Years of Progress - Part 2


Rock Rapids had a fine fire department, hose companies and also a hook and ladder company. They were cutting the loss from fires greatly. However, in February when the C. H. Moon residence in the northwest part of town caught on fire, they couldn't reach from the hydrants to the home. The home was one of the first built in Rock Rapids and was over 20 years of age.

Fires were one of the most serious problems of not only small towns, but the farmers had a constant threat of serious danger from this source.

In Mid-April fire broke out at Beloit and two of that community's business establishments-a saloon and a billiard hall-were wiped out. In September the Donohoe brothers, who farmed just southeast of town discovered the big barn on their place was on fire. It could not be controlled and 20 tons of hay and 10 splendid head of horses were lost, along with harness and farm equipment.

Not only was Rock Rapids on the move as far as electricity was concerned-the telephone system was being expanded. In February the Western Electric Company, which operated the local exchange, announced that their long distance lines were being extended to Hardwick, Trosky, Edgerton, Pipestone and Jasper, Minn. Later in the year they put a crew to work fixing up the lines in Rock Rapids, so that they would not be tangled up "every time the wind blew."

The March city election went off with little interest. Only 102 votes were cast. John Roach was elected as Mayor; J. W. Ramsey, J. M. Parsons and J. F. Nagle were elected as Trustees (Councilmen); J. K. Medberry was elected Recorder; C. H. Smith, Assessor; and Frank Sechler, Street Commissioner.

Returning to Rock Rapids, after attending a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Methodist Publishing House in New York City, O. P. Miller told local people that conditions were starting to improve in the east and eastern bankers believed the depression was about over. He was "kidded" considerably with a charge that he had attended a questionable show while in New York, but stoutly denied the charge.

As required by law, county officials compiled a list of all men in the county who were eligible for military service-there were 1,847 names on the list.

Land transfers the first three months of 1897 indicated that $25 an acre was about the going price-with well-improved properties bringing more.

The community was growing, at least in civic pride, and a demand was made that those who were letting their horses and ponies wander about town should keep them penned up.

Mid-March what may have been the worst flood ever recorded on the Rock River hit the community. Waters filled with huge chunks of ice came rushing down the Rock and were joined by more floods on the Kanaranzi and all the small creeks. Bridges were taken out all along the river. At six o'clock in the morning the wagon bridge at the foot of Main Street finally gave in and crumpled. The bridge was almost new-it was the third bridge at the location taken out by floodwaters. Roads were damaged, low-lying farms cut off-trains stopped running.

One interesting item about the flood was that Chas. Libby, who had a herd of dairy cows in East Rock Rapids, and who supplied most of the milk to local people, drove his herd across the bridge before it went down, and "the people of Rock Rapids could get milk without any water in it."

People of the community were very much sports-minded. When the mid-March fight between Fitzsimmons and Corbet took place at Carson City, Nev., Combs saloon made arrangements for a round-by-round telegraphic report for the benefit of their customers. The fight ended in the 14th round when "Fitz" scored a knockout.

In May people of Alvord held their annual ring-riding contest. This was a sport imported by the settlers from their homeland in Germany.

In June a successful two-day horse race meet was held. The event brought a lot of people to town, the races were close, and afterwards it was reported that the meet had made a little money.

Rock Rapids had a winning baseball team. By July 15 it had won seven games and lost only two. A public meeting was held to raise more money to support the team and keep it in the field. Special trains were run to many nearby communities so that fans could attend the games-Cherokee, Storm Lake, Pipestone, were among the communities with which the Rock Rapids team was competing.

The firemen's hose team was one of the best in the area and in the district meet at Luverne, they won second place-with Pipestone taking first.

Late in July Miss Williams, the McCoy brothers pacing mare, was in a $2,500 stake race at Cleveland, where she took fifth place. The papers pointed out that the race was run on a very muddy track, but in spite of that, time for the winner was 2:06 for the mile.

A group of local property owners started a move for a central sewer system. They proposed to build mains on Main Street and on Sixth Street, running to the Rock River--hen they would put in laterals on Carroll and Adams Streets to serve homeowners. The project was to be paid for by those using the system.

W. E. Layne was advertising that he would drill or dig wells and guarantee a good flow of water. Layne later became nationally famous for his well work, and started a company wit headquarters on the West Coast that was nation-wide.

