McCarty, Dwight D. History of Palo Alto County. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch Press, 1910
The building of the railroads through the county was an important factor in opening up new regions for settlement and increasing the accessibility of the lands. It is a peculiar fact that all the towns of the county except the old town of Emmetsburg were brought into existence along the line of the railroads. The railroad determined the location and in fact made the towns possible. It was the railroad that gave rise to the numerous small towns throughout the county, and the history of these small towns must of necessity follow the lines of road and their construction.
The town of Ruthven was started the year the Milwaukee railroad was built through the county, 1878. Ruthven Brothers, Robert and Alex, owned the land where the present town site is located and they gave one-half to the railroad company in return for locating the town plat there. The town was accordingly laid out and called Ruthven. While the construction gang was still grading the road, a small shanty was put up and used as a saloon. That sort of business seemed to be the first need of the rough workers, and migrated with them as their work progressed. Thos. Miller was the first resident of the town, as he moved his camp shack to the town site while the road was being graded, and lived there and boarded some of the men. John McDonald built a small store there shortly after the railroad was completed through and put in a few groceries, overalls, jackets, etc. C. W. Hastings later bought McDonald out. Potter & Scovington were the next to put in a store. The building of the Des Moines & Fort Dodge Railroad through to Ruthven in 1882, and making that the northern terminus of the road gave an added impetus to the growth of the town. Town lots then began to sell rapidly and for the next year or two the town boomed considerably. Stores were built, better houses were erected, and the population grew rapidly. From then on the history of Ruthven is the history of a steadily growing town and it is not only the oldest of the small towns of the county, but it is the largest and has continued to prosper and thrive until now it stands well among the towns of its size in the state.
The present site of the town of West Bend was first settled by Jeremiah Kelly of Ruthven and a young man named Jones. Mr. Kelly built the first frame house in the township on the east side of the river. A postoffice had been established at the Carter cabin on the south bank of the river where there was a sharp turn to the west. This gave the name West Bend to the township and when the B., C. R. & N. Ry. was built in the fall of 1881 the people of West Bend township voted a five per cent tax on condition that the company would locate a depot in the township. The railroad tried to get the tax and at the same time miss the township, but finally located a station just inside the township line and named it Ives after the president of the road. The people of the township wanted the name West Bend and A. B. Carter met Col. Dows, one of the main officials of the road, at Capt. Soper's office in Emmetsburg and asked him to change the name of the town to West Bend, which he finally consented to do. This was before there was a single house built on the proposed town site.
The B., C. R. & N. Ry. was graded and laid through Fern Valley township in 1881. Wm. Thompson had a postoffice at his farm on section 18 which was called Fern Valley. A man by the name of Rodman of Forest City, an old retired sailor, owned some land on the right of way in the township and he offered the railway company a half interest if they would plat a town on his land and call it "Rodman." This was done and the station house was the only building except the temporary boarding shanties for some time. Wm. Thompson moved his postoffice from his farm into town and changed the name to Rodman. He built a small building for the postoffice and also put in a small stock of goods. He would walk back and forth each day to his store from his farm. Soon after Wm. Sloan bought out this store and became postmaster. Thomas Bates built the first house and boarded the section hands and worked on the railroad. Mart Fritz built a house and E. E. Shriner built a store in 1888. W. D. Fenn built the next house. There were several large hay barns put up about this time and the buying and shipping of hay became the leading business of the town. M. L. Fritz built a hotel and several other stores, blacksmith shop, and other buildings were erected from time to time. After several attempts to have a creamery, the people of the town finally got together, borrowed the money from a bank at Emmetsburg, and the creamery was built in 1895. Later more hay barns and two elevators were built, and several more business ventures came to the little town, which continued to grow until now Rodman is a thriving village, which still has the distinction of being one of the principal hay shipping stations in the county.
