History of Doon, Iowa

All through the ages rivers and waterways seemed to pioneer the development of unexplored areas. So it was that Doon became the first permanent settlement on the Big Rock river in Lyon County, Iowa.

The settlement of Doon centers around one illustrious pioneer, Mr. H.D. Rice. Many of the first in the area were directly or indirectly due to this aspiring citizen.

H.D. Rice of Petersen in Clay County, Iowa, heard wonderful tales of Lyon County, and proceeded in May of 1868 to explore the Rock River region. He was charmed with the beauty of the place where now stands the town of Doon, and returned to the site in July of the same year with his friend, L.F. Knight. Upon reaching the forks of the Little Rock, Big Rock and West Branch streams, they built a cabin and thereby started the first permanent settlement in the county.

Rice returned for his family, and while he was gone, Knight penned his thoughts in the following lines:
"Sitting in solitude on the band of this beautiful stream, far removed from all humanity, with naught but the song of the wild birds or the soft murmur of the waterfall to break the silence of this green, glad, solitude, I cannot help but recall those touching words of Robert Burns' beginning,

‘Ye banks and braes O'Bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair:
How can yet chant ye little birds?
And I sae weary, fu' O' care!"
And this the town received its name, "Bonnie Doon."

When Rice later returned with his wife, she became the first white woman in Lyon County on the Rock River. He then proceeded to build a more permanent home and this became the first frame building in the area. (1869) All of the lumber was hauled from Sioux City. This building later became a crossroads stopover, and when the area was connected with the outside area by virtue of the stageline established between LeMars, Doon, and Luverne, Minnesota in 1871–he developed the building into a hotel. This building still stands in the town of Doon. It was removed from its old location near the southwest corner of Doon and is now the residence of Jim Hoogendoorn. Rice later erected a fine hotel in the business district of Doon and it became one of the finest and largest in Northwest Iowa. The "Bonnie Doon", as it was called, contained 54 rooms, and for many years was the stop over of many an agent, salesman, or adventurer.

Among other "first" attributed to this fine citizen of New England's Smith and Brewster ancestry are: the first postal and stage coach agent, first Justice of the Peace, and first mayor of the incorporated town of Doon.

We can understand from L.F. Knight's soliloquy, why the Yankton and Sioux Indians found this area an ideal place to live. Doon, however, does not have the familiar stories of the heroic struggles with the Indians in the pages of its history. The Sioux Indians had finally vacated northwest Iowa and the Yanktons, if there were any, were friendly. The only recorded hostile episode is that of three young explorers from Massachusetts, who built a cabin near the site of Doon in 1862. One of them drowned, one was shot by the Indians, and the other one told the tale.

The valleys of the Rock Rivers were part of the favorite hunting grounds of the Yankton Indians. They were of a peaceful nature and chose to live in harmony with their white intruders.

The Sioux Indians left evidence of long occupation, the most prominent being the burial grounds overlooking Doon from the west, near the site of the present cemetery. Many circular mounds there measured from 10-15 feet in height and were encased in stones at the summit. They, with their contents, (among them being the bones of the dead) bear the evidence of a great age.

The topography and geography of an area are also directly related to early settlement by the Indians. The Doon area with its commanding hills and peaceful rivers abounding in wild life, was an ideal place for the red man. The town is located near the confluence of the Big Rock, Little Rock, and West Branch Rivers. The surrounding area is rolling hills, with few stones to interfere with the cultivation of the fertile soil. The hills are undulating enough to insure good drainage and not steep enough to promote excessive erosion. The slope of the land is predominately to the south. The Rock River, which meanders past the town, was named "River of the Red Rock" by the Indians because of its source in the "Blue Mound" country of Rock County, Minnesota. Some early accounts of the area note that, "The river has pure clean water, bounded by much fine timber, and abounding in good fish."

The town's position upon a plateau on the east side of the river with a commanding view of the meandering valleys as far as the eye could see, prompted an early citizen to remark, "Doon will rank as one of our finest western towns."

