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History of Keswick

The following history has been graciously submitted by  Anita Von Ahsen. It was written by her grandmother during the early 1970s and is a collection of her and her husband's (Anita's grandfather) memories, as well as memories passed down to her from her and her husband's parents.

Keswick is a small town in Keokuk County in Southeastern Iowa with a population of around two hundred and fifty or more people. In 1879 the land was surveyed so a railroad could be built through this part of the county. Road beds were graded and built and by 1880, in Keokuk County, there were stations at Kinross, South English, Webster, Keswick, Thornburg, and What Cheer. They wanted to go to What Cheer and Thornburg because of the plentiful coal mines. The train was to run from Iowa City to Montezuma to carry the mail for ninety nine years.

A little town of Aurora was started two and a half miles north of the present site of Keswick, a few years before this. There was a blacksmith shop owned by Frank Brakel, a distant relative of Eva Bowman, a Post Office, a store and a few homes. They moved this town to Keswick when the railroad went through.

J.B.A. Robertson built the first general store on the west side of the street where the Toothman building is. Warren Robertson was the first baby born in Keswick and was
named Warren Keswick Robertson. He was elected Governor of Oklahoma in later years.

Jared Irwin started the first furniture store and undertaking business. The telephone switch board was in the same building and was operated by Mrs. Jared (Belle) Irwin, a
little lady with long curls.

T.E. Johns opened a grocery store on the present location of Home Town Market. Around the year of 1888, Jack Lightfoot built the first brick building which now houses the present post office. There was a restaurant and the post office in the same building.

Dan Fasold built and opened a hardware store and a wagon and buggy shop on the corner south across from Home Town Market, where Wilhite's have their used tractors and cars parked. A blacksmith shop was built in the same location as the old Hungerford blacksmith shop or the present American Legion Hall.

My grandparents, the O.C. Harding family moved in from the Springdale Community and he had a deep well drilling business. Many of the deep wells around here and all
over eastern Iowa were drilled by him.

Dr. Ira Cameron, one of Keswick's early boosters had graduated from Medical School in Cincinnatti, Ohio and had started practicing in Aurora in 1876. He built the drug firm of Cameron and Son at Keswick located on the corner where Bair's own what used to be Strohman's Hardware. He also built a big house that is now the home of Dale Sauer.

The first bank was in a wooden frame building, where Wilhites Implement Store now stands. The bank was started by Tommy Johns, Warren Wilson and Warren Higgins
around the year of 1890. A roller skating rink, and dance hall were in this location before this.

The office of Bender Bros. Oil Company and the home of Anna Bender was the first house. It was moved in from Aurora to the corner where Zoe Wilson now lives by J.B.A. Robertson. It was later moved to its present location and another house was built on that corner by George Stahl. Some of the early homes were on that lot where Verne Dobbins lives. Also the house where Mrs. Bridget Lenaghan lives and the home of Jesse Higgins.

Some of the early pioneers who helped settle the town were Jared Irwin, Asa Baldwin, who lived at the east edge of Keswick, Curt (O.C.) Harding, Henry Churchill, Higgins, Wilson, Robertson, Greene, Pine, Graham, Hummer, Irons, Gross, Cover, and many other names, with their families.

A creamery was built on the corner lot where Eddie Aduddell's home now stands.

The present well on the place is the old creamery well. The Creamery bought cream, eggs, and poultry. They churned the cream and made butter, dressed poultry and shipped it to the cities. The cream haulers of which my father, Jim Churchill was one for several years, drove a team of mules hitched to a wagon and started out about 5 or 5:30 in the morning and drove many miles a day, going from house to house gathering up cream. The cream was kept in stone jars, at the homes and measured with a metal ruler, by the inch. It was emptied into large buckets and hauled to the creamery where it was tested and churned into butter.

The children of Keswick went to a country school located east of Gerald Dennison's buildings. In 1880 a two room school house was built. This soon became too small. A high school was added in 1895 in the old Odd Fellow's building.

A brick building was built in 1899 and was used until 1917. It was located in the west part of town where Clarence Wilhites and Dean Thomas' residences are. The present bulding was built in 1916, and they moved into it in February 1917.

In 1888 at the Annual Conference of the Iowa Methodist Church the Millersburg Circuit was divided and the south part named the Keswick Circuit. Church services were held in the Depot before this. A church was built and used until 1917 when the present church was built. There was also a Methodist Episcopal Church in Keswick. The churches merged in 1939.

The Catholic church was built in 1917, before that they held services in the George Stahl home.

The American Legion Post was organized and named after James Murphy, a young man from Keswick who was killed in World War I.

Some of the many businesses that have been in Keswick over the years were the Keswick Tile Factory, Tom Naylor's Seed and Ice business, The Keswick Hotel, The Livery Barnes, Ed Fry's Restaurant, Don Show's Drag Lines, Charley Hummer's Story (jewelry) and many others. A weekly newspaper first the Courier and later the Keswick Leader operated for a number of years.

Many, many more pages could be written on the history of Keswick.

And, I wish she had written more. Keep in mind, this must have been around 1971 as it was about that time that the last train went through town. She passed away in 1975. Many of the names and businesses that she used as "landmarks" have also now passed on. Homes have new owners, businesses have new names. But many of the original buildings are still there, including a couple houses mentioned as having been moved in from Aurora, the little town that met it's demise when the railroad went through. The Keswick School is even gone, as of last year. All students attend  Tri-County at Thornburg.

Also, handwritten was the following attached to this little history. It was taken from "History of Iowa" published in 1880.
"Adams Township...This township is located in the north part of the county and corresponds with the Congressional township No. 77 range 12. For several years after it began to be settled, it was part of English River township. In 1850 it had a population of 59. In 1875 there were 949 inhabitants. In 1849, Martin Ballard taught the first school. William P. Gross was the first married man.

The first town laid out was Aurora situated on sections 3 and 4.

In 1879, the town of Keswick on the line of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Northern Railroadway was laid out.

Justices of the Peace were T.E. Johns, and Thomas Cover.

Trustees were Daniel Gorden, Thomas Cover.

Clerk was A.H. Stephenson.

Assessor was J.F. Burdine."

Anita Von Ahsen

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