WILLIAMS, George T. (1854-1902)
Posted By: Karon Velau (email)
Date: 6/12/2021 at 20:12:33
George Townsend Williams
(April 22, 1854 – March 7, 1902)
Ida County Pioneer Record, Ida Grove, Iowa, 1994
by Norma E. Auen
Without a doubt, George Townsend Williams was the most controversial, colorful and eccentric pioneer newspaper man of his time. He was an avid conservationist, who created Williams Park between Moorehead Avenue and Washington Street in Ida Grove. He planted shade trees, fruit trees, grape vines, etc. there and was willing to share his park with the public, providing they did not abuse it. At various times, the former editor of the Pioneer kept an alligator in a pit at his home, a monkey named Jock in the paper office, and a ground hog in a burrow behind the Pioneer. A pet wolf, squirrel, quail, owl, porcupine, etc. were among the menagerie he kept at his home, along with a stuffed collection such as his office dog, Prinnie, when the dog was run over and killed. He built an opera house on the corner, where the Ida Grove Community Hall is now, and arranged for logs to be sent here from Minnesota to be used in building a log cabin for use by the Old Settlers Association at their meetings in his park. Brechwald cigar makers named a cigar after him. According to his own account, he never attended high school or college, yet he loved to travel and write about his trips. During the 1890s he traveled over many states, writing up towns (over 2,500) and publishing special editions of them, much as he did for the Pioneer’s 25th Anniversary in 1897. His wife, Sarah Hadassa, usually accompanied him on his travels, both through the states and abroad. His writings showed a feeling for his subject, much as the letters and writings of the soldiers in the Civil War who wrote with such compelling words that you were able to experience the sights and sounds of the war, without being there in person.
During Williams’ early years with the Pioneer, there existed two factions in town, and the papers made bitter, sometimes virulent attacks on the other, both personal and businesswise, almost every week. He was accused of hiring Tom Morrow to set fire to the Grand Opera House because it was competition for his opera house. The jury sent Morrow to jail for two years but didn’t convict Williams. I think it is impossible to “sum up” George T. Williams in just one column . . . he was a man who was shrewd enough to persevere and survive in his time, both personally and with the Pioneer. The following is a letter written by the Rev. F. E. Day, a former Methodist minister in the early days of Ida Grove, after the death of Williams in 1901:
“It was easy to misunderstand him and to many he seemed rough and unfriendly, but in all my acquaintance with him, I found him a faithful friend, mindful of his obligations to those who were frank and fair with him. Yes, he was eccentric, but always for a purpose. He was restless and roving, but his wife was generally his companion in his travels and he loved Ida Grove. He was proud but he admitted it and was proud of it. He was reputed to be very rough in his conversation but personally I never heard him use an improper word. He never had school advantages but he had been a successful teacher and he possessed a fund of the world’s knowledge which gave forth no worm eaten odor and nearer right, then many of his critics. He had self control and withal by virtue of indomitable will, he conquered an opposition which of itself would have made many a man yield without a struggle. Ida Grove will miss him for he was public spirited, progressive and a money spender and maker. He was not a plunger in finance and tho often a loser, he never grumbled but kept a brave heart and bent to his work, trusting that no adverse financial path is so long that it does not have a turn and his success justified this assumption. He left many friends who differed from him on many and most points with sadness of the demise of a man who had done them many a good turn.”
Ida Biographies maintained by Tonja Winekauf.
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