Wells, Wellsburgh, WellsburgGeorge Wells was born in Connecticut May 14, 1821. He was the oldest of ten children. At age 27 he left his parents home to fend for himself. He married Sarah Underwood of Worchester County, Massachusetts on November 27, 1848. They were blessed five years later with the birth of a son, Frank. However, in 1861, Frank died at the age of eight.
George, Sarah and Frank had arrived in Grundy County, Iowa in 1860 where George had purchased 1500 acres of prairie suitable for raising livestock. Accompanying them was Martin Armour of Chicago, a business partner of George Wells. Armour then returned to Chicago and founded Armour and Company, one of the nation’s major meat packing industries. And George with his more than 30 hired men concentrated on the management of a highly successful livestock business. After the railroad arrived in Steamboat Rock, Iowa, 10 miles to the SW, it was said that there was a steady line of cattle going to NW Grundy County and another line returning to be shipped to Chicago. George Wells was to become one of the wealthiest men in Grundy County, Iowa.
Meanwhile, the early Ostfriesen immigrants to America were growing restless in Illinois and those in Germany yearning for better living conditions also. The Homestead Act of 1862 and the sale of some of Mr. Well’s land provided initiative for these pioneer families to come and settle in Shiloh Township. And like those who had proceeded them by only a few years to Hardin County, there were many hardships breaking the prairie for growing crops and gardens and enduring the winters. The dimly lit cabins of 1 to 3 rooms which housed the children, parents and grandparents were their shelter. Communication, travel and medical were even worse. And hauling their grain 35 miles to sell in Cedar Falls and regathering of their winter supplies while they were there took hardy and rugged pioneers. Through it all, they persevered and gained strength and wealth.
In 1878, the railroad commerce and George Wells accomplished a business transaction and during a very snowy winter of 1879 the Burlington and Cedar Rapids Railroad built a line diagonally through George Wells' property giving area farmers and stock-raisers easier access to the markets. In 1880 George Wells gave one square mile of his land to be established as the town of “Wells”. His home was one half mile to the south.
The migrated Ostfriesens were excited about the railroad and had a few ideas of their own for what they wanted in the town. George Wells had expressed the desire that the town’s main street run east and west. However, upon his arrival home from a Chicago business trip, he found that the main street was now running north and south and dead at both ends. The cluster of 10 houses and 27 residents had their own ideals. A few years later, the name Wells on the rail depot was changed to Wellsburgh—another Ostfriesen influence. With the business section designated and the town toting it’s new name, Wellsburgh was well on it’s way to future growth.
The first business in town was a general merchandise store built by Joseph Doyen. Then another store and another store. And George Wells built a double sized building and he sold it to become a hardware business. By 1885, the town had homes and at least 10 businesses, but The Great Fire in May of 1885 destroyed all but one building and a few dwellings. Joseph Doyen rebuilt as did others. Progress was slow. However, by 1905, there was a doctor, general merchandise, hardware, drug store, butcher shop, bakery, jewelry business, variety store, a feed business, livery stable, newspaper, millinery, 6 saloons and George Wells had built and sold a grain elevator. More businesses came and Wellsburg became a notable settlement for trade amongst the agriculture industry of Grundy County.
During these times the streets were dusty and rutty with teams of horses pulling wagons tied at the hitching posts. Sometimes children would hide under the short planked sidewalks and poke sticks up through the cracks. The surprise of the female customer who saw their skirt and petticoat fly up only to next hear a small outburst of giggles coming from beneath her shoes was expected. A tradition was carried over from the Ostfriesen homeland. The boys would circle one way on the sidewalk and the girls would be on the inside circle going in the opposite direction. This was the prelude to courting and usually took place on Saturday night when the family came to town to greet family, friends and do some business transactions.
