THE HISTORY OF OAKFIELD, IOWA
The History of Oakfield ran as a series each Thursday from August 4, 1966 to September 29, 1966 in the Audubon County Journal. It began with the following Editors note:
The following article on Oakfield will appear each week until the full story is completed.
We are indebted to Mrs. Cannon for her history of the early town in Audubon county and
we know many of our readers will enjoy it.
And the final article began with the following Editors note:
This is the conclusion of Mrs. Cannons article and we are most grateful to her. Need-
less to say many scrapbooks have been assembled so that it may be re-read and passed
on to different relatives and friends for their enjoyment. Mrs. Cannon has brought many
old pictures to the Journal office which we hope to be able to publish in the very near
The home that is referred to in the article that Daisy lived in, is still owned by members of her family; granddaughters Ina Woolman and Linda Hencke.
The Hallock House is currently owned by Ruth Barton and is a busy Bed and Breakfast Inn.
THE HISTORY OF OAKFIELD, IOWA
By Mrs. Daisy Cannon
In the year 1850 Iowa had found a place on the map of the new nation, had become a state, and the roving tribes of Indians were roused to the realization that changes such as they had never experienced were impending. They had reluctantly yielded their rights and given up their shifting homes, and most of them had finally left to seek new hunting grounds and to lay out premises in strange areas.
Western Iowa lay waiting, and overflowing basket of rich resources hardly touched. The next year, 1851, came explorers, the frontiersmen. History was in the making. The lure and excitement of blazing the trail and helping to establish a new frontier was irresistable. Nattie Hamlin, a native of Kentucky, who had pushed by degrees as far west as south central Iowa, decided to take a trip west with a group of friends, to look at the country, and traveled to Kanesville, a small settlement near the west state line (later named Council Bluffs). Conditions there did not appeal to them so, returning, they followed the Morman trail, exploring as they went. Along Troublesome Creek they liked the lay of the land and made camp. Mr. Hamlin staked out a claim by blazing trees no surveying had yet been done and so became the first homesteader in the county. Other settlers came in rapid succession, soon the area was occupied, and thoughts turned toward organization.
In May came John S. Jenkins and staked a claim at a place they named Big Spring, Section 20. Mr. Jenkins built a cabin and his new home was a busy place for a short time. Progress was on the march every one was restless. Decision to cast anchor and settle down permanently in any one place was hard to make, there might be an even betterplace over the next hill. Every day at times, and at least every month, new settlers came, and some pulled up stakes to be on the "go" again, seeking better and a bit easier life. Seeking, coaxing, carving out homes and sustaining family life was no easy accomplishment for the first settlers. Those who came later and found available houses already built escaped the first concern. Willing hands reached forth to help each new worthy emigrant to get settled.
Property changed hands often, and so, a little later, did places of business. John S. Jenkins was pleased with his new land and proudly blazed his name on a big tree. But he soon sold his first claim to a new comer, I.P. Hallock, Sr. Mr. Hallock, being restless, decided to move on toward the west and sold a part interest in his new land to Erasmus Bradley, his son-in-law. Mr. Bradley set up a building and started a store in 1855. The venture proved successful, so with the help of Alva Brown, he laid out streets and platted a town, and thus came into being the little town of Oakfield. This was 1858, and by that time a Mr. Elam Pearl had come and was erecting a saw-mill on the Nishnabotna River, flowing along the west edge of the town. A casual observer might have guessed that the town was named for the beautiful, lofty old oak trees that enhanced the nearby timber lands, and spread their welcome shade over some of the new town residences, but such was not the case. Mr. Pearl requested that the new town be named for his home town in New York, and so it was.
John S. Jenkins did not leave the area. He purchased more land west of Oakfield. His sons grew up and in time, each son owned a home and lived many years in the area. Mr. Hallock returned from Omaha, established a home in Oakfield, and he and his sons and grandsons acquired large land holdings.
As the town of Oakfield was laid out, one long north and south road became main street. Another main road called the pike, led westward where new homesteads were being established. A street leading east kept right on going until it became the highway for two farm homes, the first the country residence of the William Ordway family, who lived there for many years. A short distance farther on, around a bend, the road became the outlet of travel for the Jobe Chamberlain family. The town failed to enlarge enough to reach these outlying homes, so they were not included in the town limits. Likewise, Alva B. Brown, who helped from the beginning to establish Oakfield, selected a home-site too far north to ever be included in the town. His home was known as the Brown house long after he had ceased to be an area resident. Occupied by several other residents over the years, the Brown house still exists. In 1905 the house was purchased by L. C. Heath and moved to Brayton. Remodeled several times, it is still in the Heath family and at present is owned and occupied by Mrs. Daisy Heath Cannon, daughter of L.C. Heath.
Oakfields ambitious main street stretched to the top of the short steep hill to the south where the Mark Heath family had bought land and built a home in 1852. The town failed to fill this space with residences, so the village street retreated to the Bell Place which became the south town limit. Residences filled in quite rapidly along the blocks to the east, and then a row of buildings occupied the west side, and Oakfield became a thriving little town and lived on for over fifty years. It seems there is no record of it ever having been incorporated.
In the beginning this county was part of Cass county, to the south. Early in the 1850's the north part separated and chose for its name, Audubon, in honor of the great naturalist John James Audubon, who had died in 1851. Following this rapid progress, government needed to be set up so elections were held and new officers took their places in the busy life on the new frontier.
First elections were rather crude affairs, but courageous effort filled the need, and we find in old records the names of early first officers. An election was held in April, 1855, a record states, in the cabin home of J.S. Jenkins, Section 20, Exira township. Judges elected were John S. Jenkins, Walter Jardine and I.V.D. Lewis; clerks were John W. Beers and Carlos Frost. As need for other officers arose, elections were held. John W. Beers, while serving as clerk of court, was also surveryor; T.S. Lewis, county judge; Miles Beers, treasurer and recorder; David L. Anderson, prosecuting attorney; Benjamin M. Hyatt, sheriff; Robert Stansberry, coroner; Urbane Herrick and Carlos Frost, justices of the peace; William H. H. Bowen, assessor and road supervisor, and Alonzo Arnold, notary public; D. B. Beers, county superintendent.
Many little towns sprouted up in an early day, most of them to flourish a short time, then die down and disappear as settlements shifted. Often a saw-mill was the beginning. Lumber for building was needed. Grist mills for grinding grain into flour and meal were most welcome. A mill located on one of the many streams for power was a good investment, and some mills were powered by steam. But too many mills spelled doom and many an early mill prospered for only a brief time, then had to be abandoned for lack of continued business. However, there was a mill located where a dam was built on the Nishnabotna River on the west edge of Oakfield that served the settlers for many years. From the records we gather that this saw-mill was erected in 1858 by Joshua A. and Elam W. Pearl, brothers.
With this lumber supply close at hand the town took shape rapidly, and even thought the restless early settlers came and went, and business places and residences changed hands in rapid succession, most of the buildings remained steadfast. But the little early town was sending down roots, and now, 1966, more than 100 years later, a few buildings still abide giving evidence of a hustling, busy early village that furnished its contribution to the history of Audubon county.
In the heyday of its rugged youth the needs of the community formed the towns pattern. Beginning, there was the Bradley store, then the Mill; and to fill the towns growing needs, on by one were added a school, two more stores, a blacksmith shop, had and notion store, two hotels, town hall, livery stable and photograph gallery. Early revival meetings were conducted in the school house and in the town hall. A lodge also held its meetings in the town hall. Doctors served mostly on out calls, and were obliged to hold necessary consultations in their homes. A two story building was erected, the purpose of the lower story to operate a saloon. This business was not popular and was soon discarded, and the building rented as a residence.
Now that we have the business part of the town established let us take some time to get acquainted with the people.
Stores As has been stated John S. Jenkins first owned the land which was the line betweeen Section 20 on the east and Section 19 on the west. This immediate area was at first known as Big Spring. Just where this spring was, no one of the present seems to know. J.S. Jenkins sold his claim to Samuel B. Hopkins in 1854 or 1855. Hopkins sold to I.P. Hallock, Sr. Mr. Hallock sold part of his property in 1855 to his son-in-law, Erasmus D. Bradley, who, with his partner, Alva B. Brown, laid out the town where he built the first store. This is said to be the first store in the county. Bradley and Brown sold the store to Elam W. and Joshua A. Pearl, who soon acquired another partner, Julius M. Hubbard. This company sold to Almond Goodale in 1863. This first store was located on the east side of main street. When Almond Goodale sold out to Norton and Jones, they constructed a new store building on the opposite side of the street in 1866.
Norton and Jones sold to Keith and Rensford in 1867. Keith and Rensford sold to Hallock, Jenkins and DiPowers in 1875. The same year the business was sold to Earl Cotton, who moved the stock to Exira. So the town was without a store for a while.
In 1874 T.J. Essington and Thomas Walker started a hardware store in Oakfield. They sold out to Mr. Kremling, who ran the business only a short time. In 1889, the Hallock store building being available, Dan Zentmire started a general store on the east side of main street. He named the new store U & Eye (You and I), put in a stock of general merchandise and opened for business.
Later, with his wife and son, a partnership was formed and the name changed to "The 3 Smiths." In later years this prospering store doubled in size and at one time in one room of the new addition a telephone central office, first one in the area, was located. This line was incorporated as "The Oakfield and Cass County Telephone Company, Audubon County, Iowa." Sometimes court proceedings were held in the back room, Mr. Smith being a Justice of the Peace. This old fashioned type general store held a prominent place in Oakfield for many years until in 1909 Mr. and Mrs. Smith retired and went to Florida, leaving the store in the hands of their son, Ward B. Ward B. Smith sold the stock to William Pardee and followed the elder Smiths to Florida. Last owners of the store were Mr. and Mrs. Frank Stager.
In 1892 Dan Zentmire closed out his business and with his family moved to Atlantic, Iowa, where he managed a grist mill. The Zentmire store changed hands in rapid succession, to Frank Greer, to Thomas McGuire and son, to Greer and Sykes, to Greer alone, and finally to Hallock, who closed out by 1898. Obviously the patronage turned toward the well established, "3 Smith" store and business flourished for many years, even after the town of Brayton was steadily growing.
One old record states that William Canfield Norton came to Oakfield in 1856, and as the town was being laid out, built a two-story dwelling on the west side, north of the spacious Hallock home-site. This dwelling was one of the first plastered buildings in the county. It operated as a hotel and contained the post-office from October 22, 1858 to November 29, 1881. The names of the first post-masters are not available. The first recorded post-master in Oakfield was Amherst Heath. Nattie Hamlin is also recorded as a post-master at some post office in the area, these listed according to the copy of the 1860 Almanac issued by the State Historical Society. Hamlin was probably post-master at Hamlins Grove.
In the early 1850's the Howletts and several relatives came from England and became long-time Oakfield residents. They were all find people. Independent and well able to take care of themselves. The sam Howletts, better known as Uncle Sam and Aunt Ann, ran a hotel in a large building on the west side of main street, occupying the corner where the pike road joined main street. A livery stable established on the east bank of the Nishnabotna, west of this corner hotel, was managed by Sam Howlett and his brother Jimmy, and for several years did a lively business. Jimmy Howlett was also proprietor of the saloon during its short existence. It is noted that Jimmy Howlett then replaced the William Norons in the hotel to the south near the Middle Brancy bridge.
A small strip of land lay between this hotel and the bridge and there under a large maple (not chestnut) tree a blacksmith shop noisily made itself known, under the capable hands of Uncle John Danner. The Danners, Uncle John and Aunt Sally, were a lively couple, although they were quite elderly when they first joined the community. Uncle John could not remember how old he was but always insisted he had fought in the Mexican War. Listeners thought he must have meant the Civil War. He was fond of children and kept a supply of apples, in season, to give to the little folks as they passed the shop on their way to school. He was always willing to sharpen the older ones skates when the frozen river invited that activity. For many long years his good wife, Aunt Sally, was the respected town laundress. After Uncle Johns best days were spent, and he had to retire, he did what he could to help Aunt Sally, by bringing wood, a few sticks at a time, to replenish the fire under the old wash boiler. He was a part of the little town at its best, and then saw it slow up and die down, just as he was doing. He used to sit out on the porch in the evening and, we suppose, meditate upon these things, and Aunt Sally would join him there at the end of her days work. The town photographer, Zephyr Smith, came and took their picture as they sat there one evening.