The memorable race between the B., C. R. & N. Ry. and C., M. & St. P. north from Emmetsburg to Spirit Lake, made history very rapidly in 1881. The Burlington, being slightly ahead, ran so close to the bluffs as to force the Milwaukee to cross to the east about six miles north of Emmetsburg. The enterprising farmers in the neighborhood were quick to see the advantage of a railroad crossing and bought part of the Jerry Conway farm and donated it to the Burlington company on condition that they would put a station there. The company built that station and stock yards in 1881. The station was called Blairgowrie after Blairgowrie farm to the eastward, but the people got up a petition to have the town named Osgood after the town of Osgood in Canada, the home of E. P. McEvoy, who owned the land where the town of Osgood was laid out.
A well known physician of Milwaukee owned about 2,000 acres of land in Walnut township where the railroad was surveyed, and he offered the railroad company a half interest in the northwest quarter of section 9, through which the right of way passed, if they would plat a town. The railroad officials, desiring to be in on the ground floor, organized the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Falls & Northwestern Town Lot Co., which took the half interest in the town plat of the town of Graettinger. The railroad went through in the year 1882. For several years there was nothing to the prospective town but the depot and a house on the hill occupied by August Reichle. In 1885, J. A. Spies and his father came to Graettinger and built a house there, and also put up farm buildings on their farm in section 5. The town lot company became discouraged about this time and Mr. Spies bought them out. H. N. Oshier was station agent at that time and asked Mr. Goodell, the division superintendent at Estherville, if he could put in a small stock of goods in the depot as they had to go clear to Emmetsburg for their supplies. Mr. Goodell replied that they were about to move the depot to Osgood and that it would not be worth his while. This was the first intimation that they had that the enterprising people at Osgood were offering to move the depot down there free of charge. Fortunately for Graettinger the town lot deal was not fully closed and Mr. Spies notified the town lot company that they did not want the lots if the depot was moved. The prospect of this deal slipping through their fingers roused the officials to section, and the order to move the depot was rescinded, and Graettinger was saved by a narrow margin. In 1887 Geo. Zahm built the first store, but in the following year he sold out to H. N. Oshier, who still occupies the same store as the pioneer merchant of the town. Mr. Zahm soon after built another store further up the street, and handled general merchandise there until he later sold out to Preston Fahenstock. This is the same store building that is now occupied by the Wildey store. Several other stores of various kinds were started during the next years. Mr. Zahm and Mr. Spies started the first lumber yard in 1890 and the following year Mr. Spies bought out his partner and built the first elevator. Henry Baum built the hotel the same year. Preston Fahenstock and his father built the creamery in 1892. The second elevator, the present Farmers' elevator, was put up by H. N. Oshier in 1895. In 1886 the people wanted a school on the Graettinger side of the river, and so a rough-board, sloping-shed-roof house was built. There was no floor and at times of rain the roof leaked so that the children had to huddle in one corner to avoid the dripping water. Miss Anna Mahan (Mrs. Anna Donohue) was the teacher, and rode horseback three miles every morning against the bleak northwest wind, to the school. The next year a floor was added, but no shingles on the roof. The present school house was constructed in 1898. Many other stores, houses and business places of all kinds have been added to Graettinger until at present it is a growing town and has the reputation of shipping more freight over the railroad than any other town of its size in Iowa.