Sarah Wells passed away Novemeber 5, 1896 and George Wells followed her on August 5, 1909. They and their son Frank are buried near Grundy Center, Iowa. In 1896 Wellsburgh was incorporated, with only 25 legal voters in the town. Just enough to organize by the laws of the time. It was at a time when the local businesses could show that the community could rest on a sound financial base in years to come. City ordinances applied to the times, most of them dealing with the sins of the world. One example is Temperance Saloons: No person shall keep, conduct, manage or carry on any temperance saloon within the corporate limits of this town without first having applied to and been granted by the council a license therefore. Another ordinance: If any person or persons shall on the Sabbath Day or Night within the corporate limits of the said Town, play at billards, pool, bagstelle, tenpins, dice, cards or any other game or games, every such person or persons shall upon conviction thereof be fined in a sum of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars and costs for each such offense or to be confined at labor not exceeding thirty (30) days.
The township cemetery was established in 1926 by Treno J. Riekena, a township trustee, within the city limits of Wellsburgh. And Wellsburgh gradually became Wellsburg. The city installed telephone service, electric and gas and paved the streets. The town kept up with all of the modern changes. Wellsburg grew to a population of almost 700 with a good school, well planted businesses and a firm value of faith.
The first school classes in Wellsburg were held on the second floor of George Wells store in 1881. Previous to that the one room country school in Shiloh Township known as “van Patter school” was where the children received their education. In 1885 Mr. Wells built a two story school with the top floor used for storage. In 1911 a larger brick school was built to also have grades 9, 10, 11 and 12. It was then enlarged again in 1923. In 1955 a new high school and junior high opened it’s doors. An additional elementary school wing was completed in 1959. The belief in the need for education has always been as fertile in Wellsburg as the soil on which the school houses have been built. From the beginning it was the intention of the school board for the Wellsburg School to make a name for itself due to it’s educational level. The students have always ranked in the upper percentile of the Iowa Basic Skills and a dozen State of Iowa Scholars have been recognized. The goal for an excellent educational system has been reached a number of times with several physcians, dentists, lawyers and successful entrepreneurs and politicians being graduates of the Wellsburg school system. It also boasts two Rhodes Scholars for advanced study at Oxford University in Oxford, England.
In 1986 the Wellsburg and Steamboat Rock school system started a merged system called WSR. Again in 2001 the towns of Ackley, Geneva, Wellsburg and Steamboat Rock merged into a school district promising life long education for students called AGWSR. The goals of the school board have remained the same, but the method of achieving that goal has had to change.
Wellsburg’s first church was not organized until 1897. It is the Wellsburg Reformed Church. However, there are 7 churches in the Wellsburg rural area which were organized as early as 1862 by the Ostfriesen immigrants. Therefore, the citizens of Wellsburg traveled to the rural church of their choice for almost 20 years. The first church in the area in 1862 was St. Peter’s Lutheran Church (now known as St. Peter’s Church of Christ) located half way between Wellsburg and Ackley. The East Friesland Presbyterian Church was founded in 1863. It is located in German Township which is north of Shiloh Township and Wellsburg. Also in 1867, the First Christian Reformed Church 2 miles west of Wellsburg was founded. Then in the 1870’s West Friesland, Pleasant Valley Methodist, Pleasant Valley Reformed and St. Paul’s Lutheran started their congregations. All of these lie within 8 miles of Wellsburg. The majority of them spoke the German language in their services until the 1940’s. Today there are two more churches in the town of Wellsburg—St. John’s Lutheran and United Reformed Church.
In the early years of Wellsburg, corn husking contests, quilting bees, bob sled parties and the annual County Fair were a few of the activities bringing people together for just plain fun. The annual traveling carnival would set up tents and even the Ringling Brothers Circus made a few appearances. Today there is still the annual tradition in June of Wellsburg Daze with rides, a parade, food stands, entertainment in the park and dynamic fireworks to close the two day festival. A community band was popular starting in the 1920’s and continued through the 1960’s with a performance given almost every Wednesday or Saturday evening in the park during the summer.