Early in August a bad hailstorm hit the area and did tremendous damage to crops. Most of the damage was along the state line and into southern Minnesota-with damage reported as far north as Luverne. Many farmers had their entire crop wiped out.

The gold rush to the Klondike was on-and a number from the county joined the army of men who went north to seek their fortunes. Many letters were printed from Lyon County folks up north-and all of them urged others not to come, pointing to the terrible hardship, lack of food and shelter. They said that only a few were finding gold-the others suffering. They all said they did not know how they would get through the winter because of the shortage of food.

Politics was very quiet in 1897. It was not a presidential election year. Booze continued to be a problem and prohibitionists decided to put a full ticket in the field for county offices. Neither of the old parties liked this, but insisted it would hurt the other side.

Democrats were jubilant when their champion, William Jennings Bryan came to Sheldon for a two-hour speech in favor of free silver. He wasn't the only big name speaker in the area either. Carrie Chapman Catt, the great advocate of women's right and prohibition fighter, spoke at Inwood to a large crowd. And over at Sibley the great evangelist, Billy Sunday, held a series of meetings.

When the election was held on November 2-things went about as expected. The vote was light-Republicans carried the county for their state ticket and elected James Kemplay as Sheriff and Daily as Superintendent of Schools. The Democrats elected G. M. Anderson, Representative and Olaf Olson as Treasurer.

Although the winter of 1896-97 had been a bad one, hopes were high for a good crop. Floods slowed fieldwork, but the crop came along and looked fairly good. Fortunately damage to Lyon County from hail was light, although north of here there was a heavy loss. The harvest started-and farmers found they were in trouble. The wheat crops, depended on for food as well as cash, was of poor quality and not suitable for milling. Price for new wheat dropped to 55 cents a bushel while the Twin City millers were offering 95 cents a bushel for old wheat at their elevators. Other prices being paid were 12 to 16 cents for oats; 15 to 25 cents for barley; corn 16 cents; flax 88 cents. Hogs were bringing $3.25 per hundred and cattle $2.50 to $4.

Possibly a sign of the tight times was an uproar among threshing rig operators. The local operators were getting two to four cents a bushel plus crews to do the work. A group from Illinois came into the county and were charging the same, except they provided all the help. Between 80 and 100 threshers gathered in
Rock Rapids to talk over the matter and then they went in a body east of town to where the Illinois crews were working. There was some "friendly" persuasion, the Illinois people decided to charge the same rates as the local threshers.

The largest claim ever allowed by Lyon County was paid at their September meeting, when supervisors allowed a bill for $20,652 for the new Main Street Bridge. Many other bridges in the county still had to be built to repair damages left by the spring floods.

On September 27 Judge Oliver, dismayed at the huge number of cases on the docket, ordered all cases over six years old dropped. He pushed for speedier handling of all actions, and speeded up court procedures as much as possible.

One of the reasons advanced for the extensive court calendar and many cases to be tried was the fact that there were 13 lawyers in the small community-and all of them were looking for clients. Law suits were started over most any situation-many of these cases dragged on for years.

One of the current problems being attacked by lawyers in October of 1897 was whether the signatures on the petitions for saloons were legitimate or not. Under state law saloons had to have petitions signed by 65 percent of the voters before they could open, and the Lyon County petitions were being challenged. Both sides had attorneys going over the petitions with fine-tooth combs.

In December a gleam of hope showed for local industry when the Lion Banjo Company received an order for a number of instruments for the Christmas trade. It appeared this order was filled from manufacturers stock on hand at the time operations were closed down months previously.

People of Rock Rapids were justly proud of their fine new electric plant that had been put into operation in 1897. There were some bugs in the plant that caused occasional shutdowns, but over all it was a wonderful improvement. Members of the city council met on January 3, 1898 to wind up the financial parts of the const5uction. Total bills came to $18,216.65. This was somewhat higher than had been anticipated-and the overage was blamed on extras which were added as the construction and installation went along.

The council voted to pay all of the bills-but only subject to the completion of further tests on some items.

For one thing the council decided that the arc lights did not come up to specifications and they finally ordered them taken out and better lights installed.

After a few months experience it was decided that the poles which carried the electric lines were too far apart so a program was started to add additional poles and thus shorten the span of the wires.

