Buena Vista County, IA
THE MODERN SCENE
An editorial in the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune for August 6, 1920, observed: “Storm Lake will be 50 years old next Wednesday, August 11, for just 50 years ago the first lots in the town were placed on sale at public auction on that date. There have not been any arrangements made for a semi-centennial celebration, but the date will mark an important landmark in the city's history nevertheless. Fifty years ago the site of the town was a bleak and windswept prairie, with only one building. Today it is one of the most prosperous and beautiful towns in the State, with a population of 4,000.” Storm Lake was well built up with smart business houses and homes, and tall, attractive trees lined the paved streets.
Vigorous industries had been established: a canning plant employing 145 persons and furnishing a local market to growers of corn and vegetables, a wholesale fruit house, a butter tub factory, a poultry packing plant, a telephone system, and two newspaper and job printing plants. To this were to be added a packing plant with a capacity of 2,400 hogs a week, and a livestock sales barn.
The combination of automobiles and paved roads enabled visitors from distant points to enjoy the charm of the Storm Lake itself, with its bathing beaches, picnic areas under spreading trees, summer cottages, and fishing facilities. There was a country club located along the bluffs and in the neighborhood were such scenic spots as Lake Shore Drive, Sunset Park, Chautauqua Park, and Manawa Beach.
Land in the county had been selling at enormous prices. A “new high” was reached on May 27, 1919, when W. L. Geisinger's farm near Storm Lake was bought by Charles Keister, another farmer, for about $55,000; 118 acres at $466 per acre. This record price was surpassed on June 16 of the same year when George Symington sold his farm near Alta for $470 per acre.
On May 18, 1921, the history of Storm Lake was reviewed in a symbolic pageant put on by the teachers and pupils of the town. The scene represented various phases of legend or fact from Indian days to 1870 and on to 1921. According to this presentation, the lake owed its name to an Indian episode rather than to the generally accepted story of the old trapper whose tent was blown down in a high wind. This more romantic explanation depicted the unhappy love affair of a Sioux maiden who, being forbidden to marry her favored suitor from another tribe, attempted to elope with him, crossing the lake in a canoe. A storm upset the canoe and the lovers were drowned, although a swimmer sent in pursuit was saved. The saddened and angry chief thereupon declared, “Henceforth, oh deceitful, laughing water, thou shalt be scorned by the red men of the Sioux. No pleasing name shall be thine.” And he called the body of water “Storm Lake.”
The source of this legend is unknown. Very likely Elizabeth Walpole, who collected most of the material used in the pageant, took poetic license and elaborated the story told in the pamphlet, Settlers’ Guide, issued in 1872 by those early real estate dealers, Barton and Hobbs. The original version told of Indians naming the lake Storm Lake after several of their number had been drowned when their canoe capsized during a sudden squall. No romance was mentioned: perhaps it was invented by the pageant directors who knew that similar legends of unhappy Indian lovers are identified with many parts of Iowa.
Among the other scenes realistically portrayed was Main Street in 1870, where farmers and hunters gathered to watch the first copy of the Storm Lake Pilot being auctioned to L. J. Barton for $106 and the first load of wheat sold to station agent J. D. Eddy at 75 cents a bushel. John I. Blair was shown presenting little Aurelia Wirick, the first child born in town, with a deed to a lot. Successive phases of the pageant highlighted the hardships of the pioneers, the development of rural life, and the establishment of education, religion, civic beauty, and finally, an Ideal Town. Tribute was allegorically paid participants in the Wor1d War by representations of Liberty, Union, Equality, Justice, and Love. In the final scene, the Spirit of the Ideal Town was shown by the water, ready to return to the mist from which she had been called, while the characters representing the Past moved over a symbolic bridge linking that Past with the Future. Pledging themselves to the welfare of the community, they dropped floral offerings into the water, in tribute to the Ideal Town, Storm Lake.
The 1920's were years of growth -- business, building, and social expansion. There were new schools and churches and civic improvements, not only in Storm Lake, but throughout the county.
