The Illustrated Historical Atlas of Sioux County Iowa
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the earlier pioneers, in the journey across the
then uninhabited prairies of the northwest, in search of new homes. It is a
noted fact that the cabins erected by the settlers of the late sixties confined
almost exclusively to the northwestern portion of the county, were more
substantial than those erected farther east and south one or two years later,
being mostly of cottonwood logs; while the latter used sod, lumber, anything
that would constitute a shelter, sod being the favorite.
Rock Township, as originally organized, exceeded largely its present geographical proportions, and the writer trusts he will be pardoned if at any time he may encroach on the descriptive domain of some other narrator.
The first homestead or claim of any kind taken in northwestern Sioux was on the Iowa side of the Sioux River, opposite the town of Fairview, some time during the sixties by a man named Jack Smith, a county officer. It is probably he who erected the first cabin in the county outside of Calliope, the county seat. The building was still standing at a comparatively recent date.
The first homesteads in what is now Rock Township were taken in the spring or early summer of 1868 by John and Ira S. Wilson, father and son, on Sec. 30, about a mile or more southwest of Rock Valley. They returned to Sioux City and remained until the next spring, when they erected cabins upon their claims. These claims were later the Ernisse and Gilbert farms. Rev. John Runyun and his sons, William and John, took claims the same year on section 22, northeast of Rock Valley. William and John, Jr., wintered at Doon the winter of 1868 and '69, being joined by their father and family, and settling on their claims in 1869. William Runyun was a surveyor and located many of the subsequent settlers in northwestern Sioux.
William Brewington and his sons, Sidney and Ben, took claims in 1869 on section 18.
The year 1870 saw a large influx of settlers, not only in Rock Township, but also in all portions of the county, where available lands were located. During this year section 36 was occupied by John Tucker, John Langford, P. C. Sullivan, and Ed Quinlan. The latter still resides on his former homestead. Games Griffin, Sr., also filed on a claim in this section, but did not occupy it till 1872.
Wm. Stickney, Phenias H. Blood, John Taylor and his father, Nicholas Taylor, took claims on section 36. Chas. Klein took a claim on section 14. among the other homesteaders in Rock may be mentioned Chas. Messner, John Sorg, Amos Oakland, E. A. Lofftswold and Sam Markle.
A postoffice was established in 1872, on section 14, called Royal Ridge, with John D., Sorg as postmaster, succeeded later by Sam Markle. It was moved to the residence of J. L. Finch at Rock Mills, half a mile north of Rock Valley, in 1876, and the name changed to Rock Mills, with J. L. Finch as postmaster.
Sam Bellesfield, now of Rock Valley, was the pioneer postman of this section, carrying the mail to the intermediate points between LeMars, Ia., and Luverne, Minn.
During the fall or winter of 1874, J. L. Finch explored Rock River, from Doon to its mouth, for a mill site, selecting the one about half a mile north of Rock Valley, and the next year, 1875, in connections with Mr. Spencer of Fairview, S. D., erected a grist mill, which supplied the needs of the community till 1881, when it was destroyed by the disastrous flood of that year, being then owned by Messrs. Francher and Rowe.
Rock Township, like all of Sioux County, and indeed the whole northwest, suffered severely from loss of population during what is known as the "grasshopper period," from 1873 to 1877, the time that tried the souls of pioneers and caused some of them to abandon their homes for other locations.
The half has never been told, and at this time can be but feebly comprehended, of the privations of the pioneers during that period, or the credit due those, who braving its hardships, came victorious from the conflict.
The town of Rock Valley was platted in the summer of 1879 by A. J. Warren and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad, on land owned by the former. The track, late in the preceeding autumn, had reached a point about two miles west of Pattersonville, now Hull, where it rested during the winter. The spot was an ideal location for a town, as the sequel has proved. Strange enough, the first building in the town was a saloon on the corner of First and Mitchell streets, erected by Matt Blau. It was followed by a small store building, located about where Dunham's harness shop now stands, erected and conducted by Edwin Rhodes.
The first dwelling house was erected the same summer by the writer, who moved the office and material of the Sioux County Independent from Alton. It was published in Rock Valley till December 1880, when it was purchased by Rufus Stone, and removed to Calliope, and later to Hawarden.
Wm. Shipman erected the second dwelling the same summer, and in the fall, O. J. Dunham erected a hotel on the corner where the Warren is now located.
A. J. "Top" Wetmore was the first station agent, being transferred from Fairview, S. D. He had been an agent for the Northern Pacific in Minnesota. Two section houses were used for a depot until one was erected during the summer.
Probably the first religious service in Rock Township was held by Rev. John Runyun, previously mentioned, who belonged to the Methodist denomination.
The first school house in the township was built in the center of Section 8, northwest of Rock Valley, the second a mile east of town, about where County Supervisor M. B. Smith now resides. Mrs. E. O. Plumbe taught the first school in Rock Valley, in a school house moved from location near the northeast corner of town, to North Mitchell street. This was in the winter of 1879 and 80.