With certain reservations, Doon did fulfil this pioneer's prophecy. From a handful of hardy settlers in 1869, Doon grew to be a thriving town of 600 citizens by 1897. The first store in Doon, and the first Post Office in Lyon County were established here in 1871. E.R. Badgerow was sent from Sioux City to establish a post office at "Smead City" disappeared–the post office being moved to Doon in the meantime.

The pioneer band of business places in early Lyon County centered around Beloit, Doon, and Rock Rapids. Those located in Doon in 1872 included the following:

M.W. Jeffries, General Merchandise
L.B. Raymond, Lyon County Press
J.H. Wagner, Real Estate
G.H. Badgerow, Real Estate
George McQueen, Real Estate
S.G. Hyde, Real Estate

Settlement came to a standstill in the grasshopper and depression era from 1873 to 1885 and immigrants passed up the high priced (% an acre) land in Lyon County and dusted themselves in the Dakotas. Many, of course, soon back. Another reason for the slow down in settlement was that only 20,000 of the country's 400,000 acres were subject to homestead rights. The rest had been given away to the railroads and gobbled up by speculators including Governor Larabee, who owned half of one township.

Railroads played a big part in the development of the town, just as they had made, or ruined, many others. The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha (Northwestern line) established a branch line from Luverne to Doon in 1879. Doon, being the southern terminal of the line, a large roundhouse was established here. Also the Bonnie Doon Hotel now became more prosperous because of the additional business. Its ticket agent in 1889, Mr. C.B. Witt, reports–"the station doing a fine business with the receipts about $12,500 a week for freight alone."

Prosperity, however, was to be short lived for the "streak of rust," as it was called by many envious citizens of Rock Rapids. When the Northwestern Railroad began its program of retrenchments during the depression years of the 1930's it started with the retirement of its "curious branch from Luverne, Minnesota to Doon, Iowa in 1934."

The Great Northern, or Sioux City and Northern, as it was called in its infancy, reached Doon in the year 1889. Its coming was noted in the November 1889 issue of the LYON COUNTY PRESS as follows. "The Sioux City and Manitoba, is the finest road through the region. It has given the town a big boom. In ten days the track will be laid to Doon and then we can see the smoke of the Sioux City and Northern."

After thriving for a number of decades its passenger service began dropping off and by 1950 was discontinued. The Great Northern's freights are still rolling, however, and doing a thriving business.

With the coming of the Sioux City and Northern, business soon picked up. Doon sprang from a hamlet of six houses and a school, to a prosperous town in a short time. The town was incorporated June 29, 1982 with H.D. Rice as its first mayor. It's phenomenal growth is recorded by F.A. Scott in the July 18, 1897 issue of the Lyon County Press: "and here we are today, 1897 and we can boast of a fine town of about 600 population, with a flour mill, six elevators, a creamery, three churches, (Baptist, Congregational and Catholic), a new school, 50 room hotel, 2 banks, 3 doctors, 2 millinery shops and a host of others."

This prosperity continued unabated through World War 1 with the help of such prices as these, recorded in the Dec. 1917 edition of THE DOON PRESS

Oats, .68-69
Wheat, 1.96-2.05
Corn, 1.00-125
Hogs, 16.00-16.50
Eggs, .40
Butter, .40-.45

The stock market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed soon had Doon on the skids, and to add to their woes, the town suffered a damaging $25,000 fire on May 16, 1934. The fire consumed a sizeable portion of the town with the aid of a strong south-westerly wind. It originated in the Farmer's Elevator and although there are many conflicting stories, we will say for this record it was started by a belt which was slipping on its pulley, and reached the kindling point. Besides the elevator, a livery barn, Schoeneman Lumber Company, coal and cement sheds, OK Café, Garage annex of Doon Auto Company, and numerous roofs and parts of homes were damaged or destroyed. The alarm was answered by seven fire company's from Rock Rapids, Sioux Center, Hull, Inwood, Rock Valley, Alvord, and Doon. My wife, Joyce, recalled one rather humorous incident in connection with the fire. She remembers a group of obliging citizens carrying a certain storekeeper's goods out in the street, while at the same time he was feverishly returning them to the building, probably fearing looting more than the fire, and also remembering his fire insurance did not cover merchandise outside of the building.

