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HISTORY of MOUNT AYR, RINGGOLD COUNTY, IOWA

CB&Q Mount Ayr.jpg
CB&Q Rail Road, Mount Ayr, Iowa
Courtesy of digital.lib.uiowa.edu/railraodinan

In 1851, commissioners chosen by the State Legislature located the first site of Ringgold County's seat 4 miles south of the center of the county and named it "Urbana". In January of 1855, commissioners were chosen to re-locate the county seat of Ringgold County. Their selected site was a farm which belonged to Edward A. TEMPLE, who sold the land to the county.

Mount Ayr was named "Mount" because it was the highest elevation between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and "Ayr" after the birthplace of the poet Robert BURNS, Ayr, Scotland.

Barton and Laura DUNNING were the first settlers in the Mount Ayr vicinity, arriving in 1855 when the town was a small rural hamlet. Barton was instrumental in establishing the first post office on August 30, 1855, and consequently was named the first postmaster.

William McCORMICK platted the town during the latter part of June, 1855.

In the summer of 1872 Mount Ayr's village band traveled to Afton, Union County, Iowa, where they played at the Fourth of July celebration and received $100 for their service. Many of Mount Ayr's townspeople traveled to Afton to in support of their village band. Later in 1872 a ten-piece band was organized, known as Pete Brother's Leader Band.

Mount Ayr was incorporated on June 8, 1875 with a population of 422 and E. G. MARTIN named as mayor. Early newspapers included The Ringgold Record and Twice-A-Week News. Currently, The Mount Ayr Record-News serves as the county's primary newspaper.

Lewis B. IMUS opened Mount Ayr's first barber shop in the mid-1870's. T. E. CORKHILL established the town's first dairy. CORKHILL attached a bell to his horse's harness. As he drove his two-wheeled dairy cart down the street, the bell alerted residents of his presence so they could come out with their cans or pails and meet him at the curbside.

Eighteen veterans of the Civil War started the Ellis G. MILLER Post of the Grand Army of the Republic on November 3, 1880. The Post was named in honor of Lieutenant MILLER. Ellis G. MILLER was born in Pennsylvania and enlisted as a Sergeant on July 4, 1861 with Campany G of the Fourth Iowa Infantry. He was promoted to first Full Lieutenant on September 5, 1861, and commanded the company at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas on March 7, 1862. Lt. MILLER was killed at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou at Vicksburg, Mississippi on December 29, 1862. Lt. MILLER had been the first commissioned officer from Mount Ayr to die in service. The Ellis G. MILLER Post membership reached 246 by July of 1926.

With the railroads coming through Ringgold County and new rail towns being established, Mount Ayr had a population of 1,275 in 1880. Upon the completion of a new four-room schoolhouse, classes were transferred from their previous location in the courthouse.

The town began it's long struggle to provide adequate fire protection in 1880 by authorizing Z. T. KINSELL to purchase equipment for the newly organized hook and ladder company. Although a disastrous fire burned out most of the buildings on the southeastern quarter of the square in 1879, popular sentiment among the citizens was against the hook and ladder company. It took five years to accumulate the equipment that the company needed. In the meantime, bucket brigades fought any fire that broke out.

On October 30, 1885, a fire broke out, destroying several businesses although the bucket brigade worked hard and tirelessly to contain the flames. This brought forward the issue of providing adequate fire protection for the businessmen and townspeople of Mount Ayr. City council approved $50 to the firemen for their previous work and the following year, approved the payment of the firemen a half-dollar each for their services upon each incident of a fire. The citizens and firemen contributed to a fund set aside to upgrade the hook and ladder company's equipment. In 1895, Mount Ayr's city council presented diplomas to the firemen in recognition of their service to the community.

The city council and Mount Ayr's businessmen had wrestled the problem of lighting the business district at night for about 20 years. In 1889, the city council approved the installation of kerosene street lamps with square glass fronts along the main business street. A caretaker, assigned the task of lighting the lamps as dusk, extinguishing them at dawn, and keeping the glass globes clean, was paid 25-cents a day for his services, later receiving a raise to 40-cents a day. The city council replaced broken globes in 1900. Two years later 19 gasoline lamps were installed, proving to be expensive and unsatisfactory when compared to the kerosene lamps.

East side Mt Ayr.jpg

East Side of the Square, Mount Ayr, circa 1900

Mr. McCREARY established a new brick and tile works in 1890. The factory turned out 12,000 bricks a day and presented Mount Ayr with a boost in her economy.