As stated before, E. Rhodes was the first merchant; the next was R. L. Rowe in 1881. Rowe was on the corner now occupied by Schirmer. J. B. Foppe opened a general store in March, 1882, and has continued in the business ever since. Rhodes sold in 1880 to A. L. Burnell, who in turn sold to Henry Durland. Cumming and Sheridan, and H. H. Case were also pioneer merchants during the eighties; they were all eventually absorbed by Foppe, except the clothing and dry goods of Rowe and Bunting.
Sometime during 1882 or 83, Ton Stephenson, who had previously conducted the Dunham hotel, erected the building on the corner of First and Mitchell streets, now occupied by Flynn & Bratt, and opened a second hotel. He was succeeded in turn by H. M. Handy, Sr., and J. W. Boggess. The building was afterward used by J. C. Vitzthum as an office.
The Rock Mills postoffice was moved soon after the town was located to the Rhodes store, postmaster Finch resigning in favor of R. L. Rowe, with Rhodes as deputy. The name was soon changed to Rock Valley. Rowe continued as postmaster till 1885, when he was succeeded by James Parden.
The writer was the first physician and opened a drug stock in January, 1881, in the former printing office.
The next spring the building now occupied by Barber Koolman was erected and used as a drug store. Dr. C. M. McBride located in Rock Valley in 1882, and opened a drug stock in the store of R. L. Rowe. It was afterward moved to the store now occupied by J. H. Schemmer. Henry Schemmer opened a blacksmith and wagon ship in 1881. B. F. Mc. Cormick opened the first hardware store in the early eighties, erecting the builing now used by A. F. Schemmer for the same purpose. Mc Cormick also did a banking business, although other parties had previous issued personal checks on Sioux City and Milwaukee.
Geo. Sanford and d. G. Galbraith were the pioneer lumbermen. Sanford was succeeded by Land & Sons. Bryon Wilson erected the building and opened the pioneer livery stable in 1879. The Register was started in 1883 by J. M. Parsons, but was abandoned after a few months. The plant being owned by the business men remained. It had a spasmodic existence till January, 1885, when Grant D. Harrington took charge. The Bee was later started by G. L. Hurd, who, after a few years, purchased the Register and consolidated the papers. The Gazette was a later venture by T. H. McGuire. It survived a year or two.
James E. Douglas was the first attorney in Rock Valley and he was also the first notary public. The pioneer harness shop was opened by Alex. Contts and the same business is still conducted by G. A. Dunham. S. Dishler also went into the same business during the eighties.
After the destruction of the Rock Valley mills in 1881 by the flood of that year, the water power was purchased by Mr. Rounds of Sioux City, and the Rock Valley mills erected "on the cut-off" west of town and operated by water power. Later auxiliary steam power was added. The mills, being damaged by high water, they were moved to the site they now occupy, south of the depot, enlarged and a 75 horsepower Corliss engine installed. A side track was afterward run to the mills, and an elevator mill for storage purposes.
Mulhall Bros. started a land and banking business in 1885 and continued until the bank fixtures were purchased by Large Bros., later the First National. Harrington and Harris opened a land and exchange office about the same time, which afterwards became the State Bank of Rock Valley.
The town was incorporated in 1889, C. W. Carter being the first mayor. He was succeeded in the spring of that year by W. C. Leonard. The winter of 1880 and 81 will long be remembered by the old residents, not only of Rock Valley and Rock Township, but the entire northwest. The winter began with a three days' blizzard in November, and although comparatively pleasant weather succeeded, much of the snow remained on the ground the entire winter. January, 1881, was a month of wind, snow and storm. February saw the railroads blockaded, and travel and traffic practically suspended. The last train on the main line passed through Rock Valley going east on January 31, and from Yankton and Sioux City, over the Hudson branch, on February 3. From that time until early April, when a snow plow forced its way through from the west, communication with the outside world was entirely cut off, except that early in February the first mail was received by team. A. L. Burnell, with Geo. Sanford and the writer, worked nearly all night sorting over 34 sacks of newspapers to obtain the local mail. Even the country roads were impassable as the writer knows from bitter experience. With the opening of spring a new calamity was presented. The immense volumn [misspelled in original document] of snow began to go off with a rush, washing out bridges, both on the roads and railroads. The bridges of the Milwaukee road, both over the Rock and Sioux Rivers, went out as also the iron wagon bridge north of town, hitherto considered secure against any such accident. Ferries were established over the Rock and Sioux and operated the entire summer.
