Notes: These excerpts are from a college thesis written by Elvera Mullen. We appreciate being able to share them here.
The history of one township of Clarke County is not likely now to ever be repeated anywhere. A man named Charles Cheny conceived a scheme for settling a new county. He had heard of communities holding goods in common. He was an imaginative, restless man, thinking of things other people cared little about. This western part of Iowa was unsettled and seemed remote, and no railroad had been built in this territory. He heard of Clarke County, its township not surveyed, named or determined yet.
Cheny was a man who knew how to influence others and he soon had a colony collected to work under his direction. They organized at Farmington. It was a regular society with constitution and by-laws all in due form and its officers elected.
During the year of 1850 Cheny and his Communistic Colony came. They might have located near the county seat, but they were fascinated by the green hills and winding river in the southwest corner of the county. A railroad had not then made a location near a county seat town and this seemed to be as desirable a place as any. This became known as the "Hopewell Colony." This lasted only a short time. Every man wanted to boss his own work, and do as he pleased! It was but a waste of time to try to work together, so they soon scattered onto farms of their own.
In 1851 a post office was requested for "Hopewell." It happened, however, that there was already a Hopewell Post Office in Mahaska County, so the name of Hopeville was adopted instead and a post office was established on the same day on which the post office was established in Osceola. The first postmaster in Hopeville was David Newton.
Moving to this county from Farmington was a tedious business. It was mostly done by oxen and from one to two weeks were occupied. Houses were scarce and as each family arrived it went into a one or two roomed cabin with some other family to stay until another cabin was built. They were kindly welcomed and treated well by all. Everybody came to see them.
Wells for a few months were unknown. The prairie streams and springs supplied the water. One or two wells were dug later and water carried form these a half mile or more.
Oxen were used for draught purposes. There was but one team of horses in the colony. During the three years the colony existed, about twenty men belonged, most of them were married and had families. There were not enough teams for all to take care of the soil but there was plenty of work, especially rail splitting and building of a cabin for each family was mutual labor. Every Saturday evening a meeting was held to discuss plans and report progress. One of the drawbacks to getting the work done was the endless consultation. On summer mornings the young men would bring the oxen in from the prairie and the older men sitting on the fence would discuss whether it was best to plow the corn, mow grass, break up more prairie or spend the day fencing.
Early settlers brought dogs with them but cats were scarce. When they did arrive, some riding in wagons 150 miles or more, they were much thought of for a long time. Hogs were scarce. At first each family received one-half hog for his yearly share of meat.
Wheat was a doubtful crop, but each had a few pounds of flour for his share but it was so dark no one now would think of baking bread with it. The bran could not be fully separated and no middlings were taken out. Buckwheat was raised and ground in coffee mills at home, sifted and made into better pancakes than any you eat now. Corn was the staple bread food. Two men took two yoke of oxen and went to mill being gone two days. They took a wagon full of sacks of shelled corn, quilts (to cover up at night), and lunch to last until they returned home. Then the grist was divided among the families. One year the meal was used up and the corn was too soft to grind. The days of time passed before corn could be dried by being carefully shelled and dried on sheets in the sun and taken to mill. People lived on potatoes and other vegetables, but no bread. Groceries were a scarce article. There was practically no tea ad coffee used. The substitutes for coffee were cornbread browned to a cinder and rye grains scorched. Willow leaf tea was used. Many a family didn't buy a pound of sugar for two or three years.
Once in 6 weeks or 2 months a peddler's wagon came. Money was scarce. Many a family didn't own $5.00 the first year here. They lived on what was raised and wore old clothes. It was the fashion to buy domestic muslin, color it with sumac berries or maple bark and make it into dresses which would last for years. No tailor or milliner came for over 5 years. Sunbonnets were the only wear.
The common jealousies that would come in colonies of that kind arose, and everybody wanted to dissolve it. It was done by common consent. Each man had his own farm and the colony farm sold and the price divided and went into the hands of an individual. The colony survey and ownership of the site of Hopeville was declared of no account and it was sold for a farm. If the buyer had not found that he was expected to pay for its previous survey into town lots, no town would ever have been there. But he rebelled against it as an injustice before the sale was finished and the site was bought by David Newton who sold the lots and so became the founder of this classic city of our county.
The winters were too cold to set out orchards for years but finally, T. Gregg succeeded and others followed.
The town was laid out around a public square consisting of an entire block, which formed the center of the village. The first schoolhouse in Hopeville was a log cabin. A few of the youngest could go to school, the older children had to stay home and work. In this building all public gatherings were held. Here, too, the Methodist Episcopal Church of the village was organized and held its first meetings. A little later more people arrived and those of the Baptist faith erected a little log cabin for themselves. Meanwhile, people of the Christian church organized and held meetings at the home of Dr. Jesse Emery. With the passing of tie, small frame houses came to take the place of log cabins. About 1860, two frame churches--Methodist and Christian--were erected.
These two churches were south of the village square, facing north. Each had two front doors, one for the men and the other for the women and children. A family would come together to the platform along the front, then separate, the men going to one side, the women and children to the other side. If there were a large family of children the father as well as the mother might accompany them and sit on the women's side to assist in maintaining quiet and reverence during the long services. On Sunday evenings young men might accompany their sweethearts and sit with them on the distaff side. When the church was crowded, the women might sit on the men's side while the men stood at the rear or outside looking in at an open window.
At a time in the history of Hopeville there were four churches established, Methodist, Christian, New-Light and Dunkard.
When the [Civil] war was over, the Grand Army post at Hopeville became one of the strongest in southwestern Iowa, and the Hopeville Grand Army Fife and Drum Corps served its own and neighboring communities for many years. A remnant of that patriotic group was taken to Murray to help celebrate Armistice Day in 1918 at the close of World War I.
