Muscatine County, Iowa


Submitted by June Welsch.
Source: "Muscatine Iowa Journal" Saturday Aug. 15, 1936, Page 6.

National Records for Longevity Being Claimed By Town of Letts

Nearly Sixth of Town Residents Exceed Age of 70

Residents Gather to Pay Tributes to Mrs. Jane Fry

National records for longevity were claimed by the town of Letts---located in Louisa County---today as the majority of the town people--some 50 of whom have passed the age of 70--years gathered at the home of Mrs. Jane Fry to pay their respects to the most aged of the "old-timers" who live there.

The occasion was Mrs. Fry's ninety-seventh birthday anniversary.

Figures Back Claim

With figures to back up their claims, Letts residents are convinced their hometown is one of the healthiest spots in the United States.

Nearly one-sixth of the town's residents----more than 50 of the 330 living there--have celebrated their seventieth birthdays, and of this number 15 or more have passed the age of 80 years, records show. And most of them are hale and hearty and enjoying life to the fullest.

Many of the aged have been leaders in the town's history during their earlier years and all retain an interest in its future and in present community events.

Records in the county auditor's office show Mrs. Fry to be the oldest living resident in Louisa county. For nearly 90 years Mrs. Fry has made her home at Letts. She was born in Indiana, coming to Letts when a child of about eight years. Recovering from a severe illness of the past winter. Mrs. Fry is able to be up most of the day. She is living with her daughter, Mrs. Stella Furnas at the home of Mrs. Ellen Manning.

Relatives Are Guests.

R. B. Fry, a son and his wife will be guests at the birthday dinner for the aged woman. Two of her children will be unable to be present. A daughter, Mrs. Phenie Epperly, lives in Roseburg, Ore., and another daughter, Mrs. Gertrude Runyon, of Moline, is at present visiting at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Ruby O'Toole in Colorado. Mrs. Fry is the great great grandmother of two children.

The distinction of being the oldest male resident goes to H. H. Westbrook, aged 82 years. The son of James and Clarissa Westbrook, he came to Iowa from Pennsylvania at the age of 20 years. With the exception of a few years at Waverly, Mr. Westbrook has resided in or near Letts for more than 60 years. About seven years ago Mr. and Mrs. Westbrook retired from the farm, west of town, and have since resided in Letts.

Second Oldest Woman

Mrs. Otto Schmidt, the next oldest woman resident, is 87 years of age, was born in Ohio and came with Mr. Schmidt to Letts in 1887. They were the owners of a meat market, which they operated until a few years ago when Mr. Schmidt died. Mrs. Schmidt's eye sight and hearing are perfect, she being able to read without the aid of glasses.

Mrs. Emma Linn, whose 84th birthday occurred this summer with her husband, the late Hon. O. H. Linn, took part in the early history of Letts, and Mrs. Emma Hudler, who is 84 years of age can tell of many interesting events of early life in Iowa. Mrs. Hudler, at the age of three weeks came with her parents, George and Mary Gipple, from near Harrisburg, Pa., and settled in Louisa county. The Gipple family came by railroad and boat to Muscatine where one of the first things things the father did was to subscribe to the Muscatine Journal in 1852

Mrs. Hudler relates that clothing was mostly made from wool and flax, that there were plenty of wild prairie chickens, turkeys and pheasants and west from Letts as far as the Charles Estle farm the land was covered with wild blackberries, cherries, grapes and plums. Mrs. Hudler, with the exception of 32 years in Audubon county, has lived in or near Letts. She has one son, Adrian W. in Denver, Colo.

Life History Interesting

The life of Mrs. Anna Weaver is remarkable because of the fact that she raised five small children, her husband, Fred Weaver, brother of the late Dr. A. J. Weaver, of Muscatine, dying shortly before the birth of her youngest son, Fred, Mrs. Weaver, by her dressmaking work, reared her family and has always taken care of her home and garden. She also gives a good deal of credit to her many friends. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Miller and came with her parents from Ohio by train to Muscatine and then to a farm north of Letts, where her girlhood was spent. She also has a sister, Mrs. Margaret Williams, several years younger, who has had a part in the early life of Letts.

Mrs. Laura Griffin, daughter of Hugh and Nancy Jane Lee Brown, relates of many interesting events in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood where she was born in a log cabin. She tells of Indian camps near there and friendly visits with the Indians, and of the old Strawberry Hill post office on the old trail, on the farm now owned by the Lintners. She was married to Will Griffin in 1875 who died 20 years ago, and since retiring from the farm has made her home in Letts. Mrs. Griffin was honored this summer at the Louisa County Rebekah convention as the oldest member in the Rebekah lodge in Louisa county and was presented with a gift. She has been treasurer of the local lodge for a number of years.

