History of Lamoni

Fayette Township, Decatur County, Iowa



 In 1879 Lamoni was platted as a town. The first settlements had been made only a few years before. Its age, therefore, gives it no special claims, for its neighbors are older. It does exhibit, however, a history that is different from the average run of village chronicles, for the story of these early years runs like some "read-about-in-books" narrative.

Fifty years have left a unique story of community pioneering, religious idealism, and forward-looking spirit.


The earliest settlers had come some thirty years before the laying out of the town. The first was a group who came from 1834 to 1840,supposing they were settling in Missouri. In those days there was intense feeling, and marked division over the slavery issue. Missouri was drawing several settlers because it was open to slave holding. A number of this early band had brought slaves to be held in the southern territory. This miscalculated a few miles on the boundary, and found they could not hold slaves in the Iowa Territory.

Lamoni's real beginnings, however, do not spring from this group.

Two unusual pioneer groups came into the early history of this section of the country. The one was that of the refugees from Nauvoo who were moving westward and who established a camp at Garden Grove from 1826-1852 as a stopping place in the journey. The other was the Hungarian Colony at New Buda about 1851, following the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. It had been planned to establish a large settlement and invite immigration. Neither of these temporary colonies had any permanent influence.


The county was organized April 1, 1850. In July of that year the county seat was located at a place called Decatur, the county itself being named after Stephen Decatur, a distinguished officer in the War of 1812. During the fall a log court house was built and soon after the county seat was moved to a town named Independence. It happened that Iowa had another town by that name and so in 1854 by act of the legislature, the name was changed to Leon. A pretty well established county organized preceded the founding of Lamoni.

The first settlers who really influenced local history were those who came to the area now known as Pleasanton. Shortly after 1850 the Morey, Keown, Moffet and Hinkle families moved in. These had been members of the old Latter Day Saint Church and when in 1859 they accepted the claims of the Reorganization and effected a local organization, a new slant came into the affairs of this territory.


Lamoni itself really begins with the activities of the Order of Enoch. This was a corporation of a number of men of means connected with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was organized September 19, 1870, at Council Bluffs, Iowa, with the purpose of purchasing and developing lands for church settlements. The Board of Directors included men who became prominent in the early history of Lamoni: Elijah Banta, president; Israel L. Rogers, treasurer; David Dancer, David Gamet, Alexander McCord, Calvin Beebe, and Phineas Caldwell. H.A. Stebbins was secretary.

A committee was named to choose a place of settlement. They visited several localities in the states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Finding much of the prairie of Fayette and adjoining townships in a state of nature, they purchased a large quantity, 2,686 acres at a cost of $21,786.41. Their capital stock was $44,500, sufficient for original purchase and improvement as well. Later more land was purchased and twelve new houses were built at a cost of $7,678.40.

The country was certainly virgin soil. At that time there was only one farm house in the territory of the present town. The post office called Sedgewick was located southeast of the present town, near where the S.S. Keown farm is located. Mail was received from Osceola once a week at first. It was taken by stage line to Leon. Every Saturday morning at seven o'clock it started by horseback from Leon to Sedgewick by way of Decatur City and Terre Haute and arrived at two o'clock in the afternoon if everything was favorable. In times of high water when Grand River was impassable, a week or two more might go by before the mail was received. At the time of Lamoni's beginning Sedgewick had a store; before this, the nearest store had been at Davis City.

In 1874 the Board of the Order of Enoch passed the following resolution: "Resolved that we proceed to locate a town site upon or near the land belonging to the association as soon as it is found practicable." The project was not in the nature of an investment but for establishing a church community. The land was to be sold out at reasonable terms. Some moved in, but on the whole, conditions remained about the same until 1879, the time of the coming of the railroad.


At first the settlement was referred to as "The Colony". Some wanted to call the new town Sedgewick as that had been the name of the post office near by. The Order of Enoch first applied the term "Lamoni" to the town, which was the name of a good king in their sacred literature. Elijah Banta circulated a petition to have the names changed from Sedgewick to Lamoni and the government concurred in name and location. The first Lamoni post office stood where the Supply Store is now located. Samuel Gurley was the post master.


The town was laid out in 1879 by a company under the auspices of the C.B. & Q. Railroad Company. The road was operating to Leon and this company was organized to extend the railroad to Mt. Ayr. At Bethany Junction, now known as Togo, a change of course was effected that was to mean much to the new town. In the original plan the road was to go about three miles north of the present location of Lamoni. The officers of "The Colony" induced the company to choose the present course. The platting of the town came with the railroad. This was the real beginning of growth.


