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Golden Anniversary Book of Story City

An Album of Pictures from Early Days Down to the Present
Paul A. Olson, Publisher
June, 1931

Historical and Introductory

The reader has in his hands a copy of the Golden Anniversary Book of Story City. It has been compiled with the thought of bringing vividly to the minds of the present generation what has been accomplished here in the past fifty years; that is, since the town was incorporated in the year 1881; also to refresh the minds of older people of the days that have gone so swiftly.

While the history of the community really begins at a period over seventy-five years ago, the present thought is to emphasize our Golden Anniversary, as it was with the coming of the railroads in the early 80's that the present town began to take on the form which the generation of today recognizes as Story City. However, one must recognize the importance of the years that preceded the incorporation of the town, as that was the formative period in which most of the men and women came to this community who were to set their stamp indelibly upon its future life.


Story county was a part of Benton county in 1837 and even later. The present bound aries were established and defined in 1846. The county was named after the eminent jurist, Joseph Story, who was for a third of a century associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The growth of the county in population is shown as follows :

Year	Population
1852 	214
1855 	1,568
1856	2,868
1864 	5,000
1867 	6,888
1875 	13,311
1880 	16,906
1890 	18,127
1900 	23,159
1910 	24,083
1920 	26,185
1930	31,141

The first settlements in what is now Lafayette township were made in the spring of 1852 by Robert Bracken, George and Daniel Prime, and John, Jesse and Samuel Smith, who located near the present site of Story City. In 1853 came James C. Smith with his three sons, James, Isaac and Fletcher, and a son-in-law, Isaac Blades, Jonah Griffith, H. L. Boyes and Joseph Brouhard. N. N. Sheffield and LaCount Lambert built the first house at Story City. This house was erected by setting four crotches in the ground, covered with prairie grass and sided up with quilts and carpeting.

During 1856 a great many settlers came to the new country including Jonas Duea, Paul Thompson, Mons C. Grove, E. R. Sheldahl and others, and a small store was started at Story City (then Fairview) by a Mr. Jennis and a steam saw mill by Mr. House. A postoffice was established late in 1856 or early 1857, with Frederick W. Rhoades as postmaster. Rhoades was succeeded by Noah Harding, who retained the office until succeeded by Lars R. Larson, who was in turn succeeded by M. Swartout in 1886.

Story City was laid out as a town in 1878 and together with Fairview incorporated as Story City in December, 1881. Capt. W. A. Wier was elected mayor. Those who have held the office since follow in order: O. B Peterson, C. W. Allen, H. R. Boyd, W. D. Gandrup, E. M. Harrington, W. A. Wier, T. T. Henryson, L. Sherven, E. L. Ericson, E. M. Harrington, M. O. Marvick, Alex Henderson, C. L. Johnson, J. H. Jacobson, H. E. Myrah and M. C. Townswick.

The first settlers came to this community largely from Indiana, New York and Pennsylvania. In 1855 and the following years began the stream of Norwegian settlers, largely from Illinois at first and then later direct from the old country. In the late 60's and early 70's our present Danish element had its beginning with immigrants direct from Denmark.

West of town, in the Mackey neighborhood, Germans settled about the same time, establishing a church two miles west of Mackey in 1876.

So it has come about that our citizenship has been made up largely of people from northern Europe, and the nature of our culture and enter-prises has resulted from the reaction of these sturdy races to the opportunities afforded by a new country and liberal institutions. Of course, there has been a good sprinkling of other nationalities, including "native Americans," who have taken their share - often a leading share - in the development of the town.

The first boatload of Norwegians who were later to settle in this community left Norway in 1847. The boat made the remarkable (at that time) speed of six weeks crossing the Atlantic. From New York the immigrants went by boat to Albany, then thru the canal to Buffalo, thence over the great lakes to Chicago, from where the rest of the journey was made by ox-team to their destination, Lisbon, Ill.

Of this large company the first ones to come to this part of Story county, in 1855, were Lars Sheldahl, Jonas Duea, Ole Thompson, John Mehus, Jacob Aske and John Tarvestad.