It was a big setback to the town, but by December of the same year, much reconstruction had been done including a fine new elevator built by the Quaker Oats Company.

The Farm Bureau was organized in the county in December 1918. It has been, through the years, a rather conservative farm organization leaning toward the Republican philosophies, which have been so predominate in this county and state. (In fact Lyon and its neighbor Sioux being two of the traditionally republican holdouts in our state.) It has a large lobby both at the state house in Des Moines and at Washington D.C., and while farmers sometimes wonder if it is working for or against them, the Farm Bureau has been responsible for much legislation for the betterment of the farmer.

In the 1930 depression era, local farmers formed the "Holiday Movement," with the focal point of the organization at LeMars. Farmers thought if the banks could take a holiday and bide for time, they could also take a holiday from bringing their livestock and produce to market. This was the first time a boycott was used to apply pressure for better farm prices. It did bring them new farm legislation in the Roosevelt (F.D.) Years.

Of course in recent years (1950) the National Farmer's Organization has tried the same boycott procedures on the local markets, but its effectiveness has been debated. Farmer's as a group have never been solidly for any farm organization. Perhaps some future uniting force will cause them to rally solidly to remedy their plight as the only major disunited working force in the nation.

While the farmer was trying hard at agrarian reform others were concerned with the current problems of the day such as temperance and Women's Suffrage. One anonymous writer wrote the following in the March 5, 1891 issue of the LYON COUNTY PRESS, entitled:

Will They?
Will the women go wrong when they get women's rights?
Did it ever occur to you?
Will they stand in the street car without a complaint?
Did it ever occur to you?
Will the feminine senators powder and paint?
Should the speaker say, "RATS," would the women all faint?
Did it ever occur to you?

The local Temperance Union, organized in the 1880's met free of charge in the Congregational Church. Its workers were full of zeal and had regular meetings and conventions. In a June 4, 1897 issue of the LYON COUNTY PRESS, the following announcement appeared: "...At last the date of the Suffrage Convention is fixed. It is postponed to June 7 and 8 at Rock Rapids. Free entertainment to all who attend." Signed Mrs. Laura Reynolds, Chairman.

An item appearing in 1891 of the same paper also stated: "... There is a certain class in town who have no visible means of support, who are always flush with money, wear good clothes, and spend their time doing nothing."–Our temperance Union. The saloons, however, flourished in spite of the feminine opposition, and of course later on, even their fondest wish, prohibition, did not remedy the situation. Even our present legislation has tried a new approach to the same old problem.

In recent years one of the most talked about social problems has been juvenile delinquency. The biggest argument seems to center around who is delinquent, the parent or the child. Delinquency did not seem to be as much a problem in the early days, at least not on the surface. Could recreation have had a bearing on this social problem?

Recreation seems to tell the story of a changing town more so than any other item. The kind of current entertainment could almost reveal the temperament of the times. So it was in the "Gay Nineties" that the recreation was gay indeed. Issues of 1890 newspapers were full of hot baseball rivalries, grand social balls, old settlers picnics, and Chautauquas. One announcement in a June 1897 issue of the LYON COUNTY PRESS stated: "Grand Social Ball to be given tonight. A harpist has been secured from Sioux City and there is every promise it will be one of the greatest social events of the season." One early comment on the intense rivalry between baseball teams noted in an April 1891 issue of the LYON COUNTY PRESS read as follows "LeMars is a wealthy town and can afford to pay their 3 hired players $100 a month each, but as far as baseball talent is concerned they are not in it. We take town against town and wipe the earth with them every time!"

A Northwest Iowa Old Settlers Reunion was held in Doon in Hubbard Park, (1897) located at the forks of the Big and Little Rock Rivers. Voters of 1871 were requested to assemble at this gathering. At the time of that particular election in 1871, there were 97 votes cast in the county and 97 were Republican.

