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Shelby County


1889 History Index

Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties
History of Shelby County, Iowa



This is an incorporated town, made such in the spring of 1886. It was originally platted by the Milwaukee Land Company, for railway purposes, May 17, 1882. It is geographically situated on section 23, township 80, range 40, in Washington Township. It is distanced twelve miles northwest of Harlan, and about the same distance southwest of Defiance, the nearest banking points, aside from Portsmouth, six miles to the southwest. It is beautifully situated, between two quite elevated ridges of land, so common in Shelby County, and cannot be seen until one comes within a few rods of the town plat, reminding one of some of the pretty places in the New England States, except the country is void of timber.

The first to engage in commercial calling were Wheeler & Kleeb, who handled a general stock in 1882. The firm was changed first to Kleeb & McCoid, then to Williams & Co., who operated a year or so, and then, in 1885, became the property of George W. McCoid, who still owns it.

The next to go into trade in the general line was George Holderfer, who commenced in 1883, remained a year and removed to Harlan. Sale & Lake were another firm, who commenced operations in the spring of 1884; they ran about a year and sold to J. D. Lake & Co., who finally closed out to George W. McCoid in 1887. The fourth general dealer in Panama was Swenning Bros., who began in the autumn of 1886, and is now known by the title of Nels Swenning. Then came Kleeb & Shoreth, in the summer of 1887, with a general store, which is still in operation.

The first to deal in drugs was F. J. Swenning, who located in 1882, and still continues. The other drug store was started by Dr. A. E. Gregg, in 1888; he simply carries an office stock of pure drugs, but no general line.

The hardware trade was at first represented by a Mr. Eby in 1882, who operated a year or so and then sold to Nels Swenning, who still carries on the trade. Another hardware dealer at present is J. M. Pieffer, who left his farm in 1888 to enter mercantile business.

The furniture trade has been handled by various parties, in connection with other lines, and is now carried on by Nels Swenning, together with other general stock.

The first to deal in grain and live-stock was Louis Shroett. At present D. S. Kinsella runs an elevator. Lassell & Crandall are also engaged in the same business, but only use a warehouse.

P. B. Hunt sold the first lumber in Panama. L. Il. Lassell bought the stock and handled the same until the fall of 1888, and sold to the Green Bay Lumber Company.

The pioneer harness-maker was E. Lowell, who commenced in 1882, but finally quit. T. A. Kavanaugh next embarked in this important line, and enjoys the sole trade to-day.

The first shoemaker, Martin Nager, came in 1883. He is now at Harlan, and Panama has no shoemaker.

The first to handle millinery goods was Mrs. W. H. Mytenger. Since then a dozen have come and got rich (!) and left the town. At present the business is well conducted by Misses Kleeb & Franklin.

The first hotel was built in 1883, called the Lowell House, after its owner. There have been several so-called hotels from time to time, but at this date the town supports one good house known as the City Hotel, run by Frank Miller.

The livery business was first represented by Kleeb & Chamberlain, but later fell into the hands of Frank Miller, who had the misfortune to have his barn destroyed by fire in the fall of 1886. He only received a hundred dollars insurance, but he rebuilt and is still running.

The pioneer blacksmith, who came as soon as the town started, was Martin Kwapiszewski, a Polander, who is as thorough in his trade as his name is long! He is still pounding away at his glowing forge, a highly respected citizen of Panama. The other blacksmith shop of the town is run by Fred Konz.

The wagon shop of Panama was started in 1882, and is still directed by Casper Oppold, who is an excellent workman.

The first to deal in agricultural implements were Wheeler & Kleeb, who sold to W. W. Wheeler. Robert Ford also handled such goods for a time. At present (1888) the farm machine business is principally in the hands of George W. McCoid.

The first and present barber is R. H. Story.

A brick-yard was started in 1886 by L. W. Lautz, who makes an excellent quality of red brick.

The town, which was incorporated in 1886, has been under the following mayors: L. H. Lassell, C. M. Wilder, W. J. Wicks, A. K. Grow and L. H. Thorne.


was established in 1882. The first postmaster was J. W. Kleeb, who was succeeded by W. H. Mytenger, in November, 1883. The office became a money-order office in August, 1886, the first order being made out for Julia Anderson, payable to the Crystal Mills at Council Bluffs, the amount being $23. The total number of orders issued up to November 12, 1888, was 1,601.


Up to 1887 the public school was held in adjoining district school buildings and in a public hall. At that time a fine frame building was erected on the high ridge overlooking the town from the west. It cost about $2,000. It accommodates two departments, and is the most sightly, commodious building in Panama, and bespeaks the good sense and intelligence of the town.

The church organizations are the Roman Catholic and Methodist Episcopal, both having good church edifices. The Methodist church was built in 1887, at a cost of $2,000. The society was organized in 1885, by Rev. Linn.

The Catholic church began operations in Panama in 1885, having formerly belonged to the Westphalia church. They have a house of worship costing $1,600, and have a membership of twenty-five families. Father Joseph B. Hummert is the present pastor.

The Mormons have quite a settlement in this vicinity, and hold occasional services, but have no regular society.

The only civic society in Panama is a benevolent order known as the Ancient Legion of Honor, which was formed in 1888. There are about wenty-five members at present.

A big flouring mill was moved from De Witt, Iowa, to Panama, in 1883, and was conducted until the autumn of 1888, when it was removed to Darlington, Missouri.

The town is made up of live, energetic business men, who never do things by the halves, even to the ratification of a Presidential election, as one of the dealers there said when Harrison was elected, "We will paint the town more than red!" This, of course, was from the Republican portion of the place.

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Transcribed by Cheryl Siebrass, August, 2015 from "Biographical History of Shelby and Audubon Counties", Chicago: W. S. Dunbar & Co., 1889, pg. 283-285.

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