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Picture: Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Butterfield- Courtesy of William Nelson.
Mr. Butterfield names the town of Wilton for his home town in Maine. He came to this area in 1853 and laid out the town in 1854. He married Laura Austin at Milan, Indiana in 1855. She later said, "We came by train to Rock Island, thence by boat to Muscatine and finally across the prairie, taking in our course the new town sight of Wilton on which not a building had yet been erected, to our new home in Farmingon Township."

Early History of Wilton

Paper read by Mrs. Francis Bacon at a session of the N.N.C. Sept. 7, 1907. Mrs. Bacon was the daughter of J.J.Rider, pioneer merchant.

Transcribed by Sarah Boye, July 11, 2015

    These few reminiscences of an earlier day are partly from memory, and partly gathered from many fields.

     The beginning of Wilton was in 1854. Mr. Butterfield purchased the land, and Butterfield, Greene, and Stone built the first house northeast of the depot on third street and was also the first postmaster. In 1855, the railroad was being built thru, and everything was on a boom: one could hear the sound of a hammer and saw on all sides.

     Soon after the depot was finished it was announced the first train was coming thru. Everyone that could started for the sight, and as it came it was hailed with pride and joy. The railroad went west only as far as Iowa City, and south to Washington until after the war.

     In the summer of 1856 there was planned a grand fourth of July celebration, which was held southeast of town on the banks of the creek. It was no halfhearted affair, for everyone was full of enthusiasm and anxious to boom our little town. People came from miles around and such working and baking was done, surpassing any subsequent event. Mrs. Hubbard with others, made a large

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pyramid cake. Mr. Wilson, an old Revolutionary Soldier , was the fifer of the day, and there was a fine address by Mr. Van Horne. We had as a toast, "Wilton-may she never lose the last two letters of her name." Even at this wonderful picnic some astonishing things happened. It is at the tables, and not satisfied with eating that they filled their pockets as well. Of course that may have been some of the people from the surrounding country.

     Mr. Washburn kept a hotel where the Star Drug Store now stands, and his daughter Mary was the life of all occasions. Afterwards the building was owned and occupied by Mr. Burk as a dry goods store.

     For many years all trains came from the south passed thru Wilton, and here were located some of their railroad shops, and it became quite a noted point with many buildings being erected and business booming.

     Mr. Rider and Mr. Sanford opened the first store, but before their building was completed it was destroyed by fire. Mr. Rider was eating supper at the time, and when told of the fire, continued eating, coolly saying he guessed not. This store was sold to his son in law, Frank Bacon, and now owned by his grandson, Charles Bacon. Mr. McNaughten, Green and Hubbard also started in the mercantile trade. They were all men of choice character. Brother Bently began in 1857 and continued 45 years in business. He has also been a member of the Methodist Church almost from its beginning, and for the years his place was always filled with Sunday School and prayer meeting.

     Gus Blizzard was another young man associated with us those early days. He was one of our soldier boys, where thru courage, he became promoted. He continued in the army until the close of the war, then came back to Wilton, and for many year was in the clothing business, and continued in the business for 40 years; he also organized and led our first brass band. Dr. Ross was one of the first physicians in town; he carried on the drug business for many years he belonged to the old settlers, being one of the first families in Wilton. The Marolfs and the Maurers north of town were the only people who raised flowers and vegetables that first summer, and their generosity with them delighted both the young and old. In early days there were no trees this side of the creek, and the wind blew almost a continuous gale across the prairies, and we frequently saw a prairie fire in the distance. Mr. McIntyre built the house that Mrs. Strickland now occupies, and it was twice blown down before they succeeded in getting permanent enclosure. Mr. and Mrs. McIntyre kept a hotel for many years; they had a charming way of pleasing their guests and the young people enjoyed their good cheer of oyster suppers in winter and ice cream in summer.

     It is a great privilege to be identified with a new town or country. Men and women seldom realize at the time what a power they can be for good or evil. Another thing about a new country is, old and young people have to work, and thru work character is developed that is worthwhile, altho the young people had left the advantages of culture the East afforded, they endeavored to help each other by organizing a Good Templer's Lodge, which had a large membership, and a lyceum where all subjects of the day were discussed and debated, and papers read full of wit, fun and wisdom: also old fashioned singing

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Picture: Mrs. Christian Marolf (taken 1894)- Courtesty of Mrs. John Marolf
Mrs. Marolf and her husband were the first residents in the area that became Wilton, but their home was north of the original plat of the town.

schools, with now and then a party thrown in. Houses were scarce, but many had happy homes in two rooms. Mrs. I.K. Terry was a social gathering, and when invited into a third room for refreshments, exclaimed, "What, another room?"