There was a time in the decade of the sixties when Concordia Lodge No. 215 at Hopeville was one of the strongest Masonic Lodges in that section of Iowa. Members came for miles around and frequently remained to an early hour to partake of refreshments. In 1869 when the new lodge was being established at Murray the ladies brushed past the tiler to serve refreshments to all present. It was a compete surprise to the lodge members and so the Murray lodge was named Surprise Lodge No. 369. Thereafter the membership in the Hopeville Lodge soon dwindled and Concordia Lodge No. 215 was moved to Thayer.
When Hopeville was in its heyday there was an array of hitching posts surrounding the four sides of the village square where farmers might hitch their teams while they did the shopping and many were the occasions when all the hitching posts were in use. In 1869 Hopeville was the second largest town in Clarke county--being surpassed only by Osceola. At that time the town boasted "three general variety stores, two grocery stores, one drug store, one school, one tin shop, one harness shop, one shoe shop, one wagon shop, two blacksmith shops, two lawyers and three physicians."
In 1870 the citizens of Hopeville celebrated the Fourth of July "under their own vine and fig tree." Ample arrangements were made to accommodate the audience "a large and commodious bower having been previously erected adjoining the Christian church. A procession was formed in the morning headed by the Hopeville Martial Band, which marched to the grounds. The meeting was called to order by Chief Marshal Harlan, and James Bates, Esq. was elected President. The Declaration of Independence was read by O. G. Brown, who did credit himself as a reader." The oration was delivered by M. B. Reese, a resident of Hopeville and a veteran of the war of 1812, volunteered a toast to the "sons of Iowa" which was responded by M. B. Reese. Upon the adjournment of the meeting the Calathumpeans, in fantastic garbs made their appearance and entertained the audience; their performance was quite laughable. "The Glee club, which discoursed such fine music," the Osceola Republican declared, deserved much praise. It is but to say that the best musical talent in Clarke County is to be found in Hopeville, and the best that Hopeville had was furnished on that occasion.
In 1871, Wm. Adkins taught classes in vocal music. He lived on a farm near Hopeville. A minister once remarked about Wm. that he was the best tune raiser of any man he ever saw or knew, leading the singing with no piano or organ.
Milton Ashley kept weather records at Hopeville starting in 1884 and continued until 1911.
In 1906 hopes of obtaining adequate transportation facilities were revived. In January of that year the Osceola Sentinel said, "Hopeville is wonderfully excited over the prospect of getting two railroads, one from Sioux City via Winterset, Thayer and Hopeville on to St Louis. This is to be a standard gauge cable track State Railroad. The route has been viewed and pronounced practicable. The papers of incorporation will soon be filed and as soon as the Company gets their franchise the route will be surveyed and the work on the grade will begin as soon as spring opens up. The other road is to be a Motor from Creston to Arispe on to Osceola via way of Hopeville and Lacelle. Those who want to buy Hopeville property had better do so at once as property as already advance 25 percent and the boom has just begun. For thirty years we have been living between hope and fear, hoping for a railroad and fearing it would not come. How gratifying, even in our old age and declining years, to think that our fond hopes are about to be realized. Already we fancy we see a fine depot standing on some nearby spot where we may be able to catch the morning train to Osceola without having to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning, drive 10 miles over rough roads or through mud and rain, but in a palace car we shall reach the city, transact business, shake hands with our old friends, return home in the evening and wonder how we got along so many years without a railroad.
In May of that year a Hopeville news item reported that "The two strangers who are stopping at the Dewey house are here in the interest of a new railroad. They are pricing the lots and looking the city over." At least in the thought of the news reporter, Hopeville had become a city and there was hope that it might flourish with the coming of the railroad.
But alas, hopes vanish! By August 1906, it was apparent that the railroad would not come.
It is reported that on one occasion during the days of the Civil War a copperhead came to town and was "giving free voice to his opinions" when the commanding officer of the militia ordered him placed under arrest. He was sullen and impudent and refused to salute the flag. Where upon he was compelled to carry the flag around the village square while a few members of the militia prodded him with their bayonets. He was then ordered to kiss the flag three times and give three cheers for Lincoln.
Upon at least one occasion in later years the village square was used for a funeral. On October 4, 1906 a newspaper reported this item: Our town was all excitement last week over the sudden death of Uncle Abe Coon. He was out in the orchard helping his wife gather peaches when he fell stricken with apoplexy and lived but a few hours. The funeral was held in the park Thursday because no church in town was large enough to accommodate the people in attendance.
The first murder committed in Hopeville was that of old Dr. Lucas in 1855. A man named Jacobs shot him. Jacobs had been arrested for horse stealing Bad blood came up between Jacobs and Lucas because Jacobs was going to make a confession that would have wrongly reflected on Dr. Lucas. Jacobs waylaid the Dr on his premises and killed him instantly. Jacobs was tried, convicted and sentenced for horse stealing but was never tried for murder. He left Hopeville and never appeared again.
Hopeville was the center for the horse thief gang. There were two livery stables here. Adult fights were of common occurrence. Stealing buggy whips, lap robes and harness decorations occurred every night in town.
There was a jail northwest of the square to accommodate the lawless victims.
At one time there was a Creamery here run by a man named Toby.
A man by the name of Sammy Cane ran a saloon in Hopeville. One night after everyone had gone to bed, a group of women broke in the saloon and dumped out all the liquor.
Joseph Smith operated the stockyards in Hopeville.
Hopeville had large crowds on the Fourth of July celebrations. The one particular kind of entertainment was the one-horse swing or merry-go-round. Lemonade was made in large tubs and all you could drink for a nickel. Horseshoe contests, ball games, spelling bees and ciphering matches were common sources of entertainment. Horse racing and betting were as common as car racing today.