Born In Log Cabin

Another Letts resident, Charles Estle, son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Estle, natives of New Jersey was born on the farm occupied by his sister, Mrs. Belle McColm, in a log cabin. He relates of the many covered wagons passing through. Mr. Estle retired from the farm a number of years ago and has since made his home in Letts.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Elliott also remember interesting landmarks and events of years ago. Mrs. Elliott was the daughter of Isaac and Charlotte Shellabarger who came to Iowa from Ohio in 1855 and settled in Cedar township. Mrs. Elliott tells of attending school in a building that stood on the site of the present United Brethren church, also of a building called the Stevens hall where the Charles Herrick home stands, this hall being used for public meetings, dances and social gatherings. Mr. Elliott came from Van Buren county and was employed many years in different stores in the town of Letts. Mr. Elliott also followed the trade of carpentry. Mrs. Elliott's father, Isaac Shellabarger, was the first mayor of the town of Letts in 1875, or Ononwa as it was then called.

H. H. Fullerton, a native of Nova Scotia and a descendant of the poet Longfellow has made his home in this community for a good many years. Mr. Fullerton is 75 and very active for his age.

Came in 1855

Another of the older residents, Mrs. Ella Furnas, daughter of Thomas and Martha Curtis came with her parents from Michigan in 1855, when she was 10 years old. Directly after the Civil war when the father and two brothers returned from from service, the family with the exception of the mother and two small children, came by covered wagon to Iowa and settled on a farm near Letts. The mother and small children came by rail.

She was married to Mark Furnas in 1874 and has lived in her present home for 54 years. Mr. Furnas died 3 years ago. When Mrs. Furnas came to Letts most of the present site of the town was covered with hazel brush. A general store occupied the place where the Floyd Lieberknecht home stands.

Organized Church

Thomas Curtis, the father of Mrs. Furnas was the organizer of the Letts Methodist church but in a different building than the one used at present by that organization. The bell for this church was presented by the late N. W. Letts and the town of Ononwa was changed in Lettsville. This bell is used in the present Methodist church.

Mrs. Ella Burnell, one of the first students at Iowa State Teachers college at Cedar Falls, in about 1875 has made her home in this community for a number of years. She was a teacher for a number of years in this community and reports that Letts is a nice place in which to live and that the people are very kind. She has always been active in church work and fills in most any place in the Methodist church. She has one son Arthur in Cedar Rapids.

There are many others, whose lives have been full of interesting events and who remember much of the early history of the town.

All of the pictures appearing on this page were taken by the Journal camerman and engravings made in The Journal's engraving department.

History of Letts Town of Interest

Letts -- The history of the town of Letts, like attainments of its citizens, is an interesting story.

Laid out in October, 1855, by Joseph A. and Cryena Green, it was first named Ononwa. The name was changed in 1868 because of mistakes in mail for the town of Onawa. There was only one house then, called the Benedict House. In Sept. 1856, W. K. Trabue built a house and put in a stock of goods. The Ononwa House was built later that year and was occupied by Seth C. Custer as a hotel. In 1857, A. Harrison built the first home. W. K. Trabue was the first station agent and postmaster. A. L. Bayard was the first physician.

The first school was held in the summer of 1858 in a private home and was taught by Miss Loretta House. In 1860 a school building, 28x30 feet, was erected, with Benjamin Furnas as school director.

T. M. Curtis was the organizer of the First Methodist Episcopal church and was the first class leader. In 1867, under the pastorate of the Rev. F. Wells, the church building was erected at a cost of around $3,000. Other early pastors were the Revs. Poston, Gastner, Friend, Cairns, Waters, Bevan, Hahn, Hall, King and U. B. Smith.

The first United Brethren church building was commenced in 1884 under the pastorate of the Rev. B. F. Rhinehart and was dedicated in 1855 by the Rev. T. D. Adams. The Sunday school was directed by the late Dr. A. J. Weaver.

The postoffice was established in the fall of 1857, on the completion of the railroad at this point. The office was kept in the depot building. W. K. Trabue was succeeded by Dr. A. L. Bayard, who removed the office to a small building on Main street. Other early postmasters were Dr. Thompson, N. W. Mountain, O. H. P. Linn and D. W. Paine.

Lettsville was incorporated in 1867. Its first mayor was Isaac Shellabarger.

Submitter's Note: The pictures in this article are of Mrs. Anna Hudler, Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Westbrook, Mrs. Jane Fry, Mrs. Laura Griffin, Mrs. Otto Schmidt, Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Gipple, Charles Estle and Mrs. Ella Burnell.

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