A short time afterwards first Uncle John, then Aunt Sally, finished their journey here and answered their call to rest, but a treasured memory of them lingers on in the minds of the older citizens.
Mills about 1858 Joshua A. and Elam W. Pearl, brothers, erected a water power saw-mill on the Botna River. The mill, according to the common trend, changed hands several times; bought by Alva B. Brown and passed on to Julius M. Hubbard, then to Henry Kinkaid. Quite probably this was a lively business, considering all the fine native timber close at hand. Early in the countys history, first log cabins were replaced by good, much larger, frame houses. Even to the present time (1966) quite a number of early frame houses, past or nearing their centennials, can be indentified. Among them, the Norton house still stands staunchly on its original site in about the center of Old Oakfield. Bradley built the house of logs in 1854. He lived there a short time, then left for the west but soon returned. About 1856 Mr. Norton came and moved into the house. With lumber available it was soon enlarged and made more comfortable. The house has been remodeled and reinforced several times. Few living at the present time know that the old log walls are still contained n the north part of the house. It must be one of the oldest houses in the county.
The Brinkerhoff family won a worthy and prominent place in the life of Oakfield. Superintending the school for so many years, Professor Brinkerhoff built up a lively interest in higher levels of education, his influence expanding to promising young people living so far out they were obliged to board at the Howlett Hotel while school was in session. A public spirited citizen., Professor Brinkerhoff gave generously of his time and ability in any way for the betterment of the community. A deeply religious man, the morning session at school always began with a Bible reading and prayer, followed by singing. A number of hymns were listed in the old song books, and regular school songs were selected with a thought to the moral influence. Two old songs he favored were, "A Boy is a Boy" and "Never Say Fail." He was often called upon to preach a funeral sermon when the little town suffered a loss through death of one of its own and he ably fulfilled the request.
The professor was a good friend and a good neighbor. In those early days many homes possessed only the most needed furniture, with no luxuries and not many real comforts. When an elderly neighbor, Mr. Wood, became the victim of a long illness, he had no easy chair in which to rest when able to sit up a while. Mr. Brinkerhoff found out about it and sent his own rocking chair over to be used as long as Mr. Wood was able to sit up. When Aunt Sally Danner was unable to get a needed prescription filled because of some new law, he helped her obtain what she sought by giving his recommendation.
Aunt An Howlett was aging and some years after the loww of her husband she became unable to make a living from her boarding house income, then Mr. Brinkerhoff patiently persisted until he enabled her to get a government pension, since her husband had been a Civil War Soldier. One of Aunt Anns side-line projects was raising geese for market. Thereafter for several seasons, she furnished a fat goose for the Brinkerhoffs Christmas dinner.
Examplifying the character of a loyal citizen, Mr. Brinkerhoff was truly patriotic, and each year as Memorial Day approached, the people of Oakfield and surrounding community were aroused by his inspiration to pay tribute to the memory of those loyal souls who had given their lives for a great cause, to perserve the Union in the Civil War and in other wars. Excitement and preparation preceded the Decoration Day observance.
One of the first provisions taken care of as the village was laid out was the establishment of a cemetery just beyond the east border of the town. The strip of land was shaded by many fine old native trees: oaks, elms, maples, wild cherry and others. Surrounded by fine timber-lands, rolling hills and grassy meadows and an open field, it mad a beautiful, quiet resting place for loved ones, and for many soldiers, young and old, who had given their lives to save their country.
Being deciduous trees, every autumn this sacred place was covered by a generous blanket of brown leaves and twigs. Late in May, students of the Oakfield Academy were conscripted to clear the premises and make ready for the building of a temporary platform, from which a noteworthy patriotic program was to be presented on the appointed day. A short study session was given at school, a hurried lunch time was disposed of, the, under direction of the professor, all departed for the work at the cemetery, armed with rakes, spades, scythes and a can of drinking water with a dipper. Some helpful citizen volunteered his aid with a team and wagon for hauling off leaves, and the work proceeded with vigor and some hilarity. In due time the work was finished and the students, tired, soiled, and a bit unkempt, but happy in their achievement, went home to rest and then to turn their attention to the next practicing their part for the program. In the meantime some men put up a stout platform in a clear place in the cemetery, under some trees, and a few seats were brought or benches built for old soldiers or the very elderly. There were never enough for all. Others attending either stood or sat on the thick grass. A band was engaged. There were not school bands in those days. The members were grown men, with very few exceptions. Exira had a fine band, and Brayton furnished a good band for some years, and there was the Oak Hill band.
Finally Memorial Day arrived and, dressed in their best, the children appeared at the Academy early to receive instruction about marching and to be assigned certain places in the line-up. Practically the whole neighborhood turned out and many came from quite a distance.
It was nearly a quarter mile from the school house to the cemetery and the children always marched, up hill most all the way, carrying small flags or bouquets of wild flowers carefully gathered for the occasion, keeping step to the music of the band in the lead. All old soldiers who were able marched behind the band; then the children kept in line by the teachers walking at the side of the procession. Bringing up the rear were the carriages conveying those who dared not undertake the long walk or march. Reaching the cemetery, the children were led in formation to decorate each soldiers grave, while all stood in silent reverence, then the band gave an appropriate number and all gathered near the platform. An organ had been placed there, and during the prelude all took their places. Old soldiers were escorted to seats on the platform. A prayer was offered. A speech, sometimes the Gettysburg address, group singing, duets, a solo or tow, drills, exercises, recitations and a final number by the band, furnished an ample program lasting well onto noon. Many families brought a basket dinner and ate in the picnic grounds nearby. Year after year these fine Memorial Day programs were given as long as Mr. Brinkerhoff resided in the town.
The Brinkerhoffs, a devoted and talented family, contributed substantially to the life of Oakfield when in its best era. History was "in the making" in those days. Mrs. Brinkerhoff, a gracious woman with wavy dark hair and a smile for all who came her way, the mother of this fine family, was one of the liveliest mothers the writer ever knew. In an old autograph album are the treasured words in her handwriting, "Lifes fairest lot be thine." It was a privilege to have her for a friend.
Linda Brinkerhoff married Fred Delahoyde and they made their home in Exira for a number of years. Later the family relocated in the west and their two daughters became widely known in music circles. Onie married Charles Milliman, band leader and well-known architect. For many years they were residents of Exira, where their children were education. Finally they joined the rest of the Brinkerhoff family in Washington state. Will, Jr., like some other members of the Brinkerhoff family circle, became interested in the publishing business a made it his lifes work, being on the staff of several different newspapers. He was married to Kathryn Crane, and they, too, eventually went west.
The little daughter, Goldie, youngest of the family, was a frail child, though blessed with a wonderfully ine mind. Afflicted by an asthmatic condition she was unable to attend school more than a few months each year. She supplemented this with home study and also became a talented pianist. In the late 1890's, Mr. Brinkerhoff, concerned about Goldies health, decided a change of climate might be beneficial, so the family, leaving a host of regretful but understanding friends, departed for the western states to establish a new home. Trying different locations, the finally settled permanently at Winthrop, Washington.
Mr. and Mrs. Brinkerhoff, Goldie and Blossom, a school girl of sixteen, made the first venture. Nettie the teacher, Laura, a saleslady, and Duxy, a teacher who married George Cotton, Jr., of Oakfield, soon followed. Nettie and Laura married after settling in the western home. Later Moses, the teacher, joined his family and was married there. Goldies health improved, and she taught school for a while. Goldie was beloved by all, made friends everywhere and her last years were happy ones. She slipped away to her rest at the age of 31.
Blossom married Clint Hanks, a native of Washington. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and not long after, quite suddenly, the husband was called to his rest. Blossom was the last surviving member of the Brinkerhoff family. She was much interested in this history of Oakfield where she spent a happy childhood, and she has contributed many facts and incidents from the store house of her memory. At the time of her death in the spring of 1966, she was writing, on consignment, the early history of the area where she has long made her home in Washington.
Let us draw aside the curtain in the house of memory and recall what school days were like in the 89's and 90's at the old Oakfield Academy. Let Blossom Hanks give her recollection of a first day in the lower room, and the progress that followed. "My introduction to the big white school house was as a little five-year old. That has been over seventy years ago! I entered the chart class. The chart hung from the wall, the first large page being devoted to the alphabet and numbers up to 10. Day by day, as our education progressed, the leaves of the chart were turned and on we went. I owned a little clothbound slate and a pencil, as most of the chart class did. We erased letters and figures from our slates by means of a small cloth brought from home, which we dampened by a quick dip into our mouths, germs being no worry in those happy days. He second class found us using tablets and lead pencils. We remained in the lower room during our progress through the first four classes (grades) and then moved up to the second floor for more advanced learning. We had McGuffys Readers in every class and learned to read intelligently. How interesting the stories (and how we were drilled in pronumciation and expressin!) Good old McGuffys. The sessions on the second floor always started with our teacher reading scripture followed by a short prayer, then singing. We were taught patriotism, a love for home and for our state and country. At one time we were required to learn a poem:
"My home is in Iowa,
Westward toward the setting sun,
Just between two mighty rivers
Where the mighty waters run.
She has towns, she has cities,
She has farms and fields of grain;
She has ninety-nine counties
And Ill tell you all their names."
And sure enough, we had to learn to name all those counties, as they were sorted out in tiers. Enough to say that I can still repeat the names of the first eleven on the Minnesota line but the rest of the ninety-nine have escaped me."
Considering the times, our school was quite well equipped with study helps; large fall charts to aid in studies of geography, physiology, astronomy and other subjects; and a large supply of all kinds of wooden forms, planes, rectangles, all kinds of angles, pyramids, cylinders, cubes, spheres, etc., to aid struggling mathematicians through the intricacies or the art of measuring. Those early teachers were sincere in their responsibilities to each every subject as throughly as possible, regardless of time required. Students simply had to get an understanding of subjects as they went along, or be kept in the same grade until they did.
Because of advanced courses throughly taught, children from other school districts were accepted at the Academy. Some of these students came from such a distance they rode horseback or drove in a buggy. Those living not over two miles generally walked, and for those and there were many a ride to or from school was a rare treat. In pleasant weather the walk each school day was a healghtul exercise, developing sturdy bodies, and a fortitude with might be found lacking in todays youngsters. But on those days when the temperature hovered near zero, snow several inches deep and wind blowing, it wasnt east to accomplish the trek to school. But plenty of warm clothing, leggings and overshoes kept them going and attendance records were remarkably good.
Interest in schooling was increasing; parents wished their children to be educated; teachers urged, and good attendance was emphasized until it was overdone. But let us note present day school systems have profited by those early school mistakes. In the old days acquiring a cold, early symptoms indicating a case of mumps, chicken-pox, whooping cough or even measles, were not accepted as excuse for remaining absent. If a child was able to walk the distance to school, he was expected to go. This brought on many epidemics of the usual childrens diseases. Often children became ill at school and the parents were sent word to come for them. In some instances, cases would be come quite severe because of over exposure in trying to make it to school, perhaps with some degree of fever. The thinning of the ranks for many days during an epidemic of these diseases posed a problem. More care and attention were given to sickness and a reasonable improvement followed, with less emphases on attendance and greater regard for health.
Most students brought noon lunch. During severe winter weather they were advised to bring their metal lunch boxes or pails inside the study rooms and park them neatly at the back of the teacherss rostrum along the wall. Those who forgot and left their lunch in an ante-room where their wraps were hung, usually had frozen sandwiches to munch.
Good discipline was a definite requirement. Those teachers fortunately possessing a fine personality, who came with a good store of tact and wit, achieved the best results, but not without effort, patience and fortitude. A goodly number of excellent teachers came to guide and to instruct and so contributed to the growth and character of many of the future citizens of the community.
The Academy had its own brand of activities which were planned to develop many interests. Literary programs were welcomed and enjoyed; but practice and preparation for these were never allowed to infringe upon the regular time set apart for study sessions and recitation. Time for, dramatics and developing literary skills for program display had to be spared from recess time, the noon hour, and perhaps an hour after school, boosted along with quite a bit of home practice. Programs were frequent and varied and were usually planned for Friday afternoons when there was no holiday at hand to be observed.