At Buena Vista College, a gymnasium named Victory Hall was erected in honor of the institution's 209 men who served in the Army, Navy, and Marines, during the first World War. It was a Gothic style brick and stone structure, 60 by 100 feet in size. The running track, requiring about 22 laps to the mile, was so constructed that it could be used as a gallery when entertainments were given on the 30 by 40 foot stage. Bradford Athletic Field was constructed along the lake shore and was named for S. C. Bradford of Des Moines, who had donated an addition of 21 lots to the college. A large amphitheater was erected.
Some other buildings had been added to the campus and included the $10,000 Ladies’ Hall and Mather Hall, the music conservatory donated by Mrs. Flora Mather of Cleveland, Ohio. The president's home, called the Stuart-Miller house, was presented to the college by the Reverend William Miller of Des Moines and Mrs. Louis Stuart of Audubon.
In 1928 the library in the new Science Hall at the college was named the Fracker Library and dedicated to Professor George F. Fracker. During that same year a new form of self help [sic] was inaugurated in the basement of the Science Hall where various articles of light hardware were manufactured and assembled. These utensils were sold and the proceeds used to pay current expenses of the college and the help of the students thus engaged. Such a procedure was in keeping with the college motto, “Education for Service.” The course at this time being taught included liberal arts, music, art, dramatic speech, and pre-professional and normal school training.
A bond issue of $170,000 was floated in 1926, bringing the school’s indebtedness to $385,000 in 1931 when Henry Olson took office as president. By midsummer of 1941, President Olson was able to announce that all indebtedness had been cleared and that the last outstanding bond, part of the 1926 issue, had been donated to the college by Walter G. Stock of Storm Lake.
A new high school for Storm Lake students was put up in 1928 and 1929. The building in use since the eighties had been demolished and replaced in 1914, but 14 years later more adequate facilities were needed and the fine new school, financed entirely by the people of Storm Lake, was put up. The Marathon Independent School District, including nearby township districts consolidated in 1903, built a new $40,000 high school and gymnasium in 1927. It was one of the best school buildings in the country.
Another source of pride to the people of Marathon was the excellent public library, in a building of its own. It was the outgrowth of a modest beginning made in 1919 by the Tuesday Study Club.
Buena Vista's first County Play Day was held May 4, 1923, at Storm Lake under the auspices of the Commercial Club. All schools in the county joined the demonstration showing the work in physical education which the pupils and teachers had been doing during the past year.
Several months later it was announced that the Newell schools had helped win the big silver loving cup offered nationally to the State which most successfully conducted the “Modern Health Crusade.” The work was directed by the Iowa Tuberculosis Association. Newell students were among 500,000 school children throughout Iowa who participated in the practical health program. The next year, in September 1924, the educational journal, Midland Schools, ranked the Buena Vista County schools first in the State. The number of pupils, attendance record, salary of teachers, percentage of teachers holding state certificates, tax-raised funds, and the value of the buildings, in comparison with those of other counties, formed the basis for the decision.
Another important health step had been taken with the establishment of a modern hospital at Storm Lake. The movement was started in 1922 when Dr. J. A. Swallum donated an excellent site of lake front property on the condition that actual construction work on the hospital be under way within five years. Six other local physicians, Doctors E. F. Smith, J. H. O'Donoghue, H. E. Farnsworth, A. G. Gran, E. D. Banghart, and U. S. Parish, each pledged $1,000 to the cause.
A successful community hospital was established at Alta in 1920. The building and equipment of 15 beds and five bassinets were owned by the community and were so well managed that the project became self-sustaining. A few years later, Alta with its homes, schools, churches, and library was cited by the Rural Life commission as a community “far above the average.”
For the churches, the modern years were devoted to building, expansion, and the summing up of work accomplished in past years by the various church denominations. The handsome new Lutheran Church at Lake Avenue and Third Street in Storm Lake was dedicated on August 21, 1921. It was built of brick and Bedford Stone, and cost $28,000. In the tower was placed the first bell used in the town, originally located in December 1872 in the belfry of the first Presbyterian Church.