The first church service in Rock Valley was held in the school house in 1879 by Rev. McVey of the United Brethren denomination. He was succeeded by Rev. Chase of the same church. The first Catholic service was held by Rev. Lynch in 1880 in the school house. The Methodist Episcopal Church was erected in 1882 with Rev. J. R. Faus as minister, being on the Hull circuit. Rev. G. W. Barnes was the first resident minister in 1887. St. Mary's Catholic Church was erected in 1882, the present resident priest, Rev. O'Rielly, having charge of the parish. The United Presbyterian Church was organized in 1880, with Rev. Graham as minister. The Dutch Reformed Church was built in 1891, Rev. John Huizenga minister. The Scandinavian Lutherans had erected, about 1890, a church building on West Fourth street which was later sold to the Christian Dutch Reformed organization, with Rev. Van Der Bok as pastor. The Christian Scientists, a few years ago, erected a church building on East Third street, with Miss Minnie Grossenberg as first reader.
The Independent school district was organized in 1887, and the original portion of the public school building was erected shortly afterwards. It was later enlarged and veneered with brick.
In 1880 Stewart Bros. Erected a building where Schemmer & Son are now located. It was later moved further south and is now occupied by Hilshof. Rev. Dr. Rust, a United Brethren preacher and Homeopathic physician, erected the dwelling now occupied by d. Scanlan.
The first marriage in Rock Valley was a couple from the northwest part of the country. The ceremony was performed in the late fall of 1870 by the writer as justice of the peace, no Dominie being attainable. The names of the parties have passed into oblivion.
Mr. and Mrs. John Murphy were the parents of the first child born in Rock Valley. It survived but a short time. The second child was born to Henry Holmes and wife.
A. Zwebel, about 1888, started a machine ship in the building now occupied by Hoeven & Speelman, which he operated for several years, when he returned to Wisconsin.
Kelley and Speiser opened a blacksmith shop at an early day, on the corner of Mitchell and Third streets. A year or two after the death of Speiser, in 1893, it passed into the hands of H. Schemmer, who also absorbed the woodworking establishment of J. H. Lynch, forming the present machine and repair shops and Schemmer & Son.
Among the institutions of which Rock Valley is justly proud is St. Mary's Academy, conducted by the Sisters of the Franciscian Order, being also the parochial school of St. Mary's Catholic Church. Built in 1895, under the pastorate of Rev. John Phelan, the building has been recently nearly doubled in capacity, with all modern improvements. It is a first-class educational institution of its kind, and an ornament to the town.
The City Water Works system was installed in 1897, the mains extended so that all portions of the town can be reached in case of fire, and an apparently inexhaustible supply of pure water is furnished for all purposes. Their capacity has been severely tested on more than one occasion.
The present lighting system was installed in 1903.
Rock Valley lodge, I. O. O. F., was organized in 1887, and has continued in operation ever since.
Robert Roantree, manager of the Rock Valley Mills, is the only charter member now in Rock Valley.
The A. F. and A. M., the Knights of Pythias, the Good Templars, the Royal Neighbors, A. O U. W., all existed for a time, but nearly all surrendered their charters. In addition the Odd Fellows, Rock Valley Camp M. W. A., Gem Rebeka Lodge, Catholic Foresters and Yoemen of America, are in operation.
Before it is too late, mention must be made of a Fourth of July celebration on Rock River in 1875, near the iron bridge north of town, under the auspices of Royal Grange, which had an extensive membership in the northwest party of the county. Probably six hundred people, old and young, were present, all personally known to the writer, who had treated professionally a large portion of them. Being county superintendent of schools and a master of a grange, it fell to the lot of the writer to do the "spread eagle" on occasion. The day would up with a dance in the Rock mills, the building for which was just completed.
About 1882, James Parden moved from Sheldon and erected what is now the Geria building, on the corner of Third and Mitchell streets. It contained a double store building, occupied by the Foppe store, and a public hall above, used for all purposes. Previous to that time church services had been held in the school house and later in the Methodist and Catholic Churches. The school house was used for elections, public meetings and entertainments. Dances, except in very cold weather, were given in the "flat house," located where Hunting elevator now stands. The orchestra in those days was composed of J. M. Bennett and daughter, Ed Sherman and the writer. The "repertoire" was composed of good old fashioned quadrilles and round dances, and with a few exceptions, everybody in town danced.
Mention was omitted of the fact that in 1885 Finch Bros. Opened a general store where H. Hulshof is now located, which was later sold to B. F. McCormick, M. J. Finch having been elected clerk of courts. McCormick sold his general stock to Beckman Bros., who soon after removed it to Lake City, Iowa. The McCormick hardware stock was sold to Skewis and McLean.
Mention must be made among the first merchants, of Geo. Watt, who moved a general stock from Calliope and after a time sold to Mullder and Van der Einde, who in turn sold to Alex. Kemper, and he to E. Eldredge who still conducts the Leader Store.
H. J. Plate was the first shoemaker, erecting the building now occupied by J. H. Schemmer which he shared with the Foppe Store. Louis Plate operated the first barber shop, succeeded by Frank Schemmer, and he by John Frembgen.
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