The Legend of Maple Grove
Written by Diane De Wit
When settlers came to Garfield township in the 1880's they were welcomed by flowing waves of bluegrass sprinkled with wild flowers and the perfume of red clover. But as the land passed from the state of Iowa to the Des Moines River Valley Railroad and on to hearty settlers, the prairie grass, tall as a horse, was soon broken by wood framed houses and new barns.
Trees were scarce. Saplings clustered along the Rock River and its lazy tributaries, which ran like fingers through the virgin grassland. Homesteaders needed to bring in timber from as far as Sioux City in order to build their houses. Most planted a good stand of trees as protection from relentless northwest winds.
Michael P. Fox came to Garfield Township in 1888 and purchased a quarter section of undeveloped land for twelve dollars an acre. In 1890 he put up a wood frame house and protected it with a five-acre grove of young maple trees. Fox, an Irishman from Dubuque County, Iowa, married a Kansas girl in 1895, and worked hard to make his farm one of the most fertile and valuable in Garfield Township. He rented an additional 160 acres and began to raise cattle, hogs, chickens and a few Perchon horses.
Across the road from the Foxs' maple-grove, stood the neighborhood schoolhouse. All the Fox children, Paul, Regina, Homer 'Pinkie', Ross and Francis, attended there. In the early 1900's the school was the center of social activities. Garfield Township was proud of their nine public schools, and the Fox school, or Maple Grove School, as it was sometimes called, was no exception. Many of its social events were held across the road in the Fox's maple-grove. As the years went by and Mike Fox's grove matured, it became a popular place for picnics and outings. It was a natural choice for the schools special occasions, especially graduation.
Graduations were an all day event back in 1911. At 10 o'clock a.m. the graduates with their families and friends, marched to Maple Grove for its third annual graduation ceremonies and program. Before the honored five took their places, on a gaily decorated stage, they entertained the guests. Alvina and Emma Bruening sang "Summers Time," Royce Weatherly did a declamation called 'Graduation,' Rachel Lawrence gave the class history. Then the class, who had chosen for their motto 'Ever Forward', and their colors as Nile green and pink, received their diplomas from the President of the Board of Education, Michael Fox. After the graduates gave a yell of triumph they listened to the address given by Superintendent, A.M. De Yoe, the State Superintendent of public instruction. De Yoe urged Garfield residents to upgrade their schools and provide the same quality of education as their city counterparts. He also attacked the habits of some teachers of driving to school, arriving late and dismissing early for the purpose of spending more time at home. After this rousing speech the high school girls did a patriotic drill and everyone was dismissed for a meal, and baseball games. The Doon Band furnished music all day.
Garfield Township was also known for their annual picnics. Many of these were also held in Maple Grove. The day was well planned with both educational and recreational events. In 1915, Kate Logan came all the way from Iowa State University to speak at the Garfield picnic. Despite the fact that Miss Logan suffered from a severe cold, she managed to speak for one and one-half hour on the necessity of improving rural schools. She also managed to stress the importance of teaching girls how to cook and clean a house.
There was always a variety of music on picnic day. School children sang favorites like 'We Throw a Kiss to Papa.' Others performed recitations, even parasol drills. The Doon Orchestra, Doon Cornet Band, the Garfield Glee Club was also on hand to perform.
There always was lots of food, and local ladies brought their best dishes in covered baskets. After the meal, children anticipated organized games under the shady maple trees. Tag, sack races, tug of wars, potato races and foot races were popular. There was always a prize for the winners. No picnic was complete without a ball game, which was scheduled against a neighboring town. Victory was always sweet, especially in 1915 when Garfield beat Rock Valley 10 to 2.
Plays often ended the day's activities. For fifteen or twenty five cents, Garfield neighbors and friends saw productions like 'Mrs. Briggs of the Poultry Yard' or 'Milkmaid's Convention'. Sometimes actors were members of the Agricultural Club or W.C.T.U. of Doon and Garfield area. The productions were held in a large brown tent, which by 1916, featured electric lights. The proceeds (as much as $48.50 in 1915), went to benefit the City of Doon, and to purchase seats for next years baseball fans. "We do things out in Garfield," the residents boasted.
Those were memorable times out in Fox's Maple Grove. Picnic day meant leaving the more strenuous care of life behind and spending a carefree day with neighbors and friends. Life was too short to miss the fun under the shade of the maple trees.
One century later, most of Maple Grove is gone. For reasons lost in history, the maples were removed and tilled fields took their places. Only seven trees remain. They are large and sprawling. Most are scarred with broken limbs and fallen branches. The wind rustles through their majestic branches on warm summer days. One can almost hear the sounds of laughter, school children playing tag and the crack of a bat drifting through the trees. Seven maples, are all that's left, to give testimony to the legend of Maple Grove.
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