Arbor Day in the spring was always observed with at least a program, and activity, if there was any planting needing to be done. About the year 1893, on Arbor Day, Mr. Brinkerhoff held study session until noon, then after lunch hour, caled the students of both rooms together, with thte lower room teacher, and led them all across the "pike" to Brayton to the grounds of the new Brayton school where we joined the Brayton school group. Master of ceremonies, Professor Brinkerhoff, presided at a short program, the, with some help from the older students, planted a number of sapling trees in the new school yard. Then we marched back to Oakfield, then home. Several of the trees are still living, abiding as sentinels over the veteran building, abandoned a few years ago as a schoolhouse, but now owned and used by the Baptist church as a Sunday school class room.
Every patriotic holiday was given some form of observance. In the upper room debating became a popular sideline and interest grew to such heights that public lyceums became the vogue, and were so well attended each lyceum night that the capacity of the upper room was taxed to the limit. Lawyers from other towns, ex-teachers and businessmen were invited to participate in the debates and responded with alacrity; and many local citizens added their talents to the programs. Those were great days, as happy and lively, probably, as any on record.
The generous sized playground afforded room to play most and of the well-known games. Those most popular, as recollection lists, were black-man; last couple out; pin; pat-en-on-the-back, and, of course, baseball. A good fence surrounded three sides of the school yard, and majestic maple and elm trees furnished ample shade. Great piles of split stove-length wood were corded near the north fence and along the back fence to the east. This supply furnished fuel for the big iron stoves depended upon to heat the two large rooms. In some of these stoves a drum was set in the pipe above the flat stove top, to distribute a greater supply of heat. The long pile of wood along the north made a good windbreak in winter, and what there was left of the depleted supply served as a counter for the little folks to play store, during warm weather sessions. The big boys took over the large area south of the walk for their lively ball games, and the girls were satisfied to play "one-old-cat" back of the schoolhouse, where there were no windows to break.
The Brinkerhoff family had found and tamed a young crow and taught it to talk. The crows name was Jim. Usually Jim was pretty good to stay home, but when all the noise of a lively ball game would echo from hill to hill, the old bird just could not resist, and he would come flying over the trees and alight on a lower limb not far from the home plate. A bat would strike the ball a resounding shack, the players would start running. Then Jim would spread his wings, bob his head and scream, "Play Ball! Play Ball!" Sometimes the boys would get to laughing so at the antics of their ardent fan it would stop the game. Jim Crow would sit there eyeing them, with his black head turning first to one side then the other, doubtless wondering what silly thing could have broken up a fine game like that. Jim Crow lived to be quite old. He could also say, "Hello! Hello!" and "Bottle o coffee" when he saw the family making ready for a picnic.
One noon hour a lively game of black-man was being played across the big ball diamond and most of the children were taking part, when the strangest thing happened. This was about 1901. Up over the top of the hill to the north above the northwest corner of the school yard there came a buggy-like vehicle, without a horse or a mule in sight anywhere. That neat little contraption was moving right along, keeping to the road with no visible unit of power anywhere but about it. Every child froze in his tracks and stared, then wide eyes followed the object around the corner till it disappeared beyond the river timber, still following the road accurately. "Automobile," someone whispered loudly. Yes, we had heard about them, had seen pictures, but it had all seemed a myth. How could rigs glide along with no horses? But there it was! We had seen it with our own eyes! No more black-man that noon. The children gathered in little groups, still dazed, and sat on the sidewalk, talking in subdued voices, until the bell rang. As we passed in, we told the teachers in awed tones what we had seen. They both smiled knowingly, and did not seem nearly so astonished as we were, but said they would like to have seen it, too. We hadnt thought once to call them. Well, as far as we were concerned that was "the coming of the automobile" into our young lives, and what a place it has made for itself!
The dear old Academy clung to existence a long time while teachers and student groups came and went but finally, having been reduced to a common rural school status, those school officials concerned decided to do away with the half of it not needed any more, performed the feat of removing the lower story and letting the top story down on the ground level. The clear-toned old bell was cracked as it fell and rendered useless. Many old records and antique equipment were disposed of, and yet the sturdy old veteran endured several more years to house grade students, until consolidation took over. In 1959 it was closed and had finished its course as a school. But it hasnt given up yet. It has now been converted into a residence and is occupied and appreciated by a young family, in its last days to serve as a happy home.
It is impossible to obtain a complete record of all the teachers who taught the Oakfield schools, but following is a partial list. Those first named were teachers in Oakfields first school west of main street. Following those are teachers who taught in the Academy: Mis Disbrow, Jane Beers, Mary Crane, Hattie Beers, Mary Beck, John A. Hallock, Darthula Rogers, Arabella Macomber, Robert N. Day, H.G. Smith, Julius M. Hill, E.S. Fales, Mr. Farrell, Wm. H. Brinkerhoff, Claud N. Andrews, John Cotton, Ernest Smith, M.F. Enenbach, Moses Brinkerhoff, V.J. Robinson, Joe Stiles, Nettie Bruner, Clara Ordway, Miss Derby, Mr. Cobb, Mr. Ebersole, Mr. Grey, Letta Smith, Pearl Jenkins, Grace Clark, Gladys Chamberlain, Daisy Heath, Mary Curry, Edith Anderson, Anna Runge and Christa Runge.
Before we set aside the old Academy mention should be made of its early use as a church. It was common procedure, as pioneers pushed westward establishing new settlemtns, to build a schoolhouse as soon as possible and then use it as both school and church until a proper church building could be erected. About 1855 a Methodist minister, Reverend James S. Rand, traveled as far west as Oakfield. He obtained lodging in the cabin of a settler. Walter Jardine, some two miles east of Oakfield. Being permitted to hold services, he subsequently organized a class which held services for some time. This probably was the first church meeting held in the county.
From an old record we note that Elder Richard C. Meek and his wife stayed at the J. S. Jenkins home for several months in 1861 and while there held family religious services morning and evening on Sundays. They settled in the vicinity, and Auntie Meek, as she was affectionately called, became well-known for her benevolent deeds. In one instance a young mother became much concerned over the condition of her small son who was suffering from complications following scarlet fever. Having other small children, the mother could hardly give the littel sufferer all the care he needed. Aunti Meek came, wrapped the little one up and took him home with her, where her loving and constant care soon had him well along on the road to recovery. Then the child was returned to his home, welcomed by ever grateful parents. The resting place of these good people, Elder and Auntie Meek, is to be found in the Exira cemetery.
As was the current mode, religious leaders came and went, but always there were some conscientious early settlers who invited circuit riders, and hoped for a settled religious center for the benefit of their families and for the community. Whenever a minister was available, religious services were held in the schoolhouse, and an occasional revival took place in the hall over the store on the west side. About 1866-68, a Congregational church was organized in Oakfield. Members of this church as listed were E.W. Pearl and wife, William C. Norton, James M. Jones and wife, H.G. Smith, Marianne Smith, Joe Barhan and wife and John C. Norton. Services were held in the first schoolhouse or in the hall, and the pulpit was filled by Pastor Edwin S. Hill from Grove City and Pastor C.C. Wright of Exira.
In these early days a circuit was formed including Audubon and Lewis. A Methodist class was organized at Oakfield with Richard M. Lewis as leader. Other preachers who favored the town with their presence and efforts were D.D. Downs, Reverend Hickock and Harry Fergusson, and Professor Brinkerhoff helped out at funerals and Sunday services as needed and requested.
A.T. Horton, a Baptist leader, came with his family in the early 1880's and was for a time a resident of Oakfield, living in the house across the street west of the Academy. He organized the early Baptist church and performed baptismal rites. This organization later built the first Baptist church in Brayton about 1894. This church still stands, having been well kept up and remodeled. The Horton family moved to a country home north of Brayton and farmed for many years, until retiring to Brayton where they lived until called to their rest. Sunday school was held quite regularly in the Oakfield Academy up to the time the Brayton church was finished.
The Hallocks From a family of Quakers originally living in England, I.P. Hallock, Sr. and family came with the wave of settlers that swept over southwest Iowa in the 1850's. He stopped briefly in 1854 to look over the area. He bought the first claim of J.S. Jenkins from S.B. Hopkins, but anxious to see if greater opportunity lay farther west, he sold a part of the purchase to E.D. Bradley, his son-in-law. However, I.P. Hallock, Sr. returned to Oakfield, and by 1856, he and his family, Richard S. (Dr.) Hallock and family, Isaac P. Hallock, Jr., John A. Hallock, and Addison and George Hallock, had become residents. I.P. Hallock, Sr. chose a beautiful plot of land left from the Jenkins homestead, on a rise above the town bridge over Middlebranch, and under tall stately trees had a large house built which proved to be suitable dwelling place for such a location.
Dr. Richard Hallock had a two story frame building erected acros the street east from his fathers place. This tall white house with its friendly front walk and wide porch nestled among the majestic maples as though it had grown there, and mad a fine home for the doctors family. He was a resident doctor for the Oakfield community for a number of years. The doctor liked to hunt. In his spacious home he had rented a small upstairs apartment to a young mother and her two children, whose husband was serving his country during the Civil War. Often when the doctor returned from hunting he would prepare the game he had brought and share some of it with the lonely lodger upstairs. She never forgot the kindness and used to tell about it long years after the good doctor had passed on.
John Hallock was a teacher. I.P. Hallock, Sr. and son, I.P. Hallock, Jr. became large land holders, having acquired some of the finest pasture and timberlands in this part of Iowa. They owned large herds of fine cattle. The Nishnabotna River and some good springs furnished the needed water supply. The Hallocks graciously shared the beautiful woodlands with their excellent natural recreation facitilities, and countless picnics were enjoyed there every summer. Kees Hallock, son of I.P., Jr., with help of friends, made and installed between two giant trees, a pole swing, which endured for many years, and afforded pleasure to the young folks.
In 1898 a Fourth of July celebration was held in the woodland north of Oakfield. D.W. Powers was marshal and W.H. Brinkerhoff master of ceremonies. A large crowd from Brayton and Oakfield and some from Exira attended. A program filled themorning hours, Professor Brinkerhoff giving the oration. A co-operative basket dinner was the noon attraction. The P.M. was given over to various amusements, including foot races, tug-o-war and tub races on the river. The occasion was much enjoyed by all.
A bend in the Botna River, where the banks widened and the sandy shore sloped gently to the waters edge, made an acceptable place to hold baptisms following early church revivals.
No one knew when Third Island had been formed in the course of the Botna River, but was there ever a more enchanting place to gather flowers in late spring, and then to rest on a fallen log? Often a lunch was taken, and a basket in which to bring home a few white violet plants for Mothers garden. Nature had kindly provided a bridge over which the island could be reached, by felling a large dead tree so it reached across the stream to a safe boating, skating and fishing, yielding large cat fish, bullheads, clams and in the first years, red horse (a fish.) The bridge over the river at the west edge of the village was built high and strong. Quite often during spring thaws there were ice jams. When the gorge went out and the fresh spring rains added their volume, the river overflowed its banks and went over to visit Brayton. This was fun for dogs and youngsters, and astonished traveling water fowl on their way south. Often Danish people would gather at the new temporary "coast-line" of the flood near the Brayton depot and enjoy brief reminiscences of their former homes in Denmark, which were never far from water. Boats would sometimes be paddled from Oakfield to Brayton. No lives were lost, no houses engulfed, but the old river left the low-lying fields over which it had spread in bad shape for spring cultivating and sowing, and swung off down its course with a goodly portion of excellent top-soil. Finally the patience of the farmers wore thin. A call for help was made to the government and the old river met its doom.
Without very much study of consequences, and without a reasonable measure of cautious testing, big machines moved in and amid much sighing and groaning of the old trees and complaining of the banks and water, the river was unceremoniously moved from its familiar natural bed to a new man-made channel halfway between Oakfield and Brayton by command of the Straightening Process. The old river doesnt know how to handle this situation so it just lets its waters, in great or small amounts, spill down the too straight course, and get lost in the Gulf of Mexico, and half the time the new river bed is partly dry and grass grows where there should be water. Young trees take root and grow rapidly along the new course, only to topple when half grown, from the crumbling banks, in places blocking up the river. Every few years the bridge has to be lengthened with new longer approaches, for neither can the bridge hold a permanent footing in the soft banks, which gradually widen. The old river bed was a sad and lonely sight. Year by year, inch by inch, the old dry hollow filled up, until today only the line of lonesome old trees identifies the rivers former abode. The old Botna is not happy. This is the river that used to roam happily through the Hallock woodlands and was a part of Oakfield.
