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Knowlton Depot.jpg
Chicago Great Western Depot, Knowlton, Iowa
Courtesy of

Originally the settlement of Knowlton was called "Indianville" because it was located near to an old Indian settlement. When the Chicago Great Western Railroad expanded its line in the western portion of Ringgold County in 1887, the town of Knowlton was established and re-named after the president of the railroad, Dexter Asa KNOWLTON.

According to legend, the land for the depot was purchased from C. W. CODDINGTON.

At first, Knowlton had an unusually strong growth due to the railroad's promotion in an attempt to draw business away from Goshen which was a rail town of the CB&Q line. Additionally, Knowlton was the main coaling station for the railroad which kept Knowlton active until its unincorporation in the early 1920's although the post office was discontinued in 1919.

In December of 1887, a group of railroad officials from Tingley came to inspect the Knowlton depot. They declared that is was a very knobby depot that would lay any on the Humeston & Shenandoah in the shade.

Knowlton, probably taken from roof of the school looking ESE, circa 1910
courtesy of Mike Avitt

The little community prospered. The post office opened in 1888. By 1898 there were two churches, two hotels, grocery, hardware, and general stores, millinery shops, a grist-mill, livery stables, a mortician, a barber shop, a restaurant, a post office, and a foundry. Doctors SYP and E. J. WATSON served the community and near-by countryside. The local newspaper prospered, published under five different names throughout time which included Knowlton World, Knowlton Sentinel and Knowlton News. A school was organized as an independent district in 1893 with the schoolhouse erected at a cost of $3,000 in 1891. Knowlton school's first graduating class received their diplomas in 1900.

By 1898, there were two churches - the Baptist and the Methodist. Knowlton's population was at 450 residents.

The Ideal Farm Implement Company out of Fort Madison began a factory in July of 1902. Although a large factory building had been built in 1891, operations became in 1906 with several loads of packers shipped to markets in Texas. In 1909 the building burned. Although there was talk of rebuilding, that's all was. Talk.

The first school was erected in 1891 at a cost of $3,000 with the first class to graduate in 1900.

Eventually Goshen bodily merged with Diagonal around the year 1890. When the Great Western withdrew its support, Knowlton became a little ghost town. Knowlton's post office closed in 1921.

At one time the school at Knowlton was considered to be the foremost in the county. Dr. LeRoy Edward PARKINS of the Harvard Medical College granduated from Knowlton High School in 1905. [Dr. PARKINS wrote The Harvard Medical School and Its Clinical Opportunites in 1916, which was published in Boston, MA.] By 1942, the school at Knowlton was little more than a country school.

Knowlton Store

Click on thumbnail photo or the link to see an enlarged view of the photograph.
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CB&Q Section Crew

Knowlton IA

Knowlton Residents

Knowlton Baseball Team


Yaryan Barber Shop

& Home, 1916

Ideal Farm Implement

Ad, Knowlton

Emmett Baker Family

Main St., Knowlton


Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
July of 1895


An extra Knowlton local has come to hand informing us of a serious fire at that place on Saturday morning, July 6th, at about 2 o’clock a.m. An alarm was given. The fire seemed to have originated some place between the business houses of BAKER & GUSTIN and JORDON & NESMITH. The precise source of the fires is perhaps not determined. As usual, different theories prevail and none of them reliable. In general, it is believed to be of incendiary origin. The business portion of the village was consumed and includes the following: The general business store of F. T. FURCHT, the barber shop of Wm. HARSHAW, the general store of JORDON & NESMITH, the furniture store of H. MERRIAM.

These embrace the principle business houses of the town. As at present estimated, the loss stands at about $15,000. The loss of Mr. FURCHT is estimated above $6,000 and his insurance above $6,000, and this on both building and stock. The JORDON & NESMITH house suffered a loss of about $6,000 and insurance is about $2,400. BAKER & GUSTIN are insurance for $1,500 and it is supposed that this will cover their loss. MERRIAM of the furniture store is the heaviest loser. He had been insured, but had not renewed his policy at expiration and hence everything is lost. All of them are crippled, but Mr. MERRIAM has suffered seriously. The fire has been a calamity to the town and country about. Most of the men have already arranged to reopen business in other quarters at once.

