Inwood 1870-1900

In the early seventies Northwest Iowa was sparsely settled, log cabins were few and far between the Rock and the Sioux Rivers.

When home seekers saw the broad expanse of the prairie, with no forests to fell before a plow could be used the land looked attractive, only it was so far from a rail road, for a market. Winter would be cold so far North, fuel scarce, social, educational and church privileges would be, almost if not altogether, lacking. But gradually the good looking land was attracting attention and settlers were coming to the acres of hardships, but also of great promise. The tall grass that covered the land would make fine pasture for cattle. Travel was so light that only a faint mark on the grassy plains showed where roads were surveyed to be. Oxen and horses drew the farmer’s wagon over the lightly marked trails.

As the community became more settled, the road problem became more apparent for the sloughs were well scattered over the prairies. Some horses would take the problem trip through the water and pull through, others would not and would get stuck in the slough, and to get passengers, wagon, and horses out was more of a problem than the flat tires of today.

As time passed, the early settlers could see that more prosperous days were possible, for their crops were good, though sometimes the two day trip to market was as much as the load of wheat, oats, or corn was worth.

The school problem was getting more serious. No school houses within miles. Then some heroic mothers offered to have school in the home and “readin and ritin and rithmetic" were taught to the small enrollment minus all modern activities.

One family, who had built a new house offered their old log cabin for a school which was used until a school house was built two miles south of the present town of Inwood.

More prosperous days seemed very near to the early pioneers in 1876, for crops continued to be good. Then in 1876, when the crops were looking fine, gardens flourishing and prosperity "just around the corner,” a dark cloud hovered in the sky and like a sudden thunderstorm; the grass hoppers came down on the ripening grain. They ate and ate till grain fields were bare, even the gardens were gone. They left as suddenly as they came, leaving the settlers almost destitute. One redeeming feature was left; in that the grass covered land would provide some food for stock.

Winter came again, food was plain, no Betty Crocker recipes were needed to get the simple meals, for white flour was counted a 1uxury.

Not long after grass hopper days news was rumored around that a rail road was to be extended from Sheldon through Lyon County and on further West. This would mean a market for grain, in time. A new life was apparent for a town would surely be in sight in the near future. The rumor proved to be a fact and the Railroad workmen were on the road laying tiles, stretching rails, and those who had doubted, could see the track being laid.  With the coming of the Rail road the town was assured.  The best situation seemed to be three miles South and East of the present town of Inwood, and there was a possibility of the town being named "Warren."

For some reason possibly the change in the Rail road prescribed route being changed to cross the river farther north from the first plan, had changed the town site plan, for the “Switch" was located on the present site of Inwood. For a time the name Warren was associated with the Switch, but the name "The Switch" seemed more in use for the train would stop there for passengers, and a grain market was soon established.

Early in the pioneer days there had been a religious service in the Albertson School house that was attended by Church going people for miles around. An occasional preaching service with a S.S. was the pioneers one event of the week.

In 1879 the South School house two miles South of the present town of Inwood was built. A plan was suggested why not have S.S. there and on alternate Sundays use the Albertson and the South School houses. For a short time the plan worked, then why not have services in both School houses each Sunday, and the new plan was a Minister from Beloit, or Canton, for the South School after the S.S. hour. Coming were a Methodist from Beloit, a Presbyterian Minister from Canton, while one from Hull still supplied the Albertson School house. The new S.S. was organized in the South School. Three classes were needed for the twenty- five people who attended. Mrs. H. G. Anderson was elected Supt. and the adult teacher, Mrs. Rathman the Juniors and Miss Anita Skewis the primary. Mrs. Anderson held the office of Supt. until Mr. William Oat came to the Community and was soon elected to the office of Sunday School Supt.

A church life was started in the Community for the group that came amid black boards, chalk and eraser, and a coal stove, teachers desk, and school children seats. Then a new question arose, never known to be answered, should the district pay for the coal being used in the School houses, used for Sunday Services.