Some first marriages in early Oakfield history included daughters of William C. Norton, Melinda Norton married Isaac P Hallock, Jr., Sarah Norton married Elam Pearl. The Nortons had long been citizens of the United States, and could trace their ancestry in England back to the 10th century. Another Norton daughter, Jane, married Hon. Frank Andrews, who was author of an Audubon County history in the early 1900's. I.P. Hallock, Sr. had several daughters. Julia married Erasmus Bradley; Elizabeth married a Mr. Disbrow and they were the parents of Mrs. Di Powers, who, with her husband, were long-time residents of Oakfield. Melissa Hallock married Joe Basham. George Hallock was a son of Dr. Richard Hallock. It seems impossible to determine if the available old records are complete.
Time took its toll and as the older Hallocks passed on, I.P. Hallock, Jr. and his bride occupied the Hallock residence. In the 1890's they planned and had built a large mansion - like house near the original homesite, which, upon its completion, became one of the finest homes in the county. Contractor Julius Aldrich of Atlantic had the aid of a selected crew composed of the best local carpenters. Some who worked on the imposing adifice were Charles and Ed Milliman of Exira, John Peterman and several others. The house was well built and still holds its place in these last days of old Oakfield, a monument to the integrity of first settlers who came and stayed!
The family of the well-known I.P. Hallock, Jr., was composed of a daughter, Abbie, who married John Curry, the couple making their home in Atlantic; Kees, who married Ollie Jenkins, and sometime after her untimely death, married Gertrude Demaris; and Percy (I.P. III) who married Opal Cannon. All are deceased. Two daughters died in childhood, also.
When the new home was finished, the grounds were landscaped expansively. The grand old trees were the natural setting for the house. A long walk led across the spacious lawn up to the wide veranda. Peafowls lent their beauty and their trilling voices. A deer park was built to the north and its first inhabitants became a popular attraction. These first deer were the beginning of a large herd. Increasing in numbers, they soon outgrew their small enclosure. The Botna River, meandered through the grove west of the premises, furnished a bayou which was cut off by a low dam and made into a small lake. This, including a goodly acreage of woodland, was fenced for a new dear park, and the lake was stocked with fish.
The writer recalls going as aid with the local photographer, Zephyr Smith, who had obtained permission, to get a picture of a pair of twin fawns in the park. With utter quiet and stealthy approach, and diligent seeking, it was quite a thrill to, at length, see the large round ears of two little heads, with their big eyes and spotted necks bob up from the soft deep nest where the mother doe had hidden them when she went off to graze. We still have the picture.
For many years this deer herd lived in and enjoyed its well-appointed habitat. However, the herd gradually increased, and Mr. Hallock, having reached the later years, became unable to give the watchful care needed. Outgrowing their bounds, a few deer began to escape. It became impossible to confine them then and before long the whole heard was at large, and efforts to round them up failed. They wandered far, and it is believed the wild deer presently living in the natural pasture lands of Pottawattamie and Shelby Counties are the posterity of the original Hallock Herd.
The lake, better known as "Hallocks Pond," furnished good fishing for family and friends for many years; and each winter local businessmen obtained their yearly ice supply from the pond. Putting up ice became quite and industry for a few weeks and employed a number of men. The ice was sawed into cubes, loaded onto bobsleds or wagons, and hauled to ice-houses built for the purpose. This was the only mode of refrigeration in those days. About this time a very large barn was added to the place, but it was later destroyed by fire.
About 1900 Mrs. Hallock gave to the town a piece of land west of the Neff place, to be used as a village park. Two or three ice cream socials were given, the proceeds of which were to be used to fence the park. One of these socials took place in the Brayton schoolHouse. One was given at the Hallock home with plenty of space on the lawn for the large crowds attending. When all business places closed in Oakfield the park reverted to the original owners heirs.
After Mrs. Hallock, then her husband, I.P., Jr., answered the final call, others of the Hallock family took over until at this time the Hallock home is owned and occupied by a grandson of I.P., Jr., Ralph Curry and wife. And this sums up 112 years of continuous living of the Hallock family in the same house.
The 3 Smiths store was the business establishment of longest duration in Oakfield. D.C. Smith was a good business manager and a man who lived within his means. He saw to it that his budget kept a reasonable balance between profit and expense of living. He spent the better years of his life in the chosen business that grew to be a part of himself. When prosperity offered the means he took a keen interest in remodeling his home, doing much of the work himself. In the early days he set up a photograph gallery in the upper story of his home, the Norton Place. Mrs. Smith managed the gallery while he ran the store. Many years later, when their daughter, Zephyr, finished her schooling, she too learned photography, and opened the gallery again under her own name and established a thriving business. The older son, Ward B., became a partner in the store when old enough, and gave his best years to that business, excepting time cut to serve in the Spanish-American War. About 1920 he finally gave up his interest in the Oakfield store, sold out to William Pardee, and with his family joined his parents in Florida. Following the death of his father, he left Florida and settled at Boone, Arkansas, where he lived the rest of his life.
The D.C. Smiths other son, Wendel D., attended Oakfield Academy, taught a few terms of rural school, then enrolled in Highland Park College in Des Moines. After finishing a course in pharmacy, he became a druggist. He traveled much. Zephyr Smith taught school in Florida, married there, returned to Iowa where they farmed a few years. She made her final home in California.
The old Smith store, after changing proprietors a few times, being managed after Ward B. Smith by William Pardee, and then by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Stager, finally burned down. A new residence now occupies the site and is owned and occupied by the Myron Larsens. The old Smith home still stands and is occupied as a residence.
The last sign of business life in Oakfield, except the school, was a courageous effort by the brave little store labeled "Brush Ed." Edward Lewis, son of an early settler, Jeff Lewis, after a life of farming, decided to retire. He bought the old Cotton house in Oakfield and, finding too much time on his hands, erected a small store building on a west lot near his home, and carried a limited stock of groceries and notions for a few years. When business became unprofitable, he closed the shop. When he lost his home by fire, he moved to Baryton. Perry Lowers did a little blacksmithing in a shop in Oakfield early in the 1900's.
Other obsolete towns
About the time plans for Oakfield were being considered a small number of new towns sprang up only to be swept aside by the restless waves of an ever moving frontier, and to pass into oblivion. Dayton, one of the first towns platted, was laid out the summer of 1855. It was the first Audubon County seat. Only two buildings were erected, and proving unpopular, the county seat was later changed to Exira. The small townsite of Dayton is now embraced in a farm.
An old record states that Thomas S. Lewis and Nattie Hamlin laid out Audubon City on the southwest quarter of Section 25, Exira township, in 1856. It contained one or two houses, a store and a small schoolhouse. It was soon vacated and is not lost on some farm.
About 1856 two men, Howard J. Green and Franklin Burnham, came into the county, looking for a location for a saw-mill. A suitable place was found in a timberland on a stream that ran through the Philip Decker homestead, later known as the Herrick farm. With much work, time and patience, sufficient equipment, by means of river boats and hauling overland by oxteams, was gathered to build the first steam saw-mill. The mill proved to be a success and turned out 10,000 feet of lumber a day. Later a much needed flour-mill was added and the mill operated day and night. People came from surrounding counties as well as Audubon county for lumber and grist milling. It was a busy place, H.J. Green was the sawyer for several years. The Green School was named for him. Frame houses and barns began to be built all over the settlements with this abundance of lumber.
Nattie Hamlin, with an eye to good business, bought about forty acres of land surrounding the Green and Brnham mill and laid out a town in 1865-66. The new town was name Lewisville, perhaps several families by the name of Lewis lived in the vicinity. The little new town built up quickly even though only a few miles from Oakfield. At first it looked promising. A main street shaped up, boasting a store, a blacksmith sop, Post office, and Odd Fellows Hall and a number of dwellings. The mill furnished work to many residents. H.P. Smith, who had served as blacksmith during his service in the Civil War just ended, became the Lewisville blacksmith and resided in one of the new houses. Eli Hinkle was another able blacksmith in the thriving little town, and he and his family became residents. Some other Lewisville residents besides those mentioned were the families of Levi Zaner, John Conrady, Charles Chaplin, Adonijah Harris, Lehman Carley, Francis Schrauger, Robert Smart, Free Anders, Daniel Miller, John S. Wright, Charles E. Hartman, Mr. Kiser, Mr. Robinson and others, and later the Herricks and the Joe Chase family.
When the mill ceased to prosper, men began to look elsewhere for work. The first lodge established in the county was the Odd Fellows Lodge, organized in Lewisville. The lodge was moved to Oakfield in 1874 and by 1880 the place was abandoned as a town. Though for many years the cluster of houses remained and were occupied, some by men who depended upon day work to make a living. The Boy Herricks lived there in their fine farm home for many years, the home finally being sold to Carroll Hess. This house finally was lost by fire. After being abandoned for some time the old mill was torn down and used to build a barn on the Poage place east of the Green School.
Brayton In the 1870's interest heightened in the excitement of new progress brought to the midwest by the building of the Rock Island Railroad through the state. If Oakfield had visions of becoming a railroad town, its dreams were dashed when I.P. Hallock refused to allow a railroad to cut through his land. Endeavoring to bring better ways of locomotion into the immediate vicinity, the Jenkinses took action. John S. Jenkins and son John T. owned land adjoining the Hallock ranch on the west. They staked out land which later became the Brayton townsite, offered the Railroad Company $500 to lay track across this land, and the company accepted the offer.
In 1878 the town was platted, and named Brayton in honor of B.B. Brayton, a Rock Island chief engineer. The settlers appreciated this new advantage of better transportation, and Brayton built up fairly fast.
This appearance of a new town on the railroad stopped the growth of Oakfield, but they existed side by side as neighbor villages, less than a mile apart, for many years. As long as Oakfield contained the Academy as the center of higher learning, the school served all the children from both towns. A one room school was one of the early buildings put up in Brayton. When children finished sixth grade in the Brayton school, they were enrolled at the Oakfield Academy. Many Brayton people attended the popular lyceums held at the Academy during the winter evening entertainments.
At Brayton after the school and several business buildings and residences were established, thoughts were turned toward a church. In the spring of 1880 A.T. Horton, with his family from Marion County, Iowa, sojourned briefly at Oakfield, and then settled on a farm about 2 miles northwest of Brayton. As soon as he established this home he put forth efforts to secure a Baptist church. Religious services were held in the schoolhouse nearest his home and continued more or less regularly by Baptists for a number of years. In the winter of 1893, three Baptist missionaries came and started holding revival meetings. They were quite successful in arousing enthusiasm and this led to formal organization of the church. Plans for a new church in Brayton were drawn up and the building was completed in 1894. There were about 80 charter members.
Pastor Doane was the first minister. Including the missionary evangelists, Pastors Hickock, D.D. Downs and Harry Ferguson, who earlier, had held meetings at Oakfield, other early ministers responsible for the growth of the pioneer church were Pastors Jewell, Brown, T. J. OConnor, Sloan, Bently, Wilcox, Nels Sornsen and Rust, to name a few. The little early church was well built, and as of this writing, 1966, is in good condition, and about to undergo another remodeling. Pastors Bennington, Abbas, Frye and Clinton Sweet have served as ministers most recently.
Brayton was incorporated in 1899. Those first holding office as mayor were Dr. W.R. Koob, Frank Jenkins, Nis Larsen, L.C. Heath and others. In 1912 officers as recorded were Mayor L.C. Heath; Marshal, L.M. Parrott; Cler, L.P. Rasmussen; Justice of the Peace, T.J. McGovern; Constable, C.I. Dimick.