The lighting problem seemed to be an on-going struggle for Mount Ayr's city council. Negotiations with a light and water company in 1901 had failed, ceasing abruptly. In 1907 the city council placed an advertisement, asking for bids on a municipal plant. Upon reviewing the submitted bids, the council rejected them all, deeming them to be too high. Shortly afterwards, W. Jackson BELL organized a stock company to build an electric lighting plant. Soaring costs almost doomed the project before it began. However, the company eventually incorporated and a plant was built at the cost of $20,000 as opposed to the original estimate of $3,000. Many of the original stockholders sold their shares because of this. The company was purchased by Iowa Southern Utility Company in 1917. Years later the building was damaged from lightning and eventually razed.

Walter MARRIAGE moved a three-story roller mill, similar to the one at right, to Mount Ayr in 1881. Before this, farmers took their grain as far away as Afton or Davis City for grinding. Mr. MARRIAGE operated the mill until 1885 when D. JODON took over operations. D. D. BALLOU bought the mill and ran it until 1908. Poe JOHNSTON owned the mill when it burned to the ground in 1910. Later, an elevator was constructed on the site.

During 1915 and 1916, three miles of Mount Ayr's streets were paved at the cost of $113,622. Additional street improvements were done in 1918 and 1929 when several blocks were graveled.

The Mount Ayr Public Library was dedicated on New Year's Day of 1917. This was the only library in the county with the one in Ellston being abandoned a few years prior. The Mount Ayr library was supported by a pledge from the people to assess a maintenance tax to furnish funds of $1,000 a year with the Carnegie Foundation adding an additional $8,000. By 1936 the library had acquired over 4,000 volumes for use by the 1,000 card holders.

A new post office was dedicated on August 22, 1940. Three old frame buildings had been torn down to make room for the new post office which had been completed at a cost of $50,500. W. F. McFARLAND, superintendent of Mount Ayr Schools, was the master of ceremonies during the dedication.

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, May 30, 1940

P. J. McGRATH, whose commission expires June 17, was recently nominated by President Roosevelt for the position of postmaster of Mount Ayr, second class, and Friday confirmation was made by the senate. Mr. McGRATH has been postmaster for four years.

~ ~ ~ ~

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, August 22, 1940

The new $75,000 federal post office, advantageously located at the northwest corner of the square, adds substantial adornment to the business district of Mount Ayr, and citizens of Ringgold county have reason for pride in this improvement to the county seat.

~ ~ ~ ~

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, September 27, 1940

Most of the fixtures of the local [old Mount Ayr] post office, including parcel post, money order and general delivery windows, a section of lock boxes, screen and writing desk, will be removed to Kellerton post office. The remaining fixtures and property owned by the government will be shipped to various places designated in the instruction.

~ ~ ~ ~

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, September 19, 1940

The town hall is undergoing extensive repairs and when the work is completed, the building will have a new brick front, rounded corner on the northwest corner entrance, the contract price of which is $875. A contract was let for laying a cement floor in that part of the fire hall, where the fire truck is housed. The work has been completed at a cost of $125.

Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, September of 2015

The 2000 census population of Mount Ayr was 1,822.

North side of the sqaure Mt.Ayr

Vintage Postcard, North Side of Square, Mt. Ayr, Iowa.

Some Vintage Mount Ayr Ads

 

 In 1912, A. D. NEPTUNE'S Garage was located one block north of the northeast corner of the square. Charles TEALE owned the garage located on the southeast corner of the square. When TEALE Auto Company was completed it would accommodate 25 cars.

 

 

The Mount Ayr House later became known as the Mount Ayr Hotel.

Ringgold Roots
Ringgold County Genealogical Society
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County
Vol. 1, p. 5.
January, 1980

RINGGOLD ROOTS SALUTES MT. AYR

This quarter Ringgold Roots has selected the town of Mt. Ayr, Iowa, to highlight.

Mt. Ayr was established in 1855 and is the County seat for Ringgold County. It has grown to the present population as of the 1970 Federal census of 1,762. Why Mt. Ayr for a name? The following answer comes from an excerpt from the book A Centennial History of Mount Ayr, Iowa, copyright 1975 by Jack R. TERRY. The Ringgold Record of April 1903, asked the same question and printed this answer in it's issue of May 7, 1903, from Captain Andrew JOHNSTON of Liberty township, a propserous farmer and stock raiser:

"I had an intimate acquaintance with George W. JONES, one of the commissioners to locate our county seat. In years since, he stated to me in answer to this query that at the time of his departure on this business, his brother-in-law, Mr. WINDLE, of Carthage, Illinois, was on a visit with his family, and that he said to him, 'WINDLE, please suggest a name for this new site.' Mr. WINDLE said, 'I think Ayr of Scotland one of the prettiest names on the map, and I would recommend that you take the most elevated site possible and name it Mt. Ayr.' Mr. JONES said the commissioners were pleased with the name and so it was called. Mr. WINDLE was afterwards proprietor of the REGER Store in Mt. Ayr."

