Peeking Into Lake City's Past

A Story of Early Business and Professional People

The genesis of our community is steeped in turbulent life experience of early settlers. The first people who came here beginning with Ebenezer Comstock, Peter Smith, Christian Smith, Jesse Marmon, Charles Amy and several others, were natives of Cassopolis, Michigan or Brownsville, Ohio, just across the state line.

When the first settlers arrived, they chose land near the river, the deltas of Lake and Camp Creeks or the shores of Pond Grove Lake where trees, fresh water and wild game were abundantly available. Most of Calhoun County north of here was prairie swamp land with very few trees that were necessary for cabin construction and heat energy.

In the beginning, Lake City grew slowly, because most settlers staked claims on farm land and lived on the land. However within a very few years, Lake City could boast of having a new courthouse, several supply stores, some wood-frame houses and professional services. By necessity, these early people were extremely frugal and creative.

The first subject of this article is Thomas (Tom) and Ellen Huff, who with their eight children arrived here in 1868 from Cassopolis, Michigan, just 14 years after Ebenezer Comstock became the first white settler. The Huffs with their eight children traveled all the way from Michigan in a covered wagon drawn by teams of oxen. The Huffs built a log cabin two miles northeast of Lake City near the shores of Pond Grove Lake, from which our town was named. Tom Huff supported his family in the beginning by hunting, trapping and fishing at the lake, creeks and prairie swamps on and near his farm, while his farmland was in the process of development.

The nearest neighbor to the Huffs was Civil War officer Samuel Hutchison, who after a short time became a very prominent business and professional man in our community. Sam Hutchison came her from Barnsville, Ohio in 1865. His first job was teaching school. During his business career, he formed partnerships to operate retail stores with Civil War hero Captain Fitch, Judge Peter Smith and John Stennett. Sam Hutchison was one of the organizers of the Lake City First National Bank and he was elected twice to the Iowa State Legislature. Sam Hutchison and his wife Elizabeth Hold Hutchison were the parents of the Honorable Judge Marion E. Hutchison.

Our subjects, Tom and Ellen Huff, were hearty folks who lived like other early settlers, in the most primitive fashion. Their abode was a log cabin located near the shores of beautiful Pond Grove Lake where they lived off the land and without the benefits of modern medicine. Ellen Huff lost her life giving birth to her eleventh child without the aid of a trained medical doctor. Ellen Huff was known in her day for being a fastidious housekeeper, but that doesn't always eliminate destructive micro-organisms, dangerous to mothers at times of birth. Is seems that Old Doc Stewart was out of town when Ellen's baby came and as he was the only doctor in Lake City. Ellen had her baby without medical assistance. Neighbors said that if Doc Stewart had been there, Ellen would not have lost her life. It is well to remember that many pioneer wives lost their lives at childbirth where unsanitary conditions made it a dangerous process and because pioneers wanted large families to help develop their land. Mothers who lost their lives can well be remembered as heroines, parallel to fighting men who were killed in combat. Ellen Huff was luckier than many, the bugs didn't get her until her eleventh. She beat them ten times.

Without a mother to care for her, the new baby lived to become an adult living a normal number of years. When the tragic event took place, Tom Huff was in a dilemma as to how he could raise eleven children without a wife, so to solve the problem he farmed his children out to anyone who would agree to give them a proper home. History records indicate that a wagon train headed for Oregon passed near Lake City, stopping here to purchase supplies. Tom Huff took a liking to one of the families and let them have the young Huff baby as their own. The baby was not heard of by the Huff children until they were in their late middle age, most of them by this time were grandparents. A family reunion finally happened and was virtually a miracle for the Huffs.

Tom and Ellen's daughter Hester was raised by the Eakin family while another daughter, Josephine, was raised by a local herb doctor and mid-wife known as Mrs. Dr. Fox. When Josephine reached the age of sixteen, she was fortunate to marry a young man by the name of Roland E. Mosley who came her from Princeton, Illinois to invest his inheritance in Calhoun County's rich, undeveloped farm land.

Roland Mosley was a highly successful young business entrepreneur who was later numbered among Calhoun County's wealthy citizens. Roland acquired land holdings, started a lumber yard, along with a construction business and he is historically credited with building about one half of early Lake City houses.

Yes, Roland E. Mosley was a renowned businessman. His activities acquiring and developing land, stating a lumber yard and running a construction company, were not enough to satisfy his lust for community development, he also wanted to be a money changer. Roland Mosley started the Peoples Savings Bank in a building he constructed on the east side of the square, where the Lake City Savings and Loan Co. now does business. A short time later, he started in Auburn. Records also indicate that Roland Mosley was one of the most influential of the early founders of the Lake City Presbyterian Church.

When one researches Lake City history he cannot help being impressed by the quality of people, so aggressive and talented who developed our community during the early growth period. There were so many of them, it appears that Lake City had more than their share of unusual talent. Roland E. Mosley did not only possess many God given talents but he understood how to make money grow and how to manage and motivate people in a positive manner. He is remembered as an unusual person of brilliance and quality. However, many talents and blessings God granted to Roland, he did not receive the blessing of longevity. Roland was called to his maker at the height of his career at the age of 53 years, leaving his attractive wife, Josephine Huff Mosley and two children Frederick and Francis without a husband and father.

Frederick spent his entire life in Lake City, managing the family fortune. His sister Francis became the wife of Dr. Gilbert Pray M. D., who came to Lake City in 1903 following his discharge from the army of the Spanish-American War. Dr. Pray's first office was located above one of the buildings on the south side of the square. Francis Mosley found a good husband. He was reputed as a civic-minded citizen of quality, a good doctor, husband and father. He once served as mayor of Lake City and second ward councilman. He was also active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and served as their commander. Dr. Gilbert Pray was a solid citizen of Lake City for thirty-six years. The writer remembers calling at his home to demonstrate a large Philco console radio in 1938. He was confined to a bed or chair and suffered greatly. Dr. Pray went to his demise in 1939.

Gilbert and Francis Mosley Pray raised two children, Roland Pray named after his grandfather Mosley, born in 1908, resides in Seattle, Washington and his sister Marion Pray Peterson, born 1911, resides in Green Valley, Arizona.

Francis Mosley Pray is remembered by her friends as a kind, friendly and warm hearted person who loved music. She was a proficient pianist who spent many hours playing her beautiful grand piano. Francis, or Frannie, as her friends called her, was a member of the PEO, a life member of the Lake City library board, an active member of the Monday Club and the Gerrick Club. Francis also helped organize the Des Moines Music club in which she played an active role. Francis Mosley Pray led a happy and productive life, going to her demise in 1948.

One of the many pleasures derived from peeking into Lake City's past is the feeling one gets that he or she actually becomes personally acquainted with people who lived before our time. You learn to know the doctor that assisted them in times of sickness and sorrow, the banker on whom they depended for financial assistance, the merchants who furnished them necessary goods and services, the clergy on whom they depended for religious counsel and many of their neighbors and friends on whom they depended for sustenance of life. If we related those persons to their counterparts today, we learn a greater appreciation for their lives. Those fine people paved the way for the society we enjoy today. May we thank God that they lived, this is our heritage.