The Brayton school was build in the 1890's. All the old school records have vanished, but the treasured original building still stands, owned and used by the Baptist church. A few old time teachers were Mrs. Francina Heath, Anna Stender, Lucille Conrardy, Mae Jenkins, Roxy Nolte, Nellie Bookout, Ida Cannon, Vivian Bartlett, Pluma Freeman, Madeline Essington, Marie Nelson, Dorine Koob, Barbara Bjorn. The population probably never went much over 300.
Brayton residents formerly conducting business in the little town were:
Hotel Isaac Jenkins, C.I. Dimick, Mr. Mayer, D.B. Beers.
General Stores R. Crumbling, C. Frost, Jenkins and Vail, Ide and Reynolds, C.A. Heath, John Stender, C.C. Nelson, Hans Hansen, Jocum Jensen, Jake Anderson, Bear Brothers. Nis and James Larsen, Henry Hansen, H. Smith, Russell Lewis, Elvera Lewis.
Hardware J. Zimmerman, John Anderson, Chris Hansen, Jake Bendixen, L.C. Beers, Nelson Brothers, Chris and Sid Nelson.
Bank C. Pollock, Lou Miller.
Drug Store Burton and Kirkpatrick, C.L. Bisom, Fred Franklin, R. Miller, Roscoe Clark, H. and E. Miller.
Lumber Yard Nels Sornsen, L.P. Rasmussen, Ormo Rasmussen.
Billiard Halls Frank Freeman, Frank Heath, Mr. Sorensen, George Schlater, June Peppers.
Barber Shop William Clemensen, George Freeman, Clyde.
Post Masters Jake Bloom, Marion Jenkins, Mary and George Arnold, Vivian Bartlett, Hilda McGovern, J.W. Cannon, Louis Mathews, Frank McKibben, Izetta Bopp, Gertrude Hansen. Rural routes were established in 1901. John W. Cannon was first rural mail carrier through Brayton and Oakfield area.
Shoe Repair Shop Mr. Thompson, Jack Hinkle.
Meat Market L.M. Parrott, Nis Larsen and Son.
Livestock Office Essington, Ide, McGovern, H. Christensen.
Cement Works Thorval Rasmussen.
Auto Shop Nels Nelson.
Blacksmith Shop John Cooper, N.L. Beck, W.H. Pearson, Ben Grose, A. Cannon and Chris Runge.
Restaurant P. Andersen, Hannah Powers.
Machine Shops Juhl Brothers, C. Runge, N. Bintner.
Feed Stores Christopherson, L. Mathews, Glee Christensen, Mr. and Mrs. John Andersen, Martin Hansen.
Cream Station Axel Mortensen,A. Cannon (and Feed Stores.)
Telephone Office Emma Larsen, Nora Larsen, Arlene Bartlett.
Beauty Parlor Mrs. Kate Hansen.
Variety Shop and Barbering Mr. and Mrs. Guy Miller.
In the early 1900's, there were three trains daily, mixed freight and passenger. A depot, warehouse and grain elevator had been built along the east edge of town. Some of the early elevator men were L.F. Miller, Mr. Snyder, W. Berry, Mr. Jark, Marinus Jensen, George Arnold. Early station agents, to name a few, were Horace Bartlett, Mr. Chittenden, Charles Mark, Lloyd Drew, Morris Alexander and Mr. Weaver. Jobe Chamberlain served as drayman for many years.
J.S. Dennis was an early train conductor in the Audubon branch. Miss Ella Stearns, well-known early school teacher and Audubon County School Superintendent, left for us this little story. In those moderate times, speed was no great factor in getting things accomplished, as it is now. Trains, like most other things, took their time, and enjoyed the scenery as they went along. Much walking was an accepted was of life in the early days, and a healthful one, and many an early teacher walked the two or three miles to their rural school and thought little of it.
However, this school Miss Stearns taught was too far distant for walking all the way, so she commuted by train from town to town, and then walked the remaining distance. Riding leisurely along, with the window open during pleasant autumn weather, she remarked more than once what beautiful wild flowers were blossoming along the track. One morning Conductor Dennis inquires, as he came through the coach, "Would you like to have a bouquet of those flowers to take to your school?" Quite astonished she replied, "Why, yes, but I have no way of getting them." Whereupon Mr. Dennis gave the signal that stopped the train and there in the wilds far from the station she was allowed to get off the train and gather a lovely bouquet. Then she climbed back up the steps, took her seat, and rode happily on her way. Those old time conductors endeared themselves to the many children and young folks who rode the trains regularly, and were long remembered after they retired.
After the Oakfield Academy was reduced to a grad school, children of Oakfield and Brayton ready for high school commuted by train to Exira. Conductor Jack Lemmon and baggage man Scott Linn became good friends of the youngsters during their countless trips from Brayton to Exira in pursuit of more education.
In those better days, Brayton boasted a hotel, three general stores, movie theater, ham radio station, auto work shop, hardware store, blacksmith shop, postoffice, two billiard halls, two barber shops, bowling alley, a bank, large lumber yard, drug store, cream stations, feed stores, two halls for Odd Fellow and Modern Woodman Lodges and auxiliaries, cement factory, livestock office, shoe repair shop, two machine shops, meat market, restaurant, telephone central, Doctors office, and as time rolled on, were added two oil stations, garages, beauty parlor, variety shop with barbering, café and bicycle shop.
Braytons I.O.O.F. is Audubon countys oldest lodge. It was organized at Lewisville as Lodge No. 217 in 1871. It was removed to Oakfield in 1874 and to Brayton in 1882. Daughters of Rebekah Lodge No. 567 was chartered in 1907. Brayton Camp No. 2900 Modern Woodmen of America was chartered 1895, and Royal Neighbors Camp some time later, Danish Brotherhood Lodge No. 297 was organized in 1913. As of this date, 1966, there are no active lodges in Brayton.
In Braytons early restless days several pioneer physicians came and left until Dr. W.R. Koob became permanently located in 1892, and spent most of his life faithfully caring for the ills of hundreds of patients in Brayton and a wide surrounding territory. Some other Doctors serving Brayton community for a brief time as from old records, were Dr. T.N. Kirkpatrick 1880-1883; Dr. C.D. Calkins, 1883; Dr. J.H. Schenk 1884-1886; Dr. J. Kern 1887-1891; Dr. W.A. Sayers 1887; Dr. G.W. Yates 1889-90; Dr. Fred Stevensen 1887-92; Dr. Hammar, Dentist part time 1907-08.
A race track was laid out on the north side of town where Marion Jenkins fine horses were trained.
The era of motorized transportation effected Brayton in the same manner as the coming of the railroad stopped the growth of Oakfield. North-south main Highway 71 makes its busy way through the heart of Brayton. A few miles to the south Highway 80 carries its load of traffic east and west. Cars, trucks and other motorized vehicles have replaced the once necessary railroad until about all there is left of Audubon Branch activity is a semi-weekly trip of a freight train, barely keeping the old tracks in use. The Brayton railroad station has been torn down; the elevator is gone. Remaining business places receive their supplies by truck. A Star route takes care of the daily mail. Occasional fires have taken their toll of business buildings and a few houses. A town hall was built in 1940, and has been of much good use. After many attempts and failures, the town finally voted to put in a water system, which made possible a fire department. A fin new American Lutheran church was built in 1961on the site of the former race track, and houses quite a large congregation.
The two churches carry on but the school is closed. The lumber yard, drug store, telephone office, blacksmith shop, hotel and theater have passed into oblivion. Still in operation are one grocery and notion store, one barber and variety shop, one livestock office, feed store, machine shops, two oil stations, a café, a pool hall, cement works and of course, the Post office. Without doubt Brayton is on the decline, but it too has made a definite place in the history of Audubon county.
History often amounts to a line of special events and outstanding incidents over a period of time, which, to quite a degree, sets forth the characteristics which identify the type of a certain community. However, without the background of interwoven daily living, a true picture of the people is not presented. A nation, a province, a metropolis or a village, through foundation and development, produces its individual type. Progress, from the beginning, is woven into the history of the day by day life of an area group. The fruits of experience, being made known to following generations, quicken a deep appreciation for benefits left by the past for the future.
Let us pause for a brief interval and inspect the course of progress through the life of the early village of Oakfield.
As the tired travelers halted and dismounted from the slow creaky covered wagons they beheld about them a vast store of resources that promised, at least, existence. Further exploration added to their hopes. First to be considered was shelter and a measure of safety. The wagons were all they had at first, but soon trees were felled and a cabin was in the making. The settlers helped each other and the records state, six cabins were built in the county the first year, 1851. A few first pioneers started out with a "dug-out," perhaps those with small children; where they lived until a cabin could be built. A "dug-out" was a cave-like shelter excavated in the side of a cliff or bank with one side open to a lower level of entrance. Woven tree branches or bunches of coarse slough grass, with blankets, made a front-side covering that could be closed and fastened down at night. The remains of one ancient dug-out could be seen along the north side of the Botna River where it wound among the great trees in Ballards woodlands as late as the 1890's. As remembered, it was occupied at different times by an old scout named Van Gundle, and later by one named Lewis, both of whom were woodcutters and trappers.
Trees of various sizes and kinds furnished material for many needed items. Besides providing material for houses and barns, slim trunks were used for corner posts for sheds, beams for roofs; limbs were selected for making tool handles and several kinds of household furniture and utensils; posts to hold water and feed-troughs; and often the troughs themselves were made from hollowed out sections of large logs. Split logs were used for seats, and barked log sections for table supports, chairs and stools. Log drags smoothed the rutty roads; and small tree trunks for posts, and split logs for rails, made a sturdy fence. For many decades wood was the standby fuel, and being relatively close at hand was quite cheap, and often free if a first settler desired a piece of his land cleared of timber so it could be cultivated for crops. It is impossible to keep the farmers separated from the village residents; their lives intermingled; their manner of living the same; the villagers and the surrounding country people were a rural community; and that was Oakfield.
Many grains were raised, and corn was the most dependable. If in "off" seasons a shortage of other grains was evident, corn would fill in the needs in many ways. Corn on the ear, and partly matured cornstalks provided good feed for livestock. Should oats be poor and the wheat crop fail, barley of poor quality, potatoes reluctant, there still was corn meal mush and Johnny-cake, hominy, fresh and dried sweet corn with lots of corn-cobs to cook it, not forgetting cut up dry corn stalks for kindling. Parched sweet corn buttered and salted was a tasty treat until popcorn took its place.
Turnips, squash and pumpkins were generally raised along with the potatoes, and the pioneers soon found ways to keep summer grown vegetables and apples through the winter. At first much food was kept in pits dog in the ground, lined thickly with straw. Sacks or baskets of vegetables were placed within, covered with a layer of straw, then a stout board cover, and lastly the soil from the pit, and a thick covering of hay weighted down by rocks. Cabbage heads kept well in these pits, but most cabbage was made into kraut and stored in large stone jars in a cool place. Freezing did it no harm. The pit could be opened and a supply of fresh vegetables, taken out only on days above freezing. As time went on caves and cellars were acquired and more food could be kept over winter, with less effort, and of easier access.
Sweet corn, apples and plums were dried for future use. Peaches, apricots, prunes, raisins and occasionally pears and figs, in dried form, came gradually upon the market, since they were processed for long keeping. In the 1880's and 1890's home and commercial canning came into the picture and went through several levels of progress.
Hens took their vacation in winter time, and produced almost no eggs from late fall to spring. Huddled in their drafty coops, they ruggedly waited out the winter season, hoping for the more pleasant sprintime. So in the fall eggs were packed in several different ways, to last the household through the winter. They were packed in salt, cats or other substances to exclude the air, and later in waterglass in large jars.
Spices furnished most of the flavorings for sweets of all kinds for many years. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves were favorites. One family, who emigrated from the east in an early day, had a little two-quart pottery jar filled with whole cloves to bring along to the new country, fearing they could not be bought in local village markets. They did not need to buy cloves for several years. The jar still exists, in possession of Mr. and Mrs. Guy Miller of Brayton. In the 1880's lemon extract was available. By 1895 was introduced a poor grade of vanilla. Producers kept improving vanilla and it became a very popular flavoring.
About that time stores began to be stocked with oranges around Christmas time. What joy to find a golden orange in the Christmas stocking! For a few years oranges were to be had only at Christmas time, then gradually they became more plentiful and were available at other seasons.