Outages at the new plant were quite frequent-caused by sires blowing together, malfunction of parts in the generating plant, etc. But operations continued to improve and satisfaction was general.

Youngsters were not much different in those days than they are now-at least in March the council had to recognize the fact that the kids were shooting out the bulbs on the arc lights, so they served notice that in the future anyone shooting at the lights would be prosecuted.

The country was all stirred up about the gold strike in the Yukon and hardy souls were pulling up stakes and going north to find their fortune-quite a few went from this area-most returning with word that there wasn't much hope of getting in on the big money, and that privations and suffering in Alaska were very bad.

The gold fever evidently had wide effects. There were reports that gold had been found along the Little Rock River-and samples were sent in to be assayed-also gold was supposed to have been found in some of the quartzite rock in the Pipestone area. Neither of the reports were verified and presumably were the expressions of those who hoped to get rich quick.

Business was slow at the start of 1898. The depression was still gripping the country. A number of businesses had failed in the community, but some were being started. Shull Lumber Company announced the establishment of a lumberyard here. They headquartered in Sioux City. The company had shipped in a quantity of lumber and planned to build. Then W. T. Joyce, who had a string of yards, started building a plant here, bought out the Shull stock and went into business.

The last of January, the Bazaar Store, which was operated by a Sioux Falls firm, closed its doors. The owners said they were doing good business, but that the health of the principal owner was bad, so they were pulling in their operation.

The Clark Automatic Switch Company, which owned and operated the telephone system here, decided they wanted to get out, so W. C. Wycoff & Co., bought the system, moved the offices to another location and installed additional equipment to serve the community. In December Pritchard & Skewis of Inwood, decided there was money to be made, so they built a long-distance line from Rock Rapids to Little Rock, to provide services between the two towns. The line was said to be a real good one, which would provide a badly needed service.

The women of the community were stirring up interest constantly in getting the vote. The Political Equality Club had frequent meetings and late in January circulated a petition calling on the General Assembly to hold an election to amend the Constitution of the State, and remove from it the word "male," wherever it appeared. The petitions here were signed by "116 voters and 112 women."

The community's barbers were getting tired of working seven days a week, so on January 20 it was announced that in the future barber shops would not be open on Sundays-a move which not only cut down the hours of work for the members of the craft, but closed down one of the most popular meeting places for males of the community, for the Sabbath Day.

Eighteen hundred ninety-eight was a war year. There was no question but that people were "itching for a fight" and the Cuban situation was the opportunity. A mass meeting was held at the courthouse, in the interest of supporting the Cubans against Spain, which country controlled the islands, and which was accused of all kinds of oppression. The meeting passed resolutions calling for recognition and support for the insurrectionists.

Then on February 15, 1898, the war-minded got what they were looking for-a reason to act. The Maine, one of the United States' big warships, was sunk in Havana Harbor. The real cause of the sinking was never determined, but it was blamed on the Spanish and public sentiment rapidly rose to a fever pitch.

In April a military company was organized here to get men ready for the fight with Spain. Governor Shaw early in May authorized the formation of a state militia company here, which was done, but no men had yet been called to the colors. In June the call came and 23 men from this county reported to Sheldon for examination and processing. In the group from Rock Rapids were George Mcnab, H. Anderson, C. Jorgeson, F. Stokes, Clint Gardner, Folkins, Harry Hinson. H. Fry, Pruitt, William Tracy, A. Huveland. The group was shipped to Chickamauga, Ga., for training. Letters from the camp were fired with patriotism, the men were in good health, getting their equipment and anxious to get on with the war.

In July the community held a benefit at the Opera House and presented a patriotic show, "An American in Spain." There was a big turn out and all the funds were for soldier's relief.

Things went from bad to worse at Chickamauga. Conditions were not good, sickness became rife. The war was just about over and morale among the men was very low. Typhoid, malaria, dysentery, were taking their toll at the camp.

The middle of September the local men-with the exception of a few that were hospitalized returned home. Ben Follrich, a member of the company who lived at Hull, died in a Des Moines hospital and was buried at Hull the same week the men came home. A week later William Tracy, Larchwood, died at his home, the result of malaria and typhoid contracted at Chickamauga.

