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Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
date cut off article


"When time, who steals our years away,
Shal steal our pleasures, too
The memory of the past will stay,
And half our joys renew." - Thomas MOORE.

Knowlton, 1894
Courtesy of Ringgold County Historical Society

Some here will have heard from parents or grandparents of the coming of the railroads, the steel links with the outside world which opened up a whole new era of commercer and communication. School children will hear history of this part of their county presented, hopefully, in an interesting and more personal manner.

This writer has been assigned the task of setting the scene for the birth of Knowlton, telling something of its young and virile years, and recording the events which brought about its decline and eventual disappearance from the pleasant Grand River hillside upon which it first came into being.

The fixing of exact dates, the naming of the first and subsequent residents, is a task wholly beyond us. Complete and accurate histories require years of research from every available source. Our time is limited, our reliable sources of information also limited. What we put down here will be fairly accurate, and we hope to some degree, enlightening to both young and old.

Sometime in the eighties, between 1885 and 1887, a Chicago Great Western [C.G.W.] steam engine huffed and puffed its way down the West Grand River Valley, its shrill but melodious whistle breaking the silence of a countryside free of the noise and pollution which is today causing us nation-wide concern. No automobile sent clouds of dust swirling into the air even though the roads leading to this quiet spot may have been inches deep with dust created by teams and wagons, and the narrow wheels of buggies and other "rigs." Unquestionably there were many plainly clad men and women, boys and girls on hand to watch the train round the curve a mile north of town, cross the trestles and finally come to a halt.

The town was named for an official (some say the president) of the railway, and it may be that he was on this first train. Certainly the C.G.W. had high hopes for this new town. It was established as a coaling station, and among early residents were several Italian families, the men working at the coal chutes and on the track maintenance crew. In 1899 these were: Coal Chute Foreman - Dominique CARDAMON; Coal Man - Frank FELICE; Coal Chute Hands - Santo CARAMON, Frank CHIODO and Rafaele RISIANN. Section hands were as follows: Hans LARSON, foreman; Haskill AVITT, C. H. BROSE, William H. COLLINS, Thomas CONLEY, William CROCKER, L. S. MILLER. The station agent was George DUKES; the night operator was Edward VAIL. There would not be room enough on this page to list the names of all the men who worked for the C.G.W. - many of them at $1 per day.

Included in the directory from which we learned the above railroad workers, were listed the following: barber - S. D. ALLEN; jeweler - Victor A. BOYNTON; druggist - W. A. BULLOCK; clerk at the drug store - Joseph G. HOUSE; miller - H. Clay BAUGHMAN; laundress - Adeline CONLEY; milliner - COOK sisters (Sadie and Sopie); lumber - Edward J. DELANEY; insurance - David A. DICKEY; banker - E. T. DUFUR and Company; general store - L. W. DUNLAP and clerk W. E. DUNLAP; Elgin Creamery Co. with G. W. NICOLI, manager; livery stable - L. E. GERMAN and Theodore GERMAN and laborers at stable - William McCULLOUGH and Floyd RUBY; general store - G. E. GUSTIN and C. W. CLARK; insurance - J. HITCHCOCK and clerk Shirley HITCHCOCK; blacksmith shop - Benjamin F. KELLER and Lyman E. KELLER.

Also, The Knowlton House, M. OSTRANDER, Proprietor and Ellis LININGER, porter; Maple Leaf Hotel - William SHERRILL, proprietor with porter Earl NICOLI and clerk Homer SHERRILL; New York Racket and Grocery Store - J. F. BAKER and O. E. BAKER with clerk Maggie McCALLON; Meat Market - John McGAUGHEY and clerk Tom McGAUGHEY; Groceries and Grain - E. R. PALMER and J. F. McGINTY; undertakers - MYERS and COE with manager P. B. WILSON; Baptist Church pastor - G. W. RINGLER; Knowlton Sentinel with publisher Perry B. WILSON; physician - Dr. W. W. SYP; machinist - W. R. WILLIAMS; furniture - J. G. WILSON; postmaster L. E. YARYAN.

The reader should remember that this directory was not printed until several years after the town was established and many businessmen preceded these. For instance, J. F. McGINTY was the first postmaster, Ham BADLEY was the first publisher and his paper was the Knowlton World. Later on the paper was published as the Knowlton News - having had three different names and several publishers in its short nine years of existence.

