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Ellston Depot.jpg
CB&Q Depot, Ellston, Iowa
Courtesy of

Anticipating the arrival of the railroad across the State of Iowa, Mr. COCHRAN and Mr. LeFEVER built a general store in the town of Wirt in 1881. Upon the failure of the store six months later, it was sold. In March, 1882, the Humeston & Shenandoah Railroad established Wirt as one of their stations. With the establishment of Wirt, the post office was moved from three miles northeast at Union Hill in 1884. To avoid confusion in the mail delivery between Wirt and Van Wert of Decatur County, Iowa, the town’s name was changed to Ellston in 1895.

To meet the needs of area farmers and stock raisers, Ellston had a stockyards and scales located near the rails. J. E. EVANS, Ellston's first minister, helped erect a Methodist Church.

The westerly border of Ellston is county road P-64, originally part of the Dragoon Trace, a historic trail that ran north an d south through central Iowa and Missouri. Before the arrival of pioneers, the Dragoon Trace was trail worn into the Iowa sod by the passage of migrating buffalo and deer. Because this trail led to some sort of water source such as creeks and river, Native Americans adopted the migration trail. On September 10, 1845, Chief Keokuk sadly led the Sac People out of their beloved Iowa, single file down the Dragoon Trace to Fort Leavenworth.

Lieutenant GRIER and the remainder of Company I escorted approximately 300 straggler Sac People out of Iowa, following the Dragoon Trace in March of 1846. This ended the use of Fort Des Moines as a military post and the Sac People’s claim to Iowa land.

Although Iowa achieved statehood on December 28, 1846, it would be another 10 years before many settlers arrived in Ringgold County.

In January of 1886, a two-story frame schoolhouse was completed at the cost of $2,000. In 1886, E. R. PORTER and Louie CAMPBELL were the teachers for an enrollment of 60 students. The Wasp was the first newspaper which was published by a Mr. NOAH. Later, he sold the paper to John ABRAMS who changed the name to The News. John THRALL was the last publisher when the paper ceased publication in 1884.

Ellston arose after a devastating fire threatened the future of the town. Ellston's population peaked in the early 1920's to around 300 residents with a grain elevator, lumber yard, movie theater, real estate office, auto dealerships, several restaurants, implement dealership, general stores, hardware stores, a couple of hotels, banks, physicians, a blacksmith shop, a harness maker, and a library.

Ellston was the first Ringgold County town to establish a library. It was dedicated on May 13, 1900 with a $200 collection of books. The Home Culture Club managed the traveling library for the town.

Sun Valley Lake, one of the largest lakes in Iowa, is located approximately 2 miles northeast of Ellston. The first dirt work for the dam began in 1969. Permits for the dam was issued September 1st, 1970 with completion of the dam two years. later.



Business Portion Wiped Out ---Loss will Reach $11,000
The Origin of the Fire is Unknown -- List of Losers with Insurance

Fire destroyed nearly the entire business portion of the Town of Ellston early Sunday morning. The loss will reach $11,00, with an insurance of half that amount. The fire supposed to be the work of incendiaries.

The first alarm was given shortly before midnight, the flames being located at the northwest corner of J. C. FOUSER's store building occupied by Dr. A. C. ARMITAGE's drug store. The people quickly responded to the call, but as the town has no facilities for fighting fire, they could no nothing but carry out the goods. The flames spread east on the north side of Main street, and the strong wind caused them to cross over to the south side. The fire extended from the Arimitage store on the north to Guild's store on the east, and after burning nearly all the business houses swept on to the residences, of which three were burned with several brans and outhouses. When at last the fire was undercontrol, a total of sixteen buildings had been burned to the ground. Their contents, however, were nearly all saved except in the drug store where the fire originate. The rest of the night was spend in finding a place of sfety for the goods, some being stored in the United Presbyterian church, some in the I. O. O. F. hall, some in an ice house. The telephone office was burned, but the instrument was saved, and telephonic communication was soon obtained with surrounding towns, the office for the present being located in a smoke house. The fire is the most disastrous in the history of Ellston, but many of the losers will rebuild at once. The following is a list of the losses and insurance:

J. C. FOUSER, store building, loss $200; insurance $200
Dr. A. C. ARMITAGE, drug stock $3,150; insurance $2,000
A LENTZ, building, loss $300; insurance $200
A. H. GEIST, household goods, loss $300
Willis DIXON's building, grocery and phone office, loss $400; insurance $390
Dr. ARMITAGE, uncompleted store building, loss $600; uninsured
Mrs. SHEARER, store building, loss $900; insurance $600
W. Q. WHITE, hardware and furniture, loss $1,000; insurance $600
G. W. SHORTS, restaurant and meat market, loss $400; insurance $350
C. BROTHERTON, harness, loss $250; insurance $150
Mrs. A. HESS, dwelling, loss $300; insurance $200
J. GRABER, household goods, loss $100, uninsured
A. W. CORNWALL, store building and scales, loss $750; insured for $450
A. W. CORNWALL, stock of goods loss $2,500; damaged to the extent of $400
I. T. WALLER, residence, loss $400; insurance $300; barn loss $100
L. C. COSNER, household goods; total loss $150
Savilla BUCK, residence, loss $400; no insurance
T. JOHNSTON, household goods; loss $300
W. H. WALLER, two barns, loss $300; insurance $200
R. F. BALL, blacksmith shop, loss $100

NOTE: The date of this newspaper clipping had been cut off.

Photograph courtesy of Mike Avitt/Mount Ayr Depot Museum

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa

July 19, 1916
ELLSTON - Preston Hosack has charge of the depot since the resignation of Ray Phillips.