Several detectives arrived in Knowlton to investigate the origins of the devastating fire. An article appearing in The Twice-A-Week News on August 25, 1895 announced,"The commotion at Knowlton, always at fever heat, was greatly increased last week by the presence of detectives trying to ferret out the party who set fire to Knowlton some time ago. We are informed they have the guilty party spotted and, as was predicted, he is no citizen of Diagonal either." At the time, there was a great rivalry between the townspeople of Knowlton and Diagonal, each struggling for prominence and survival.

Believed to be the aftermath of the Knowlton Fire
Photograph contributed by Delbert Spencer

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa

Knowlton Lives On

Knowlton didn't make the census count this year, other than just part of rural Jefferson Township. There are several families living in the Knowlton area. Knowlton was quite a town for several years. Passing through Knowlton, one can hardly believe there was a town in the location.

The census of 1895 shown a population of 254, 1900 at 267, and 1905 at 273. Below is a list of business of Knowlton in 1895, when Knowton was at it's peak:

Postmaster J. F. McGINTY; J. W. BEEN, Jr., Constable: Greeley H. BONEBRAKE, drayman; Joseph A. DENNEY, wagonmaker; I. W. DUNLAP, general store; H. R. EMMERSON, telegraph agent; J. R. FAIRLY, restaurant; F. T. FRUCHT, general store; Jay HITCHCOCK, general store; G. H. JONES, Livery; I. D. JORDAN, railroad, exp. Y tel. agent; JORDAN, NESMITH & Co. general store; Benjamin KELLER, blacksmith; KNOWLTON EXPRESS, H. M. VORHIES, publisher; A. LONG, hardware; John McGAUHEY, mayor; T. D. McGAUGHEY, marshal; J. F. McGINTY, confectionary & notions; H. MERRIAN, furniture; M. M. PARR, lumber; Rev. G. N. RINGLER, Baptist minister; Wm. SHERRILL, hotel & livestock; F. C. WYNES & Co., agricultural implements & boots.

Twice-A-Week News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
June 12, 1896


By Postmaster James F. McGINTY

Knowlton is a flourishing city, situation 12 miles northwest of Mount Ayr on the Chicago Great Western railway, midway between Des Moines and Saint Joseph, MO, having the best business buildings of any town in Ringgold county, Mount Ayr only excepted. We have five brick store buildings with basements, one two-story brick block, the ground floor of which is to be used a a bank and the upper floor as a lodge room for the I.O.O.F.

Knowlton has three general stores, one hardware store, two livery and feed stables, two first class hotels, one confectionery and notion store, one harness shop and shoemaker shop, one millinery establishment, one creamery and grist mill, one lumberyard, one meat market, one barbershop, one photographer, two blacksmith shops, two churches and one of the nicest school buildings in Ringgold county.

We would welcome to our city enterprising citizens of all classes and we would not object to their politics or religion.

Knowlton is the coaling station between Des Moines and Saint Joseph, MO, and is probably to be a division station in the near future. It has always been favored by the officials of the railroad and is the only night station for a long distance either way.

Two passenger trains are made up here each morning, one going north to Des Moines and one south to Saint Joseph.

Knowlton, 1894
Courtesy of Ringgold County Historical Society

Although Knowlton was the only night station and the only coaling station along the railroad between Des Moines and St. Joseph, the town lost ground after 1910 and eventually became a ghost town. Like many other little communities that used to lay along the Iowa landscape, the closing of the school at Knowlton was the beginning of the town's decline. Serveral town fires and the close proximity of the town of Diagonal led to the eventual demise of Knowlton, Iowa.

Knowlton, circa 1912
The Up-To-Date Restaurant with I.O.O.F. Hall on 2nd Story
Dr. E. J. WATSON's office to right & "Brick" Hotel at far right
Pictured, L-R: James BUTT, J. H. YARYAN, Johnny HOFFMAN, Tom BAKER, A. TURNBULL, son, Harold TURNBULL, Hazel WATSON, Dr. E. J. WATSON, Mrs. WATSON, Mrs. TURNBULL, Mrs YARYAN, Alma WATSON R.N. holding Elbert M. WATSON
Children seated, L-R: Olive WATSON and Pansy TURNBULL


The Ringgold Record
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
April 13, 1889


Goshen is on the move. Charles DAYTON has moved his dwelling to Diagonal and Had HERSOM is moving all his buildings to this new town.