Earliest settlers were pleased to find a wide variety of wild fruits available for the picking. Wild grapes, plums, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, eiderberries, chokeberries, wild black cherries, crabapples, gooseberries, red haws and black haws substituted quite well for the fruits they had been used to "back east." The more the timber lands were cleared off and used for pasture or plowed for fields, the less fruite was available. Also the population increased. But one of the first things the earlier Oakfielders and their country neighbors did, after necessary buildings were put up, was to set out apple trees. Many orchards were set out while the people still lived in their log houses. Planting of other tame fruits followed and the gradual loss of the wild fruit supply caused no hardship.
Availability of wild game was a blessing. At the beginning, it furnished their only meat supply. The rivers and brooks, unmolested by human interference, were running their courses as they pleased, and many had cut deep channels where quite large fish could be caught, and where a bend had been formed just right, might be found a goodly supply of clams. Catfish and a large fish called red horse were plentiful. Sometimes a large fish was shot if a hunter out after game hadnt taken a fish pole along. The large, black, wild turkeys were fairly plentiful in the woodlands, the grass and brush lands offered quail, pheasant and prairie chicken and in the migrating season were varieties of ducks and geese. Add to this supply an occasional deer, and rabbits by the dozen with were prepared for cooking, then quickly frozen by hanging in a shed or on a clothes line at night, and you conclude the settlers enjoyed pretty good fare. Squirrels also were plentiful and many families enjoyed a "possum" now and then.
As soon as a settler had had time and opportunity to accumulate cattle, hogs and chickens, he preferred to use his homegrown meat. The townspeople, by that time, were able to purchase some kinds of meat at the local stores. But for many years it was not unusual to find in the back yard of many villagers a pig pen and shed where a porker was fattening for the familys future meat supply. Many townspeople kept chickens for eggs and meat. It was common custom for each villager to own one or two milk cows, their only source of milk supply. Sometimes a father in frugal circumstances would manage to piece out his familys protein supply with nuts, eggs and whatever milk he could obtain, until the family got a foothold in the new country. Most town cows, during the growing seasons, were turned out to graze along streets and roadsides. Usually with a residence there was a barn on the back of the lot which often sheltered a driving or riding horse as well as the milk cow. While horses were not in use, a rental was paid to turn them into a nearby pasture. Later, town cow-pasture was provided. The animals were kept in the barn in winter weather and fed hay and grain.
Much of the time chickens were allowed to range and scratch for their living, both in town and on the farm, supplemented by limited rations of corn and oats. Some townspeople who bothered to build pens and shelters and owned fair sized lots even ventured to raise a few ducks and geese. A flock of turkeys was a common sight on many farms, enough for the familys special days, and some to share.
Butchering time was an exciting, special time. All the meat had to be taken care of and kept in the home, and had to be cured as soon as possible. There were several ways of doing this: dry salting, in brine, sugar cured smoking, drying, frying down sausage and corning beef, not to mention "trying out" lard and tallow. The meat was allowed to cool thoroughly and was usually cut up for curing after sundown. Butchering was a cool-weather task. Most everyone was late to bed, the whole family helping, at meat preparation time. Three or four pieces of fresh meat were cut off, wrapped and set aside, to be sent as gifts, the next day, to the closes neighbors, as was the custom.
Apple, crab (apple) and plum "butter" were made in large quantities in the fal, seasoned with spices and citrus peels, sweetened with molasses and brown sugar. It was often cooked in huge iron kettles over and outdoor fire. Large wooden paddles were used for stirring, and the work was less tedious when a neighbor came for visiting and to take turns at stirring. This preserve was not stored in glasses or jars, but was dipped into large stone jars and covered, sometimes, with white cloth dipped in melted beeswax.
In the first days bread was a staple article of food, all baked in the home. Yeast foam came on the market early in small, thick, hard cakes. It was packaged, and shipped in small oblong wooden boxes. When the empty boxes piled up in the stores they were much in demand for making footstools. Liquid yeast called "starter" was a favorite ferment, and was kept from baking to baking year after year and passed around from neighbor to neighbor, for it was never on the market. Crackers were a welcome supplement to the cereal supply and were so popular they were sold by the ten pound box, a thin wooden box with paper between the layers of crackers. A small packaged cracker item was "Uneeda Biscuit," very popular with school children for lunch.
Oatmeal and rolled oats were the staple breakfast porridge for many years. When ready-to-serve breakfast foods made their debut it caused quite a furor, as well as dubious acceptance and much discussion pro and con. One of the first brand names of such concoctions was "Egg-O-See." On the package wraper was displayed a very jolly chubby old chef in cooks apron and cap, declaring he had done very well on the new kind of food. When "Grape-Nuts" took its place in the showcase, interest was really aroused and one elderly townsman vented his disgust by declaring, "Its probably nothing but old dry bread-crusts gathered in hotels after meals, and ground up!" But "Grape-Nuts" held its ground, and is still in demand after all the years.
Toothpicks appeared and caused a sensation, and one by one old-timers threw away their whittled goose quills. Fancy little toothpick holders followed, to grace tables along with the salt and pepper shakers. And quite soon on the market came tooth brushes, and cleansers, first in liquid form, then powder, followed by paste as we know it now. This meant new dental health for at least the younger generation. One of the first brand names of liquid tooth cleanser was called "Rubyfoam." It did good work in cleansing and was very beautiful to look at.
Aside from food there was an upsurge in many departments at the markets. Many of these changes were not accepted readily. Economy and practicality were principles prominent in home life and were of first consideration. Happy was the little girl who won the conquest for a pair of new slippers; and a boy with his first pair of shiny patent leathers with no hooks in the lacings.
Progress speeded up in the late 1890's and living reached higher levels. As weeds in the garden, some evils came along with all these blessings, but such seemed to be the pattern of life on earth. As the community grew in population, acquisition of material possessions, the blessings of schooling and religious opportunity and experience it was good, and it was interesting, to follow the progress.
Ways of locomotion progressed decade by decade. At first the only ways of travel were by walking, horseback riding, and in lumber wagons drawn sometimes by oxen but more generally by horses. Boating was more for recreation than for necessary travel. In winter the wagon wheels were replaced by sled runners. As settlers prospered better conveyances came into use, such as buggies, phaetons, and a make of vehicle halfway between a wagon and a buggy, called a light wagon, easier riding than a wagon but not as capacious. It could be equipped with one or two seats and they were usually cushioned and with backs; and for attending church or going visiting, were provided with lap robes to protect from dust. This vehicle outlay took care of locomotion all the way up to the onrush of cars and tractors.
These hardworking, persevering pioneers did not propose to get along without recreation. Ingenuity was one of their best characteristics, and with youthful enthusiasm they planned various forms of entertainment. In many planned gatherings a lot of useful work was accomplished, spiced with visiting, contests and time out for a wholesome lunch. Some of these were husking bees, quilting and comforter tying. A pleasant adventure for these busy people, planned a few days ahead, was a shopping trip to a distant town, usually a county seat. This meant extra chores before starting, so the family was up early. Chores and breakfast over with, noon feed for the horses was packed in, or tied on the back of the rig. All climbed in, lap robes tucked in, happily they started on the leisurely, many mile trip to the city, while the dew was still on the roadside clover, and birds were practicing a chorus in the thickets. If all went well, the travelers reached their destination by noon, and drove straight to the livery stable to "put up the horses," then walked up town to a favorite hotel, where they enjoyed a well-cooked meal, served in family style around a large dining table accommodating as many as a dozen. Conversation started, news was passed around as well as the victuals, ne friends were made, and how mother enjoyed a meal she herself hadnt cooked. Dinner over, and out to shop, and O, the joy of window and showcase gazing, exploring seeing and learning. Definite shopping behavior had been drilled into the younger members of the family, the penalty of broken rules being the culprits absence on the next trip. So the children were not much of a problem. Father and mother would shop together, looking over many fabrics and choosing a yardage of each of those they liked. Sometimes father would buy a whole bold of unbleached muslin and some bundles of cotton batting. Then mother would select a few packages of Diamond Dye. At home, lengths of this muslin would be sewn together, dyed different hues, and with the batting, would be made into soft warm comforts, so good for winter sleeping. It would take many days of work, but each coverlet would last a dozen years or more.
The hours passed quickly, but when father reached for his pocket watch and remarked it was getting late the little ones knew the city visit was about to end. But father nearly always hurried into a "grocery" for a sack of fresh fruit, and a treat of candy, and always, the last thing, to the drugstore for a bottle of pop, and it was more fun to see the tops pop out than to drink the stuff in the bottles. Then to the stable to hitch the horses and drive home, doing well if we arrived before dark. What fun! A whole day of it!
Then there was 4th of July celebration somewhere, usually at Exira. This was a patriotic observance. The Civil War was over and many Union soldiers had come home to their families in and around Oakfield as well as all of Audubon county. The feeling of patriotism was strong, and deep appreciation for peace characterized the programs planned for the occasion.
As long as there were Civil War soldiers amoung the active living, Old Soldiers Reunions were quite popular and drew large attendance. Residents from several nearby towns would attend, bring tents and equipment for the three days camping out. Band music, speeches and various stunts with accessions, and flags floating aloft made the occasions pleasantly festive. When these ceased, Old Settlers Reunions took their place.
In the early 1900's came the Chautauqua, which became quite popular was of a weeks duration, and returned each summer for several years. These programs, several daily, brought a variety of excellent entertainment. Some of the best talent was offered, much of it of educational value. Chautaquas were given only in summertime. So much were they appreciated that a similar entertainment was sought for the winter months. Lecture courses came up to fill the need and these furnished excellent evening entertainment for Oakfield, Brayton and surrounding residents. There were dances, by invitation, in many homes, music furnished by fiddlers and an organ.
Then there were the animal shows and circus, Ringling Brothers Circus being most complete and popular, sending little boys and girls home after a big day, to get out their animal books and study the hapits of real wild animals, with renewed interest. We went to Atlantic for these great tent shows; and Atlantic also offered at least once the famous Buffalo Bill show, with Bill Cody himself, in long white beard and cowboy hat, riding his favorite steed around the big ring, shooting and hitting every clay pigeon thrown for a target. His daughter was also a skilled rider and marksman.
"Buffalo Bill" Cody in the early days was a well-known and respected character of the western frontier, and when his colorful life on the plains ended and he was laid to rest, most newspapers and many periodicals related incidents in his life, that they had refrained from mentioning while he lived. At the moment two of these are recalled as follows.
In all the buffalo hunts, encounters with the Indians and numerous other activities, Mr. Cody became an excellent marksman. But age exacts its toll, and in the popular wild west shows as they neared the end of their era, close friends said it became more difficult for the old hunter to confidently perform the act that climaxed the show, that of riding the entire ring shooting every clay pigeon thrown up at regular intervals, never missing one as he galloped the course on his favorite steed. In practice for the show perhaps his sight or his arm would give out a little, and toward the end of the course he would miss a few. This worried him. So, back of the rows of spectators, in strategic positions, while every eye was glued to the spectacle of horse and rider and filling clay pigeons, younger expert marksmen, all unnoticed, were shooting at those same clay pigeons. Thus no one will ever know whose shot hit the targets they all came down in the last shows.
Only a few Buffalo Bill shows were given after the one we saw in Atlantic, and then the regrettable news came that the show had gone into bankruptcy. It was hard to believe that any person with so many achievements to his credit would need to spend his last days in straitened circumstances. He had tried hard to keep the show on a paying basis but he had risked too much. He ordered a sale and he sold just about everything except the clothes he wore, even his horse which had long been his close companion.
The old gentleman, his face a bit haggard, stood staunch and straight through the sale and remained till all was sold. His closest friends knew the grief and heart-ache that rankled within. Codys horse was one of the last things sold. These friends had prepared for this. Quietly they had pooled enough cash to cover the highest bid. As the "going, going, gone" ended they led the horse over and slipped the reins into the old mans hand. Not a word was said. Words were inadequate. Slowly and sedately, shoulder to shoulder, the horse and his owner walked away, and out of the show drama forever.
With the Lyceums at the Academy, spelling and singing bees at the schoolhouses, Decoration Day observances, activities at the church, and frequent baseball town team games, Oakfield outside recreation was quite well taken care of.
