Larchwood History

The site of Larchwood and the land adjacent to it, which was known as the Sykes Estate, was originally given as a grant by the United States government to Charles W. Holder of Bloomington, IL, and not as is the general supposition, to Jesse Fell. The story which was most frequently told regarding the acquisition of the vast tract of land, comprising something over 20,000 acres, was that Jesse Fell, a prominent Illinois man, close friend and advisor of Abraham Lincoln, secured the tract by grant from the government in the late sixties. All the abstracts of title show Mr. Holder to have been the original person to whom the grant was made, the original entry being in 1869 with a patent issued in 1870.

In 1873 Mr. Holder transferred the bulk of the grant to Jesse Fell, the consideration being $1.25 an acre. Mr. Fell set out to improve the acreage which he had purchased. He sent Mr. Fred Geizer to the Larchwood site with instructions to set out willow hedges around each quarter section. These hedges were set by plowing a furrow with horses or oxen and then laying willow poles in the furrow. Another furrow was then plowed to cover them. Where the willow poles came from is not clear, but they must have been hauled from along the river or creeks as the area in the immediate vicinity was treeless. The willow hedges were somewhat a nuisance and of little value, although some remained as late as the 1920's and early 1930's.

Mr. Fell did import and plant many useful and valuable trees of the larch (European), maples and evergreen varieties which still stand as a monument to his work and foresight.

In February of 1881, Mr. Fell disposed of his interest in Lyon county to the Close Brothers of LeMars, IA, who in turn sold the tract at an advance of about $1. per acre to Richard Sykes of Manchester, England, in November of the same year.

Mr. Sykes took up the work where Mr. Fell left off. "The Big House", commonly known to most local residents as the McGilvra house, was erected and used as a home for the Englishmen who came to assist Mr. Sykes in developing his purchase. A company barn was erected southwest of town to house the implements and animals needed for the work. Company houses were erected on each of 32 quarter sections, which were soon remodeled or replaced when family ownership caused more space to be needed.

Ownership of remaining holdings of the area passed to the Manchester & Salford Bank in the late 1880's, with Mr. Sykes a large stockholder in that corporation. A few farms remained in the possession of this bank or some Eastern land companies until the turn of the century; however, by 1900 most farms were locally owned and profits from farming remained in this area.

Mr. Sykes was well liked and on frequent visits to Larchwood was royally welcomed and serenaded by the local bands. In appreciation of this courtesy and friendship, he donated two blocks of the city and designated it to be used only as a park. Many of the stately Larch trees still stand here, signaling the origin of the town's name - Larchwood.

S. B. Willard built the first house in what is now the town. His home served as a stop for the stagecoach and freight wagons on their way between Sibley and Sioux Falls. There the first post office was also located. The house still stands and is now occupied by a great grandson of Willard, Marvin Parkinson. Though remodeled many times, it is a sturdy monument to the courage and confidence of these pioneers.

Other early settlers were J. P. Dement, William Fritches, and Fred Geizer. Probably the earliest and best-known settler was Ed Lewis, who homesteaded southwest of Larchwood in 1869. Andrew Swanson came to Lyon County in 1870 and married in the same year. He bought a farm and homesteaded another.

These settlers were plagued by many problems - drought (1871), grasshoppers (1873), diphtheria, and blizzards (1881-1888). The problem of obtaining supplies was particularly difficult as lumber and building materials had to be hauled from LeMars, Sioux City, or Sibley, Iowa. In turn, grain was hauled to shipping points by oxen team and wagon. Reports were made of grain caravans as long as two miles.

A few happenings of Larchwood's early history are recalled here and will be enlarged upon in other portions of the book. The first local store was erected to serve the needs of the growing number of farmers by Rulland and Helgerson in 1874. The first postmaster was W.S. Willard. The first school was taught by P.J. Allbright in 1874. He lived in the school house. The first church service was held in the school house in 1874 and was conducted by Rev. Palmer, a Congregational minister from Sheldon, IA. The first wedding was in July of 1874, when William Friscius and Hanna Nelson were married.