The same fall Torkel Henryson, Rasmus Aske, Erick Nelson and Jacob Brue came here, and in 1856 came a large company, including Rasmus and Erick Sheldahi, Rasmus Larson Tungesvig, etc. In 1857 came Osmond Henryson, Samuel Haaland, Knud Igland, John Charlson Hagen, Ole Braland, Anders Christenson, Peder Lars Tjernagel and Knud Helvig. In 1858 came Paul Thompson, Johannas Mathre, Knud Twedt, Lars Henderson and Baard Beroen.

The above are the earliest settlers on record coming from the Illinois colony. The following years the settlers came in throngs and the land was rapidly taken up. The first settlers bought the prairie land for $1.25 an acre from the government - and much of it was dear at that price.

Torkel Henryson - who, by the way, had organized the company of immigrants which left Norway for Lisbon, Ill., in 1847 - bought a section of land west of town and he kept selling off - portions of it to pay taxes until he had only a quarter section left.


To bring the story of the community down to the time of the incorporation in 1881, we can do no better than reprint what Capt. W. A. Wier wrote for the Story County Atlas in 1902:

Lafayette township was organized about 1853, and comprised Congressional Township 85-24 and the 'west one-half of 85-23.

The soil is a rich black loam of great depth and fertility, and well adapted to the growth of all the cereals of the temperate zone.

In 1858, the west half of 85-23, with the east half of said Township and range was organized as the township of Howard.

The surface of Lafayette township is gently rolling, except on the west along Keigley branch, and in the northeast along Skunk river, where it is somewhat hilly. The township is watered by Skunk river in the east, and Keigley branch in the western part. Skunk river enters the town-ship near the northeast corner of section one, and twists in and out of the township with remarkable facility, finally leaving the township near. its southeast corner. Keigley branch enters the township from the north, near the north-west corner of section five, and has a generally southeasterly course until it leaves the town-ship in section thirty-six.

When the writer hereof settled in the township, 1856, there was a goodly amount of timber along the river consisting largely of white, burr, red and black oak, black walnut, butter-nut or white walnut, hard and soft maple, basswood or linden, cotton-wood, honey-locust, ash, coffee-nut hickory, elm, etc., etc. Nearly all of the most valuable kinds have been used in fencing and building and what remains is valuable only for fuel.

Until about 1860 Skunk river was well stocked with fish: pike, pickerel, red-horse, buffalo, and several varieties of bass and catfish, furnished good sport to the angler, as well as a welcome addition to the bill of fare of the pioneer.

Keigley branch was also well stocked with pike and pickerel. Formerly, these streams were constant in their flow, but since the township has become thickly settled, and from the tilling and ditching of nearly all the land, requiring artificial drainage, Keigley branch is dry for most of the year, and Skunk river almost destitute of running water, except in the spring and at times of heavy rains.

The early settlers were hardy and healthy specimens of manhood and womanhood. Sickness was almost unknown and what little there was, nearly always readily yielded to the simple home treatment of the pioneer. I will, however, except the ague and fever, which continued with us until most of the prairie had been brought under cultivation, when the disease gradually disappeared, and with it to a great extent, the quinine bottle. In its place, however, we now boast of a fair supply of all the fashionable ailments of modern society.

Fairview was the first town laid out and platted in Lafayette township, and comprised thirteen acres in the southwest corner of the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of section twelve.

The promoters were D. M. Brown, George S. Prime and George W. Sowers. This was in 1855. The surveying was done in such a way that the north and south lines did not cross the east and west lines at right angles; this, however, was not discovered for two or three years, and later caused considerable confusion, and was finally settled only after a re-survey and some litigation.

When the writer came to Lafayette township, in 1856, as before stated, the only residents of Fairview were John J. Foot, who accommodated the traveling public, and Frederick W. Rhodes. There was a log house owned by Richard Jennis, unoccupied at that time, a small log blacksmith shop and a small residence partly finished; both the latter belonging to Wm. Estell. There was also the beginning of another house which never reached maturity.