Ezra WINDLE then, is the man to whom the credit goes for naming the town. Street names in the original town were evidently chosen by Judge James HAGAN or John SHELLER, or both men, for they appear on the original plat by Surveyor McCORMICK.

A portion of the Mount Ayr square has a new look after the sign has been put in place for Ramsey's Supper Club, the new restaurant on the square. Here work was being done on the front of the building last week. The other locations where Paul RAMSEY has restuarants named withMount Ayr has brought a lot of comment from people who see the building for the first time. Mount Ayr is listed in company with Newport Beach and Hollywood on the building front.

Mount Ayr Record-News, Thursday, August 19, 2010

 

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Princess Theater Celebrates 2nd Anniversary

The second anniversay gala at the Princess Theater in Mount Ayr Friday and Saturday brought the musical Godspell to Mount Ayr. Performances Friday and Saturday included a white tent cake celebration at intermission to mark the second complete year of operation for the theater, which serves the community with movies as well as live theater and musical performances.

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, July 10, 2014

This week's photo comes from a set of glass negatives found at the old Record-News office when they relocated in 1988. There are about fourteen pictures in the set and although the photos were taken on different days, I know from the business[es] and buildings present the photos were taken between March 1913 and May 1915 [probably by Alex Maxwell?].

None of the pictures are identified, but I know this is the west side of the square because I can see the Horne building between the two gentlemen. Dr. William Horne had this building erected in1902 and it was purchased from his estate early in 1925 by Dr. F. H. Landis. The Mount Ayr Chamber of Commerce occupies this office building today.

All of the photos in the set were taken on the square or with in one block of the square. The streets were still dirt but there was a great deal going on in Mount Ayr in 1914 and I'll write a little on some of those.

The new high school building graduated its first class of students, nine girls and eight boys. Porter Havely, who graduated from Kellerton in 1913 was one of them. I assume he paid his tuition and took courses here that he didn't take in Kellerton. Porter was the son of Dr. J. M. Havely of Kellerton. 1914 saw the emergence of the first yearbook in Ringgold County, the Ayrian.

The First Christian Church on the southwest corner of the square was dedicated March 15, 1914. This house of worship would be used until 1980.

Dr. C. C. Lawhead, a dentist, bought the business and residence of Dr. F. C. Clark in November 1914. In 1919, Dr. Lawhead installed in his office the county's first X-ray machine. As you know, Dr. Lawhead would later have a son and grandson practice dentistry in Mount Ayr.

In July 1914, Charlie Chung (or Chong), of Creston, was in Mount Ayr with his cousin Ben Chung [Chong] looking for a location to open a laundry. Ben would eventually operate a laundry on Depot (Taylor) Street and cook Chinese food at Hayes Main's restaurant, too.

Sheldon Heights (Shellway Drive) was developed in 1913 with the construction of Frank Sheldon's house at the entrance of the affluent addition. But is was in 1914 that Howard Tedford, H. H. Wilson, Bert Teale, J. O. Fry and others erected their fabulous homes that give Shellway Drive the look we know today. This area was a former picnic and nature area known as White's Grove. An early tennis court was built in Sheldon Heights in the 1920s when lawn tennis became very popular.

The Mount Ayr water tower, built in 1913, first took on water in July 1914. It would be several years before the pumps and filters all operated smoothly. The business district sewer system wasn't in place until 1919.

The Princess Theater showed its first picture in September 1914. Owner L. P. Todd had previously owned the Star Theater, having purchased the business from W. E. Mack.

In April 1914, the Mount Ayr Power & Light Company began to offer 24-hour electrical service. Previously, service was only available certain hours of the day. In 1916, the power plant was reconstructed to offer alternating current. Iowa Southern Utilities bought the plant in 1917.

Henry Faris bought H. H. Wilson & Co., an extremely reputable grocery store, in January 1914. Henry's health failed and he was forced to return the store to H. H. Wilson. Harry Liggett, Arthur Liggett, and Charlie Horne bought the store in 1918 but kept the name the same.

That's a little of what was going on 100 years ago.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, August of 2014

Sources:

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.

GUE, Benjamin F. History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Vol. 3. p. 406. Century History Co. 1903.

AVITT, Mike. "Some Hyperbole in Early County Descriptions." Mount Ayr Record-News. Thurs. 20 Jan 2005.

Written & Submitted by Sharon R. Becker, 2008; updated May of 2010; updated December of 2012; updated August of 2014; updated September of 2015


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