Larchwood was a sports town from its earliest beginnings. The late 1870's and most of the 1880's saw the young English bring some of the better racing horses and polo ponies to this area. Riding to the hounds or fox hunting, of course, was a regular sport. In the area now known as Emerald Park, the race track was established. Crowds of more than a thousand, attracted from a wide area, attended; betting on races was common. Some of the Englishmen who helped make Larchwood famous for the "Sport of Kings" were Tom Proctor, J.B. Stewart, W.H.B. Medd, F.B. Pittmann, Arthur G. Preston, Willy Paulton, Albert Ashton, and Ed Bond. Some of these men returned to England, others scattered about the United States. The writer personally remembers William "Goose" Bright, who brought the famous horse, Grey Goose, from Omaha and as a jockey in the regular racing season. He later lived with friends, worked on farms in the area, and was buried here.

Another Englishman who spent his declining years here was Sidney "Major" S. B. Thompson, who lived in the George Knipe home east of town but roamed the area on foot to the Sioux River, to Klondike and to Lester. He was highly educated, speaking several languages, and was a member of a titled family.

With the exodus of English sportsmen from Larchwood came the real and lasting sport for which the town has been widely known, the great game of baseball. It came into this town in the late 1880's and had been a major part of our town's history since then.

The first thirty years saw Larchwood grow rapidly as the farm area was settled.

When the railroad was built through the town in 1886, Larchwood had a real spurt in growth of businesses, and the business district was moved from the old part of town, (west and north of the City Park), to its present location. In the year 1889, Larchwood was the top station for immigrant cars, having had 20 cars prior to April 1st with more on the way. Another added dividend of the railroad coming was the increase in attendance at the widely famous races. A racing association consisting of local people, was formed and large purses were offered as well as many bets laid.

By 1900, the population had grown to 450 or 500 people, creating a need for numerous businesses such as livery stables, grain dealers, lumber yards, dray lines, stores, millinery, drugs, hardware, feed, hotels, broom factory, creamery, banks, saloons, restaurants, law office, butcher shops, nursery and seed company, photography shop, harness shop, land loan and insurance agency, implement dealers, newspaper (1888), meat market, shoes and clothing, blacksmiths and woodworkers, jewelers, poultry farms and many special breeding farms for cattle, hogs, and sheep. Galloway cattle had been imported from England, but were too expensive for most farmers and not generally accepted in the area.

Many of the above mentioned businesses were of short duration. Some changed owners frequently and others were discontinued after a few years. At times and methods changed, others continued to serve the community to the present day.

Telephones made their appearance in 1897 and expanded rapidly in the early 1900's. Farmers in the area formed their own companies and switchboard in Larchwood. The switchboard was later sold. The farmers' line companies continued in operation until about 1960 when the Hills Telephone Company took over the service.

In the first decade of the century, the population stabilized and few new businesses were started. After the closing of the local creamery, Andrew Wood Company of Rockwell City, IA, opened a cream buying station in 1905. The Farmer's Savings Bank opened July 10, 1906, as did he Farmer's Coop Elevator in 1906.

Prices of produce in December, 1905: Wheat - 71 cents per bushel, Oats - 23 1/2 cents, Corn - 29 cents, Butter - 18 cents per pound, Eggs - 20 cents per dozen and Hogs $4.30 per cwt. No price was listed for cattle.

Prices of produce in December, 1910: Wheat price had been discontinued, Oats - 26 cents, Corn - 34 cents, Barley - 71 cents, Butter - 25 cents per pound, Eggs - 25 cents per dozen, and Hogs - $6.50 per cwt.

Real estate gained in value through the years. a 160 acre farm in 1900 was advertised for sale at $32.00 per acre. This farm rented, at that time for $350.00 cash. By 1905 land was being advertised at $50.00 to $65.00 per acre. In 1910 corn yield was approximately 60 bushels per acre and land prices had advanced to $100.00 to $125.00 per acre.

During this decade civic pride brought about the construction of a new City Hall in 1908 and opened for the first time on January 28, 1909. The building cost nearly $8,000.00. Seats were $445.00 and a piano cost $125.00. In the first year of operation, the receipts to the city were $2,500.00, of which $1,000 was profit.