Some of the first homes in Oakfield and surrounding area were log cabins. It is evident the housewives, both young and old, went about their daily duties with a prayer on their lips and a hope in their hearts, looking forward to better conditions as time ticked off the years. There were many things to be done when a settler took a claim. Sometimes they had to get along with punchion floors until better floors could be laid. Punchions were broad, thick pieces of logs, heavy, and smoothed on the top side. These were fitted together to form a floor, a fireplace was built in and furnished heat for warmth and cooking. With mills being erected so soon after the arrival of first settlers at Oakfield, lumber was available in an early day, for frame houses and buildings.
The only water supply when the first settlers came was from springs and streams. Evidently one of a first settlers first tasks was to get a well dug. If he was fortunate enough to have a spring on his premises, he could hollow out a reservoir to hold a quantity of water and "make do" for a while. Obviously wells had to be dug, and at little expense. One neighbor helped another. It was a trying and to some extent a dangerous job. At first wells were crudely finished. After the well was dug as deep as desired, more or less curbing was placed at ground level, then an enclosure usually square in form was built of stout timbers about four feet high and a pulley, or a windlass, rigged for drawing up the water in a bucket. The windlass, a heavy bylinder of wood, was fitted into openings across near the top of the wooden enclosure, and fitted at one end with a wooden handle, which, when turned by hand, would draw up a pail of water by means of a rope or chain which would around the cylinder. Some wells had a lid on hinges and some were left open. This type of well was used for many years, until pumps became available, and tile was introduced with which to line the wells. Earlier, board linings were used but were not durable. At the turn of the century, on farms, well-houses were built over tile wells or pumps, and became a storage place for milk, butter, eggs, etc. Barrels were plentiful and one or two of them were generally placed under caves to catch rain water for washing. Years later these were replaced by cisterns.
Housewives felt fortunate when wide-board floors were acquired and did much scrubbing to keep kitchen and dining room (if any), floors clean and free from stains. The best room, the one reserved for receiving special company, as soon as could be afforded, was carpeted with woven rag carpet. After harvest, clean oat or wheat straw was brought in, a good caskful, and spread evenly upon the clean scrubbed floor. Four people, each holding a corner, would carefully place the carpet evenly wall to wall and each would tack with carpet tacks, first corners then sides, to keep it stretched evenly until it was firmly fastened all around.
If there was an organ, it was placed first. There would be a sofa with a high back and head rest, usually red plush. Two or three easy chairs were there, a table of some kind, very often a newly made embroidered tin-can footstool, always two or more enlarged pictures of family members, and probably one or two other framed pictures, and dark green opaque window shades at the windows. These shades were kept drawn, except on rare occasions when company was admitted. Generally speaking, on one used the room anyway and the sun didnt get a chance to fade the carpet. As times changed, customs changed, and thin white curtains were hung at the windows, the parlor was opened up and used more; a shelf was added, draped with a lambrequin, and held a display of vases and other fancies, sometimes a clock. Great was the day when Ingrain carpeting came on the market. Wallpaper had already vanquiched white-washed walls, and paint for woodwork became the vogue. From then on ways and customs changed rapidly.
Night - lighting progressed step by step. People brought candle molds from the east, and for a while they made their own candles from beeswax and tallow. Kerosene became available, then followed kerosene lamps and lanterns. They had to be filled and the smoked chimneys washed daily, quite a chore, but much better light than candles. This mode of lighting satisfied and it was not until the 1900's that gas lights came, and two decades later, electric lights.
Housewives were pleased with almost any kin of new dishes and glassware that began to supply the markets. Their meager and motley supply of dishes was giving out. These new dishes were cheap and cupboard shelves filled, with little regard to matching designs and colors. That was to come later. In general use, until the turn of the century, were wooden or bone-handled knives and forks, with steel tines and blades that required scouring every day. Usually this scouring outfit was composed of a small flat three-sided wooden try, handmade, having a small compartment to hold a piece of soft red brick; a long narrow place for a wad of cloth, and the front open space in the tray to brace the knife blade or fork tines for applying some of the shaved off brick powder, to put the cutlery in shining shape for the next meal. Following the scouring, a sudsing and rinsing with a final dishtowel polish made them acceptable. Many of the earliest cups had no handles. They hadnt broken off, they were made that way. Saucers were deep.
It was the common custom having been served a cup of hot beverage, to grasp the upper edge of the good-sized cup with thumb and forefinger, pour a portion of the hot coffee or tea into the saucer and place the cup in a tea plate. In a moment or two the beverage in the wide saucer would be cooled enough to be drinkable, and one drank from the saucer. As soon as cups were made smaller and came with handles, this mode of procedure was abandoned.
Before the gay 90's, changes in styles and manners were paid little heed, but thriftiness, and good common sense counted for much. A mans coat or a ladys cloak were supposed to be apparel accepted by local society as long as they looked presentable, regardless of how many years they had been worn. Clothing was made to last, and as long as a wrap held to its wearing guarantee, no one considered getting a replacement. Hats and ladies bonnets would sometimes last for decades. Occasionally, when ribbon trim, flowers or leather looked shappy the substantial frame would be renewed by new trimming. In the early days one pair of shoes had to do for weekday wear, and shined up with shoe polish, did duty for church wear too, and for visiting or other gatherings. Careful saving and thrifty planning kept the family clothes, even to mens everyday shirts, and pants made from a yardage of jeans cloth obtainable at the local store. A mans good suit lasted for years, often pressed and brushed, folded and placed in a deep bureau drawer or hung on a hook, as there were no coat or suit hangers in an early day. When the elbows wore thin and looked shiny, and the edge of the sleeves became frayed, only then was there contemplation of a new suit, and money saved toward that end.
Many a man who was head of a family had his home in Oakfield, but did day work of various kinds, to make a living. These various types of work included road-building, wood-cutting, hand well digging, bridge building, farm hand and many others. These men, with the nearby farmers, wore felt boots which ere good footgear for rugged weather, much walking, and timber work where there were no roads, often not even footpaths. These durable boots were worn in place of shoes, and for outdoor wear were protected by the addition of rubber overshoes, ankle high and fastened with buckles. This sturdy footwear was long lasting. When the felt boots did finally wear out in the feet, they were cut off and the tops made int leggings. When the leggings gave out, the thrifty housewife usually managed to produce two or three pairs of bootees for the youngest members of the family. Carefully shaped and edged with bright thread, laced or buttoned, these were warm and comfortable housing for little feet. As soon as more than one pair of shoes per person could be afforded, shoe styles became prominent and considered quite important in waring apparel. For some time only black, ankle covered, leather shoes, buttoned or laced, were known and accepted. These wore well and had to be kept presentable with shoe polish, and the "blacking" bottle became a "must" in every home. A subtle change slipped into the ladies shoe market in the form of cloth tops instead of the usual leather. This was followed by spats for men. These amounted to separate cloth tops with a heel strap underneath and neatly buttoned on the outer side, to be used or not, as desired. Slippers for girls and women and low oxfords soon appeared on the market, and cause much discussion pro and con, but persevered and were soon accepted for dress year; but the practical high shoes held their place for work and everyday wear for many years. The vogue for high "spike" heels slipped in and out among the "elite" just as it has over the years.
Some familiar shoe names heard in the shoe stores in past times were oxford heels, spring heels, baby dolls, flat iron cuts. They all had their day, and they were all mad of leather as a matter of course. Much later canvas or duck summer shoes came onto the scene for school children and then ensued the rage of colored shoe strings, the more variety the merrier.
Basques quite prominent for a time, were a favorite in the womens world of styles. This was a snug fitting bodice its lower line coming well below the waist, trimmed with tucks, pleats or braid and many buttons for front fastening. This garment was worn over a rather full, draped skirt. Collars were medium high and sleeves long, usually ending in a frill of pleating. Following these came dresses with tight bodices and full skirts with wide sashes at the waist, bow in back.
Children went barefoot much of the summertime. They loved it, except at foot-washing time in the evening, and were often a bit reluctant to dress the free-going feet in stockings and shoes for going places.
Little boys had it hard. They had to wear dresses until three or four years old. At about two they were put into kilts, a cotton top attached to a heavier pleated skirt. Any boy was old enough to realize when he could lay aside girl dresses, and wear real trousers like his papa. It was a gala day when little brother put on pants and made an obvious change in his status in society. That was the day he grew up so much you could notice it. As a little fellow he had to wear sunbonnets, too, until his daddy finally found a hat of a size to fit the little son. From then on it was for him long overalls for everyday and short knee pants for dress-up until he finally graduated into knickers which fell a few inches below the knee and gathered into a band. This was his allotment until he outgrew his last short-pants suit, then came another notable day, long pants for Junior! At short pants stage little boys did not wear shirts, they wore waists, with large sailor collars or sizable round collars, starched, and sometimes even trimmed with an edging. With these, for dress-up, the fashion law required wide colorful bows, hand tied, which were ample enough to sometimes blow up and tickle the chin, and were also food catchers come mealtime.
Boys wore something on their heads, various kinds of hats or caps, but there must be a head-covering. The same for girls with emphasis! Freckles were deplored, but tanning was to be strictly avoided. Sunbonnets for ladies and girls, and boys too young to have a vote on these matters, and broad brimmed hats, helped to keep off this evil. At the stores tea came packed in large matting containers. After the tea was unpacked, this matting was in demand by customers for making school girls hats. Cheesecloth, a white filmy cheap cloth originally meant for wrapping cheese, became useful for several other purposes. Strips of cheesecloth white or colored (it dyed easily) were used to trim these tea matting hats in bands, bows and frills. They were cooler to wear than sunbonnets.
As prosperity increased, more interest was taken in change of customs and fashion styles gained momentum. Shopping trips to the cities were more often made by train, and these new buying privileges were much appreciated and enjoyed. These were still hard working thrifty people. New suits, hats, ties and hoes for the men and boys, new coats, cloth for dresses, slippers, and a new hat each year for the ladies, gave a new lift to the life of a brand of wholesome people who were no longer pioneers they were Iowans.
Just before the turn of the century, wraps for the women folks were mostly shawls and large capes. They were woven of fine materials and were long lasting. Shawls were worven of wool, plain, striped or paisley design. Capes were often made of plush or astrikhan (a special curly lambs wool.) The range of colors for garments was limited. Most of the better fabrics were made in dark shades. Lighter shades came in calicoes, gingham and washable fabrics, but most of these were faded by laundering and sunlight. Finally "turkey-red" calico came on the market. Then came "turkey-red" sewing cotton, a thread also fast color, used much for embroidery trimming and edging. This one fast color fabric was joyfully received and sold well. The fastness of fabric colors improved from then on and fabric sales boomed. There were no official dressmaking shops in Oakfield, but several seamstresses set aside a room in their homes and did a good business in dressmaking, serving a wide area. Some of these early "dressmakers" were Rilla Slater, Allie Carpenter, Mrs. J.W. Cannon, Opal Cannon, Katie Nelson, Mrs. L.C. Heath. For several years Mrs. L.C. Heath made at her home dozens of pairs of double-thumb cotton flannel mittens, sold at "3 Smiths" store during corn picking time.
A few washing machines of simple design slipped onto the market in the 1890's. New better models found a definite place by 1900. These were hand turned, or later powered by a gasoline motor. Oakfield as still a town doubtless never knew the electric washer. In Oakfields last days the dependable old wash board was still much in evidence.
With modes which directed swerves in the flow of early fashions a change in style of jewelry can be noted. No gentlemans vest was complete without the drape of a watch chain. The quality of the watch was not so important, as it was concealed in an ample pocket and did not show. But those chains were the show pieces. They were heavy link chains with a bar that slipped through a buttonhole, and there was always a charm purely ornamental, which dangled importantly from midchain and made a popular conversation piece. These were of many designs and shapes; a locket, a miniature pen knife, a globe, or perhaps a moon and star. For a period it became the style to have a hair chain, ingeniously woven from a long lock of the wifes or mothers or sisters hair. Many old photographs show these hair chains. Collar buttons, often set with gems, were the mode of fastening mens stiff bosom shirts, and cuff buttons changed styles with the years.