NOTE: Diagonal offered town lots free to those who would move their homes and buildings in from Goshen and Knowlton.

The Ringgold Record
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
May 2, 1889


Goshen is now virtually on wheels and moving toward the crossing. Such unity and harmony in a move of this kind is rarely met. The cry is "Ho to the crossing." Knowlton has a lively and thriving city and has no notion of moving to a large city.

The Ringgold Record
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
July of 1895


With the prospect of a depot on the C.G.W. [Chicago Great Western Railroad at Diagonal] there was a boom in lot sales in Diagonal. Over $1,000 worth sold in one day. Several from Knowlton were looking for locations.

Mrs. HART's funeral was conducted in the new cemetery south of [Diagonal]. Thomas MILSAP met with a lot of trouble moving his house down from Knowlton. He broke three wagons and the end is not yet over. . . .

The other day on our way to Knowlton, we ran smack against a house in the middle of the road. "Hello, Tom, where are you going with this house and whose is it?" Said Tom, "It's Ed SHERMAN's and we're taking it to Diagonal." "Well, and where did it come from?" "Oh! from Knowlton, they are all going to move down in the spring." "Well, if they are good Republicans and Christians, we will be glad to receive them."


Dexter A. KNOWLTON, pioneer and banker, was born in Fairfield, Herkimer County, New York, March 3, 1812, taken to Chautauqua County in infancy and passed his childhood and youth on a farm. Having determined on a mercantile career, he entered an academy at Fredonia, paying his own way; in 1838 started on a peddling tour for the West; and, in the following year, settled at Freeport, Illinois, where he opened a general store; in 1848 began investments in real estate, finally laying off sundry additions to the city of Freeport, from which he realized large profits. He ws also prominently connected with the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad and, in 1850, became a Director of the Company, remaining in office some twelve years. In 1852 he was the Free-Soil candidate for Governor of Illinois, but a few years later became extensively interested in the Congress & Empire Spring Company at Saratoga, New York; then, after four years' residence in Brooklyn, returned to Freeport in 1870, where he engaged in banking business, dying in that City, March 10, 1876.

Marker at Knowlton Town Site
Photograph by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2009

Ringgold County History Compiled and written by the Iowa Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Iowa, Sponsored by Ringgold County Superintendent of Schools, Mount Ayr, Iowa. 1942.

HURD, B. L.L.D. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois Vol. 1 Pp. 320-21. McDaniel Publ. Chicago. 1906.

Written & Submitted by Sharon R. Becker, 2007; updated April of 2010

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, October 02, 2014

By Mike Avitt

This week's picture comes courtesy of the Diagonal Printing Museum, and we'll focus on Knowlton's final years.

Information about Knowlton's waning years is difficult to find for two reasons. First, the Diagonal Progress newspaper plant being lost in a fire in December 1917, taking past issues of the Diagonal Progress with it. And second, the lack of correspondent to supply neighboring town newspapers with Knowlton news. Most of the information I'll share with you this week comes from Mount Ayr, Diagonal and Shannon City newspapers.

Let me set the table again about Knowlton's predicament. In 1887, the Chicago, Kansas City and St. Paul railroad passed beneath the Keokuk & Western railroad at a location one mile east of Goshen in Ringgold County. Goshen was already on the Keokuk & Western while the new town of Knowlton sprang up one mile north of the crossing, on the new railroad line, in 1887. In 1889, Goshen moved her buildings and citizens to the crossing to form the new town of Diagonal. Goshen invited Knowlton to join them in a merger, but Knowlton declined. An intense rivalry developed between the two young towns who were now only one mile apart.

From the years 1895 to 1905, the two towns seemed to be equal in population growth, commerce and productivity. But I noticed a decline in Knowlton around 1907. I'll take you through different aspects of Knowlton life and business except for the school, which I covered in my last article.

