Buena Vista County, IA
The town of Marathon is located in the northeast part of the county, on the Chicago & Northwestern and the Milwaukee railroads. By the census of 1905 it showed a population of five hundred and twenty-six, and like almost all Iowa towns a decrease from the Federal census of 1900. In 1881 it was believed that a narrow gauge railroad would be built from Spirit Lake to connect with the Illinois Central railroad and the Milwaukee road south, and that this road would pass through the middle of Lee township. There were at that time ambitious citizens living in Poland Township who wanted to establish a town, and by voting a bonus of five per cent the original plans of the projected road were changed and the road was surveyed to come through Poland township instead. The Chicago & Northwestern surveyed through the same year and was easily persuaded to establish a town on the site which had been selected for the Narrow Gauge road.
In 1882 C. A. Carlburg built a blacksmith shop on the corner where the First National Bank now stands and this was the first building on the future site of the town. His shop burned down soon after it was built, but by the help of neighboring farmers who wanted the convenience afforded by the shop, it was rebuilt. Several additional buildings were erected the same year. Stephen Olney Sr., who settled in Poland township, near Pickerel Lake ten years before and who was a progressive, wide awake man, and had had a leading part in building up the county, became the town's first merchant, building across the street east from Carlburg's shop. J. E. Dutton established the first lumber yard and Wells Brothers the first elevator and coal yard.
Some years before the post office department had established a post office near Pickerel Lake called Mayview and this was moved, in 1882, to the site of the new town. The Northwestern railway called the station "Marathon" and this classical Greek nomenclature has been followed in laying out the streets of the town. Richard Olney, son of Stephen, was the first postmaster and the first station agent of the town. Eleven years later, or in 1893, the town was incorporated, the date of the first meeting of the city authorities being March 11.
The first city officials were A. R. Wells, mayor; S. T. Goltry, recorder; M. E. DeWolf, treasurer; J. A. Smith, assessor; L. J. Sample, marshal and street commissioner. Geo. W. Smith, Peter Hallen, F. Ekstam, L. W. Wilson and A. A. Anderson were the first members of the city council. Since then S. T. Goltry, N. M. Nelson, G. W. Smith, W. W. Bennett, Olof Ovren and Joel E. Johnson have served as mayor. The officers of the town in 1909 are Joel E. Johnson, mayor; F. O. Danielson, clerk; E. B. Wells, treasurer; N. Patterson, assessor; L. C. Hemsworth, J. O. Humphries, A. A. Wells, Godfred Carlson, A. A. Anderson and R. H. Olney members of the council.
The town grew steadily from 1882 until 1900, when a new impetus was given by the coming of the Milwaukee railroad. The old survey that had been made almost twenty years before was never forgotten by railroad men who wanted a direct route from Des Moines to Spirit Lake, and the connecting link between Fonda and Spencer was the only thing needed to give through service. Marathon was in direct line, the town was a good shipping point, and in the fall of 1900 the road was built through the eastern part of the town. Following the railway the citizens took on new energy.
In 1901 the business men raised the money and put in a fine gas plant to furnish light and heat to consumers. The town was also lighted by gas street lights. In 1902 the town voted to build a water works system, the J. A. White compressed Air system being selected. In 1904 and 1905 a sewerage system was put in which has aided materially in preserving the sanitation and health of the community.
The Marathon Improvement company was incorporated in 1900 and one of the first acts the company did was to build a modern hotel and block of business blocks. At the same time private individuals also erected fine brick business buildings to replace the old wooden structures erected in the early days of the town and the west side of the main business street presents a metropolitan appearance with its handsome business institutions.
In 1902 the Odd Fellows lodge voted to build an opera house and a home for the lodges of the town and this was done. A handsome structure, forty-four by eighty feet, three stories high, was erected on the principal business street. The theater is located on the ground floor where the finest stage and auditorium in the county may be seen. On the upper floor a handsomely appointed suite of lodge rooms, including an assembly hall, reception rooms, kitchens, paraphernalia lockers and property rooms is located. The entire structure would be a credit to towns ten times the size of Marathon.
The first bank in Marathon was opened by Olney & Bean in 1885, and was known as the Marathon Bank. In 1888 Sherman T. Goltry bought Mr. Olney's interest and the firm became Goltry & Bean. A little later Sioux Rapids parties became interested and the firm was again changed, this time to Farmer, Helsell, Thompson & Goltry. This unwieldy partnership name was in August, 1892, changed to The First National Bank of Marathon, with J. P. Farmer as president, F. H. Helsell as vice president and T. Goltry as cashier. Mr Goltry continued in this position until 1900 when he removed to Enid, Oklahoma. J. E. Allison succeeded him as cashier and fills that position now. His assistant is Joel E. Johnson.
On September 21, 1891, the Marathon Savings Bank was opened for business with A. J. Wilson and M. E. DeWolf in charge. Mr. DeWolf a little later went to Laurens to engage in the grain business and A. J. Wilson became the active manager, with W. W. Bennett as assistant cashier. Mr. Bennett was advanced to the position of cashier a little later and still holds that position. In 1903 Mr. Wilson sold his stock to E. B. Wells and went to Boone where he incorporated the Boone National Bank. He later went to Sioux City where he organized the City National, but in 1906 he removed to Spokane, Washington to engage in the lumber business. The present management of the bank is E. B. Wells, president; M. Hakes, vice president; W. W. Bennett, cashier.
Both of these institutions enjoy the confidence of the community and do a lucrative business.
Marathon has been a good business point at all times, and the mercantile establishments are representative of the town. Of the existing firms the Scandia Trading Company, with N. M. Nelson as manager, has been doing business for twenty years. Richard Olney organized the Farmers co-operative store when the co-operative idea was strong in the early '90s and conducted it for many years with profit to the stockholders. He retired and was succeeded by his sons a few years ago. H. E. Swope and Rasmussen Brothers are also merchants who have extensive interests.
The farmers have an elevator, a lumber yard and coal yard, run on the co-operative plan, doing a fine business.
In a moral way Marathon has always stood high. There has never been a saloon in the town and every attempt by druggists to secure a permit to sell liquor has been met by such strenuous opposition that the courts have invariably refused to grant such permits. The town is free from licentiousness and drunkenness, and may be said to be an excellent place to live, and to rear a family.
I. O. O. F. Lodge
ENCAMPMENT OF I. O. O. F.
THE REBEKAH LODGE
THE MASONIC LODGE
THE MODERN WOODMEN OF AMERICA
THE G. A. R.
THE WOMEN'S RELIEF CORPS
Extracted from: Wegerslev, C. H. and Thomas Walpole. Past and Present of Buena Vista County, Iowa. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1909, p. 123-32.