Woodbury County


Woodbury County, Iowa Genealogy

Woodbury County, Iowa, USA. Click here for the Home page.



High weeds thresh against the deserted ruins and dust spirals into the air. A door claps sullenly, by one rusty hinge. The sudden flight of a frightened owl from the dark depts of its high perch among the dusty rafters of the old store building startles us. We watch our step lest a rotting board give way beneath our feet. Our thoughts are of the small town that was platted almost a century ago by a young couple from the east. A cottonwood windbreak, protecting the crumbling foundations of a three-story hotel, gives credence to a small hut friendly and thriving building stood atop a small knoll. Only the C115 trail of the stage coach that stopped at the hotel for passengers to Sioux City disturbed the vast panorama of tall waving prairie grass that stretched from the stark loess hills on the east, across the Missouri River bottom, to the sandhills beyond the river into Nebraska.

Records show that on October 25, 1894, William and Ida Mullhall placed on file in the Woodbury County Plat Book, page 12, a plat of Owego, Iowa. (This was duly transferred on April 6, 1939, to envelope 178, book 228, page 540.) The area was surveyed by L.F. Wakefield, a civil engineer from Sioux City who made a man showing lots blocks and alleys. The town was incorporated in 1894 and on file

Old records tell the story of the town that time. Triangular in shape, the main thoroughfare, Polk Avenue, ran the length the town along the railroad track. Running north from Polk Avenue were Harrison, one block; Van Buren, two blocks long; and Jackson Avenue, three blocks long. At right angles to those avenues running from west to east, were Adams Avenue, one block long; Monroe Avenue, two blocks long; and Madison Avenue, three blocks long. Some houses were built there but no businesses were recorded.
Where did the name of the town corn from? Nobody seems to know. The library Atlas lists two Owegos - one in New York an one in Texas. Early settlers from the east ma have named it. Further research may indicate Indian derivation. There was a legend about the Indian Chief who saw the engine on the track and asked the engineer to get in. Thinking he wanted a ride, the engineer started the train. The surprised chief jumped up, exclaiming, “Oh, we go!?”—Apropos?

The first legal signature recorded in the plat book was that of J.P. and Ellen Sander in 1801. Robert Long had a patent to 168 A of land in 1857 in the northeast part of Section 11 in Sloan Township. In 1858 Charles Bruce recorded a patent in Section 2, Sloan Township. Records indicate that many settlers came from Illinois, special) Waukegan. William Falkner signed legal documents in 1864; A.B. McFarlen and William and Mary Sturgeon in 1867. Other names that appeared in the next decade were:
Thomas and Amy Myers, Marlin and Lydis Myers, Elizabeth J. Rogers, F.W. Carey, Robert and Mary Tugwell, Michael and Mary Beckler, James and Mary Stearns, Stephen M. Marsh, Caleb and Eliza Mercer, Hannah and L. Rickel, James F. Lamb, Andrew and Sarah Fee, E.H. Hubbard, E.A. Burgess, IN. Perry, Mrs. (Alice) and Mr. J.W. Sheets and J.M. Patterson.

Spring rains drenched the land and made the gumbo soil unworkable. Wild hay grew abundantly that year and farmers were soon looking for ways to market it. Roads were a quagmire—impassable! Distances to market were too great.

The Federal Government granted a permit for a railroad line in 1862. Land sales to the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, for a right-of-way were recorded by D.T. and Mary E. Hedges in 1883. The elevator was constructed northwest of the original town as platted. The depot was built north of the elevator; coal bins, corncribs and stockyards were beyond the depot. Why the new buildings were located in that inconvenient position was never ascertained.

The hotel was across the road from the elevator, to house the manager and his family, but it also accommodated guests. Its construction was unusual. Since the water level was so high that a post hole would fill with water, no basement could be dug. The cement for the basement floor was laid on top of the ground and the walls cemented up to the first floor level. Dirt and hay (thousands of tons) were layered around it and allowed to settle, until the mound was first floor level, too. (The dirt probably came from the ditch that surrounded the yard where the hotel stood.) Two stories were then built on top of the cemented basement The ditch was a safeguard against spring rains. A large windbreak of cottonwood trees protected the hotel on the north.