However, sports have been one of the more popular attractions. The early Wellsburg had quite a horse racing track for a few years and was also known for it’s men’s baseball league. The team was started in 1913 and gradually converted to softball by the 1940’s. Sometimes the crowds numbered in the hundreds. The local churches formed leagues and in the 1970’s the Wellsburg town team was sanctioned into the national and state Amateur Softball Association. However, the winter days have never been long waiting for the summer softball season because high school basketball is truly number one in the community. Girls and boys teams have been followed since the early 1920’s. The girl’s sport in particular has made more than 20 appearances in the state tournaments held in Des Moines in March of each year. The championship trophy was brought home at least three times with the last time being 2009. And five women and one coach from the Wellsburg community have been named to the Iowa Girl’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Today Wellsburg sits a mile and a half south of Hwy 20 and Exit 167 and has become a “bedroom community” for the cities of Marshalltown and Cedar Falls/Waterloo. The population is about 700 people of mostly German and Dutch descent. An occasional Platt-Deutsch word is still spoken. Main street has grown rather quiet unless there is a good televised sport contest at the local sport bar, a gathering at the Community Building or it’s Friday or Saturday night when a local restaurant presents a fine prime rib special and always available state award winning tenderloin sandwich. The changing agricultural scene has dramatically reduced the business atmosphere of this once busy street. There are still sports activities going on by the school—football and soccer. And nearby there is a lovely 9 hole golf course with a small community swimming pool used mostly for water exercise and swimming lessons in the summer. In September of 2009 a new million dollar library opened it’s doors. It contains one of three Ostfriesen research libraries in the United States. Come for a day of research in “Wellsburg-A Hidden Treasure.” Enjoy the small businesses, a tour of the local “Wells Hotel” and/or the C.W. Neessen Home with it’s large collection of German artifacts and antiques. Or send your spouse to the golf course and then enjoy a local dining experience. Wellsburg is proud of it’s Ostfriesen heritage.
written and contributed by Jean Sietsema
Iowa Hall of Pride Interactive Display, Des Moines, IA
1911 Grundy County Atlas
A Short History of Wellsburg, Iowa, Allan J. Ruter, 1976, Published by the Wellsburg Study Club
Pictures –Wellsburg Historical Foundation
Nearly Half Million.
Personal Property of Late George Wells Valued at $465,518.24.
The district court of Grundy, county at an adjourned session held in Grundy Center last week, approved the final report of the guardians of the late George Wells, who were appointed about two years ago. The report shows that the following property belonged to the estate of said ward:
Three thousand three hundred and sixty-five acres of land in Emmet county, Iowa; 4,680 acres in Kossuth county, Iowa; 1,430 acres in Grundy county, Iowa; the old homestead in Newington, Conn., about one hundred acres; some town lots in Germania, Wellsburg and Steamboat Rock, Iowa; also stock and machinery in Kossuth county, Iowa, appraised at $5,700; also stock and machinery in Emmet county, Iowa, $5,546.50; stock and machinery in Grundy county, Iowa, $1,847; secured notes, appraised at $45,651.94; unsecured notes, appraised at $28,953.90, and bank stock as follows:
Three hundred and twenty-seven shares First National bank, Grundy Center, Iowa ..................... $45,125.00
Ten shares Wellsburg Savings bank .................................................................. 1,150.00
One hundred and seventy shares, Farmers & Drovers bank, Germania, Iowa ............................. 17,000.00
Certificate deposits Germania bank ................................................................. 33,984.63
Certificate deposits First National bank, Grundy Center, Iowa ...................................... 56,285.51
Certificate deposits Wellsburg bank ................................................................ 12,097.50
Cash subject to check, Wellsburg, Iowa ............................................................. 5,188.22
Cash subject to check, First National bank, Grundy Center .......................................... 2,675.44
Cash subject to check, First Trust & Savings bank of Chicago ....................................... 71,612.85
Cash subject to check in Continental National bank of Chicago ...................................... 128,639.75
showing the aggregate appraised value of all the personal property belonging to said estate to be .. $465,518.24
The guardians, R. M. Finlayson of Grundy Center, Iowa, and Charles Biebeshimer of Wellsburg, Iowa, were allowed for their services the sum of $3,500 each, or $7,000. The attorneys for the guardians, Williams & Willoughby, were allowed $1,500, and A. N. Wood was allowed $1,500. The report was approved and guardians discharged, and bonds released.
--The Estherville Enterprise (Estherville, Iowa), 3 October 1906