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Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project

August 3, 2009 Road Trip

Leg 1: Westerville and Grand River
Decatur County, Iowa

Monday, August 3rd, 2009, we went on another road trip through Decatur and Ringgold Counties. It was a glorious August morning. The sun was shining - off and on - the birds were singing. I don't recall seeing that many turkey vultures before - they seemed to be everywhere. The corn and beans were growing nicely in the fields.

Our first stop was at Westerville, located approximately 3 to 5 miles north of Grand River in Decatur County. Westerville used to be a booming little town. My great-great-grandfather Michael FOLAND had a harness shop there, and a gristmill east of town. When the CB&Q railroad came through, the folks at Westerville didn't want the town to become a railhead. So CB&Q founded Grand River in 1881. Needless to say, this was the death knoll for Westerville. All that remains now is the old Westerville school, a few homes, and the Westerville Cemetery northwest of where the town once stood and thrived.

Patti Jimmerson and the Westerville (Richland #8) School and The Westerville School.

There was an old iron bridge directly east of Westerville, spanning the Grand River. It was kind of creepy even when I was a child. The wooden flooring thumped and bumped when a car passed over it. The iron groaned and ground, metal shifting against metal. Sometime, I can't remember the exact year - in the early to mid-1970's - a gentleman crashed his car into the bridge, sending the bridge down into the Grand River. The man was not injured severely and walked away from the accident. I believe someone told me the car and the bridge didn't fare as well. The county put up road blocks on both the east and west side of the road and left the bridge dangling into the Grand River. The last time I was at the Westerville Bridge (2004), the bridge was still dangling into the river. When I stopped there this time I was amazed to see that the road blocks have been taken down and part of the road on the west bank is being used as a driveway for the old McGRAW place. The rest of the road has been taken over by grass. The iron has all been removed now, leaving only the old weathered wooden trussels of the bridge.

Alice Ellen (OWENS) McGRAW was born on a farm near Beaconsfield on April 7, 1899, the daughter of John and Kathryn (DAUGHTON) OWENS. She graduated from Ellston High School in 1916 and on May 30, 1927, married Raymond McGRAW. They resided in the glorious Victorian house located directly west of the Westerville Bridge where they raised four daughters. I believe that the house was built by Raymond's parents. Raymond was born in 1892, and died in 1971.

I visited Alice a few times, marveling in the rich wonders of the house - native timber woodwork which had never been touched by a speck of paint, the wooden columns with built-in glassed bookcases that divided the parlor from the dining room, a wonderful home. Alice died on October 30, 1991, at Westview Acres in Leon, Iowa, at the age of 92. She was interred beside Raymond at the Grand River Cemetery.

The McGRAW house is the only remaining original Westerville residence. The only other remaining original building is the Westerville School. The other homes date back to probably the 1940's or 1950's.

The Brick School was founded by my great-great-grandfather John Thomas Emley in the 1890's. It originally was located west of the Wheelis Cemetery in Richland Township, Decatur County, northeast of Westerville and Grand River. In the early 1960's, when all of the rural schools were closed, the Brick School was moved to Grand River and placed east of the Grand River school. It was used as a band and chorus room, standing alone and unattached to the main school house. I recall many hours in the Brick School - as a member of the chorus and band, and taking flute lessons. The building had an odor of its own, smelling like oil from the trombones and trumpets. When Grand Valley School closed down, the Grand River Schoolhouse was demolished in the late 1990's. The Brick School was moved across the street and into Grand River's park. It now is the Grand River School Museum. Except for the handicap ramp and steps leading to the door, the Brick School stands fairly much like it has always been for over 100 years.

Many of the old Victorian homes in Grand River are still there. They are being renovated one at a time. Last May when we drove through, one along J-20 west of Main Street was being fixed up. The job has been completed. These Victorian homes were all painted white when I was a kid. Then the streets were lined with elm trees providing a canopy of green during the summer months. It was a glorious time to be a kid, walking or riding a bike down the shaded streets. Unfortunately, when the Dutch Elm disease swept through Iowa, all of those wonderful elm trees died.

Irma O. writes, saying, "As to the large home in Grand River, it seems I've heard that the Van Werdan family lived t here before moving to Leon.

We proceeded west on J-20, leaving Decatur County behind us. Next stop - Ellston, Ringgold County, Iowa.

Photographs by Sharon R. Becker, August 3, 2009
Submitted by Sharon R. Becker, August of 2009

To submit your Ringgold County photographs and materials,
contact Sharon R. Becker at
Please include the word "Ringgold" in the subject line. Thank you.

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