Four footbridges (one in each direction of the compass) welcomed guests. Completed in the 1880’s, the hotel was usually full. The grain elevator was one of the earliest in the area. Grain had to be hauled long distances by wagon, to be shipped by rail. Farmers hauled hay to Owego to be baled and shipped to market. Stockmen drove cattle to Owego to be loaded out by rail for Chicago. All were glad to have hotel accommodations.

The1917 plat book records show that 2846 acres of land belonged to Bertel Stoddard. In 1902 he sold land to the railroad for a switch track. About that time he built a two-story building with house attached, along the street from the depot to the county road. Research has uncovered but one business man who operated a grocery there, and that only for a short time. The tattered remains of the awning that once shaded the front of the store have dropped to the cement platform. The only indication of his identity is the imprint - F.M. Hood - in the cement of a storm cellar in back of the building. The store was a sociable gathering place. Men sat around the big base burner stove and talked crops and politics — Roosevelt and the new party. Later World War I was the topic of conversation. Women met to roll bandages and knit for the boys overseas. They swapped patterns and “receipts” as well. There were impromptu get-togethers occasionally if Carl Fink happened along of an evening with his fiddle. Children might choose a game of “Ruth? Jacob!” One was blindfolded inside the circle, trying to find “Ruth” on the outside by her voice.

More families moved into the surrounding country about 1900. Among them were: George and Alfred Hockey, A.L. Patterson, M.E. Slye, Annie Grahall, M.J. McMullen, Charles Vaught, Thomas McGinnis, Jacob C. Swartz, S.J. Sackett, Gilbert Power, and Dorothy Stecker.\

Gradually the community expanded into of the area of the elevator, depot, and hotel. Stockyards were built north of the new town. They were used not only for loading out local livestock, shipped to Chicago, but also (according to the law at that time) livestock enroute from Chicago had to be removed from the boxcar, fed, watered, and exercised after so many hours. Owego was one of the stops.

By 1907 the “old” original town was deserted except for parts of the foundations, buried in the high weeds, and the remnant of the fill on which the railroad tracks had been laid.

The “New Owego” was never officially recorded. Numerous attempts to correct the records have been made. About 1939, Richard Prichard, legal advisor to the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors started action to recognize the new location but a recent at the county courthouse found no record of such action.

Early schools were one-room, wood construction, placed one in each section. In 1914 Gertrude Worley taught the school in Section 12. Boys and girls often gathered to walk the half mile to school together. It was fun to pick a bouquet of buttercups, violets or wild roses in season (oh, the thorns!) for the teacher. If a garter snake slithered across the road, the girls ran screaming down the road. The boys would grab the snake (or pretend to) and take off in hot pursuit. School opened with a prayer and singing (Good Morning to You). Of course there was teasing at recess time, mostly the boys untying the girls’ hair ribbons—girls snatching boys’ caps. “Ante, Ante, Over” was a good game—boys on one side of the school house, girls on the other, catch the ball, run around quick, catch the boy! Girls liked hopscotch. They liked to jump rope. The boys played mumbletypeg or marbles. First graders played “Puss in the Corner” in the cloakroom. There was a pail of water and a dipper. You best friend’s lunch always looked better than yours. Sometimes a trade-a piece of spice cake for a piece of cherry pie or a chicken leg for a beef sandwich—could be worked out. Homemade bread sandwiches with honey were special. A piece of fudge or a twist of taffy was a nice surprise.

George Worley moved to Owego to manage the elevator. He also worked on several inventions and patented a number. One was a grain spout that made it easier to get the grain into the railcars. He had an ice cutting machine that he often took to the Missouri River to cut ice for the Central West Company in Sioux City. The hotel continued to prosper under the direction of Mrs. Worley (Inez). She took care of the switchboard for the telephone line from Salix. The post office was there too. All sorts of meetings were held there—dances to prayer meetings. The large room on the east was once used for a store.

Mornings were very busy at the hotel— beds to make, dishes to do, meals to plan and have ready for any number of guests. Afternoons found the womenfolk busy with ironing, mending and butter making. There was always bread to make and pies to bake. A few minutes could usually be found to listen in on the party line to keep up on the local gossip and news.


To be continued

From “The History of Woodbury County” ISBN 0-88107-018-1


Woodbury County Coordinator


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