     Frost came early in 1856, so turnips were frozen in the field, and the following winter was bitterly cold. A number of people were afflicted with fever and ague. The first death was Mrs. McElroy. The sympathy of the entire community was called out by the death of this dear mother. The knowledge that anyone was sick or in trouble, was all that was necessary to find a brother and friend in your neighbor, and that is one of the most beautiful things to record about Wilton from its earliest history to the present day: the love and sympathy of neighbors to each other in times of affliction. Lucy Chatfield and Johnny Long were the first babies born in Wilton.

     The first church built was the Congressional in 1857, but services were help in the depot and schoolhouse previous to this. The Home Missionary Society helped in its support for many years. Rev. Knowles was the pastor, he came from Wales, and was a man of choice character. Many of the older residents were won to Christ through his efforts. He was the father of Mrs. Anna Jewell now living here. Rev. J.B. Hill conducted the first successful revival, in 1857, at which time 50 were added to the Methodist Church. Those were times when we had the amen corner, and Christians were not afraid to shout and sing. Clark Briggs was the first to be buried in Oakdale Cemetery.

     Uncle Johnny Waldron was one whom we all loved: his home was ever open to the young people and such coffee and oysters as the good wife could prepare can be forgotten. Brother Ira Leverich was

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a strong character among the Methodists: he was a local preacher and believed in the power of the Holy Ghost. Brother and Sister Keefover used to welcome the new settlers in their home with any recompense, before Wilton became a town.

     Our first Sabbath School was Union and continued thus until Rev. Strickler came in '64. The old time Methodist preachers believed in revivals.

     The two years Brother Moorey was with us, we had glorious revivals, and many who became pillars of the church were gathered in at that time.

     As early as '55 the Presbyterian services were held in Wilton. In '60 the church was formally organized with Mr. and Mrs. Burk, Hobert, Robinson, Cooper, Kelley, Pomeroy, Harker, Pentzer, McIntyre and a few others, as charter members. From the time the Presbyterians started, they have gone steadily forward to this day, laying the sure foundation for solid character. They have had some grand men for pastors. Rev. VanNice was one of the first; he was here however only three months when he went to the Presbytery and was taken sick and died. Rev. Mathes followed and he was a splendid man, honored by everyone. During his pastorate he had a large revival, taking 27 into the church.

     The first mass that was celebrated by the Catholics was in '57, by Father Mahn. In '58 there was a social held to raise money for a church, which was a great success financially and socially, and inspired all the friends of the church to take courage and build, which was done in '58, and Father Shanahan was installed as the first resident priest.

     The advents held services here a few years, with Rev. Gibson as pastor. Rev. Gibson and Miss Covell were the first to be married in Wilton.

     The Lutheran Chruch was organized in '56; soon after a church and parsonage were built, which was destroyed by the great fire of August 20, 1874. Rev. Strobel rang the bell morning, noon, and night for many years. The ringing of that bell had a beautiful significance. The morning bell was a call to family worship, the evening bell they rose to their feet and repeated in unison this beautiful poem:

Lord, Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For 'round us falls the eventide;
Nor let thy Word, that heavenly light,
For us be ever veiled in night.
In these last days of sore distress,
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness;
That pure we keep- till life is spent-
They Holy Word, and Sacrament.
O, grant, that in Thy Holy Word
We here may live and die, dear Lord;
And When our journey endeth here
Receive us into Glory there.

    The Grace Reformed Church, like the rest of our churches, had a humble beginning in the year 1859, when Rev. Joshua Riall, the pioneer missionary, gathered together the scattered sons and daughters of the denomination in the old schoolhouse located on Sixth Street. Here the church had its birth and was nourished for a number

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of years, and it is a fitting coincidence that this church, which is always stood for educational religion, should have its beginnings in a building set aside for educational purposes. The Free Will Baptist organized in '64, with Rev. J. Dotson as pastor. The church started with 11 members, but soon increased to 118. The society warship in the chapel of the college building; there were many brought into the church under O.E. Baker, who had the care of the church and college.

     Another item of early history occurred after the saloon opened in Wilton, for a number of saloons came with the church and store. One man who frequented such places used to come home and wrap with his cane on the door, saying "Light up, Light up, when the nobleman comes!" but his acts did not have in them the elements of nobility, for one day he caught his boy by the throat, and if a neighbor had not arrived in time, the boy would have been strangled. Many of the citizens saw the sorrow following in the wake of the saloons, and a number of women started a crusade movement with Mrs. Rider and Mary wash born as leaders. Our gentlemen friends followed on the opposite side of the street as her coming was no secret. Some shut and barred their doors and windows; at one place a woman said, "Shame Shame petticoat vimmens to come in here that way; better go home and tender your babies." The last place we entered the proprietor invited us in very politely, bringing in a waiter of wine and glasses offered it to us, but we declined and told our errand. He admitted the evil of intemperance but refused to stop the sale of liquor. The ladies organize their first temperance society in 1874 with Mesdames Jones, Pratt, Bixby, and Witham as officers. Soon after they merged their society into the W.C.T.U. They carried petition after petition to the mayor and council of our city for the purpose of keeping liquor out of town, but to seemingly little purpose. The women also took up another line of work in the Aid Society. Through that society, Aid was sent to the grasshopper suffers in Kansas and Nebraska with box after box of clothing, money and provisions, also to the refugees from the south, and we closed many a child for a day and Sunday school.

