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Abandoned Towns and Village 
Harrison Township

Her name was Minerva McCulloch and she rode horseback 260 miles with her husband Excum to file a claim for his service in the Black Hawk War. The little village was laid out in 1844 by Perkins and Washburn; she was so entranced by the primroses that grew in the area that she named it Primrose. The roses no doubt were the pink roses which were chosen as the state flower of Iowa. They still grow around the fields and in sheltered areas. A post office was established in 1845 and Excum was appointed the first postmaster. It was moved several times but served the town for 108 years.

Primrose was a German settlement for the most part. After the land sales in 1837 and 1838 in Burlington, people came flooding into the area from Bavaria and the Hanover areas. By 1850, it was pretty well settled.

Euchre was the favorite card game of the Germans and friends and enemies were made over the game. The big two story school was built in 1850 and at one time about 130 students attended with 12 grades; students could study to be teachers for the rural schools in the area. The school house bell was purchased and given to the school by a Mr. Williamson who ordered it out of Pennsylvania. When the schools were consolidated, it was sold at the school sale and was purchased for a new church that was being built in Mt. Pleasant. By 1868, Primrose was boasting stores, coopers, blacksmith shops, doctors, a mill, and a couple of hotels and general stores. The first church built was a German church with the sermons delivered at the church in the German language until WW I. This was followed by a Presbyterian and a Methodist churches.

In 1877 Phil Pierce was advertising his Dr. Pierce medicines in the Ft. Madison paper and asking for agents. He operated the general store and referred to himself as a proprietor and that he could provide a medicine for any ailment. Some believe he made his cures but Dr. Pierce’s medicines were being made at the time in other parts of the nation.

Pierce’s store had an upstairs where cultural lectures were given; it was also a dance hall with little dormers where benches were placed. Before the dance was over, the benches would be filled with sleeping children covered with coats while their mamas and papas danced until the late hours. Sometimes the gypsies came to town and when the residents were forewarned, the businesses were closed, chickens locked up and children watched. The gypsies had a bad reputation for stealing and the residents did not give them a chance.

Henry Hathaway was an undertaker and cabinet maker; there was a Kumleh and Bell Hotel and Pappy Rasch made boots and shoes, Jim Maxwell had a store and passed out candy to the kids; Jim Weber’s factory made wagons and split hickory chairs, and there were numerous other businesses.

The old mill ground flour, crushed grapes for barrels of wine which the German farmers made each year, and made cider from the dropped apples. This fermented and made “hard cider,” which had high alcohol content and was a popular drink. There was a pond at the mill site and old-timers say there was Civil War cannon in Primrose. After the war some of the mothers in the village thought their children would get hurt so they pushed it into the old pond.

A number of men in Primrose were members of the Home Guard during the Civil War – they were not soldiers but had volunteered to help protect the area. Word was received that the rebels were coming up into Missouri and headed for the Iowa line and the action started. Several buckboards loaded with men, armed with corn knives, pitch forks, hatchets, guns and other weapons headed toward Missouri but when they approached Athens a red hot cannon ball rolled across the road in front of them.  They came to a halt, looked at each other, realized that they were not prepared for warfare and turned and headed back to Primrose (a true story).

The kids from Primrose school spent a lot of weekends sliding and skating on the pond when the ice was solid enough. Today the pond has silted in.

In 1878 Primrose boasted a population of 178 people and was enjoying a boom, but as years went by the numbers started to decline.

I was a child of the depression and grew up in Primrose. We weren’t poor – we just didn’t have any money. I have happy memories of the old school, the church and visiting with neighbors, sharing concerns and help when needed. There were approximately 30 young men from the area who served in World War II and they all came home.

Now within the past few years, several new homes have been built by young couples who realize that Primrose is a great place to raise a family.

 At Christmas time, some of us still make the Lebkuchen cookies and the Springerlies, which are made with the rolling pins with pictures; some families still make barrels of wine—carrying on the traditions of our German ancestors.

Note: There is more information at the Donnellson Library.

Erma Derosear wrote this story about her "hometown."
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