Muscatine County, Iowa

Recollections of
Persons and Events Connected With Our Schools In Early Times

Published in the Muscatine Saturday Mail, Dec. 3, 1898; written by J. P. Walton.
No. 95.

Transcribed by Greta Thompson, July 17, 2013

When we began the review of the public schools we did not expect to devote so much time and space to their consideration. We offer as an apology that, in our opinion, there is no one institution that has as much influence over the public well being as our schools; hence we hope our review will prove interesting to the readers.

On May 1st, 1854, four new directors became members of the school board in old No. 2 district. They were Alexander Dunsmore, S. B. Hill, Henry Reece, and S. G. Stein. Mr. Dunsmore was a Scotchman and a merchant; he probably came here about 1843 or ’44; he kept a general stock of merchandise; his store was on the south side of Second street, west of the avenue; his residence was on west Fourth street, east of Ash street; his daughter Miss Louisa Dunsmore still lives in the same locality that her parents did many years ago. “Alec,” as he was called, was a splendid man, straightforward and honorable in all his dealings. He, like many other merchants of our early time, did not get rich as fast as he wanted to; of course, he had to deal largely on credit, for a year’s stock of goods had to be laid in while navigation was open, the farmers paying for their goods the following winter with products of their farms. The year 1857 proved a bad year for the farmer; he did not raise much to sell—of course he could not pay. In the fall and winter a panic set in, the merchants could not meet their engagements and large numbers went by the board, and Mr. Dunsmore was one of them.

Mr. S. B. Hill was a native of New England, a carpenter by trade and a contractor by occupation. His first job was building the dwelling on the northeast corner of Third and Cherry streets for Messrs. Green & Stone; he also built many valuable buildings. He died quite recently, leaving a wife and one or more children.

S. G. Stein came here about 1852 and bought out S. S. Branham’s lumber yard on the corner of Pine and Second street, which has been known as Stein’s lumber yard ever since, at least 46 years. Since the death of Mr. Stein, his son, Dr. S. G. Stein, continues it.

Henry Reece, who was elected president of the board, was a native of Eastern Pennsylvania or New Jersey; he come to Bloomington as early as 1836, perhaps 1835. He was one of three brothers and two sisters, that came here with their mother, who, I think, was the first white woman that came to our city. Henry Reece was a carpenter; he and his brothers built a good sized two-story frame house for the family to live in; it stood between Front and Second streets, near Broadway. I think it was the first frame building in the city. After standing some ten or twelve years, the ground commenced to slide towards the river, it soon got on some other man’s lot and the house stood at a very undesirable angle and had to be taken down. Mr. Reece occupied various places of trust; he served a term as postmaster; he kept the postoffice in Freeman’s old frame building on the southeast corner of Sycamore and Second streets. He raised a family, of which only one or two children survive him. Let me say right here that I consider the Reece family, consisting of “Mother Reece,” her three sons, Henry, John, Joseph, and two daughters, Margaret Reece and Mrs. Beaumont, were the best fitted to build up a new town in a new country of any family in the town. They were large sized, strong, healthy, pleasant and accommodating. When four out of five persons suffered with sickness they were the fifth ones and did not suffer. Their helping hands were always extended to the needy. I don’t know but we are getting away from the schools a little but we are in the town all the same.

The teachers secured to succeed Mr. Denison were Mr A. B. Tuttle, Mrs. Dennis and Miss Walker. Of the two latter I know nothing. Mr. Tuttle was a native of Herkimer county, N.Y.; his parents were natives of Connecticut. He graduated from Hamilton college in the class of 1851, he came to Muscatine in 1854 to accept the principalship of school No. 2. He was admitted to the bar here. In 1856 he settled in Clear Lake, Ia., in company with a younger brother. In 1863 he moved to Mason City, Iowa, and went into the mercantile business. He died there September 28, 1898.

The two next directors elected were Charles Neally and Henry O’Connor. Charles Neally was one of our early settlers, he probably came from New England. I think he tried farming a short time out on the Lucas Grove road, but gave it up and came to town to live. He was engaged in the boot and shoe and leather business in 1850, on the north side of Second street west of Sycamore. While acting as school director he was serving the city as alderman from the Second ward. He was one of the substantial members of the Presbyterian church; when the present church was being built in 1856 and ’57, he paid the bills. I have understood he paid out money faster than he collected it—advanced for them—and it was a long time before he got I back. He continued in business for some ten years. I find his name in the directories of 1856 and 1859. In 1869 he is not mentioned; his son Charles was in the notion business at that time. He had a daughter Clara, who married Thomas Vail, the son of Bishop Vail of Kansas. They lived in Topeka. Mr. Neally was a tall, dignified man; he never mingled much with common people, most of his time was devoted to his family.

We must make a mention of Henry O’Connor. He was an Irishman by birth, in early days he followed tailoring for a livelihood. At the age of 20 he came to America. My first recollection of him was ikn the law business with D. C. Cloud, the firm name being Cloud & O’Connor. This firm at one time, say from 1850 to 1860, did about as much legal business as all the other lawyers: it was seldom that a case occurred that they did not appear in it in some way. As a school director O’Connor was a failure. If he kept any minutes they do not appear in the record book. For a brief review of his public life I make this extract from Burrell, of the Washington Press: “He served as private in the civil war, in the First Iowa regiment, and became major in the 35th. He was district attorney, for six years attorney general of Iowa, and solicitor for the state department in Washington under Garfield & Arthur. He was brilliant, witty, whole-souled and eloquent.” Mr. O’Connor married a sister of S. B. Hill, and raised a family of children, one of whom is living in Sioux City. Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor have recently resided with them.

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