When the Des Moines & Fort Dodge Railway was surveying through the county, Ellington township voted a tax, but Rush Lake did not. Geo. Inman, who owned the eighty on the west side of the township line and in Rush Lake township, gave the railway company a half interest in return for the location of the town site on his land. This took the station out of Ellington and into Rush Lake, but the railway doubtless got the benefit of the tax just the same. Inman had promised the railway company to give them the part of his land east of the tracks, but there was a mortgage on it and the mortgagee took the property and this precipitated a long controversy with the railway which was finally compromised in some way. The track was laid as far north as Mallard in September, 1882. The railway station was the first building on the town plat, though Inman had a small house on his farm and Joseph Mihlfread had lived in a small shack in the neighborhood for several years. The town was named by Chas. E. Whitehead, president of the Des Moines & Fort Dodge Railway, who was a great hunter and used to hunt out through this county for several years before the railway was built. He had a good sense of humor and after naming "Plover," the station to the south, called this new station "Mallard" because of the great quantities of ducks that inhabited the sloughs and ponds. The railway had hardly been completed before Hackenburg built a store and opened up a stock of general merchandise. He was followed in the same year (1882) by Bill Stafford's general store. John Mertis built the first residence in town. In the spring of 1883 C. H. Sands started a grain, coal, and lumber business and Orie Kendall built a hotel. Mr. Hackenburg was the first postmaster of the town. At first the regular church and Sunday School services were held in the waiting room of the depot, as that was the largest available room. Chas. Ziegler started the first hardware store in the fall of 1883 and several other businesses started and from that time on the growth of the town was rapid and has continued until Mallard is today a prosperous business town.
The town of Curlew was another station established in 1882 on the Des Moines & Fort Dodge Railway. It was named Curlew by President Whitehead of the railway company in honor of the numerous curlew birds found in the neighborhood and in keeping with his policy of naming the towns as an enthusiastic hunter. S. A. Easton built a hotel near the railway right of way, some distance from other towns, and drew trade for some time from the county round about before the company put in a station. Mr. Easton was a genial landlord and his house did a good business. In 1888 Melvin Fisk purchased the hotel from Easton, and later built a livery and feed barn and still later a grain elevator. He soon branched out and sold coal and bought and sold stock. From this beginning the town grew steadily and Mr. Fisk has continued and is today its chief promoter and business man. Curlew is a lively little town and holds its own among the towns of Palo Alto County in an educational as well as a business way.
The Des Moines & Fort Dodge Railway Company built through to Ayrshire in October, 1882. P. O'Grady was the foreman of the construction gang from Tara to Ruthven and January 1, 1883, dropped off at Ayrshire as station agent, and held that position for eighteen years. Patrick Claer had bought a relinquishment of some land in Silver Lake township in 1873 and moved there with his two boys, Tom and P. J., and one daughter, and lived there until 1882, when he sold eighty acres to the railroad company for a town site. The depot was built in November, 1882. P. H. Owens built the first store that fall and Schoonmaker & Hall built a general store at about the same time. The next summer Geo. Pendelburg opened a hardware store and then built the first residence on the town lots. Ed Brown started a lumber yard and Joel Campbell opened up a coal business. H. Emrich also went into the hay business and sold coal and other supplies. As Mr. O'Grady, the station agent, also bought coal and grain on the side, there was plenty of competition along this line. From this time on Ayrshire grew rapidly and was soon a thriving village that was a great convenience to the surrounding territory, and it has continued to grow until today it stands well to the front among the towns of Palo Alto County.
Cylinder started with a large hay barn built by Brown & Sons in 1885 and the railroad company then put in a siding in order to enable them to load hay. The Browns also built a house the same year and in 1889 John Geoders built a store. The following year the railroad company built a depot, and the station was named Cylinder after the famous Cylinder Creek that flows near the town site. It is said that the creek got its name from an attempt of some early settlers to cross the stream at high water with an engine, but the feat was too difficult and the heavy machine sank into the mud and the cylinder became detached and lost in the creek and was never found. This may be only a legend, but it is certain that the stream which has long been known by that name gave the name to the town located not far from its banks. John Geoders was the first postmaster. In 1890 Chas. Terwilliger built another store and the farmers built the creamery. The following year the farmers joined together and put up a blacksmith shop and house for the blacksmith and John Ganzley took charge and worked out the price of the building in work for the stockholders until it was fully paid for. Kelly Bros. put in another store in 1892 and the hotel and livery barn was erected by E. E. Hughes the following year. Others built stores and houses and the town grew rapidly until 1901, when it was incorporated, Geo. Wells being the first mayor and M. N. Oleson the first and only marshal. Cylinder is in the center of a rich and prosperous farming community and is a good trading station and prosperous little town.