Oxford Mirror Special Historical Edition, March 24, 1904
It seldom occurs that an exact record is preserved of the early history of any community. Could we but roll back the dark curtain of the years and scan the records of the acts of men, the writing of history would be less d______ (daunting?).
As it is we _____d (depend?) on the memory of older residents and upon the traditions handed down to us. In no case has one been found who kept a written account of memoranda of the events of the early days, hence some of the statements here may be incorrect. When parties differ in their recollection of events, especially as to dates, we accept that which seems best supported.
Oxford township occupies the south-eastern corner of Jones county. As it is traversed almost diagonally by the Wapsipinicon river, much of the bottom land, as it is called, seemed too wet to attract the earliest settlers of the county. This same bottom land has since been developed into the best of agricultural and stock raising farms.
There were many settlements in the county prior to 1848, but none in this township. In that year or the one preceding John Bryan, of Ohio, visited his brother, Joe Bryan, near Anamosa, and became so impressed with the possibilities of the new country that he determined to settle therein, and induced his father-in-law, L. Walston, and his family, his brother-in-law, Samuel Coon, and family, to join his own family in the building of a home in the “far west”. They came through from Illinois with ox teams to Joe Bryan’s. After a visit with the brother they sought a location for themselves to the southeast.
As their wagons, drawn by ox teams, halted on the knoll just west of the present L. Zeller residence and the occupants looked out upon the undulating hills to the north, the long level strip of level land to the west and south, cut in twain by the silvery waters of the Wapsipinicon, whose distant course was marked by the ever present trees along its banks they decided that this land, which till then knew no white man’s habitation, should be their own, the site of their future home, where they might establish for themselves and their children a community of industrious and law-abiding citizens.
The women and children were assisted from the wagons and the sturdy Ohio woodsmen soon had a kitchen built, rail pen fashion, with grass for roofing. The wagons served for sleeping apartments through the summer. By the time King Winter came, with his freezing blasts, three log cabins, snug and warm, clapboard roofed and built without a nail, bade him defiance. Each was 18 X 18 feet, with a door and a window at the south, a window at the east and perhaps one at the north. These were only half windows, containing six panes of glass. The fire-place occupied an honored place on the west. Parlor, dining rooms , kitchen, laundry and bedrooms all combined. Here they ate, drank and slept; the mother cooked the food, kept house, carded the wool and spun the yarn, while grandfather Walston wove the cloth. Later they were able to get their _ _ lls (rolls?) from Maquoketa or Canton and sometimes exchanged the wool for cloth.
Grandfather Walston occupied the cabin that stood near the present John Wosoba residence. Mr. Coon the one on the machine ship site, and Mr. Bryan the one on the knoll. In times of high water skiffs landed at his barn, where the Exchange Bank now stands. Another cabin was built further up the creek, on the east side, opposite the Leffingwell farm house. As the owner had no wife Agusta Monroe (Mrs. Holton) was induced to open a school in it, the first school in the township. She was taken sick and a sister, Libbie, too young to teach lawfully, was allowed to finish the term. Later Mr. Samuel Coon built a frame school house northeast of the Leffingwell farm house. Its foundation stones may still be seen on the east railroad bank. Mary Ann Turkle was the first teacher in that building.
Mr. Bryan did the first plowing on the north side of the river with a seven-yoke ox team. They raised corn and wheat and stock. The corn was fed, the wheat taken to Toronto to be ground and the hogs killed and dressed, taken by ox carts to Davenport, where they were glad to get two cents per pound in trade. Cattle were too serviceable to be killed. Beef was almost unknown, but venison and wild game took its place, and fish were plentiful.
They knew no neighbors except the wild deer bounding over the flower dotted prairie or slacking its thirst in the limpid waters of the nearby streams, or the occasional pack of wolves upon its track, or the wandering red man who crossed the white man’s path, or entered his home in a friendly way.
But cold, cruel death found them even here. A little son (Marion Clay) of Mr. Walston’s died in 1850. A black walnut log was secured and made into boards for sides, lid and ends of the coffin. A wagon end gate served for the bottom. There being no minister within a day’s ride, the child was interred on the bank of the creek, in what is now C. D. Tucker’s back yard, without religious service other thank a prayer by a member of the family. This was the first death in the township. A son of Joe Bryan, who came from the Buffalo creek settlement, was the first buried in the present cemetery, or rather partly buried in it, for the east line runs over the grave. The people sometimes built what they called “Shanghi rail fences” , that is, rail fences set on blocks to save splitting rails. Lifting these logs caused the lad’s death.