A less happy occasion was the conflagration in Brooke Township late one night just before Christmas 1923. The church burned and nothing was saved: even the huge bell was melted into a shapeless mass. A new Presbyterian Church was dedicated at Alta, February 22, 1925. Subscriptions and money to the amount of $12,500 were taken in during the day's services, enough to clear the church of debt and provide for a fine pipe organ.
St. Mary's parochial school was dedicated at Storm Lake on June 1, 1927, by Bishop Edmond Heelan of the Catholic diocese of Sioux City, who also celebrated High Mass in St. Mary's Church. The bishop congratulated Father William Cooke, the congregation, and also the Protestants of Storm Lake who had helped to build the schoolhouse. Nearly four months later, on Sunday September 25, 1927, the cornerstone of the new Church of Christ at Storm Lake was laid. It contained a copy of the Bible, the roll of membership, history of the church, and copies of both Storm Lake newspapers.
At Sioux Rapids, the Congregational Church burned in December 1927. Fire started in the basement early one Sunday morning and the fire bell was soon rung out, but despite “heroic efforts”, the building could not be saved. Flames had spread between the walls, and the dense clouds of smoke made fire fighting [sic] difficult. Two organs and some of the furnishings were carried out. A new church was built the next spring. Members of the Little Sioux Valley Church, three miles northwest of Rembrandt in Buena Vista County, celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding by special programs from October 4 to October 7, 1928. This was the church that had been organized in September 1868 by a group of Norwegian settlers of the Lutheran faith, headed by Ole Enderson Hesla.
More than 1,000 persons attended the dedication of St. Peter's Lutheran Church at Newell in September 1930, with the Reverend C. H. Seltz presiding. The attractive Gothic building was surmounted by a 1,400 pound bell. Rembrandt's new Methodist Episcopal Church was dedicated, debt free, on March 15, 1931.
Storm Lake was the scene of various civic improvements. In June 1927 a modern new band shell costing $4,000 was dedicated at the west end of Sunset Park. Of brick construction, it was said to be the “last word”, ideal for its purpose of enhancing music appreciation. Karl King's band of Fort Dodge opened the season with a gala concert: there was community singing, and Judge James De Land made an address. On May 29, 1927, Memorial Sunday, a monument to the Storm Lake and to the other Buena Vista County boys who died in the World War, was unveiled in Chautauqua Park. It was the gift of the women's Service Star Legion of Storm Lake. A copper box placed in the base contained the history of the Service Star Legion. The names of the World War veterans of the county who died in service were inscribed on the bronze plate. Nearby were two other memorials, the statue “The Pioneer”, given by the Tuesday Club, and a granite boulder dedicated to the pioneers by the Buena Vista Chapter of the D. A. R.
In the spring of 1930, the board of park commissioners built a log cabin at the gateway to the “City Beautiful”, at Evergreen Park. A large stock of tourist literature for the information of visitors was provided and the Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce arranged to keep office-hours there during the summer.
The county still suffered from occasional weather extremes. A severe sleet and ice storm swept over Storm Lake in February 1928, damaging the trees and the telephone wires. Thousands of dead limbs were broken from the trees and so many telephone poles and wires were knocked down locally and in the country that service was badly crippled. Possibly because of this, engineers of the Bell laboratories and members of the development and research department of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, on the following May 28, installed the first type “D-A-I” carrier system between Omaha and Storm Lake. This type, sometimes called the “flivver” carrier system, eliminates some wire stringing and includes an auxiliary amplifier.
Unusual weather struck the county again early on the morning of May 9, 1930, when a tornado, preceded by rains and a hailstorm, roared in from the southwest. It was the first time a “twister” had struck directly at the center of the town of Storm Lake. The Pomeroy Cyclone had jumped over it, but it made up for that by leaving an “awesome path” of destruction in its wake. The property damage exceeded $25,000, but fortunately no lives were lost and no one was seriously hurt.