At this time the residents of Lafayette township as I remember them were Francis Wier, Dr. Homer Cochran, Daniel Prime, Noah Harding, Robert Anderson, R. T. Anderson, J. S. Anderson, Frank Anderson, Robert Bracken, William Bracken, Perry Bracken, Joab North, Jonah Griffith, James Smith, Jesse Smith, Dr. Moses, John Smith, Isaac Blades, R. Ballard, R. W. Ballard, N. N. Sheffield and perhaps one or two others living on the east side of the river close to the timber line. West of the river were George W. Sowers, Wm. Estell, John Ring, George Ring, Richard Jennis, LaCount Lambert, George S. Prime, W. A. Wier, Rasmus Larson, Lars R. Larson, Erick R. Larson, Henry Burham, John Burham, William Burham, George Burham, Thomas Burham, F. W. Rhodes, Judson A. Rhodes, Wm. R. Doolittle, John Van Fossen and James F Brown. These are all that I can now recall, though there may possible have been a few others.

The pioneers were as a rule, not overburdened with "Book Larnin'," but for hard common sense, they were the peers of any. A more genial, generous, hospitable people were not to be found. Life here was anything but a "picnic" at that time.

The people strove to open up their farms, but all, or nearly all had arrived with little or no money, and their portable property consisted of what few household goods and farming implements they possessed had been hauled in the "prairie schooner" from Indiana, across unbridged rivers and almost trackless prairies. People had to go from forty to sixty miles to get their corn and wheat ground, and merchandise was hauled in wagons from Iowa City and Muscatine. The financial panic of 1856-57 added greatly to the troubles of. the pioneers, in that it retarded immigration and development of this as well as other localities.

Money was almost unknown as a medium of exchange for a long time; the paper currency of which a few of the later arrivals had a very small amount, became worthless, only gold and silver would purchase goods. A notable exception was the bills of the "Bank of Nebraska," commonly called B. F. Allen's "Red Dog" money.

The bank was I think, located at Des Moines; and strange to relate, its notes were always equivalent to coin. Occasionally would be seen a bill on the "State Bank of Indiana" which every loyal Hoosier religiously believed was a little safer than a government bond.

The first saw mill in the township was built by D. M. Brown in 1855 on Skunk river. It was on section one. Brown sold it in 1856 to Dr. Homer Cochran, who spent a great deal of time and labor to make it a success, but the alluvial earth of the river banks would not permit the construction of a permanent dam, and the mill proved a failure. Early in 1856, a steam saw mill was brought here by a Mr. House, and for two or three months did considerable sawing; but for some reason unknown to the writer, the mill was suddenly moved away and was seen here no more. In order to meet the increasing demand for building lumber, George S. Prime and Noah Harding, -in the spring of 1857, bought and set up on land which is now a part of our City Park, a steam saw mill; the engine of eighteen horse power, and the saw of fifty-two inches diameter. This mill was capable of turning out from three to five thousand feet of lumber daily, and was worked to its full capacity. This mill continued in active operation until 1865, when it was sold and moved away. Since that time we have had to depend on the lumber yards at railroad stations for our sup-plies of lumber. Up to the time the Prime and Harding mill was moved away, the settlers had depended upon logs and lumber from this mill for their dwellings and other buildings, some of which are yet standing and habitable.

In 1857 a school house was erected on the public square in Fairview; the building was 20 x 24 feet, and was for some years the finest school house in north half of Story county It was also utilized as a place for religious services and other public gatherings. The first school was taught by Ann Sutlief in the summer of 1856, and the log house of Richard Jennis was used for the purpose. The next term did not commence until the latter part of November, 1857; since which time the school has been well sustained and attended, and with gratifying results.

The postoffice was established early in 1857 and as the name of Fairview had already been appropriated by an-other town, the name Story City was chosen, and "Uncle Sam" kindly approving the same, we were soon favored with facilities for communicating with the rest of the world.

The principal source of the water supply for domestic purposes is from the artesian wells which are numerous all over the township, but especially so in and around Story City. The first well of this kind was drilled by Terkel Henryson about 1874, and has furnished an abundant supply ever since. Those having the greatest flow are the "Watkins" well about three miles south of Story City, and the one in the east part of Story City which furnishes the supply for the waterworks.

Story City was laid out as a town in 1878, and including Fairview, was incorporated in 1881. The first rail-road to reach this place was the Des Moines & Minnesota, and was of the narrow gauge variety. It was completed to this place January 1st, 1878, and gave us rail connection with the outer world via the Chicago & North Western at Ames, and direct to Des Moines. Some years later this road was acquired by the C. & N.W. and the gauge widened to standard. Said company had expended a large sum in the improvement of this line, and today it is as fine a piece of road as any in Iowa. A branch of the Iowa Central railway was completed from Marshalltown to this place late in 1882.