The Chautauquas of early days were also quite entertaining and educational. An elderly resident of Doon Mr. A.W. Anderson, showed me the spot, on the Public School Grounds, where he had heard William Jennings Bryan speak on two different occasions.

In the roaring twenties and consequent thirties, the pace of living picked up a bit, but there was always time for recreation. Sunday School Picnics, basket socials, sleigh rides, skating and sliding parties, tennis matches, "The old swimmin' hole", band concerts, social balls, games of Run-Sheep-Run, ball games, and a lot of other seemingly endless entertainment.

After World War 11 much of this spontaneous fun has disappeared, to be replaced by such commercialized pastimes as bowling, television, hi-fi-, etc., it would seem that recreation must be provided rather than invented.

Hand in hand with the churches and newspapers is the education of our children. The three "R's" had their humble beginning in a small building which was one of the first seven buildings the town had by 1889. A more permanent wooden building was then erected in 1896 and it performed faithfully until by 1939, its floors and steps were becoming well worn. A bond issue was floated in 1940 and with the help of the Works Progress Administration, a fine school was started in that year and dedicated in 1941. This school was one of the finest in the country. Since the advent of school reorganization in 1959 the Doon Public Independent School District became part of the Central Lyon Community School District and was known as Central Lyon-South Elementary. The school has since been closed.

The various social, fraternal, and farm organizations all blended together to provide leisure time activities. When you add to these the healthy recreation program, there must never have been a dull moment. In the early years there were a number of fraternal organizations, including the Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Grange, and Woodmen of the World. Most of them soon became hard-pressed and disbanded. The Masonic Lodge chartered in 1907, withstood the elements of time and change until 1966 when it affiliated with the Rock Valley Masonic Lodge. It met monthly in the old IOOF Hall which is now owned by the Valley State Bank of Doon. The Woodmen of the World Hall was used at length by the town of Doon after the Woodmen deserted it. Most of the town's social events, and basketball games of the local Public School were held there until the completion of the new school in 1941.

The American Legion was formed as an aftermath of World War 1. It has been an active organization, fostering many social events. Its membership was enlarged three 4-H clubs with the addition of veterans from World War 11. Its counterpart, the American Legion Auxiliary is also an active organization.

The Doon Woman's Club was activated in 1929 and it has continually tried to promote the cultural betterment of the town. A lively and educational evening has always assured the participants of each monthly meeting. Some of the things which can be attributed to them are the town Library established in 1930, the Doon Park started in 1931, art contests in the local Public Schools, annual flower shows, and story hour at the library every Saturday afternoon for the little folks.

Other organizations include the Doon Firemen whose beginning stretches back to the beginning of the town. There are, of course, other organizations too, including churches, clubs and societies.

Because Doon is a rural community with the land its life blood, the surrounding farmers with their problems and organizations are certainly a part of the town's history. Prosperity on the farm usually coincided with good times in the town. When the farmer received only a few cents for his produce, as he did so often in the early years, he certainly did not have much to spend, and often bartered instead of selling. In the 1890's farmers were already banding together trying to do something about their plight. Editor B.H. Perkins of the 1891 LYON COUNTY PRESS was evidently trying to promote the National FarmerAlliance with his paper's motto:

"A school house on every hill
and a farmers's alliance in every school!"

The Grange had been established earlier, but it seemed to be more of a social organization than one of reform.

Whether to seek recreation (or work) elsewhere for other reasons, Doon's population declined slowly through the thirties and forties. Perhaps the depression, World War 11, changes in farm structure, mechanization, etc. all had a part. The decline of the small town seems to have been in this period pretty much universal throughout our general area.

However, due to the tenacity of our good farmers of the Doon area and our enterprising business people, plus the advent of social security, veterans pensions, Medicare, feed grain programs and other generosities of our federal government, Doon is again experiencing growing pains. Many older people have decided to retire in our fair town, and its reasonable rents, low cost houses and comfortable atmosphere have lured many young couples, plus various new businesses.

Perhaps another historical society might complete itself and Doon can regain it prominence of the "Gay Nineties."

Index  |   Home