Fraternal organizations flourished and social activities reached a high point. Whist Clubs, church activities, and political discussion groups were formed.

E.J. Reigel was the first man from Larchwood to be elected to county office, being elected County Auditor in 1910.

Horse racing was abandoned and replaced with harvest home picnics. There were exhibits of grain and produce; all combined with sports events. Football was played; a touchdown being scored as 5 points; the conversion was 1 point, as it is today. Band concerts and fireworks displays in he evening rounded out the well attended festivities. At one celebration, Hills defeated Rock Rapids 11 to 5 at football.

The 4th of July brought a celebration in Larchwood. Featured were baseball games, foot races for all ages, carnival rides and fireworks.

Each summer for many years, Chautauqua furnished educational and entertaining programs for people of theater. It was a highlight of the summer when the big tent was erected and the wonderful singers and speakers appeared. Stage plays were also included in these programs.

Small circuses came frequently during warm weather, with the usual excitement which is aroused among the children.

The horseless carriage began appearing on the scene in 1903-1904, and by the end of the decade, it was becoming well established. This caused a great deal of concern for the drivers of teams and wagons and buggies, with numerous runaways, personal injuries and property damage. It also created a new business and George Castle became Larchwood's first new dealer.

Many of the old settlers' houses were replaced in the years 1910 to 1915. These new houses were of fine large design and furnished with the best materials available. Maple, oak, walnut and hard pine were used extensively in the interior decoration. Central heating and carbide lights or Delco light plants were installed, making them very modern. Indoor plumbing and pressure water systems appeared in some.

The city of Larchwood built a direct current light plant in 1912 to 1913 to serve the needs of the community. This was one of the great improvements of the day. Hans Lund was hired as the Plant Manager and served continuously until his retirement. A new A.C. Plant was built in the early 1930's on the old baseball diamond near he city well and present water tower. this plant was in operation only a few years and the town bought current from the R.E.A.

St. Mary's built a new school in 1915, serving grades one through twelve, with excellent music facilities in a addition to regular courses.

Silent movie w became a part of local entertainment in about 1916 in a building on the east side of Main Street, south of the present highway. Later they moved to the City Hall. These continued into the mid and late 1920's, when sound movies took over. Fred Thompson and his horse Silver, were a favorite. Mr. McGee was the first projectionist. Dodd Ashton was projectionist for many years; and Nora Phelan and later Delma (Pruitt) Swanson provided proper musical accompaniment.

Following 1915, building slowed due to war in Germany, and Larchwood with the rest of the nation, took up the work of increased agricultural production and the production of war related work and materials, financed by the purchase of Liberty Bonds. The patriotic people of the town whole heartedly joined in the war effort. The first American troops arrived in France in June of 1917. Many men from the Larchwood area were engaged in battle during this war.

When Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, the people of Larchwood expressed their joy and relief with a huge bonfire, which included burning of the grandstand at the ball park, many out-houses and anything loose that would burn, including an effigy of the Kaiser, hauled to the scene by John Cauley's hearse.

The war was followed by a land boom, which inflated land prices to the $400 to $600 per acre level, which continued until about 1921, when the bubble burst.

Many farms were lost and bad investments created an era of hardships, coupled with drought in 1926 and poor markets, which brought business to a virtual standstill. These troubles were compounded by the stock market crash of 1929, which ushered in the great depression of the early 1930's.

Hundreds of people were jobless. Burdened by indebtedness, this was the most hopeless time since the area was settled. Farm prices were so low that corn was burned as fuel, being more valuable that way than marketing it. Eggs brought 6 cents a dozen, milk 5 cents, hamburger - 3 lbs. for 25 cents, round steak 15 cents, choice cut steaks were 18 cents a prepared meats, (cold cuts, wieners) 20 cents. Hogs dropped to 3 cents (or less) per lb. and cattle to 2 1/2 cents. Country school teachers' salaries dropped to $45 per month by 1933.

Due to the inability of farmers to pay bills, stores were overloaded by credit they extended and had difficulty paying wholesale bills. Foreclosures of farms were widespread, bringing on many legal tangles and much hard feelings. Land prices fell to $50 per acre, but little was sold as no one had the money to invest. Banks closed by the score, including both Larchwood banks, which added to the financial problems of the area.