In the late 1890's and early 1900's ladies watches quickly took first place in the world of jewelry fashion. Generally they were fitted with a long gold chain and slide worn around the neck. The watch had a closed face and was worn tucked under the belt at the waist. Some, without chain, were worn in front just below the shoulder on a snap made for the purpose.
It would seem there had always been earrings but their designs changed from time to time, though all were worn in pierced ears. Horizontal breast-pins which fastened a dress at the neck gave place to brooches, which varied much in shapes and sizes but had the same use. Lavalieres appeared, to up-date necklaces, and bead necklaces established a permanent place in my-ladys jewel case. Stick pins were new, a flat, tiny plaque sporting an engraved initial or a jewel or cameo, and were worn by both sexes, Neckties of a dainty variety came into view for the ladies. Fancy little metal-mesh or brocade slip-on pockets which hooked over the belt, were the vogue for a short time. They were both pretty and useful and not at all burdensome. They were handy to hold a handkerchief, a bit of change, and perhaps a few mints.
Should the busy housewife find any spare time during her weekly schedule, she used her own ideas to large extent for spare time busy work to add a bit here and there to make home life more attractive and pleasant. Come times and old worn-out coat would be kept for years until another one or two wore out to go with it for the making of a rug. A heavy sacking foundation was cut to shape, trimmed and well finished around the edge. A design was chosen or created and shapes were cut from the best of the worn material and sewed firmly to the foundation working inward from the perimeter so each seam would be covered by the next row. This rug making took some time but the nicely designed new rug brightened up the room and wore well for years.
Nearly every living room had its shelf. A lambrequin painstakingly embroidered in colored thread or wool yarn draped the new shelf. If the clock did not need the shelf, almost all households owned vases and fancy bits of pottery or glass which would make a nice shelf display. If a bare spot on a ledge needed a gay ornament, "fancy cabbages" filled in. These, suggested by a current magazine, were made by cutting a triple folded square of bright tinted tissue paper, placing a cup sized ball of white cotton in the center, then drawing up the wide edges and the four points (corners) tightly around the cotton ball, trying firmly with a ribbon and bow, spreading out the frills and points, and there was the fancy ornament. Tissue paper of various shades was much used in room decorating. It covered wall pockets and cases for use on bureaus (dressers,) and it made natural looking little owls to be perched on a twig for a wall decoration. Then there was tissue paper flower making which became quite a fad. Tissue paper was in demand for valentine and May basket construction. As crepe paper came on the market a secret formula passed stealthily among the few initiated, for the use of wax with the new paper, and paper flower making became the talk of the hour. There were spool what-nots, tin can footstools, straw castles, pin cushions of endless designs, but all these home decorations were swept aside by the coming of the sofa pillows; a great upsurge in wallpaper designs, and room-size rugs to replace tacked-down carpets.
And for the boys pockets they had whistles. And uncle or ones dad usually made the first one, working carefully and slowly, using a boxelder or willow sprout. When a boy could handle a pocket knife which was also a treasured possession, he could whittle his own whistles. Three of four in a fellows pocket, of different lengths and tones, made quite a display. Boys made their own marbles of clay and dried them in the oven. Later they could buy some if they wished. When a little girl was given a doll, her brother usually acquired a ball. These toys were not plentiful and were expected to last a long time.
Other childhood pastime ventures might be publishing newspapers by means of hand printing and drawing; keeping diaries, and organizing play literary societies and theaters. Evolving soap factories from a bank of clay easily molded into bars, establishing stores and doll millinery shops; planning neighborhood fairs were some of the resourceful ideas carried out by which children furnished their own entertainment.
In the building of new frame houses, even though lumber was quite cheap, economy had a prominent place in the house planning, and the majority of the new homes were not large. The families usually grew and as the need for more room became evident, quite often this need was met by a summer kitchen. This was a detached room and a board sidewalk was built between the kitchen and the house proper. Being a few yards away from the house the kitchen was a much used room and took the brunt of wear and tear from the rest of the home. During warm weather all cooking and baking were done in this kitchen which left the rest of the house cool and pleasant. When the meal was cooked and the last viand was ready for serving, the food was carried quickly along the board walk to the much cooler dining room. Canning and drying food, candle-making, preserving as well as laundering with the wash boiler bubbling away on the cookstove were all tasks taken care of in the summer kitchen. Only during the coldest stormy days was the out-kitchen abandoned and cooking moved into a corner of the dining room.
Where prosperity came slowly to some families, sometimes there could be seen an old cookstove set up in the open in the backyard, spewing its black smoke from the end of a length of stove pipe finished with a elbow for guiding the smoke away from the stove and the workers. Many a washing was done under the trees, using this means of heat for the ever present wash boiler. And the stove in the open often cooked the simple dinner on a hot summer day and kept this extra heat from the house. This too, was a good place to heat water for scalding fowls and for other purposes. Cobs, and chips from wood cutting furnished the fuel.
Tramps and peddlers had their day but they too have become extinct. Early peddlers usually walked, though a few brought their wares to the people by means of a converted light wagon, but that involved the trouble and expense of lodging and caring for one or two horses, cutting down the profits. Cycles began to appear. The earliest peddlers were often accepted as a break in the humdrum life on the frontier. The peddler brought not only the first and small handy household gadgets, but also the news from "back east." As more goods of many kinds filled the markets, the peddlers did not receive such a warm welcome and were finally forced out of business. A few of them, becoming discouraged, sold out their peddling business and, finding a satisfactory location, settled down in some neighborhood for permanent living.
In the 1890's Oklahoma territory began to attract attention. The purchase of a strip of land by the government known as Nomans Land in 1889, and buying titles from the Indians in 1893, opened Oklahoma for settlement. Advertising and attractive descriptions of the new country brought a great wave of settlers from the east. A land lottery or race was held and of course, all did not win. Those who lost out were most of them left penniless and homeless, and about all there was left to do was to start a slow tramping trip back to relatives or friends they had left so eagerly and confidently the year before, to become pioneers in a new territory. So tramps by the score passed through the Oakfield area, always heading east, begging their way back home, a nights lodging here, a meal there. Some were willing to split a pile of stove wood or help a day or two in hay-making, to pay for their meals, but most meals were gratis. Few, if any were sent on their way still hungry. Tramps more or less roamed the country through the early 1900's. These were an aimless, shiftless type, who would rather beg than work, and often spent the night in a rural school house, using the supply of fuel and kindling the school maam had left ready for the early morning fire. This undesirable mode of living wore itself out, and has been relegated to the past.
By 1900 the shops displayed fur pieces. Fur had been used on coats, but now stoles, collarettes, muffs, feather boas, and a sprinkling of fur hats and caps, mittens and earmuffs took their places in the fashions. Trimmings of many kinds, braids, beads, embroidery, ruching, laces, and large white pearl buttons, filligree metal and carved wood buttons were much used on dresses and coats. About all the ideas possible were used in the names and amazing shapes and styles of sleeves. Some names of fabrics we do not hear any more are Dimity, Bobinette, India Linen , Cambric, Ratine, Persian Lawn, Batiste, Alpaca, Rice-cloth, Foulard, Challie, Soistette.
Hair-dos had their fling in the ever changing fashion modes, and such names as "Waterfall," "Psyche Knot," "Neck Bangs," "Pompadour" and "Switches" still cling to memory. Bows, fancy combs and large jeweled or bangled hair-pins aided in adornments.
Some old brand names familiar at the general stores in the 1890's and 1900's as recalled: Soaps, laundry Santa Claus, White Russian, Lenox, Feis-Naptha, Ozone, Sapolio, a scouring soap. Toilet Soap Casteel, Grandpas Wonder, Jap Rose, Cuta-Cura. Coffee 4X, Lions. The Remedy shelf Listerine, Exportant, Castoria, Pink Pills for Pale People, Balm of Gilead, Cooks Pills, Golden Seal.
In the late 1890's a few bicycles were owned by young men of 18 years or older. It was considered quite a feat to learn to ride one of them and as their numbers gradually grew, special costumes were chosen for bicycle riding, a short-billed cap, knee length trousers (or long trousers rolled up,) and heavy long black stockings. It was quite the mode to have ones picture taken, dressed in costume and standing by the newly acquired bicycle. Ver first bikes were brought in the house for proper and safe keeping. By 1900 bicycles had become common enough the older school children were riding them to school.
As for pastime amusement, there was plenty, because the poeple were resourceful. The had had to use about all the good talents God had given them to get a foothold in this new country, and then to stay, to prosper and progress. They used their reasoning power and it was awake and available for whatever came up. All normal healthy children had chores to do . They naturally accepted their share of the daily tasks needed for the maintenance of the family living. They were taught early to be dependable, to make decisions, to be responsible for a number of things. When not in school or absent for some reason they were expected to be within call if something came up, such as an errand or half an hours baby-watching for a busy mother. By permission they were allowed timed visits with friends, or to have playmates as visitors in their home. If these early day youngsters had the time, they invented their own plays. There was no such question as "What shall I do?"
Their minds were full of ambitions and ideas for all kinds of stunts, explorations and experiments. All they needed was the time to try them out. There were woodlands, meadows, a river, an island and in late spring they loved to go flower gathering, and on occasional picnics. Exploring was a favorite pastime. A winding brook was a top blessing. Making bridges, naming all bays, capes and peninsulas and the brook itself, was a several months project, taken a little at a time. Thickets grew along the brook and a few fair-sized trees. It was fun to take home specimens and learn quite rapidly to identify the native trees and shrubs. Where there were thickets there were birds. It became interesting to identify them, to search out but never molest their home nests. Birds plentiful then but seldom seen now were whip-poor-wills, night hawks, quails, several kinds of owls, blue birds, gold finches, blue jays, catbirds.
And then there were charm-strings and whistles. There were pockets in the full skirts the little girls wore. It was fun to have something besides a handkerchief in those pockets. So there bobbed up the fad of charm-strings, another little product of resourcefulness. To start a charm-string, one needed a piece of string about 12 to 15 inches long. One end was knotted so it would not slip through the hole in the first button, and the other end of the string was stiffened for an inch or so by rolling on wax. The home button box was raided for whatever odd buttons mother would spare, strung over the waxed end and allowed to rest on the knot, and the charm string was started. It was a good conversation piece to carry in the dress pocket when visiting. Asking for buttons for the charm-string was not allowed. But should anyone offer a button it could be politely accepted, and thats how the charm-string grew, and in some instances it did grow until more string had to be added. It was supposed to charm the daily life of the owner for good but of course that was just a joke.
With all these new trends, new household furnishings and utilities affording more home leisure time, new fancy work tendencies replaced older models, and names of Battenber, Hardanger, drawn work, stiletto embroidery, became familiar along with the perennial knitting, tatting and crocheting which we always have with us.
Oakfield enjoyed a pleasant social life. From the first there was an interest in church activities, many children walked as much as two miles to attend Sunday School. There were prayer meetings and revival meetings. After Brayton became a neighbor town, much home talent developed, and many good programs entertained both communities. There were parties and ice-cream socials; the winter time lyceums at the Academy; sled rides; picnics; and if they wanted to really awaken the countryside, the evening of the 4th of July Brayton and Oakfield would put on a fireworks contest, the lights and the noise being easily seen and heard from both sides. This friendly combat always ended by the opponent blacksmiths placing a charge of powder between two anvils and blasting a final "last word." Quilting Bees and gooseberry hulling were enjoyed in the hospitable homes by the ladies and children while the husbands went on hunting parties or attended political rallies.
Friends and neighbors visited much without special invitation. They shared their material possessions, their good news and bad, their joys and their sorrows. They proved helpful to each other in time of need.
In its day Oakfield was on the map, listed as one of the little towns of western Iowa. But as 1966 ticks away the weeks and months less than a dozen families live in the place. There are no business places whatever. As a town Oakfield is no more. Southeast of the old Academy remains, a yawning gravel pit replaces several old homesites. Main Street is deserted. Cattle graze in a front yard. An old pine tree on the Norton Place lawn hums drowsily to itself.
A tired old house, alone, dozes in a leafy nook and leans toward the setting sun as though yearning to go along an disappear over the horizon forever. No one to repair no one to care. The last page of history longing to be turned so the book may be closed. A good record, little town. Your share in early history well done, your personality lives on in the hearts and in the memory of al those living who ever called you home.