ELLSTON - The Ellston Savings Bank has remodeled its back room to suit the needs of Charles Moon, Ellston's real estate dealer. Mr. Moon is a live wire and has been enjoying a fine business since he embarked in the real estate business.

Ellston is to have a factory, capitalized at $50,000 for the Acme telephone and switchboard; the merchants short account fire proof system and other articles. The company has secured the hotel property and will erect a brick building 50 x 100 feet. The C.B. & Q. R.R. will build a switch back to the plant for the convenience of the company. Officers are B. F. Burwinkle, president; N. A. Burwinkle, vice-president; L. R. West, secretary; and Joseph Clough, treasurer.

~ ~ ~ ~

Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
July 26, 1916

ELLSTON: A meeting was held Tuesday night at Paul Jackson's barbershop for the purpose of organizing a band in Ellson. There was a good crowd present and over 20 pieces enrolled to start with and others are expected to enter.

Transcriptions by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2016

Ringgold Roots
Ringgold County Genealogical Society
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
April, 1981, Vol. II, Pp. 11-12


Ellston was formerly knows as Wirt, but the name was changed to Ellston in 1895 because it was on the same railroad line as Van Wert [Decatur County] and was a little confusing to everyone. The town was named for a Mr. ELLSTON who worked for the Railroad. The town grew up fast then. In the early 1900's, Ellston was the first town to have a public library, Hotel Livery Stable, and a Bank that was started in 1900 by Mr. LORD. The blank closed in 1929. Rural mail delivery was started in the early 1900's.

The first settlers were there by 1855 and in the early 1920's they got electricity.

Ellston is near the center of the most interesting historical area in this part of the state. It's set squarely on the ancient buffalo and emmigrant trail, The Dragoon Trace. It's also 15 miles south of the famous Mormon Trail.

When the Humeston & Shenandoah Railroad came through the dounty, Dr. John DAVIS and Abner GOODELL desired a station. The railroad company at first refused, but yielded when Dr. DAVIS gave the company the right of way for about two miles. They agreed to give a switch for this. In March 1882, Dr. DAVIS, at Dayton, ohio, sold his intersets to the company, and Mr. GOODELL soon after did the same, on the condition that the embryo village be given as full facilities as the other stations. GOODELL and DAVIS had platted twenty-eight acres north of the track. In 1884, a fe lots were surveyed south of the track. Mr. GOODELL acts as the agent for the town company.

Before the survey of the village, even, COCHRAN and LeFEVER built a store and began the sale of general merchandise. They were in business from July of 1881 to January of 1882, then they failed. HUGHEY & Son bought the store. The second mercantile establishment was opened by David NEWTON & Son from Hopeville [Clarke County, Iowa].

The nearest postoffice was Union Hill, three miles northeast where William CONE was postmaster. The postoffice was moved to Wirt, and the name of the latter adopted; and F. E. NEWMAN appointed postmaster. The present [1887] incumbent, Mrs. Wistoria HOUSE, succeeded him in January of 1885.

A fine two-story frame school house was finished in January, 1886, at a cost of about $2,000. School is taught for nine months, and two teachers are employed. These are, for 1886-87, F. R. PORTER and Louis CAMPBELL. The enrollment of the school is about sixty. The present school board is composed of W. H. WALLER, President; J. M. HUGHEY and James BAKER is Secretary, and Abner GOODELL, Treasurer.

The WASP was a paper published by a man named Noah, for about six months. he sold it to John ABRAMS, who changed the name to the News. The last proprietor was John THRALL, who ceased publication in 1884.

The Evangelical church of this place was organized some ten years ago, and met in various chool houses. In 1883 they built a good while frame house of worship at Wirt, at a cost of $1,600. Rev. WORTH preaches every Sunday. Frank NEWMAN is superintendent of the Sunday school.

Banner Lodge, No. 437, A.F.&A.M., was organized at Grand River in 1882, and moved to Wirt in July, 1886. The present officers are: H. B. BROTHERS, Worshipful Master; J. P. MAXWELL, Senor Warden; J. W. JOHNSON, Junior Warden; Henry WALLER, Secretary, Henry STANLEY, Treasurer. The lodge meets on Friday evening on or before each full moon.

A lodge of the Anti-Horse Thief Association meets montly, alternately at Wirt and at the Ozier school house.

Following are the business firms of 1886:

    HUGHEY & Son, general store & creamery     A. M. BRUCE, mgr. creamery
    M. BUCK & Son, hardware    F. E. NUWMAN, grocery & notions
    Oliver SCOTT, general store    W. H. WALLER, grocery & meat
    Andrew J. HESS, Ohio House hotel    F. F. HOUKE, blacksmith
    W. L. EMBREE, lumber    C. F. CONE, blacksmith
    Andrew J. HESS, livery stable    C. A. JACKSON, station agent
    William HOUSE, barber     Mrs. Wistoria HOUSE, Postmistress

  Ellston is holding their Centennial celebration on July 4th [1981].


Ringgold County History Compiled and written by the Iowa Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Iowa, Sponsored by Ringgold County Superintendent of Schools, Mount Ayr, Iowa. 1942.

Written & Submitted by Sharon R. Becker, 2008; updated May of 2010

  • CORNWALL Home & Pioneer Museum
          contribution by Gene Dolson
  • Emmett LILES Unit 541 American Legion
  • Emmett LILES Unit 541 American Legion Auxiliary
  • Wirt No. 554 I.O.O.F. Lodge
  • Ellston School
  • Ellston High School Graduates, 1895 - 1956
  • Ellston, 2009


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