Mr. Levin Walston’s land was entered August 4, 1849. In 1850 two Englishmen, Mr. Rathbone, a ship carpenter, and Mr. Waite, entered land in the northwest part of the township. Mr. Rathbone walked to Iowa City to secure the papers. Then he hauled dressed lumber from Davenport and heavier lumber from a saw mill up the river and built a frame house with two rooms for his wife, who came in ’51 alone from Manchester, England, by way of New Orleans. Some accident to the ship’s machinery kept her on the ocean two months. She secured passage on a river boat to Davenport, only to have the ice close the river at Memphis for three months. Mr. Rathbone met her at Davenport in the spring and she completed her journey by ox team. Two years later the home — parlor and kitchen — was moved from what is now the old Shimerda farm to the present Will Quirk farm by two yoke of oxen. Mrs. Rathbone preparing meals on the way.
Mrs. Waite also joined her husband in 1851on what is now the Frank Shimerda farm. She is the only survivor of the people of that time. She says she does not know how people from the milder climate of England ever lived through the change and hardships of those early days, but the did, and were well and happy, except for the ague.
Fruit was more plentiful here than in many new settlements. Fine wild plums, strawberries and blackberries were to be had for the picking. The gardens were as good as they cared to make them. The ground, new and fertile, yielded large returns. Money was the scarce article, and money they must have to pay their taxes.
Mr. Waite and son, John, _late treasurer of the county, took two loads of dressed pork to Davenport. John was just big enough to sit on the wagon and hold the reins. His load sold early for $1.75 a hundred in script or orders on a certain firm in the city but it took the whole day to find a buyer who would pay in gold. At last a Jew offered $1.25 a hundred in gold for the second load. (Oh, ye shades of thee beef trust!)
They didn’t buy straw hats those days but cut the straw and let the mothers braid it and sew it into hats for them.
The first religious service was undoubtedly the little Sunday school service in the Bryan cabin when Ellen Walston (Mrs. Keith) gathered the children around her and taught them from the New Testament. Later Wm. Garrison, Rev. Seeley Simpson (M.E.), Rev. A. Bronson (M.E.), and A.E. Aldrich (Baptist) held services first in the cabin and then in the frame school house.
When they went to church the team would be hitched up, the women would sit on the boards across the wagon box and the men stand up. A stop would be made at every house until the standing room was all taken.
The first wedding took place in the John Bryan cabin in 1852 when Wm. N. Walston and Sarah Waite were united for life. They are now living in Wyoming when not visiting some one of their twelve living children or thirty-seven grandchildren.
The first white child born in Oxford township was Emily Coon (Mrs. Waite Brenemen).
Fifty years ago there were but six families and one bachelor in the township, Miles Carter, single, having bought out Win Bowers in the southeast part of the township and opened up one of the largest farms in the county, since owned by J.R. and J. E. Carter; and a Mr. Strong, who settled on the south side of the river. There was also at one time, no one seems to know just when, a German called Overracker, who lived four miles directly south of Wyoming. He was one of those natural pi0neers who take another move to the west as fast as civilization overtakes him. The last heard of him he was in Oregon.
From this small beginning the township grew gradually, until now it is the equal in population of any, except those containing the largest cities, in the county.
Among the early settlers were Wm. Thurston, ’53; Dan Iseman and Joseph Pavelka ’54, J.T. Wherry, Wancel Eleck (Jilek) and Shadrack Hammond, ’55; T. D. Prosser and M. Schwab ’56; all farmers. Among other substantial farmers of the 50’s were Geo. Hall, N.R. Hagar, Wm. DuBoise, Andrew Hans and Johnathan Pulley.
In 1857 Milo and G. W. Lathrop and A. Courtright built the flour mill near Muscle Shell ford and Court right & Lathrop opened a store. In 1859 L. D. Carlton and W. P. Langan, both blacksmiths, located there. Dr. Coon was one of the earliest, if not the earliest physician in the township. Dr. Battin and Morris Hall located about 1875. As soon as the Northwestern railroad was put through Lowden a post office was opened in the store, the village being known as Oxford Mills.
A Mr. Baldwin, still living near Wyoming, acted as mail carrier and stage driver between Lowden and Wyoming.
Religious services were held in the old red school house until Rev. Beardsley succeeded in building the M.E. church in 1875.
The first bridge–a wooden one–was built in 1865 at the ford.
Thus it will be seen that Oxford Mills is much the older town; Oxford Junction was not thought of until the Davenport & St. Paul and Sabula & Ackley railroads were put through here in 1871.
Residents suddenly woke up to the possibility of a town on this side of the river. P. Ottsen was appointed postmaster, and built an office at the corner of Fourth and Broadway. Geo. Crouch, editor and founder of THE OXFORD MIRROR, succeeded him in 1879.
