LYON COUNTY GENEALOGY
LESTER: THE EARLY DAYS
By Ada Schacht
I was born in Lester on February 17, 1898 and have lived there all of my life. Lester was a wonderful town to grow up in.
My father, Joseph Brucken, built our family home in 1890. My brothers, John Leo, Joe, Fred and Tom and my sisters, Mary and Corrine and I, were all born in the home my father built. The home was occupied by my family members until the death of my sister, Corrine in January, 1987.
Most of the friends I grew up with have passed away but I still keep in touch with two of my old classmates, Beth Weber, whose father once ran the drug store in Lester, now lives in Paso Robles, Ca., and Lillian Klien Gruber, who resides in Datona Beach, Fla. Lillian recently celebrated her 90th birthday.
When I started school in 1903, Lester was very different then it is today. Nearly all of the homes were fenced with either woven wire or metal frames. A few, like ours, had white picket fences.
The sidewalks were wooden until 1907 when they were replaced with cement. There was no electricity. Gas lamps lit the streets and businesses and a few of the homes. The rest of the homes depended on kerosene lamps. Each night the street lights were lit by the town marshall who carried a small stepladder so he could reach them. When daylight came he turned them off.
Hitching posts connected by iron chains lined the side streets to provide a place for farmers to tie up their horses when they came to town to shop and carry on their business. We also had a livery stable where some folks left their horse in the care of Henry Cook.
When I was very small the only church in Lester was the Methodist. We did not have a resident minister, so services were conducted by a Sioux City minister. Membership was not large enough to warrant services on a regular basis but local residents kept Sunday School active for the children. After a time the residents who belonged to a Reformed Church began to hold services in the Methodist Church and they did have a resident minister. In time they bought a church building from another congregation and moved it to Lester.
In 1909 or 1910 the Evangelical Lutheran Church was built. Services were conducted in German by Reverend Wrest, who lived in Larchwood. When Reverend Wrest moved from Larchwood the church was closed for several years. In 1930 Reverend Sneider reopened the church and it remained open for many years. When the congregation found it difficult to secure a resident minister for such a small town the building was sold to the Methodist and the Lutheran members transferred to either Larchwood or Rock Rapids.
Two railroads crossed through town, the Rock Island running east and west and the Great Northern, north and south. They crossed at a transfer station located southeast of town; here freight could be transferred from one line to the other. Passenger service was provided by each.
Both railways had stockyards to accommodate farmers shipping their stock to market. There were four elevators in town for storing the farmers grain. It was due to the railroads that Lester was such a flourishing town. Many Lester men were employed by the railroad to keep the tracks safe and the trains moving.
The Great Northern depot agent, Mr. Willis, lived with his family in quarters above the depot. Sam Blackstone, depot agent for the Rock Island, lived above the depot with his family. The Rock Island depot was a wooden structure and was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt of brick and is still standing, no longer as a railroad depot, but is now an antique store.
The elevators were not equipped with scales so Henry Wick ran the city scale office where grain, coal, etc., were weighed.
Tired and hungry out-of-town folks were made welcome by the Liden family who owned and operated the Lester Hotel. The Lidens sold the hotel to Mr. and Mrs. Mack Furgeson, who continued this service for some time. The building that was once the Lester Hotel is still standing and has been owned by Louie Bontje for many years.
The two mercantile stores were always well stocked, not only with groceries but with shoes, clothing, sewing needs and most anything one would have need for. On the north side of the street was the Austin Moberly Mercantile, which was later sold to the Tangemans. Mr. Deno ran the Deno Mercantile on the south side of the street until he sold it to William Schroder.
Harry Hollenbeck ran the meat market. He was also the butcher who slaughtered the animals and cut up the meat.
Our postmaster was a Civil War veteran named Joe Dugan who was lovingly called Uncle Joe by young and old alike. The telephone office was located in the post office, on the southside of the street next to the butcher shop.
Although Lester did not have a hospital we did have a pharmacy operated by Mr. Mammen and later sold to Ben Weber, who ran the drug store until his death in 1933. We also had a resident doctor. The first doctor I can remember was Dr. Amsberry, then Dr. George Whiteside and the last one was Dr. Druit, who moved to Larchwood, but continued to give medical care to Lester residents.