Agriculture was given added impetus by the merging of the Farmers’ Institute, usually held in February, with the Fall Festival. The combined events, scheduled annually for October at Storm Lake, proved very popular. Although the original county fair at Storm Lake had failed after a five-year trial, the movement had been revived at Alta in 1886 and after that was held each fall without a break. The farmers always looked forward to attending this exposition at the end of the threshing season. The years immediately following 1924 were particularly successful. People every-where were enjoying good times; race awards and premiums had been increased and a new exhibit hall and cattle barns facilitated the displaying of all classes of entries. O. E. Cameron, secretary of the Buena Vista County Fair, had the distinction of also serving for more than 25 years as the president of the Iowa State Fair. Cameron's keen interest in horse racing not only contributed to his successful management of both organizations, but led to his being chosen president of the American Trotting Association in 1931.
Buena Vista County was the home of some outstanding people in the professional and business world. The Pilot-Tribune announced on April 12, 1928: “Storm Lake is enjoying a unique distinction -- it is at present furnishing presidents for four Iowa organizations. It is possible that some other town equals this record but if so, the Pilot-Tribune does not know of it and believes that Storm Lake is setting a record.” The officials named were the following: W. C. Jarnagin, president of the Iowa Press Association; W. E. Park, president of the Iowa Master Builders Association; George F. Schaller, president of the Iowa Bankers Association; and Mrs. Lucy Bowers, president of the Iowa Service Star Legion.
George F. Schaller, president of the First National Bank at Storm Lake from 1922 to 1934, served as director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago from 1930 to 1934, and was president of the latter institution from 1934 to 1941.
There was also the noted jurist, F. F. Faville, who had opened a law office at Sioux Rapids in 1892. He soon became mayor of the town and followed up this success by becoming the Buena Vista County Attorney in 1894. In that year he moved to Storm Lake. There he made his home and there his two children, Marion and Stanton, were born. In 1918 a disastrous fire at Storm Lake destroyed his law library, strengthening his decision to go to Fort Dodge to practice. While there he was elected to the Supreme Court of Iowa. Judge Faville was a distinguished speaker and in the course of his talks advanced many constructive ideas. One of these, expressed publicly at a Storm Lake gathering, was that the United States Government should institute a Department of Peace, and that a Secretary of Peace should hold a responsible position in the presidential cabinet.
Another statesman from Buena Vista County was George Alfred Carlson, who was born at Alta October 23, 1876, and died at Denver, Colorado, December 7, 1926. Carlson was elected governor of Colorado in 1914.
William C. Edson, a former mayor of Storm Lake and president of the Board of Trustees of Buena Vista College, was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives in the State Legislature in January 1925. He had twice previously been elected representative -- in 1918 and 1920.
Alta was the home of the astronomer David E. Hadden, who cooperated with the United States Weather Bureau as a voluntary observer of the weather and the solar system. He equipped an observatory at home and began to accumulate and classify data used in long range weather observation, and formulated a theory of forecasting weather in cycles that received much attention. In April 1934 Hadden received a grant from the Carnegie Institute at Washington, alloted [sic] to him for an analysis of his meteorological observations.
Tribute to the educational system of Buena Vista County, particularly that of consolidated schools which had become widely known in scholastic circles, was paid in the spring of 1926 by a distinguished Englishman, A. B. Neal, a research scholar from the London County Council. While studying American educational methods, particularly those used in the rural districts, Dr. Neal asked to be allowed to come to Buena Vista County and to stay in rural homes and ride back and forth on the school busses. During the course of his week’s sojourn, he made a report of each Buena Vista County school, accompanied by a photograph of the building, a ground floor sketch and plan, the number of pupils, classes, and course of study. Dr. Neal made several talks before local business and civic groups and remarked: “I wish to go on record as saying that these three one—teacher schools I visited in this county are seldom if ever excelled. And one of them in particular was conducted in such a way that it will always linger in my memory. The teacher was the same as a mother to those children and the good she is doing is of priceless benefit to them.”
