HERE AS A PIONEER
Worsley Came Here 50 Years
O. P. Worsley, secretary of the Mutual Life Association of Iowa, has
lived in Red Oak for 50 years. He came here as a young man, took an
interest in the welfare of the community from the start and has done
much towards building up Red Oak.
When interviewed Wednesday by a SUN man, Mr. Worsley
was in a reminiscent mood and the following interesting facts about
Red Oak in an early day were brought out in the chat:
“Fifty years ago today I
crawled out of a stage coach in front of the station on the south side
of the square and found myself in Red Oak and Red Oak has been my home
ever since. The trip from Pacific Junction had been a long one. The
stage left that place in the morning and it was nearing midnight when
a tired young fellow, who had made most of the trip alone, gathered
himself together at his destination. I went to the old Red Oak House,
which was the next-door to the station and applied for a room. Having
been shown to a large garret, which contained about 20 beds. I went to
sleep in the one assigned to me and left no call for the morning. When
I awoke next morning late, I was the only occupant of the room. I
dressed, went down stairs, found that breakfast was over and the
landlady was doing a washing in the dining room. She was a kindly
lady, however, and stopped her washing to prepare me something to eat.
While I was eating my first
meal in Red Oak, I learned from my landlady who had resumed her task
over the tub, that J. W. Small, the party whom I wished to see, was
some 12 miles in the country. Mr. Small was the first city clerk of
Red Oak and we later became brothers-in-law when he was married to my
I was tired, having left my
home at Geneva, Ill., and gone to Pacific Junction by rail and from
there to Red Oak by stage, but as Mr. Small was the only person in the
new country that I knew I was anxious to see him, so I walked out to
the Andrew Powell place, north of town, where he was. It was on a
Friday that I arrived in Red Oak and I spent Saturday and Sunday with
Mr. Small, returning on Monday to look for work.
When I came to Red Oak I had
my mind made up to “stick”. During the Civil War I had been managing
our farm near Geneva, but I had found time to do several jobs of house
painting. Very few of the houses in Red Oak were painted so I decided
to seek work in that line. But I found that in most cases after the
houses were built there was little money left for painting and work
did not come very rapidly at first. However, I found work enough so
that I was not forced to join one of the construction gangs which were
building the railroad through Red Oak at that time.
Red Oak didn’t amount to very
much half a century ago. On the south side of the square, where the
Reifel building now stands, was a brick building where D. W.
Montgomery conducted a general store. Then west of that was the Red
Oak house, with the big garret room and the 20 beds, with the stage
station and office, which stood where the Otis building now stands.
Where the Red Cross drug store is now located was Henry Shank’s drug
store and that was all there was on the south side.
On the west side
square, where Robinson’s store is, was where C. H. Lane had his
general store and the post office was also located there. Then it was
vacant until you come to the Rogers building next to the alley, where
H. Roberts & Son had a general store. Then, where the Farmer’s
Mercantile Co. store is, Web Eaton was putting up a building to house
his newspaper office. No other buildings stood on the west side, but
across the street, where the Farmers National bank stands, was a frame
building which was later moved to the opposite corner of the block and
remodeled into the L. M. Doctor residence.
The north side of the square
was vacant until you come to where Sanford’s store is located and
there Good & Richards had their law office in a frame building. The
old court house that was brought down from Frankfort the winter before
on skids, stood next. It was set back some 20 or 25 feet from the lot
lane and in the corner of the lot was a farm bell hung from a post
with which court was called. Then it was vacant up to the Red Oak
National Bank corner, where W. H. Kerrihard, who had a sawmill down on
the river bank, conducted a general store. Then going east on Reed-st.,
there were no buildings until just opposite the Sun office, stood a
east side of the square boasted the best buildings in town. It was all
vacant north of the alley, but about where Myer’s furniture store is
located was a two-story building, the first floor being occupied by an
Ottumwa store company, while the Masonic lodge used the second floor.
This was the best building in the town. On the corner where the
grocery store is now, Cooley & Wiley had a store and east from there,
about where the tailor shop is located, was a drug store owned by Geo.
Holmes. Where the Griffith Inn now stands was a hotel, conducted by L.
N. Harding. Then across the street on the old post office site, was
Clark’s drug store, and next door was a saloon. Back of the Reifel
building was a livery stable and where the Red Oak hospital now stands
were the stage company’s barns. That, I believe takes in all the
business section of Red Oak in 1869.
There was just one school
building in Red Oak, a one-story brick, which stood on Corning-st.,
between Fourth and Fifth-sts. The Methodist church was the only one in
the town and stood across the street north from the present site. The
building was a brick and is still standing. It is owned by Will Irwin
and is used as a modern apartment house. The parsonage occupied the
Paul Clark lot. The only building in the Congregational church block
was owned by Joseph Barker; E. L. Sickmon had a house where the Dan
Reifel house now stands and J. B. Packard’s home was on the H. C.
Houghton, Sr., lot.
That same spring I formed a
partnership with J. N. Small under the firm of Small & Worsley and
bought the lot where the Red Oak Trust & Savings Bank is located. A
two-story frame building was erected, where we engaged in the
mercantile business handling books, stationery, soft drinks and other
things. That was my first business venture. One year later I sold my
interest to F. M. Byrkit, who arrived in the fall of 1869, just after
the railroad was completed.
About that time I bought the
lots at the corner of Reed and Eighth-sts., where I now live and put
up a shack, where I “batched it” for a year. Then I sold them for $500
and later bought them back for $440. In 1875, I built a house on them
and I am still living in the same house. Of course I have built on it
and remodeled several times, but the main part of the house remains
As near as I can remember
there are only a few people now living in Red Oak, who were here when
I came. W. W. Merritt was here and so were Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Harding
and A. W. (Doc) Harding. Then Mrs. H. C. Shank, Mrs. J. R. Cody, E. B.
Sickmon, Miss Tilly Bryan, Mrs. Jerry Moehler, Mr. and Mrs. Dol
Watkins, Mrs. Arthur Chapman and Mrs. Nancy Kerrihard complete the
list. Of course O. A. Milner lived in the country near here, but he
moved to Red Oak in recent years.
Oak was a pretty tough place in those days. You know the railroad was
being built and there was a gang east of here, one here and one west
of here. Whenever a rainy day came and the men could not work they
would come to Red Oak and most of them get drunk. Fighting would start
among them and I would venture to say that I have seen as many as 50
fights in one day here. Of course, as soon as the gangs moved away the