|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
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
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
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."