It was in 1880 things on the farms had been improving, so the settlers were beginning to have a few comforts of life. Corn husking was barely started, when the weather turned cold and snow fell thick arid fast while a strong wind blew all night and for three days the blizzard of the storm raged, and when calm came to the land the brave pioneers knew that they were home bound for great drifts of snow blocked the roads arid a long, long winter followed. Spring came at last and the snow melted. What should the farmers do. Husking, seeding all waiting to be done. In the fields many husked rows of corn, then plowed and seeded that strip, husked more corn to plow and seed again. Others only husked the corn and as one farmer said, “we finished on the Fourth of July and we thought we had better start to put up hay.”

Winter came again, milder weather prevailed. Christmas was coming Why not have a Christmas Tree in the school house for the growing Sunday School. Not a tree available nearer than the river, but pioneers are resourceful, a bundle or two of lathes nailed together tree shaped, covered with paper was a tree to the children.  The spirit of Christmas was in the air, though no bright bulbs adorned the tree, but it was the happiest Christmas for the children though their first tree was not an evergreen loaded with presents.

We have the school house now. Why can’t we have a Singing School’ in the evening was suggested and the suggestion was heartily approved of by the young and older folks. A teacher was secured from Canton, and it soon became the Social event of the week to go to the Singing School. The roads were bad oft times, and lumber wagons jolted considerably, but the people came and learned to sing, while social visiting was popular.

It was no great surprise on a fine day to have a neighbor come five or six miles to spend the day, and the hospitable hostess would "stir up a cake” if there was none on hand, slice a ham and with the visitor’s help soon have an appetizing meal on the table, while the men waited, the talk of old hard days was the topic of conversation. Do you remember John? said the host, when we had to move in with Uncle Tom one winter we had no fuel to burn. It was pretty crowded in Uncle’s cabin for two families, but father and Uncle Tom tore down our house and we burned it and kept warm. Yes, I remember we were short of fuel too and - but the call to dinner came and the fuel question for the time was forgotten.

In another home visitors had arrived and were being given a hearty welcome. We are so glad you came today, the boys shot six prairie chickens last evening and I told thorn its such a fine day we may have some company, we will cock them all today and put them in the oven an hour ago, so it won’t be long before dinner is ready. And while the rest of the meal was being prepared, old times were soon being discussed -- Yes said the visitor we are getting along all right now but times were hard in the early seventies. I remember one day I went into the house and I said, “Sandra, get the children ready and we will put them in the wagon and go back east”, and Sandra would not go laughed the host. No, we stayed on and I am glad that we did today. But the chickens were baked and wild plum sauce answered for dessert, with the hot biscuits. At an early hour the guests left for home with a hearty invitation, Come and spend the day with us before spring work begins.

In another farm home visitors arrived just as unexpected. It was long before the song "If I had Known You Were Coming, I Would Have Baked a Cake”, but while hostess and visitors talked ‘the Women folks” met the situation.

What a fine winter we are having, not like two years ago. Why the snow was so blinding in that awful three day snow storm, why I tied a rope to the kitchen door to go to the barn, for I could only guess my way, and but for the rope I would never have gotten back to the house.

But old days were set aside for the recent new binder was being advertised by personal agents, and the farmers were soon discussing its merits. “They say why it will cut the grain and bind it too,” said the host. Yes, but protest the guest, it binds with wire and you can’t use the straw, “Well that won’t matter”, we have plenty of hay, and we burn most of the straw anyhow. "Well it will be a long time before we can afford one" responded the host, "They say they cost One Hundred Dollars" but the call to dinner came and blizzard and binders were, for a time, forgotten.