Before we could secure either of the above named roads, we were asked to come down handsomely with bonuses and subsidies. This we had to do in order. to secure them. They came high, but we were bound to have them. It was "hard sledding" for awhile, but none now regret their cost.

So much for Capt. Wier's interesting account of the early days.


The original town of Fairview, fronting on the present town park, was laid out by a man by the name of French.

The town of Story City was fortunate in securing the services of an engineer, one Mr. Blair, an advance man of the coming railroad, to lay out the new plat. To this fact we owe our wide streets and the symmetrical form of the town. This Mr. Blair must have had a hunch that some day the automobile would need a lot of parking space, and he provided for the same.

When the town was incorporated in 1881 there was a population of 503 on the square mile covered by the town. The next census, in 1885, showed a population of 595. During the next few years the western fever made itself felt and many of our families started for Washington and Oregon, among them being the Allen, Oien, Swartout, Tesdall and Jensen families. Result: population of 1890 showed a loss, to 536.

Then came the 90's, starting out with the opening of one of the larger printing plants of the state, the Scandia Publishing Co., which printed papers in Swedish, Norwegian and English. This was the basis of a considerable boom and in 1895 the population went to 837, and in 1900 to 1197.

In this period the newer generation had come into swing, and the population continued to grow, and was 1461 in 1905. About this time the emigration to Minnesota and the Dakotas was getting into motion and dozens of our families started out to make their homes in the new states, with the result that in 1910 the census showed us in another small slump, 1387.

In 1908 the businessmen of the town organized the Commercial Club, now called the Greater Community Congress, for a co-ordinated effort at community building. It was soon evident that this was a movement that was to mean much to the town. Gradually the spirit of accomplishment took possession of the people, with the result that in one year, 1913, twenty-five fine residences w e r e erected, also the old people's home and sanitarium, the opera house and hotel, the creamery building and the corner bank building. The following years brought the two fine stone churches, First National bank building, the Gandrup drug store and several garages. So, in 1920, our population had grown to 1591.

The 1930 census gives us a population of 1433. Part of this loss is due to the fact that some years ago the larger portion of the farm lands were "divorced" from the town. This was done in order to get township money for the graveling and upkeep of the abutting roads. The loss in population from this cause was about 75. The balance of the loss is due to the fact that families have of late years become noticeably smaller, not only in the town but in the strictly rural districts.


The pictures in this Golden Anniversary Book tell the story of fifty years of progress. There is the picture of the street scene in 1885, with the wagons and buggies on then mud street. And it was a real mud street, too, in the rainy seasons, and many a farmer had a hard time backing his team out from the hitching post.

Then there are the pictures of some of our early families. Some of these photographs were taken fifty years ago and show the generation that started things out here on the Iowa prairies and the youngsters who were so soon to take their places. By no means all the families of the early days are shown: this would, of course, be impossible in a book with the limitations set for this one. Those shown have largely been made possible thru the co-operation of descendants living in the community.

A large section of the book is taken up with pictures of the Story City of Today. This is not complete, either, as in several instances there has been no response to an appeal for pictures. On the whole, however, we believe it will be generally recognized that the Golden Anniversary Book is representative of the town and community of the past and the present, and should prove interesting to those of the present generation, as well as of those to come.

The original intention was to have 128 pages of pictures and 32 pages of reading matter in the book. As the photographs kept coming we had to add 32 pages to the book, and finally cut down on the reading matter. We did this all the more readily, as we felt that folks like to "read" pictures - and then we found that when one comes to writing a history of the community it would take a large book to go into details. So we have contented ourselves with a brief outline, as you find it in the preceding pages. No doubt, we are to have, in due time, a more complete historical account of the settlement and progress of the community from an abler pen than ours.


Perhaps no one is more aware of the faults of this book than the publisher. He knew that he was tackling a big job, and so it proved to be. That it is as near complete as it is, is clue to the co-operation of many local people, as well as several at a distance. We regret any imperfections that have occurred in the compilation and printing of the Golden Anniversary Book, but we take satisfaction in the fact that it is by far the most comprehensive work of the kind ever undertaken in this community. Perhaps no community in Iowa can show anthing like it. And, at any rate, it may prove the foundation of a still more complete history in the years to come.

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