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Story of Nevin (Iowa)

by J. Loran Ellis (1901)


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Chapter IV, 1858 (continued)

The Chamberlains || Coming of the Jewetts || Mr. Turner's Steamboat || A Lawsuit || Religious Meetings Resumed || First School in Nevin || Rev. N. Harris's Visit || White-Mason


May 6th, 1858, was the day, that the four persons:  Mr. Peter P. Chamberlain, his wife, Sarah, their daughter Phebe, and his man, Abram Hubbard, came to this Nevin colony.     They were from Saybrook, Ashtabula county, Ohio.  They first came to Cleveland by sailing vessel; thence by steamer to Detroit, and thence by railroad to Iowa City.   Here they stopped a week, resting and fixing up their two teams, that they had along with them from Ohio, for the overland journey to the new "Athens" of the west.  Then loading on their goods and passengers, they drove safely on to their destination.

Mr. Chamberlain had bought land here from Turner and Smith, before leaving Ohio; but, as there was no house on it, they too, had to room and board at the hotel, until he could build a structure, into which they and their things could be moved.  He bought the Elliott grove 40 acres, having previously arranged with Mr. McDougall and Mr. George White, that they should have 10 acres off the north end.  The land had a fine body of black walnut and other trees, forming the grove.  Again he bought land; this time 2 1-2-acre lot No. 100, to build upon.  Then he at once proceeded to get a barn frame, by hewing some timber from his grove.  He also cut logs and hauled from it to Day & Co.'s mill, where they were sawed, and the lumber was hauled to his building lot.     The barn was completed in August, and the family soon moved into a part of it.   Here they lived and kept house about fourteen months.  The lot in later years became "Jewett's 4th of July grove."


In was late on Saturday, May 8th, 1858, when the Jewett party, consisting of Mr. John Jewett, his wife Nancy E., and their four children, Sarah E., Adelia, Quimby and Oliver, also two other young men, Messrs. Longfellow and King, all from the "Pine Tree" state, arrived at the Austin home to rest over night.  The next day they drove to Nevin's young village.  The hotel being now full they went to Mr. Ellis's, where they found rented rooms for housekeeping until Mr. Jewett could build them a house on 2 1-2-acres Nos. 101 and 102.  He was both farmer and carpenter, so, he built his own house, a one-story, native lumber domicile; into which they moved on the 4th of August, 1858.  He bought a pair of oxen and engaged in farming.  He disposed of his west-of-the-creek land, later on, buying village lots sufficient to complete his village farm.  The daughters, Sarah and Adelia, were school teachers many years, before getting married.

Mr. Jewett and Mr. Ellis became the leading tree growers of the place.  Mr. Jewett's specialty was black walnut and maple; while that of Mr. Ellis was evergreens and maple.


The recent rains had so raised Nevin streams that on May 24th and 25th, they were out of their banks and were all over the bordering low lands.  During the second day's freshet, a two mule team was noticed, by persons at the hotel, coming from the direction of Afton.  Soon afterwards it had arrived at the brow of "Adams" hill (later the Adam KcKeen farm), and signs were being made by the men with the team to those at the hotel, calling for help to cross the river.  We are not aware that they used the modern war heliographic method; but their signs were understood by the men in the village--that help was needed by the travelers.

The villagers responded promptly; a pair of horses was hitched to a wagon having a tight box, nearby, men, with long poles and ropes were loaded in, and all were driven to the brink of the flowing waters, at a point nearly opposite the waiting team.  They then took off the wagon box, hitched ropes to it, and shoved it off with two men therein, and poles to guide the craft into and across the quarter of a mile wide stream of water.     Our Boston friend, Mr. R. W. Turner was there waiting to be ferried over.    This was soon and safely done; and then on to the New England House, while the Afton team returned home.

On this crossing adventure "hangs a tale."  Men coming from Boston to Nevin, this summer, later in the year, made report, that upon their inquiries of Mr. Turner, as to there being any navigable river near to his new town in the Hawkeye state; Mr. Turner replied:  "O yes! there is a fine stream quite close to the village, large enough for a steamboat to run."