The machine shop was first owned by William Lauck and John Kruger and was sold to Peter Steerman and Claudias Hass. Our blacksmith was Charlie Gall and the harness shop was run by Claus Claussen, who also repaired shoes.
Ice was harvested by local men who packed it in saw dust at the ice house and sold it to those who had ice boxes and for making ice cream. Other services that were available in the early days was a photo studio that was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jayce.
Herman Laackman built the hardware store in 1916 or 1917. Shortly after it was built he sold it to Lou Chamberlain who had provided lumber and building materials and sold coal for many years. The coal sheds were located south of the Great Northern depot.
I cannot remember a time when Lester did not have a bank. The first banker I can recall was Mr. Tukesberry, but he left town when I was very young. John Mitchell is the first banker I really remember. When he left Lester his brother, Frank, became the banker for a time. In 1912 Sam Davenport became our banker and Bert Hewlett was his assistant. The bank at that time was constructed of wood and was remodeled in 1913.
The cement works provided employment for a few more Lester men. They made cement tiles and building blocks. Peter Denul owned the business and he also owned the first horseless carriage in Lester. I remember the noise it made when he started up the engine. We children were fascinated by it and would watch it until it disappeared out of sight.
Pete Peters was a building contractor in those early Lester days and he employed many carpenters. They erected many of the business establishments and homes in Lester as well as the churches and the school house. My father was a carpenter and worked for Mr. Peters until failing health compelled Mr. Peters to retire. My father and George Schricker teamed up and built several more of the buildings in town. They continued the carpenter business until their retirement.
When I went to school hard coal burners were in every room to provide heat. Since Lester did not have water works until 1912 the water for the school was carried in each day by high school boys. Since the Peters home was near the school the boys would draw the water from their well. The well was one with a built-up frame with a pulley to bring up the bucket. The bucket was lowered into the well, then drawn up by the pulley and carried to the school. I still can remember how good that water was and it was always very cold.
We did not have gym in the early days so activities and programs were held in the opera house. In 1936 the old school house was sold and taken away. It was replaced with a new, modern school with a gym, indoor plumbing and a furnace for heat.
Many, many years ago there was a creamery in Lester that was owned and operated by Mr. Billings. In 1907 the creamery was sold to John Moberly. Mr. Moberly split the creamery in two parts and made a house from one part and a barn from the other. Mr. Moberly sold the property to John Schacht, a retired farmer. John Schacht was employed by the Lester School Board as a janitor and held that position until his death in 1919. Upon his death the home was passed onto my family and is still home, sweet home, to me.
Lesters band played at all local activities and were often engaged to perform in other towns as well. The bandmaster was from Rock Rapids; his name was Mr. Tonali. My father played in the band, which made it very special to me. The band practiced nearly every Saturday night. When weather permitted they played from the bandstand located on the west end of Main Street and when the weather was bad they practiced in the opera house.
The opera house was the finest in the county. People came from far and near to attend dances, see shows and attend various functions. A great many social functions and good times were once held in Lesters opera house.
On Saturday nights Lester was a bustling, busy town. Farmers came to town with their families to shop and socialize with their friends. The towns people would also stroll with their families to Main Street and do their weekend marketing and socializing. The children would play together and listen to the band while their parents shopped and visited. At that time there were three saloons and a restaurant in town. The saloon owners were William Hanson, John Teitjen and Mr. Stein.
The towns public spirited business people sponsored a baseball team made up of local men with the exception of a hired pitcher. The hired pitcher was from another town, a man named Frank Fircheim. The ball games always drew a large crowd.
Other events and celebrations were sponsored by the business people. The Fourth of July was always a gala event with a merry-go-round, games and prizes, food and soft drink stands and, of course, fireworks. There were games of all sorts and games of chance, like tossing balls at a target for a chance to win a prize.
I have lived in Lester for 90 years and have seen people come and go and have seen many changes take place, but there is no place on earth I would rather spend my life. For the last several years I have spent the winters in California with my children, but when spring comes I am always ready to return because for me, there is no place like Lester, my home, sweet home.
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