Many people were forced to accept welfare, work on WPA projects and young men joined the CCC when no work could be found.

The winter of 1936 was known as one of the worst winters in history. An abundance of snow and constant winds blocked roads for a major part of the winter. Snow removal equipment was not adequate. Roads were opened so farmers could get out to town for groceries, fuel and other supplies, only to blow full of snow again, sometimes before they could make the trip to town and back. Many times the road equipment was in operation 24 hours a day so that doctors could attend the sick. Horses were used extensively as a method of transportation and even then there were many places where they could not go. Extreme cold prevailed through much of January and nearly all of February (-20 to -30 degrees and more) were common daily temperatures, Late March and early April brought the usual high water and flooding in some areas.

Crops started well that year and took on the appearance of a bumper crop. By late June, the corn was beyond the normal height, much of it too big to cultivate. June 25th temperatures reached 100 degrees and continued to rise. The heat was nearly unbearable on July 4th and on July 12th the temperature reached 112 degrees. Rains had ended in June and with the unusually high temperatures, drought took over. Grasshoppers thrived, adding to the disaster. August did not improve the situation. Cracks in the ground were 1" to 2" wide. Much of the corn was cut in August (what the grasshoppers hadn't gotten). Many small wood silos were built for storing feed. Forty-five to 60 acres of corn were cut to fill a 14' by 24' silo. Rims on the wooden wheeled wagons were wired on to keep the wheels together so they could be used and anything that could be gathered for feed for the following winter was salvaged.

In spite of the depression, poor crops and general dismay, Larchwood made some progress by building a water tower and making city water available to the people of the town. A few new houses were constructed with Federal Aid, just prior to World War II.

Conditions began to ease when war became imminent in Europe in 1939. Food and products of farms were needed for friendly countries and jobs became numerous in industry as war material was made for sale overseas and our Armed Forces were built up.

War came on December 8th, following the shock of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7th, 1941. Declaration of War against Germany and Italy was on December 11th. Again many Larchwood men enlisted and were called to serve their country. War in Europe ended May 8, 1945, and V.J. Day came September 2, 1945.

After World War II, the demand for production of both agricultural products and industrial materials continued and employment was at a high level. Larchwood grew from this point on to the present time. Many new residences were built, a new addition to the town, Emerald Park, was added, and a new gym at he school was built, which now serves as a City Auditorium. New fire equipment purchased, brought a need for a new fire house. The American Legion acquired the old fire house as a meeting place.

In the city park, a new shelter house was erected as a memorial to Eddie Anderson, who served many years as Chief of our Volunteer Fire Department.

Reorganization of the school district brought an end to the use of the old familiar school, which was demolished in 1971. A new West Lyon School was constructed four miles south of Larchwood and is serving this vicinity at this time.

St. Mary's parish constructed a new grade school in 1965 at the site used as a baseball diamond for many years, creating a need for a new baseball field.

The Optimist Club, formed in 1965, assumed the work and obligation of providing a ball park, which is one of the better parks in northwest Iowa. They have maintained a summer recreation program for the youth of the community for a number of years. This organization has probably been the most active and most successful civic group in the history of Larchwood.

A new church, apartment houses, store, bank, hardware, an addition to the Farmers Coop Elevator, air field, Laundromat, several beauty shops, filling stations, Ready-Mix Cement Plant, dental clinic, repairs shop and numerous other improvements have been made in recent years.

One hundred years is but a speck in the realm of time and man. We look back with awe and pride at the accomplishments and determination of those generations, who chose this Larchwood area to settle, raise their families and to prosper in spite of all adversity.

The faith of those who in recent years have constructed new homes, new farm buildings, bought large farm equipment and the improvement of livestock breeding and feeding, assures us that the future is secure and in the hands of the same sturdy, determined type citizens who directed the progress in the past.

"By faith, Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he so joined in the Land of Promise, as in a strange country, for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Hebrews 11:8-10.

SOURCE: Larchwood Iowa Centennial, Remember the Past Build for the Future. 1872-1972.

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