In November 1939 A. E. Harrison, who was then starting his twenty-fifth year as Buena Vista County superintendent of schools, was elected president of the Iowa State Teachers Association. It was the first time this particular honor, rarely achieved by county school superintendents, had come to Buena Vista County. Mr. Harrison had always been keenly interested in rural students, and placed significant value upon such extra-curricular activities as athletics, dramatics, and the editing of student newspapers. He was a most ardent advocate of the use of State and Federal aid for Iowa schools.
Through the changing years, Buena Vista County established itself as a place of vigorous growth and persistent prosperity. Even in 1932, in the midst of the nationwide depression, Storm Lake's three banks remained open, and asked for no moratorium. While banks in many other communities in the United States were closing daily and businesses were going bankrupt, Storm Lake had no bank failures and no bank closings until the national “bank holiday” declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933.
All through the depression years Storm Lake citizens carefully watched the financial structure of their community. In September 1932, 2,000 tax payers met in Chautauqua park to declare themselves against tax sales and farm mortgage foreclosures. A committee of three was appointed to mediate between loan agencies and farmers: it included A. R. Browne of Alta, Sugebret Grodahl of Albert City, and W. F. Porath of Newell.
Even the drought of 1934 and 1936 could not discourage the people, who kept building steadily for the future. The Storm Lake Packing plant, a $100,000 investment, was opened for public inspection late in October 1933 and began actual operation shortly afterward. The city's new post office was dedicated March 7, 1936. The Porath Hospital, a $75,000 modern private structure, was built at the corner of Fifth and Cayuga Streets in Storm Lake and opened August 13, 1938. The $45,000 Vista Theatre presented its first show the evening of October 1, 1938. A sanctuary for wild life was established at Storm Lake, and dredging was started to deepen the lake and remove tons of silt from the bottom. On October 11, 1938, Governor Nelson Kraschel of Iowa made a speech to the people of the county and the northwest part of the State, outlining plans for the creation of Storm Lake State Park and for the reclaiming and beautifying of the lake itself. A million pike fingerlings were deposited there May 3, 1939. Actual dredging of Storm Lake began in September 1939, with the object of removing 5,000,000 cubic feet of silt.
In the month of September 1939, a war had begun in Europe that spread and engulfed many other countries. It became evident that new armed forces would be needed to defend the United States, and to raise these forces a training service law was passed in 1940.
On October 16, 1940, nearly 3,000 Buena Vista County men between the ages of 21 and 36 registered at their regular voting places to comply with the Selective Service Training Act. The holders of numbers drawn in the national lottery at Washington, D. C., on October 29 were to be called up for a year of training in the United States Army. Carl W. Zwemke of Alta, who had the first number drawn, 158, had a heart ailment and was placed in a non-military classification. Joseph L. Herzenach, Sioux Rapids, and Allen Saathoff, Storm Lake, had the other two Buena Vista County numbers drawn that morning, 192 and 105 respectively.
Between November 1940 and July 1941, 136 other young men from the county were to leave for army service. By November 12, eight had voluntarily enlisted for the year of military training. They were Clifford Oliver Johnson, of Albert City; Walter Hartman, of Marathon; Cyrus Orville Hickman, of Rembrandt; and Marlyn Fethkenher, Ned Madson, Rudolph Carlson, Charles Toohey, and Leo Keith Wall, all of Storm Lake.
An important step that meant much for the community was taken by the citizens of Storm Lake at a special election held there October 22, 1940. At that time they voted $30,000 in bonds for purchasing a municipal airport. The vote was 1,311 for the proposal and 112 against it, more than ten to one in its favor. A tract of 150 acres just north of town was purchased in 1941 from H. V. Geisinger, and the construction of a hangar was begun. Thus Buena Vista County looked to the completion of the first cycle of its growth, from ox teams to airplanes.
Iowa Writers’ Project. Buena Vista County History. Storm Lake, Iowa: Work Projects Administration, 1942. 78-87. Print.