The settlement was a village from 1879 to December, 1885, when by vote of the citizens it became an independent town. Some previous efforts had been made to take this step, but a negative vote had resulted. The difficulty appears to have been in the question of policies in local affairs. After the vote for incorporation was taken, temporary officers were elected and town government began. The first regular election was held March 1, 1886, with the following results: M. McHarness, Mayor; V. White, Recorder; David Dancer, W. Hudson, H.L. Tilton, S.V. Bailey, W.H. Deam, R.L. Branch, Councilmen. Seth Bass was the first Marshall.

The first business of the Council reflects the interests of the times and the nature of the people. The first ordinance passed in Lamoni was one prohibiting the existence of "beer saloons" and "gambling tables". There had been one saloon before the incorporation of the town and this seems to have been a major issue in the voting for incorporation. The second ordinance prohibited horses, cattle and hogs from running at large.

Education received attention from the first. The first school room was fitted up in a wagon shop owned by Peter Hansen, about where the Sinclair Oil Station now stands. O.B. Thomas was the teacher. In 1882 a school building was erected.


The organization of church congregations preceded the laying out of the town. The first "branch" of Latter Day Saints was organized November 12, 1871, with eighteen members, with Chas. H. Jones, President. As was rather usual in those days the first meetings were held in schoolhouses. About 1875 a rough church was built near the center of the township. It was never painted and after the town grew it was abandoned and torn down. In 1882 the Lamoni congregation took measures to erect an adequate house of worship. The Brick Church was the eventual outcome.

The Methodist Church also has a pioneer history. The first church structure was built a mile and a half from Lamoni in 1872. It was removed to the village in 1881.

The removal of the headquarters of the Reorganized Latter Day Saint Church from Plano, Illinois, to this vicinity gave an impetus to its growth. The removal began with a search for a new business center. Several places were visited and Lamoni finally selected. In the fall of 1881 the printing plant was moved and the first issue of periodicals was published in Lamoni. This brought Joseph Smith and family to the new town, the workers in the printing establishment, and a gradual influx of families. The growth of the town was assured.


In an editorial of the Saints Herald, November 15, 1881, the town is pictured. "Lamoni is a town of three to four hundred people, away from failroad centers and manufacturing districts . . . . .The idler, the lazy, and the vicious . . . . .will to well to give Lamoni a wide berth; but the industrious, frugal and exemplary we shall welcome to the band of workers."

That invitation of a half century ago holds true to these years of the semi-centennial anniversary of the founding of Lamoni.
J.H. Hansen, mayor protem, 1885. Moses McHarness, 1886. A.S. Cochran, 1887.
G.W. Blair, 1888. R.S. Salyards, 1889. G.E. Reynor, 1890.
*H.L. Tilton, 1890. F.M. Weld, 1891. W.W. Scott, 1893.
Frank Criley, 1896. W.W. Scott, 1897. G.H. Derry, 1897.
F.D. Young, 1904. *B.M. Russel, 1905. Robt. Turner, 1906.
R.M. Elvin, 1908. I.A. Smith, 1910. *F.M. Weld, 1910.
G.W. Blair, 1912. J.F. Jones, 1916. *C.F. Graham, 1917.
*Chas. Haskins, 1917. A.M. Carmichael, 1918. Oscar Anderson, 1920.
G.W. Blair, 1922. Chas. Haskins, 1928.
(Those starred were appointed to fill unexpired terms).

Mayor, Chas. Haskins
Clerk, Martin Hynden
Councilmen, N.R. Carmichael; A.W. Fleet; J.H. Gillaspey; David Dancer; David Vredenberg.

Lamoni has an approximate population of seventeen hundred.

Transportation facilities are much better than those of the average town. The branch line of the Burlington Railroad connects with the main transcontinental line about forty miles away. Through Lamoni run two passenger trains each way except Sundays and at Togo Junction, three miles distant, other trains are available.

The Jefferson Highway from New Orleans to Winnipeg, "from palm to pine," goes through Lamoni. By the close of this year the Iowa section of paving will be completed, joining Kansas City and Des Moines. Lamoni is justly proud of this for her citizens were prime movers in the establishment of the highway and energetic promoters of the paving. Bus service is now being conducted with inter-state service since last spring. The highway paving has been connected with that already laid in Lamoni.

