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History of Clayton County, Iowa
Chapter XXXIX

Sperry Township

Volga City

Sperry Township
(page 1081-1086)

Sperry Township, 92 north, range 6 west, lies just north of Cass Township, in the western tier of townships. It contains both woodland and prairie, and is watered by the Volga River, with its tributaries.

In 1842 John Paddelford, of Delaware County, visited the bottoms of the Volga River, and staked out his first claim. There were with him his brother Leveret and John Nagle. The latter had already staked out his claim on what is now known as the Gordon farm. There were but two other white men in the neighborhood - Joseph Hewitt, an Indian trader, whom the Indians called "Kunckershucker," and Asa Parks. Mr. Paddelford, after making his first claim here, returned for a time to his home in Delaware County. He came back again in 1845, built a house and commenced breaking near where he now lives. He brought with him 160 hogs, which he turned out in the spring to get their living in the timber, and the following fall all he could find of them were twenty-three, which made him feel like a poor man. He is satisfied that most of these swine did not die a natural death, and he is also satisfied that the Indians did not steal them, leaving one to infer that the hogs had been killed by wild animals, or that they had taken Horace Greeley's advice and "gone West."

The first white child born in Sperry was Jane, the daughter of Asa Parks, afterward the wife of Thomas Boots, of Elkader. She died in Elkader in 1879. Elder Henry Gifford built the first house on Volga bottom, and his two children were the first interments in the graveyard near Volga City.

In the spring of 1847 James Lowe, his wife Betty and his children moved from Dane County, Wis., to the farm where he lived until his death, Dec. 3, 1878, bringing with him his cattle, sheep and household goods. Mrs. Lowe died Aug. 14, 1877. A few weeks later F.G. Cummings and family came and settled on section 8, where Frank Davis, his son-in-law, now lives.

At that time the other white persons living in the neighborhood who have not been named were Messrs. Chilson, Taylor, Nichols, Silvers and William Boots.

In talking with some of these old settlers of their recollections of the early settlement of this township, they first speak of the Winnebago Indians, who occupied a reservation forty-five miles wide, lying north of the north line of Sperry Township. The reservation extended westward forty-four miles from the Mississippi. The Indians were required to remain within these limits, but it seems that they sometimes got over the line. Mr. Lowe has seen a line of Indian camps, or wigwams, commencing where Mr. Pardee's shop in Volga City afterward stood, and continuing up that side of the river for perhaps half a mile; and at another time there were about 400 Indians camped on the bottom, between where Mr. Paddelford now lives and the Volga River. They came for the purpose of hunting and fishing. The Indians are spoken of as being honest, generous in their dealings with he whites, and always peaceable, except when they were full of whisky - an item of civilization introduced by the whites. At such times the squaws would gather up all the knives, guns and other implements that were lying around loose, and hide them, to prevent accidents. It is said that somewhere near the Volga a white man was killed by some drunken Indians, and the same season, as Mr. Lowe and his wife were getting ready one evening to go to the house of William Boots to hear a man preach, two Indians, partially drunk, came to his house with a small keg, which they wanted filled with "whis," and in payment they offered a dollar. Mr. Lowe tried to tell them that he had none, but they would not take "no" for an answer, and still insisted on having some. As Mrs. Lowe and the children, not without reason, appeared to be somewhat afraid of them, Mr. Lowe put on his hat, and coaxing the Indians to follow him, went some distance from the house and laid down in the grass. The Indians did the same, and so they remained till about ten o'clock, when the Indians got up, shook hands with Mr. Lowe and went away. If Mrs. Lowe then showed any fear of the Indians, she got over it quickly, as the following will show: One day, when Mr. Lowe was away from home, the family heard a disturbance among the sheep. Mrs. Lowe went to see what was the matter, and there stood two Indians, whose dogs were chasing the sheep. She told them to call off their dogs, but they only laughed at her and then encouraged the dogs to further mischief. The case was becoming serious. Her children's winter clothing depended on those sheep, and her patience soon gave way. She grasped a hoop-pole lying near her, and went for those Indians as only an infuriated woman can do. She whipped the red-skins, drove off the dogs, and went home triumphant.

The Indians were not stingy in their dealings with the white people. Mr. Nagle used to tell that while the Indians occupied their reservation, some friends visiting at this house wished to go and see them. Mr. Nagle took with him as a present about half a sack of flour, which he handed to a chief, who handed it to a squaw, with some directions in the Indian language. When Mr. Nagle went back to his wagon, he found the sac half-full of maple sugar. The Indians were removed from their reservation by the Government about 1849.