A great banquet was held in Rock Rapids to honor its volunteers who had gone off to war. Later in the month another patriotic play was presented, "Prisoner of Spain." There was a good attendance, but a noticeable drop in the fervor which had been displayed only months before.

Rock Rapids came into the limelight late in January of 1898 when one of its most prominent citizens, H. G. McMillen, was nominated for United States Attorney for northern Iowa. "Mac" as he was popularly known, had been high in Republican political circles for many years and had been chairman of the State Republican Committee.

McMillan had been a lawyer here, he had been one of the owners of a newspaper at different times, and he had built up a great farm operation south of town. Late in February the McMillens held a pureblooded hog sale at the farm. It was held in the big barn, recently built and more than 500 people attended. The blooded hogs sold well. Top animals brought $100 others brought $90. The average of all animals sold was $28.

Lakewood Farm was one of the big success stories of the area. McMillen bought the place 10 years before for $10.50 an acre. There were 713 acres in the spread. Now it was reported to be worth $40 an acre.

In May McMillen and Cyrenus Cole, who was the editor of a Des Moines paper, bought the Cedar Rapids Republican, one of the state's big daily papers. Cole was to be the editor of the paper and McMillen would look after business matters-in connection with his legal work for the government. The sale price of the daily was $45,000.

The McMillens moved to Cedar Rapids in July of 1898.

Rock Rapids got a new business late in February. Koobs, Son & Company opened a general store and immediately became an important factor in the community's progress.

In April the Straits came to Rock Rapids and started a monument works to provide burial markers and also do stone work as needed.

Also in April, work was started on a new creamery. The building was located in east Rock Rapids, and was said to be a very modern installation. The Review said that backers had found that Lyon County cows gave a milk that was higher in butterfat than did the cows in eastern Iowa, where dairy farming was well established.

In June the owners of the old tow mill started tearing out the machine from that plant and shipping it to Racine, Wisc. There wasn't enough flax grown in this area any more to support the operation. This ended what was probably the most successful early day industrial project in the community.

The Larchwood House Hotel, one of the landmarks in that west Lyon County town caught fire and burned to the ground. It had been built by "The English" and for many years was a popular gathering place for those attending the Larchwood races. Only a few of the rooms were still used. Originally the structure had cost $4,000. It was owned by Richard Sykes.

A group of osteopaths had come into the area and started a practice which included Rock Rapids, Rock Valley and the surrounding area. Immediately a feud developed between these men-headed by Drs. Gilmore and Craig-and the regular medical practitioners and the later group voted to start legal action to stop them from practicing. The General Assembly at their session started action on a bill to legalize the work of the osteopaths and there was a lot of conflict between supporters of the new profession and the established doctors.

In the March municipal caucus J. W. Roach was nominated for mayor along with councilmen, and other city officers. It was reported that there was a good turnout for the meeting, which "lasted three minutes." opposition developed and another ticket was put into the race. When the election was held it brought out the largest vote ever recorded here-453 citizens going to the polls. The caucus ticket won by a very small majority.

A "scandalous" situation had developed in the country regarding pensions for Civil War Veterans and their wives. Under existing rules the widow of a veteran continued to get his pension as long as she lives-and there were a lot of young women marrying old soldiers, presumably not for love, but to get his pensions. The government finally acted and passed legislation which outlawed pensions for the widows, who were married after July 1, 1898. Now, the Review reported, veterans would know their wives were marrying them for affection and not just to get the monthly government check.

Although there was great interest in the Spanish-American relations and the war that developed-people of Rock Rapids were carrying on about as usual. There were all kinds of dinner parties, lodge meetings and social activities. Many musicals were held with local people and Edith Carpenter was often the featured singer. Her voice was outstanding.

There were frequent shows at the opera house-with lecturers, magicians, chalk talk artists, etc. In May Buchanen Brothers Circus showed here, but didn't particularly please the people. The show had a few good performers, but it brought to town a lot of gamblers and other undesirables, some of whom stayed on after the show departed. In June the Wallace Circus came here. It was a good show and the papers said there were not the undesirable gamblers and other hangers-on accompanying the circus. In June also, Mayor Roach issued a license for The Basco Woman and her tub of snakes. They displayed on the street-"a filthy woman cavorting around in a big tub with a lot of venomous snakes." When Roach saw the display he revoked the license and ran the show people out of town, saying this was nothing for the women and children of Rock Rapids to see.