John Fay and Frank Miller had a lumber yard at an early date. A man by the name of Erd was the first to open a general store. In the spring of 1874 A. Stratilek opened a general store. Mr. Goldman was the first grain dealer. Mr. Grey built the first hotel now A. Stratilek’s residence and business house, known as the Lindsey House, and Byron McClure kept the Oxford Hotel.
In 1873 the town consisted of about 100 inhabitants, a lumber yard, a post-office, a hotel and two general stores, shoe shop, blacksmith shop, one church edifice–the Lutheran–and one saloon. In 1878 Dr. Henak located here as the first resident physician; he also conducted a drug store. P.B. English, a remembered character, came to the rescue of those about to lose “their soles.”
In 1879 came the boom, the C., M. & St. P. division shops and offices were located here, employing about 300 men. Property jumped sky high. The Blakely addition was added to the northwest of the town in 1880; the Carter and Flanigan to the north and east in 1884.
A scourge of diptheria swept the town in the fall of 1888; 42 from the school roll were fatally smitten with the dread disease. On Feb. 5, 1889, the business houses of I__ (Ira?) R. and J. E. Carter and Beckon & Zigler, together with the offices and contents of THE OXFORD MIRROR and Lawyer miles were destroyed by fire; also the city records.
The first really great blow to the town was the removal of the shops in 1890.
The fire of April 11, 1898, destroyed in two hours all the business houses and dwellings on Broadway west of Fifth street, entailing a loss of over $100,000.
Steps were immediately taken for a system of water works that would afford efficient fire protection. It was something of an undertaking for a town of this size, but the people were a unit (only six dissenting votes) in its support. Excellent plans were secured and the work practically put under the direction of Rev. J. K. Bloom, to whose enthusiastic and untiring efforts, so wisely directed, we owe much of the success of the plant which for quality and quantity suited to our needs is second to none.
The Oxford Junction of thirty years ago compared with the Oxford Junction of today finds at present a lively, energetic little city, with resources and ability to greatly increase in business enterprises, wealth and population.
A careful perusal of the following pages pertaining to the business men of this vicinity will convince anyone that Oxford Junction is so peopled that it will succeed in keeping abreast of the best of the times. (the remainder of the issue can be viewed at Wregie Memorial Library, Oxford Jct., IA)
Oxford Jct. Recent History (1938)
L.L. “Mac” McCreight moved to Oxford Jct. from Cedar Rapids in 1938. Along with his wife Martha and four children (Roger, Barbara, Ed, and Sharon) he operated a Clover Farm grocery store on the south side of west Broadway. Mac also drove school bus, prepared and maintained an ice skating rink, organized the first O.J. Easter Egg Hunt donating the grand prize (a live rabbit won by Judy Hodgden), and otherwise served his community. The park on the south side of east Broadway is named for Mr. & Mrs. McCreight, both now deceased.
In 1953 when the Oxford Mirror stopped publication, Mac began printing “McCreight Grocery’s Oxford Booster” posting local news items and announcements as well as store advertising. The one page newspaper was later called “Mac’s Booster” and survives today with that name, published by Coon’s Corner, the oldest grocery store in Oxford Jct. I imagine Mac bent over his typewriter after a long day at his other duties, working on his little paper. Now people interested in O.J. can read it anywhere in the world on the internet (Wregie Library’s website). One person can make a difference, and Mac did.
Apparently Mac was interested in history because 20 years after coming to O.J., he printed a special edition which is reproduced here as many of our readers will remember and enjoy the observations. [typist’s notes in brackets]
MCCREIGHT GROCERY’S OXFORD BOOSTER DATED TUESDAY JULY 15, 1958 — OXFORD JUNCTION, IA.
RECOLLECTIONS OF TWENTY YEARS AGO
July 18, 1938 — Gabe [Bees] had just opened the Tavern across the street, Mohr Bros. bought the Snopek Meat Market; Geo. Nowachek was their butcher; Louie Hodoval was running the drug store; Rex Huffman ran the root beer just east of the drug store; Fleckenstein had just purchased the Chocolate Shop; Antone Peckosh had just come from Chicago and opened an Electrical Appliance and wiring business in the Mills.
In August that year Otto Koranda purchased the DX Station [now town hall]; Glen Bright was running the Shell Station where Emile [“Desperate”] Koranda now is [unless he means Emile Pavlista who ran a Shell Station east of Koranda’s]; George Volk was still known as the Baker and did a big business in his little store on the south side of the street; John Buresh was running the Hardware store; Harold Long the Mueller Feed Store; Verner Nordstrom was cashier at the bank; Chick Berner was manager at Petersens [poultry house]; John Peckosh had a Men’s Clothing Store where Culver is; Fred Fifield was the Barber in the West Barber Shop; Lee Stowers in the East Shop; Otto [“Buck”] Stratilek was running the general store [now Coon’s Corner] with the help of Monk Coon, Arnold Sobotka, and Viola Lasack.