Spring will be here before we are ready for it said Mr. Larson to his wife one fine day late in February. I want to go over and see my brother Ole, before spring work starts, its seven miles over there and its hard to be gone so long in the summer time. Yes, responded his wife, tomorrow is Saturday, we can take the children, and if its as nice as to-day they can play outside. Saturday morning all were ready to go by ten o’clock for the seven mile ride in a wagon, but the greeting was so hearty when they got there the rough ride was forgotten. How fine of you to come today said Ole’s wife as they were seated at the table, we just butchered a beef and we were planning to let you have a quarter as we can’t take care of so much fresh meat before Spring. It was not long before the old days were rehearsed again by the two brothers. Do you remember the day we were left alone to keep house and some hunters came and asked us if we could sell them a rooster, and how we raced and chased to catch one. When we caught him they gave us twenty—five cents and when father got home he said, “Why boys, fifteen cents would have been a plenty for it.” I had forgotten that said Ole, but I do remember when it was awful cold and we had no kerosene, and mother melted tallow and put it in a saucer for each one of us with a wick lighted so we could all read in the evening, till the oil burned. Yes, and as soon as it got a little warmer brother Will went to Beloit on skis and got some white flour and sugar, and we had a cake for supper. Good boy to remember that laughed the older brother, you always had a notion for cake. I well remember we did not get it very often as sugar was too expensive in pioneer days.

The day was waning, the quarter of beef stored in the wagon, and the brothers and the family had their winter visit before the roads were too bad for the long seven miles ride over mud and sloughs.

Spring came early and with it the little cluster of houses on the hill were beginning to have a town like appearance, for a ware house had been built, and farmers had found it a convenient market, so much better than driving to LeMars.

For some reason, the R.R. Company dropped the name of "Warren" for the town, and the name of Pennington was given to the Switch, then later it was changed again to Inwood.

In 1883 the prospects of the place for a grocery store appealed to a Mrs. Martha Skewis (Mrs. W. B. Liddel) and a small temporary building was built for a home and a store combined while a more permanent building could be built, a small stock of groceries and a few other staple goods were on the shelves.

Then another event happened and Pennington was to have a post office with mail once a day, what a luxury, no more going to Beloit once a week for mail. When the two story building was finished the small frame building was idle for a short time, and then it had the honor of being the first school house in the town of Inwood. And now the people were beginning to wish for a church service in Inwood. Where could a service be held. A ware house was vacant, why not hold a Sunday night service there and the service Was begun. Soon the attendance was gaining, and the Christian people of all denominations attended the prayer service.

The school house was nearing completion when the grain began to come in and the ware house was no longer available. The school house was ready by September for school and a church service begun in the new School house. Sunday school was carried on and the small beginning was soon larger. The work was greatly helped by the loan of an organ by Mrs. Mort Anderson. Saturday evening it was brought to the School house and returned Monday morning. Later Miss Lulu Negus loaned her organ to help in the Sunday services. Miss Josephine Oates was the first primary teacher. Before long a resident pastor of Beloit came to preach in the New School House.

Not only was the School House used on Sunday for religious service but through the week, the social center for the community. Week night services, school programs, a Christmas tree that was a tree, though not an evergreen tree, just a forest tree, wound around with green paper, box socials. One that was especially noticed for fun and frolic was a Maple Sugar Social, while the Sugar boiled and hardened, fun was in the air with its dainty sweetness.

In 1884 the town was set out in fifteen lots. Lots sold for five dollars.

It was only two or three years before the School house was large enough for the church attendance and plans were made for a Methodist Church. The official board of the church saw the problem was a large one. With help from "The Church Extension” and $10.00 Community subscriptions the church was built in 1887, and ready to be dedicated in December of that year, Chairs were substituted for pews because they were cheaper, curtainless windows with a large coal burning stove in the center of the building, one small room for the S.S. Primary class completed the building. The Saturday before dedication was a blizzard, snowy day, the speaker and the minister thought the weather too bad to consider dedication and he left for Mitchell on the night train, and the Church dedication was delayed till July the next summer. Sunday morning the sun shone bright and clear over the snowy town, and the resident pastor had the unexpected honor of preaching the first sermon in the New Church.

The next problem of the growing town was a new school to be located in the town proper. A four room school house was built but only two rooms would be needed, the upstairs was left unfinished, a good floor was laid and social life was again transferred to the upstairs room in the New School house. Before the New school was built the primary department had been taken out and a vacant building on Main Street was used for the first three grades.

Life in Inwood was getting more settled. Houses were larger and better built, more comforts, the town was growing slowly but steadily. Two new churches, the Lutheran and the Presbyterian were added to the towns worship service.