In 1842, buffalo were killed near where Taylorsville now stands, and elks were plentiful at that time, and later, as many as forty having been seen sometimes in one drove. Mr. Paddelford says that while sitting on his horse he has counted as many as sixty deer at one time. There were also bears, panthers, lynxes and wolves in abundance; the wolves were of three kinds, black, gray and prairie wolves.

The first school taught in this district, which then included all of Sperry and Cox Creek Townships, was in a house belonging to F.G. Cummings. The lady teacher received $5 per month. The following winter a male teacher, Noel Harrow, was engaged, who received $10 per month. The first school-house in the township was built of logs, and was located between where Mr. J.G. Whitford and Mrs. J.F. Campbell now live. The logs were cut and hauled by Messrs. Cummings, Nagle and Paddelford, who made no charge to the district for the time and material used. At that time there was no County Superintendent to either grant or refuse certificates to applicants, but the three directors were the Board of Examiners, who were to judge of the qualifications of the applicant. There are now eight schools in the township, besides the graded school in Volga City.

The first election held in this precinct was in the spring of 1847, at the house of Palmer Newton, near Brush Creek, and west of Taylorsville. The precinct embraced the present townships of Sperry, Cox Creek and Cass, and the country west as far as the town of Fayette, in Fayette County, and at the first election there were about twenty-five votes polled. After the election was over, the trustees drew cuts to decide which of them should take the election returns to Guttenberg. It fell to the lot of Mr. Paddelford to go, and he made the round trip on foot. The rives and creeks being swollen, on account of the recent heavy rains, made the trip anything but a pleasant one. At an election held at Volga City, in the spring of 1855, Squire Morley presided, and exercised great caution lest some unqualified persons should vote. He rather overdid the thing, however, when he asked Frank Marsh if he was a "natural born citizen!" When Marsh replied that he supposed he was born as naturally as other folks were, the objection was withdrawn and the ballot was accepted.

The first blacksmith shop in Sperry Township was in the southwest part, and owned by Frank Crosby.

The first grist-mill was built in Volga City, by Alvah Bevins. In 1876 Ensign & Marble built the "Centennial" grist-mill on section 29, which continues in operation.

The Star Creamery was built on section 36, by W.A. Simmons, in 1879.

At the time the first settlements were made in this township, the nearest postoffices were Prairie du Chien and Dubuque.

James Lowe organized the first Sunday-school in this township, and had charge of it till the first Methodist class was formed, in 1849, by Rev. J.L. Kelly. The class consisted of seven persons - John Nagle, Leader; Mrs. Nagle, R. Nichols and wife, Rachel A. Nichols, afterward Mrs. J.H. Welch, and Mr. Taylor and wife.

A Free-Will Baptist society was formed at the house of F.G. Cummings, in 1848, by Elder Bixby. There were at first seven members - F.G. Cummings and wife, James Lowe and wife, F. Crosby, Samuel Garrotson and Mrs. Rogers. Two other persons were baptized and admitted to membership the following Sabbath.

The first public celebration of Independence day in this township was held in Volga City, July 4, 1855, and was a grand success. At least none found fault with the excellent dinner that was provided on that day. Wm. Gould was orator of the day, and W.A. Penfield was reader of the Declaration of Independance. When it was time to commence the exercises they discovered that they had neglected to provide a chaplain. After some trouble, a brother was found who consented to come on the stand and pray provided they would give him his dinner, to which they agreed. A celebration was also held here in 1862, with Hon. B.T. Hunt as orator. The other speakers were Mr. Chesley, Rev. A. Clark, Rev. R. Norton and Rev. J.G. Whitford, who on that occasion referred touchingly to the death of his son James, in the army. The war had at that time commenced, and a number of young men from this township had already enlisted. Some had also fallen before the enemy. The money received by the ladies of the sanitary society for dinner, ice-cream, etc., which they provided, was given for the benefit of the sick and disabled soldiers. The people tried to be cheerful, but the general feeling seemed to be that sorrow was treading on the heels of joy. One of the toasts on that occasion was "The ladies of Volga City Sanitary Society. God bless them for the great interest they manifest in the cause of the sick and wounded soldiers." This toast was responded to by three cheers from the assembled multitude, with an earnestness rarely equaled.

The greater part of two companies for support of the Union cause were enlisted in Sperry Township.

The first Justices of Peace in the township were Moses Hewett and F.G. Cummings. The present incumbents are S. Hawthorne, W.H.Horton and S.R. Graham.

Some of the early and permanent settlers deserve particular mention. Among the men who have labored to build up Volga City, Henry White is conspicuous. Coming in 1860, he has been prominent in nearly every enterprise of magnitude since. He is the proprietor of an addition to Volga City and of the Merchant Mill, and was Postmaster from 1861 to 1875. He served several terms as Supervisor, and one in the State Legislature.