     At the time of our State Prohibition vote, June 27th, 1882, word was sent by the leading state W.C.T.U. workers for our women to canvas the town and find two would vote the prohibition ticket. Some started with fear and trembling. Not knowing how the men would receive them, but were surprised and rejoiced to find so many who would vote on our side. One man told Mrs. Moore if anyone refused to sign her paper to shoot him; that was so ridiculous it encouraged her, and she returned with only three names against, and the rest for prohibition. We were pleased to find that many who use liquor would be glad to have the saloon closed and devoted on our side. On the day of election we served free lunch all day of hot coffee and ham sandwiches with a barrel of iced buttermilk. We also held an all day prayer meeting in the Methodist Church with a different leader each hour. Mesdames Toothaker, Lawrence, Walker, Shuger, Cornwall, Eaton, Rider, Sherwood, Hubbard, Moore and Bacon were among the workers.

     The schools must not be overlooked, as they stood next to the church in the hearts of the people. What are the first teachers was an old man, Mr. Pierce. The schoolhouse which stood just west of Mr. Bentley's

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was a one room building with the desks along each side of the room; a long plank was used for seats over which we had to lift our feet to get around facing the desk, which a great opportunity for mischief without being caught.

     In the schoolhouse the Sabbath Services were held before the church was built. Mr. Rider used to carry his little melodian to and from the services and lead the singing. Father Pentzer came in' 59; he taught and preached in Wilson. At one time he wrote out in the country and preached every evening for three weeks, coming back to town in the morning and teaching. Young people, long after he ceased teaching, were delighted to get help in the study of their Latin.

    Prof. Harris came in 60, and started a private school. Whenever you meet the persons who in former years had the privilege of being instructed by him, their faces light up as they speak of it. A friend in speaking of the education of her children said how much she wished that they, too, could have been his pupils for she and her husband, her father and mother, had been, and they realize his ability as a teacher to be unequaled. Then we had the Academy. Mr. Baker, a Baptist, started the institution; at one time there were 160 students attending the school. We have had many first-class teachers since that day that schools in any town could be well proud of.

    The breaking out of hostilities at the beginning of the Civil War, was the occasion of great excitement in Wilton as elsewhere. Patriotism ran high, mass meetings were held at which speeches were made an much enthusiasm was aroused, and a number enlisted. Two companies were organized, each of a hundred men. The ladies maintained during the war and organization forming a part of the County Sanitary Commission. Mesdames Dodge, Pomeroy, Terry, Burk, Hubbard, McNaughton, Pratt, McEntyre, Hobart, and many others were identified with this movement. They met to pick lint, to make bandages and other necessary things. Mrs. Dodge hearing that pillows were scarce in the hospitals, donated a fine featherbed from which the ladies made a number of small pillows. Ms. McLean led in canning of a lot of blackberries and tomatoes, also a number of kegs were sent around to different houses which the women of Wilton filled with homemade gingersnaps. The boys were well remembered by the women of Wilton as we sent carloads of various articles for their comfort and help. Those were times that try women's souls, as they worked and waited in suspense to get news from the war. One day a company of soldiers from Cedar County were taken into private home for dinner. A number were taken by Mr. Burke. They wanted to pay but he said, "no, only report when you return." Some years after one reported; he was the only one who survived the war. Mrs. Rider, as well as others, also took a number. Many friends came with the boys and no pens can describe the pathos and sorrow of the parting of those husbands and lives, lovers and sweethearts. They seemed perfectly unconscious of anyone observing them, as they stood with hands clasped, tears rolling down her cheeks and hearts breaking, until the train came and carried the boys away. It seemed as if every woman and girl in town did her utmost to help our soldier boys, but I must mention Sybil Dudley and Eliza Miller as especially tireless workers. Jenny Waldron, Eliza Miller, and Mary Rider solicited money to purchase materials for a flag, which the ladies made and

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presented to company D. At the presentation of this flag on the Methodist steps, Mr. Bacon presented each soldier with a testament.

     All along its history women have stood for all that tends to the development of true manhood and womanhood, and happy homes, to help Wilton on its highest ideals, and on may she ever go in for truth and right.

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