The town has the service of the Iowa Southern Utilities Company, which purchased the local electric plant five years ago. Its business is courteous and efficient. A branch office is maintained in Lamoni. The town maintains a well distributed system of street lighting. Especially is this true of the business district where modern lights were installed a few years ago.

A large expenditure was made in improvements when the Middle States Utilities Company purchased the local telephone plant a few years ago. This has brought a good quality of service.

Lamoni uses both lake and deep well for the town's water supply. There is modern sewage disposal.

In education the town offers unusual advantages from the preschool clinic through the elementary grades, high school, and junior college. Adults have privileges in cultural clubs, church classes, and community associations. The accrediting of these systems ranks high.

The town is a musical center. The well-balanced concert band, directed by J.H. Anthony, is community-supported. The school orchestras lend to the Lamoni-Graceland orchestras, under Mr. Anthony's leadership. The Brick Church enjoys what is probably the largest regular choir in the state for nine months of the year, the Lamoni-Graceland Oratorio Society, directed by Mabel Carlile of the college faculty. Last spring the annual rendition of the Messiah with a choir of 150 voices and an orchestra of 30 pieces drew music lovers from many neighboring towns. The A Cappella Chorus of the college carries music to other places on its annual spring concert tours. The public school system promotes music.

A public library was started in 1922. Its beginnings were small, but its growth has been steady and tax support now insures its continuance. It is housed near the business center and is used by both town and rural patrons. The library committee is appointed by the town council. The college library is also available to the town's people.

The Coliseum is an entertainment house for community interests, operated in trust by a group of citizens. It is one of the outstanding features of the town, with a well constructed building [in 1911] with basement for large dinners, main assembly room with balcony and with stage for drama. It is kept in good repair and its offerings are well standardized. Moving pictures are shown three times per week.

Parks are laid out for different purposes, and located in various parts of the town.

Civic interest and religious atmosphere are fostered.


The community has been developing an interest in dairying during recent years. Men have come to feel that this area was particularly well suited to that industry. A number of choice dairy herds have been built up. That at the Saints' Home Farm is of the Holstein-Fresian breed and includes some heavy producing cows. The herd at the college farm is Jersey. The photo below shows the modern dairy barn built in 1927 on the Saints' Home Farm with a capacity of 34 cows, herd sire and calf pen, and now with room for 100 tons of loose hay. The interior equipment is of steel. It indicates the trend about Lamoni toward better dairy methods and equipments. The agricultural course at the high school under F.S. Parks has been doing some efficient work in this line.


Lamoni is a good business town, drawing from a large radius of territory. General stores with large displays of merchandise in up-to-date methods, well equipped garages, lumber yards, shipping association, elevators, cooperative creamery, and produce houses keep up a wide variety of trade.

Many business houses are old in the history of the town. The following is a list of these houses in order of their seniority of establishment under present management. In many instances members of the firm have been in other lines of business, prior to connection with present houses. Often there have been changes in personnel, but a continuation has gone on.
G.W. Johnson, jeweler, 1882. Fleet's Store, general depart. store, 1889.
W.A. Grenawalt, men's clothier, 1894. E.D. Briggs, insurance & real estate, 1896.
D.C. White & Son, general merchandise, 1899. Rauch Grain and Seed Co., 1899.
Geo. Foreman, coal and feed, 1899. Silvers' Restaurant, 1899.
G.H. Derry, garage, 1902. (Mr. Derry previously in the harness business.) H.W. Teale & Son, implements, 1902. (in harness business previously.)
Humphrey Produce Co., 1902. Allen's Restaurant, 1903.
Grenawalt's Hardware, 1903. Mrs. J.D. Stead, millinery and notions, 1905.
Geo. Blair, real estate, 1905. (In mercantile business.) E.A. Denio, groceries, 1909.
Orv. Dickey, barber, 1909. Farmers' Elevator, 1912 (Store began 1923.)
Ed. Downey, barber, 1912. Blair Printing Co., 1913.
J.F. Jones, druggist, 1915. Lewis Second Hand Store, (Began Variety Store, 1916.)
H. Miner, barber, 1916. T. Hinderks, hardware, 1916.
Daniel Anderson, insurance, 1916. W.D. Gaulter, plumbing, 1919.
C.W. Humphrey, real estate. Donelson Motor Co., 1919.
Midgorden Bros., implements, 1920. Silver & Roberts, tire shop, 1920.
Jonathan Hotel, Mrs. Chasey, 1920. Sinclair Oil Station, 1920.
John Nixon, shoe repair and panitorium, 1921. General Supply Store, general merchandise, 1921.
Arthur Noftsger, insurance, 1921. Barr's Modern Mill (now Barr & Moon), 1922.
Midwest Lumber Company, 1922. Farmers Shipping Assn., 1923.
Hartman Produce House, 1923. Midgorden's Radio Shop, 1924.
Gibson's Cafe, 1924. Miner & Frees Lumber Co., 1924.
Iowa Southern Utilities Co., electric company, 1925. O.W. Propst, shoe repairer, 1925.
Middle States Utilities Co., telephone, 1926. Clarence Downey, poultry and produce, 1926.
J.W. Arkle, jeweler, 1926. Ballantyne's Eat Shop, 1927.
Dave Hansen, photographer, 1927. Lamoni Hatchery, 1927.
Mid-Continent Petroleum Co., 1927. Harry Scott, druggist, 1927.
Smith Meat Market, 1928. Pete Cooper, harness, 1928.
J.E. Butts, blacksmith, 1928. Lamoni Creamery, 1928.
Smith's Chevrolet Garage, 1928. Miller's Cafe, 1929.
Lamoni Mill & Coal Co., 1929. Derry's Bake Shop, 1929.
France's Oil Station, 1929. Snyder's Blacksmith Shop.
Hammer Oil Station, 1929.  