In July an old Rock Rapids resident was back with a "wagon museum." He was P. A. Older who had formerly lived here and had organized the Older, Crane & Company circus that had toured the country for a long time. Older then went into partnership with P. T. Barnum, but that did not last long. The big show was split, Barnum working the northern part of the country and Older taking his show south. Older's show finally failed and he was reduced to the small "wagon museum" from which he tried to eke out an existence.

In August the newly organized Rock Rapids orchestra presented a program. They featured Miss Carpenter, Miss Higgins on the piano and other outstanding local musicians. The orchestra also played for many of the dances, which were almost weekly occurrences.

One of the outstanding stage attractions of the fall came in October when "Night at the Circus" was presented at the opera house.

The show was reported as being outstanding. The professional company which presented the attraction traveled in their own private Palace Car.

The final entertainment number of the year was a performance by the famous "Maeldoft Imperial Orchestra" of Chicago. The program was very well received and it was listed as a great contribution to the between Christmas and New Year period in Rock Rapids.

Banking business was good in Rock Rapids. There were three banks in operation-O. P. Miller's Lyon County Bank; B. L. Richards' First National Bank and P. M. Casady's Iowa State Bank. All three were supposed to have about the same amount of business but only one had to publish a statement of condition. That was the First National Bank, the only National bank in the community. In its report published the middle of May the First National showed resources of $160,110.47.

Many banks over the country were having trouble because of the depression. Money was terribly short. The German Savings Bank at Doon finally closed its doors. The bank was backed by LeMars capitalists. It was put into receivership and it was hoped that depositors would get all of their deposits.

The area's dependence on agriculture was generally recognized. With good crops and fair prices things were good-without a crop and low prices, everyone suffered. Everyone kept their eyes on growing conditions and on prices. The growing season started out early-crops were planted-and then a late frost killed a lot of the grain. Replanting was necessary in many cases. The outlook evidently was not good and so the millers were bidding up the price of wheat. A high of $1.10 a bushel was offered for old wheat, and most of what was available on the farm was bought. Late in July a bad storm passed through this area. It was an electrical storm and had high winds and lots of hail-it did great damage. The Review reported that at least 15 head of livestock had been killed by lighting-and at the Omaha depot here, lightning hit, started a fire and burned out the telegraphy equipment.

When the harvest got underway late in July and early August the crop proved much better than expected. Wheat was going 15 to 20 bushels to the acre-and it was of number one quality. But immediately the price fell-only 45 to 50 cents a bushel was offered-and many of the grain merchants wouldn't buy at any price.

Thirteen young men and women were in the 1898 graduation class at the Rock Rapids High School. The exercises were held at the new Methodist Church. In the class were Hazel V. Davison, Ada A. Penman, Ethel L. Davenport, Elizabeth C. Ranck, Dot Green, Clyde D. Woodburn, M. Clyde McKinley, Etta M. Wright, Amber C. Burgess, Jennie E. Horr, Ada B. Gilman, Clinton R. Shipman and Arthur G. Miller.

One of the major tragedies of the year occurred late in July. Dora Gilbertson, a girl who had only recently come to this country from Scandinavia, was working as maid at the Lyon Hotel. With other maids she was cleaning a room with gasoline. In some manner the pitcher of gasoline with which they were working broke into flames. One of the girls grabbed the pitcher and tried to throw it out the window, but it was thrown over the Gilbertson girl who was horribly burned. She ran out of the hotel and her clothes fell off-she was literally "cooked," and died a few hours later. The Fire Company rushed to the hotel and extinguished the flames and the loss to property was minor.

Health conditions in the community were probably no worse or better than usual. During the spring and summer there were many cases of typhoid, but the disease seemed to be quite mild. In the fall a series of scarlet fever cases were reported which had everyone badly worried.

The political campaign in 1898, as far as county offices were concerned, was very vicious. Particularly the campaign between E. Y. Greenleaf, Democrat, and Simon Fisher, the Republican, for the office of County Attorney. The newspapers were into the campaign up to their necks. Charges of incompetence, dishonesty, and the like were weekly occurrences.

When the election was held Fisher was re-elected by a small majority. The Republicans swept the state offices-with Lyon County voters favoring that party. The Republicans also carried all of the county offices in this county.


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