Captain Alvah Bevins, who came in 1854, was prominently identified with the township. He settled on the farm now owned by Daniel Green. He bought Mr. Gould's saw-mill, and built the grist-mill as stated above. He also built the first bridge across the Volga in Sperry Township. He was chosen Captain of Company E, Ninth Infantry, and was killed in the brave discharge of his duties at Pea Ridge.

Lieutenant D.C. Baker was a son-in-law of Captain Bevins, and enlisted at the same time. He was promoted Captain and served two years. Soon after the war he removed to Ottawa, Ill., and he is now at Grinnell, Iowa.

S. Pardee, one of the few surviving old settlers, came to this place in June, 1851. He has been a prominent worker and a public-spirited man. He has held the office of Township Trustee oftener than any other man in the township.

Jas.F. Campbell was another early settler and prominent man. He held various township offices, and served the citizens most acceptably. He died on the farm on which he first settled, March 20, 1882.

F.G. Cummings and Jason Butler, old settlers, died a number of years since. John Nagle, one of the first settlers, sold his farm, and removed to Hardin County, Iowa.


Volga City
(page 1086-1089)

This thriving village was laid off in the southern half of section 3, township 92 north, rage 6 west, in November, 1851. The survey was made by Ezra Hurd, and the proprietors were William H. Gould, Mary Jane Gould and A.L.Gould. An addition was made in 1857 by A.C. Woodward and Mary Jane Woodward, and one was made at the same time by M.M. Johnson, one in 1867 by Stephen Bush, and one in 1877 by Henry White and others. Wm. H. Gould, the principal proprietor, came here in 1851, and established his claim on parts of sections 3 and 10. He was a man of some talent, and built a saw-mill in the summer of 1851, that was different in kind from any other in existence, for which he subsequently obtained a patent from the Government. He moved west in 1864, after selling most of his property to Henry White.

The first frame house in Volga City was built by Solomon Gould in 1851.

In a very early day S. Harvey and W.H. Gould began trade with a small stock of dry-goods, groceries and other general merchandise. The first hardware store was started by Geo. L. Tremain, who left after a few months. The "old brick store," as it was called, was put up in 1855 on the corner of Cass and Washington streets by Messrs. Woodward & Lowe. It was afterward owned by various parties. It was the principal corner in the village until White & Lowe's stone block was completed on White's addition. In the winter of 1881-'2 the building was moved to its present site, and is now used by M. L. Blake & Co. as a general dry-goods store. Meuth Bros. occupy the stone block built by Nelson Clark as a general store. William A. Penfield started his furniture store in 1874. He does an undertaking business also. J. M. White sells general merchandise in the stone block, where also W. P. White keeps a drug store. Hawthorne Bros. sell dry goods and groceries. E. Copeland deals in hardware. C. F. Bevins, the Postmaster, also keeps a general grocery store and a boarding house.

The first blacksmithy in Volga City was erected in the spring of 1854 by James Ambrose. He died in 1857, and the business was carried on by Jonas Beach for a time, until he removed to Illinois. Then Alfred Crosby and N.S. Nash started a shop, and they were succeded by E. C. Hill and J. Mitchell. Mitchell afterward sold out. W. A. Westcott had a shop for a time. Myron Lamphear has presided at his forge since 1865. W. F. Munger is also at the same trade. S. Pardee was the first wagon-maker. Witt & Achsner and Marion Dye are doing a good business in that line. George Wright is a machinist, and does repairing. J.N. Whipple is a harness-maker. H. White & Co. have started a boot and shoe factory, employing some half dozen hands.

Alvah Bevins bought the saw-mill of W. H. Gould, and erected a grist-mill in 1857, the first in Volga City, as well as the first in the township. Previous to that time the settlers had their wheat ground at Prairie du Chien, Cascade or Quasqueta, until the Elkader Mill was built, when they went to Elkader. Henry White is now the proprietor of this mill. J. E. Smith's steam feed-mill was erected in 1880.

The first regular physician came to Volga City about 1853. His name was J. L. Dunn. He remained here about three years, and then went West. Dr. C. L. Cuthbert was here for a year of two, and then enlisted in the army as a surgeon. Dr. P. R. Slingsby was here from 1861 to 1867, and then moved to Wisconsin. Dr. J.W. McLean, a graduate of Rush Medical College at Chicago, came in 1868, and in 1881 removed to Fayette, Iowa. The profession is at present represented by Dr. W. H. Horton, who came in 1877, and Dr. J. H. Craig, of Rush Medical College, who came in 1881.

The first persons interred in the Volga City Cemetery were two children of Henry Gifford, in 1846.

The first school was taught by Nancy Finch, of Fayette County, in 1855.