Lamoni's professional groups include those who have served the community from thirty-five years to those who have recently moved into the town.
Bertha A. Greer, 1897.
C.E. Sixbury, 1926.
T.W. King, 1918.
H.M. Hills, 1911.
C.R. Taff, 1926.
D.K. Maneely, 1923.
Frank Shipman, 1923.
J.J. Moore, 1895.
Rella Shewmaker, 1929.
Opal Roark, superintendent of schools, 1927.
G.N. Briggs, president of college, 1915.
W.E. Prall, pastor of L.D.S. Church, 1925.
H.L. Slick, pastor of M.E. Church

From Lamoni during the fiscal year July 1, 1928, to June 30, 1929, were shipped the following carloads, according to the statistics of J.F. Jefferies, agent for the Burlington Line: Corn, 25 cars; wheat 5; hogs, 265; cattle, 97 and miscellaneous, 47. The miscellaneous materials included logs, scrap iron, machinery, sheep, horses, etc. This establishes Lamoni as an agricultural shipping center.


The first business houses were erected by Thomas Teale and Samuel H. Gurley at the west corners of what is now Main and Linden Streets. The first lumber yard was started by David Dancer, Albert P. Dancer and A.S. Cochran. In the fall of 1880 Henry Stebbins purchased the store of A.P. Dancer. The first photographer was A.M. Chase. G.W. Johnson's Jewelry Store was one of the early comers to Lamoni. The chronicler of those pioneer days would find mention of such names as these: Charles Blair, traveling salesman; George Blair and T.J. Bell in the mercantile business; William Graham as a hotel keeper; Joseph Rabidou in the blacksmith business; Frank Weld in the drug store; J. W. Denoon, John H. Hansen, Dr. Stafford, Theo. Brenzier, A.W. Sherman, doctors; Charles Ellerton, first depot agent; W.A. Hopkins, furniture business, and a long list of men and business firms of varied types.

Lamoni has been an agricultural community. In that busy year of 1879 over ten thousand bushels of corn were sold and shipped. The business annals of Lamoni should include the farmers who settled here such as David Dancer, Elijah Banta and J.R. Smith and the many pioneers who have given stability to the community.

The first person born in the town of Lamoni was Bertie Lamoni White, the son of Volentine and Mary A. White. The first girl born here was a daughter of Dr. Denoon. The third child born in Lamoni was Wilbur Cochran.
Written in 1901 by Mrs. Vida Smith Yates

You remember; your sunny roomed school house
On prairie, by forest, or hill,
It rises like old pictures before you,
Your heart gives a queer little thrill,
For the scenes crowding fast hold enchantment
And the skies bending o'er them are blue,
But the fancies and dreams of those school rooms
Are dearest and sweetest to you.

Coming years may deal hardly or gently,
We may wander the great world o'er.
But often in our fancy or night dreams
We will meet at the old school house door.
Not the little red school in the forest,
Nor the brown one by the swiftest of rills,
Just the plainest and dearest old school house,
On Iowa's soft rolling hills.
Leon Reporter, Leon, Iowa, 1929; copied by Nancee (McMurtrey) Seifert
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