Knowlton had a newspaper as early as September 1892 with L.H. BRADLEY as editor. But I count six different newspapers in the next 14 years with at least 11 different editors. That's not good! J.F. BENNETT started a new newspaper in December 1906, ant that's the last newspaper I read about in the town of Knowlton.

Rev. G.W. RINGLER was raising money for the construction of a Baptist church in the spring of 1890, and this church was built soon after. However, Rev. RINGLER resigned from preaching in March 1900, and I don't see that anyone took his place. The Methodist church was built before 1897 and had a steady stream of preachers until at least September 1915. That's when Rev. Fred MEAD moved into the parsonage and commenced preaching. The parsonage was sold at public auction in May 1924, but I don't know when the last church services were held in Knowlton.

Industry was a strong suit for Knowlton when in 1902 the Ideal Equipment Company came to set up a foundry. I assume the foundry was up and running by 1903, but I read some disturbing news in July 1908 that the foundry was shut down due to a lack of material. Then in September 1908 a large order was received. January 1909 says the foundry will need to be rebuilt by owner John WILLIAMS. I'm guessing the plant burned and I may found out some day.

The railroad was Knowlton's biggest industry. The stockyards, coal chutes, water tank and section gang were all located at Knowlton. Joe FORSYTHE, Knowlton's last depot agent, came to town in March 1908. June 1909 saw another switch laid, giving Knowlton five railroad tracks. The end came on July 1, 1921 when the last passenger train stopped at the dying town. The depot closed the same day. The section gang remained at Knowlton until November 22, 1923 when the headquarters were moved to Shannon City.

The local Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge was instituted May 15, 1896 with 40 members. They occupied at least two different halls. Finally, on May 4, 1921, the Knowlton IOOF merged with the Diagonal Lodge.

On April 16, 1921, rural route one out of Knowlton became rural route five out of Diagonal with Willis HAYDEN as the carrier. I think it's safe to assume the Knowlton post office closed at this time.

McGinty & Palmer, a long-time general store in Knowlton, went bankrupt in October 1906. Business changed hands regularly with one exception - YARYAN's store. Leander Elmer YARYAN operated one of Knowlton's first general stores, and he continued in business for decades. I have a book about Iowa ghost towns written in 1932, and that book says Knowlton still had a store. In fact, L.E. YARYAN's store is the only Knowlton business listed in the 1920 census.

Dr. W. W. SYP came to Knowlton in April 1895 and left in October 1905. This void was filled by a brilliant young man, Dr. E. J. WATSON, who had previously practiced in Arispe, moving to Knowlton in June 1906. Dr. WATSON moved to Diagonal in the early part of 1918 as I'm sure it was obvious Knowlton would not continue to be a town. Dr. WATSON practiced medicine in Diagonal for close to 40 more years.

Newly-elected councilmen in 1926 held a special proposition to forfeit the town's incorporated status, and the measure passed 39 votes to 21. The last year of high school grades had been 1920, and without a post office, depot, doctor and newspaper, this decision made sense.

Among Knowlton's successes we must include their baseball team. Everett YARYAN, one of many stars for the Knowlton nine, became Ringgold County's only major-league baseball player in 1921 when he signed as a catcher for the Chicago White Sox. Unfortunately, Mr. Yaryan was a backup for first-string catcher Ray SHALK, the premier catcher of that era, and played a small amount of time.

In conclusion, I have come to believe two things about Knowlton. First, Diagonal's success was the greatest reason for Knowlton's failure. Diagonal did everything right and Knowlton never really died. While Goshen took about two years to move to the crossing of the two railroads, Knowlton took about 40. Yes, Knowlton slowly merged with Diagonal over the course of several decades. The houses that once sat in Knowlton now sit in Diagonal. The surnames that once [were] identified with Knowlton now identify with Diagonal.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2014

  • Knowlton Town Plat, 1881

  • Story of Knowlton

  • Knowlton High School

  • Life in Knowlton, by A. H. BONEBRAKE

  • Knowlton Lives Again, includes Goshen



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