Geo. Williams was running the Williams Tavern; Mr. And Mrs. Fred Fritz the Theater; Ed. Lasack and O’Hara the Liquor Store; Fred Buresh the Chev. Garage and Fred was Fire Chief with that old Model T Ford and Chemical outfit. The school was using the Shedek Store building [now Senior Center] for a gym; Otto Shedek had a beauty parlor next door and also had a barber shop in the same building; Lenfeld ran the tavern; Frank Peckosh was Postmaster and Ladislav Peckosh was clerk; John Siler had the garage; and Frank Kolarik was shoeing horses at the Blacksmith Shop; The Ball Team sponsored a two-day Corn Carnival in August that year and how it did rain — met Ray Sobotka then, he was in charge of Concessions and we had a Clover Farm Booth with Miss Clover Farm.
Antone Kula delivered milk morning and evening in the old Model A Ford; Hunters were still running the store at the Mills; D. [Daniel] J. Meade was running the Power Plant; O.A. Hunter was teacher of the Mills School; and Dorothy Martin, now Mrs. Elmer Jansen was the other teacher; Gene Kelley had the Rendering Plant; Dory Cave sold his Tankage; and Leo Dorr was his truck driver.
Lala was Superintendent of Schools, Rev. W. A. Wolgemuth was pastor of the Lutheran Church and Father Jos. Gregor, the Sacred Heart Church. Shortly after we arrived we attended one of those big chicken dinners put on by the Sacred Heart church in the old gym across the street — the first thing they passed us was a huge dish of Sauer Kraut with Caraway Seed — first time I’d ever seen that. Oxford still had a morning and night passenger [train] on the Monticello to Davenport run; Neville Waite ran the truck line; Jens Latare, Mrs. George Vacek, and Mrs. Joe Tyc Sr. were about the first customers we can remember; Barbara Benhart [dau. of Robert and Leona] used to come in to see us — she was six weeks old then; Mr. and Mrs. Fred Nowachek had a new daughter Rosalie born the 18th I believe; Fred Lasack’s sister was married that summer and they hauled the happy couple through town in a carriage; When we opened, we sold Bananas for a penny each; Dr. Davies sat in his office above the Post Office [then on the north side of west Broadway] and counted the bunches we unloaded those three days; Louie Bisinger at the Drug Store sold Banana Splits for 10 cents; Dances were still being held at the old Bowery; Dr. Breen used to bring his Pointer down to the store for a can of Dog Food; and Dr. Cook was located in the house just south of the ME [Methodist] Church.
The Irish Church was still standing [northeast corner of town where the black house is]; Oxford Junction did a terrific Sunday business those days — stores, taverns; and about everything; since that time this dropped to a minimum — although the over all volume of business of the town has increased since then, the towns churches, school, and community activities have progressed greatly; Charley Allen had a restaurant in the Zeller Building; E. A. Grimwood seemed to be the principal speaker in town and headed most of the money drives on Main street.
That winter there was a fire at the Henry Shimerda home (now Butlers). The fire was burning in three different roof valleys near the chimney and the firemen had to keep carrying that one large 2 ½” hose around the house to reach the fire. The house was saved — I thought O.J. had a pretty good fire dept. There was a corn crib back of what is now Benharts produce and also a lot of big fat rats; We sold best grade pink salmon 2 tall cans for 25 cents, Milk 9 cents a qt., and bread was 10 cents; smoked picnics 19 cents a lb.; got our mail on Sunday mornings; Ben First was in charge of the Coal Chute; Ed Clausen the Depot; and Oss [Austin] Conwell was the Chief Butcher and Garden Plower.
Eileen Kotlinek worked in the Mirror Office; Elsie Meade was our First clerk; Don MacGregor peddled our hand bills and told us where people lived; Dogs were allowed in town those days and we had several good dog fights and not nearly as many rabbits; Antone Blizek cam in each morning to read our paper and occasionally buy a 10 cent ring of bologna.
Bernell “Bud” Coon was making those “Heavenly Pies”; Mrs. Dubois got delivery from 4 stores and a meat market one afternoon within 15 minutes; stores bought a lot of eggs those days before the egg routes started out when the roads got good enough; Ray Nowachek ran an Egg Route; later Ray Mizaur and also the Cream Route; Ernie Wink used to make a special trip Saturday nights to haul Cream; the town had no school band; no manual training; no home ec.; no typing; no kindergarten; and some teachers had three grades; we had no boy scout troop then or cub scouts; we had no park, no summer playground or swimming program. Bingo was a big sport — or business; No, I wouldn’t say those were the “Good Old Days”. Would you? Mac