three from the township, on the question: “Resolved, That the Republican party has done more for the country than has the Democratic party.” The affirmative side was supported by Geo. Baldwin, J. M. Vennum and the writer, who spoke extemporaneous. The negative argument was presented by Ed Lane, T. Marshall Moffett and S. R. Raymond, reading from manuscript. Each side of the question was discussed in a forcible manner and every inch of ground was contested, but S. R. Raymond in flight of oratory declared that all the Republican party ever did worthy of note was the purchase of that God-forsaken territory of Alaska. That was a clincher argument, crushing the hopes of the supporters of the affirmative and as a majority of the judges were democrats the decision was rendered in favor of the negative. The judges were A. J. Hyde, B. E. Benton and the third we have forgotten. Sociables, dances, spelling schools, donation parties for the ministers and various other gatherings were held to which the settlers came from far and near.
Palermo had but three large landowners. They were Horace Boles – afterwards Governor – Ethan Akin and Ira Stafford. Governor Boles had 2520 acres, Ethan Akin 1640 and Ira Stafford 1000 acres. All of these farms in later years were divided into smaller ones and improved. Now nearly every farm house is surrounded by groves for protection and fuel. Good substantial farm houses and barns have been built. The land has advanced from $2.25 per acre to from $125.00 to $200.00 per acre and is conceded to be one of the richest counties in our great commonwealth. Free rural delivery leaves mail at the door of practically every farm home each day and the telephones flash the news from one end of the township to the other. All the vast improvements and accumulation of wealth have been brought about in Palermo township through the energy and thrift of her citizens, in the past half a century. What will be her history fifty years hence?