The first graded school was opened in the summer of 1874, with Miss Parma Olmsted as principal, and Miss Cynthia Hawthorne as primary teacher. Volga City independent district was organized in 1879, and the first teachers in this independent district were Miss Mattie M. Stacy and Miss Ida M. Benson. A. O. Clark and Miss Stacy teach at present.

The first hotel was kept by S. Harvey, in 1855. He died in 1856. Mrs. Harvey then conducted it alone till her marriage with E. C. Hill, in 1858, and they together have run it ever since. Their house is called the City House. The Davidson Hotel was built in 1855, by John W. Lowe and John Reed. B. A. E. Davidson bought the place in 1869, and in the spring of 1882 sold to E. W. Marble. J.S. Palmer kept a hotel from 1877 to 1881, when he moved to Fayette.

The first livery stable was started in 1869, by J. F. Jersey, who died in 1874. Sherman & Lowe started a livery and feed stable in 1875, moving to Delaware County after two years. In the fall of 1877 George E. Horton started a stable, and in 1881 he sold out to A. Wandell.

James Hawthorne built the first creamery, operating it until 1879, when the bulding was enlarged and converted into a store. The Volga City Creamery, established in 1879, is now managed by White, Parsons & Company.

The first Postmaster was W. H. Gould, appointed in 1851. Resigning in 1855, he was succeeded by Thos. J. Piper, who held the office until 1857, when Alvah Bevins was appointed. Four years later Henry White was appointed, and he in turn was succeeded in 1875, C. F. Bevins.


Mountain Shade Lodge, No. 279, A. F. & A. M., held its first meeting Feb. 15, 1870, and charter was granted by the grade lodge in June, 1870. The first officers were: W. M., John H. Welch; S.W., O.A. Phillip; J.W., E.D. Welch; Treasurer, W.H. Ross; Secretary, J.J. Freeman; S.D., J.W. Mclean; J.D., J.W. Lowe; Tyler, E.C. Hill. The present membership is twenty-three and the present officers are: W.M., S. Morse; S.W., W.W. Goodwin; J.W., John Ewing; Treasurer, John D. Welch; Secretary, William A. Penfield; S.D., T.M. Davidson; J.D., E.D. Welch; Tyler, W.F. Munger.

Volga Lodge, No. 321, I.O.O.F., was instituted Aug. 12, 1875, by D.W. Redfield. The first officers were: N. G., Nelson Clark; V.G., T.M. Davidson; Secretary, H.A. Hollister; Treasurer, James R. Hill; Warden, David Jewell. Present membership is thirty-six.


Methodist Episcopal Church. - The first sermon in the vicinity of Volga City was preached by Rev. Mr. Brier, in 1849. The first class was formed in the fall of the same year by Rev. J.L. Kelley, who followed Mr. Brier. It consisted of seven persons. In the fall of 1850, Rev. S.H. Greenup came to preach among the people.

Elkader Circuit, or mission, was organized in 1851, from parts of the Colesburg and Garnavillo Circuit. Rev. J.G. Whitford was pastor, assisted by Rev. Sidney Wood. Mr. Whitford, after preaching over forty years, still lives, on section 9. In the fall of 1852 Rev. Isaac Newton was assigned to the circuit. There were successively assigned to the same post Revs. C.M. Sessions, Harvey Taylor, Moses Predmore, M. Whitmore, F.C. Mather, Thomas More, Joseph R. Cameron, Wm. Cobb, B.D. Alden, B.F. Taylor, J.F. Hestwood, P.E. Miller, J.M. Ferris, Charles Cressy, T.E. Fleming and J.S. McIntyre, the present incumbent, who commenced his duties in October, 1881.

The first Board of Trustees were J. E. Smith, John H. Welch, Samuel Fitch, Wm. Harvey, F.F. Goodwin, W.W. Goodwin and J.G. Whitford. In 1864 a lot was secured and the church building erected thereon, and a new era was entered on. The church cost, when completed, $1,588.65. It was dedicated Jan. 21, 1866. There were at that time sixty members. The number is now reported at eighty. During the pastorate of Mr. Cressy a bell was bought and the church improved at considerable expense.

At what is known as the Union Church, Rev. John Brown, of the Baptist church, and Rev. David Jewell, of the Free-Will Baptist church alternately officiate. There are two flourishing Sunday-schools; W .W. Goodwin is Superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal school, and Henry White of the Union school. The first school was organized in 1856, with William A. Penfield as Superintendent.


This chapter concludes with biographical sketches.


transcribed by Sandy Bressler
source: History of Clayton County, Iowa, 1882, Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Co., 1882. Reproduced by the sponsorship of the Monona Historical Society, Monona, Iowa, reproduction Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphics, Inc., 1975; page 1081-1089


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