Mrs. Clara PALMER, 95, of Gooding, Idaho, writes that her father, Fred FURCHT, had the first store in the town, and at one time employed five of the PARR brothers in his store. They lived north of town with a sister, Tilda (Mrs. John?) BEEN, and carried their lunch to work. Mrs. PALMER says her father had a nice large store - groceries, lots of dry goods, and about anything the people wanted. Mr. FURCHT built a home in Knowlton, one of the first, and had as a neighbor Mr. and Mrs. Theodore PARKINS, whose son, Dr. LeRoy PARKINS, still practices medicine in Boston, Massachusetts.

This was an era of rapid change in business ownership and it would be impossible to name the many persons who engaged in various lines of endeaver. W. A. MERRIAM was a barber, as was J. H. YARYAN. A. BELDING family had the drug store as did a Mr. SWALLOW. A son ofthe BELDINGS was head of the Associated Press News Bureau in Omaha for years.

J. H. YARYAN was also in the restaurant, as were Mr. and Mrs. C. C. IVES, Johnny HOFFMAN, and A. TURNBULL, to name only a few.

Joe FORSYTHE was the depot agent for many years, and after serving as postmaster, L. E. YARYAN ran a general store for more tha forty years.

After Dr. SYP left for Centerville, Dr. E. J. WATSON came in about 1907 from Arispe and practiced in Knowlton until about 1917, when he came to Diagonal to complete fifty years of practice with "Dr. WATSON Day" in June, 1954 giving expression of the deep affection felt for him by hundreds of families to whom he had brought comfort and healing.

No doubt Dr. WATSON and L. E. (Gan) YARYAN will be remembered by more people here today than any others mentioned. Mr. YARYAN's generosity brought many a family through desperate straits and if the Heavenly record books are ever opened a lot of people will be found still owing money to the kindly old Dutchman who was everyone's friend.

One of the principal businesses in Knowlton from about 1900 to 1910 was the Ideal Farm Implement Co., "Consolidated with the Ottawa Foundry Co." Operated by John E. WILLIAMS, secretary, treasurer and general manager, the firm produced All Kinds of Grey Iron Castings, Sled runners, etc., but its main product was the Original Campbell Sub-Surface Packer, exported to Russia and a picture of which is exhibited here today. [NOTE: Campbell Sub-surface packer was used in what was known as "dry farming.]

To understand what the town of Knowlton was like in the early days, we must start by realizing these years were only little more than two decades removed in the time from the bloody battles of Shiloh, Bull Run, Savannah, Lee's Ferry, Cornith. Fresh in the minds of some of the men who walked these streets may have been memories of Andersonville, miraculous escapes from death, the horror of brother fighting brother in savage conflict. It was a time of new beginnings, the establishment of homes and businesses, the longed-for opportunity to rear their children and educate them in peace and safety.

They were hardy men, originally from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, used to hard work and few comforts. They believed that a man's word ought to be as good as his note, that a man should give a day's work for a day's pay. Among them were men of superior intelligence, men who worked with their hands, and a few who lived by their wits.

These menand women lived in a different time, a different environment, but they were subject to all the frailties and temptations men experience today. But they had high hopes for the future, as did men and women in thousands of similar villages across the Nation. They feared God, but hoped He occasionally looked the other way; they were proud of the Stars and Stripes; materialism had not yet clouded their vision, and if they were quick to argue politics and do battle if necessary, they were equally quick to come to the aid of a neighbor in distress.

With the moving of Goshen to Diagonal in 1900, disastrous fires, the proxmimity to Diagonal, Knowlton went into a gradual decline. In 1919 the postoffice was discontinued, in 1920 the two high school grades were discontinued. Long before Diagonal had given a free lot to anyone who would move a house from Knowlton, and many took advantage of this. For years the town clung proudly and tenaciously to its identity, but in 1926 the incorporation was dissolved, and the village which once had thought to become a thriving city, was no more.

There is a sadness at the end of a man's life and there is sadness too, as a once thriving town passes into oblivion. Yet there is some pleasure in recalling the "dear hearts and gentle people who lived and loved in my home town." Time has little real meaning, but the lives of people have value that endures through generation after generation.

Knowlton, probably taken from roof of the school looking ESE, circa 1910
courtesy of Mike Avitt

Thanks to Mr. Charles BENNETT, president, other members of the Ringgold County Historical Society, and scores of interested people, we are here today seeing and hearing something of what the now extinct towns of Knowlton and Goshen were like more than four-score years ago. - Mount Ayr Record-News

Marker at Knowlton Town Site
Photograph by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2009

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, April of 2010

  • Knowlton History

  • Life in Knowlton, Arthur BONEBRAKE, 1971

  • Knowlton High School

  • Knowlton Plat Map, 1881

  • Knowlton Lives Again

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