On January 12, 1888, a balmy morning with a soft snow falling, a warning came to town that a terrible storm was forecast. No telephone or radio warned the country people, at four o’clock, the light wind of the morning had died down, when like a blast from a furnace the wind changed to the North and blew with terrific fury, the snow whirled blinding visibility to a few feet, children going home from school were caught in the storm.  School children were kept all night in homes near the school house, teachers and children stayed all night in the school house, two little children froze to death, others who reached shelter dropped on the floor, a mass of ice and snow.  The storm raged all night, the next morning was clear and calm but bitter cold, 30 below was reported for the next day, and a long cold winter followed the storm.

For years the town had been almost treeless, then when luxuries were slowly creeping into the town a tree agent appeared, he sold trees of every variety, shade trees that would grow quickly were popular, then the hardy ones, fruit trees of every variety were purchased in large quantities and they grew and grew, suppling in a few years with shade, and fruit in abundance. Sidewalks came too, just board walks, but how they were appreciated for water often stood on the streets and muddy shoes followed.

More improvements to the town were being built. New businesses started, a bank was opened in the early 80’s. A banker from Rock Valley began the business, but it was later sold to the Inwood pioneers of the James Skewis family, and Will Prichard. A blacksmith shop operated by John Herrickson. A milliner’s shop by the Dinsdale sisters. Then another agent appeared, this time it was an agent for buggies. In a few Sundays the farmers wagons were disappearing from the churches hitching posts and even top buggies were seen.

Late in the eighties, a heavy snow fell, then sleighing on the hills was a popular amusement, especially, when a good neighbor would provide warmth and a sandwich before the evening was over. Then came a melting of the snow and Inwood was a small Venice for a few days, when the mercury dropped to freezing and a smooth layer of ice was on the school grounds. Skating had the order Of the day. Children, youths and older folks skated. To the surprise of every one, a Civil War Soldier came with his skates, and took the honor of the pond for he could cut figure eights, and other stunts, “Oh, I learned to skate in a blue uniform in Camp", he explained to his admiring friends on the ice.

Then the town grew, the school enrollment increased, the upstairs room that had been used for school entertainment, or a box social, for some society to raise money, or sometimes a traveling show had been allowed, now must be finished and furnished for a high school room.

At first only eleven grades were in the course. The School Board was most fortunate in securing as the first principal, Ralph Duncan. He gave freely of his time and talents to the church and the social lift of the community. One Friday afternoon he hurried by, left the School house to see why the flags were waving, his call to the army was imperative, and he left immediately. Soon the sad news came back for Ralph Duncan died of fever in the camp.

This year of 1893 the first graduating exercises were given. Six had finished the eleven year course of study. It is interesting to know the names of the first young people who had reached graduating day through many and varied changes in their school life. They were Charles Albertson, Raphel Towne, Vernon Towne, Oliver Fladegan, Tony Cooper, and Edna Perrigo.

It was only a year after the High School room had been furnished, when the need for another room was needed, and the grades were transferred across the hail to the new room. Inwood School now with four teachers began to feel quite well organized, and cosmopolitan.

A young People’s Society, the “Y” was organized, as more young people were getting interested in a literary social time, good programs were given, in the homes and a lunch served by the hostess.

The time sped on for Inwood was growing and better times were in store for the children, and youth than in pioneer days.

Farmers were using new farm machinery, the wire binder had long been laid aside for twine, the ox team and the log cabin were things of the past, better roads were in the making, the tall grass trail had long disappeared.

The farm telephone that had been attempted had been replaced and the regular telephone system was installed. what a saving in time it was to the farmers, who were exchanging help, as well as the business man.

Good crops had been harvested and modern luxuries enjoyed by pioneers who had known what it meant to make do and do without, even in food.

On New Year’s Eve of 1899, the Church bells rang in, a “Happy New Year”, on a prosperous community in the growing town of Inwood, of Lyon County, Iowa.


Written by Anita (Billie) Skewis Rosendahl and Bettie Skewis Ballou

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