Bystander remarks here:  that even a Bostonian should have known enough about Iowa geography not to ask such a question seriously of Mr. Roswell W. Turner.  And so, Mr. Turner could be excused for giving the answer that he did; he may have thought the inquirers could readily see that his reply was intended only as a joke, at their expense, though based on the big May freshet of 1858.

At the end of a two weeks' visit our steamboat "joker" returned to his Massachusetts Bay home.  He never again came to see their wonderful colony, except once, -- a nine days' business trip in the fall of 1860.


The first law suit in the New England Colony jurisdiction, was on the 10th of June, 1858.  It was an appeal case, from Platt township, Union county; Robert Perigo against John Hanna; action for damages, in detention of oxen.  It was first brought before Justice Stephenson, and was then changed to Justice Ellis for trial, and by him was laid over till the following morning.  At which time the case was tried, and judgment rendered against Mr. John Hanna for $20 and costs of suit.  Afterwards the case was appealed to district court at Quincy.  Messrs. Samuel Riggs and Josiah Elliott giving the proper appeal bond.  Papers were sent to the court in July (25th).

In connection with this suit we have an instance of official pluck, which we give:     When the case was called on the morning of the second day, it was found that a copy of "Session Laws" was needed from the township of Platt.  Mr. Jonathan Whipple, constable from there, was present, and he was sent off to get the book.    The streams in that direction were high from recent rains, and the few low bridges were either gone or out of sight.  Mr. Whipple, however, made the trip in good time.   The Barnett stream had to be crossed by swimming, Whipple holding his book over his head as he swam, so that it would not get wet.  Finding his feet trappings were cumbersome, he at that point drew them off and came to Nevin in his bare feet, at a dog trot, and tired enough.


The religious meetings, suspended the fall before, were resumed on Sunday afternoon, May 9th, at the hotel dining room, in the form of a prayer meeting.  Sunday school was resumed on June 20th, at the same place.  Late in August, they both were changed to Mr. Chamberlain's just completed barn.  In December Mr. Chamberlain needing all his barn room for his own use, the meetings were again changed to the hotel.  On January 9th, 1859, the meetings were transferred to the just finished first school house.     This building was situated on lots Nos. 4 and 5, in block J, west of the common.   From now on, the meetings for preaching were intermittent for nearly eighteen months.  Some Congregational minister would come occasionally from Tabor, Quincy, or Fontanelle, until July 1, 1860, when Rev. Increase S. Davis, from Adair county, became the pastor of the Congregational church of Nevin.  During the preceding eighteen months, the Sunday preaching services were interspersed with the reading of sermons, written by Rev. H. W. Beecher, and by others.

A Rev. Todd, Methodist, of Greenfield, occasionally held meetings at this school house from June, 1859.


Nevin school district, embracing the thirty-six square miles of Colony township, was organized March 20th, 1858, by the election of the following officers:  R. Stephenson, president; B. O. Stephenson, secretary, and J. L. Ellis, treasurer.    Sometime in June of this year, the first school in Nevin was opened, in the hotel office.  Miss Phebe Chamberlain taught eight weeks.  The register of the school is missing, but the following children are thought to have been her pupils:   Judson, Lydia, Olive, and Joseph Harris; Adelia, Quimby, and Oliver Jewett; Mary and Charly Stephenson; John and Warren Bixby; Minnie and Mattie Hazeltine, and Martha Austin.


Rev. Norman Harris, from Hamilton, N. Y., came to Nevin the second time, the same day in May that the Hazeltines came.  He preached to a gathering of Nevinites at the hotel the next day, Sunday.  Mr. Harris brought his first wife's four children here, to be cared for and schooled a few years, while he returned to resume missionary work in India.  He left Judson, Lydia and Olive with the Austins; and Joseph was left with the Henry Harrises, who were now living in their farm barn-house.


Mr. George White returned to Nevin from a short visit to Boston, on June 20th, 1858; his wife Fanny, and their two young girls, Edith and Fannie, came with him.  They at once moved into their new house on the 40-acre farm, where the old folks were already living.  This house having supplanted the very small one built a year earlier, the old one now became his cooperage and workshop.

In the fall of 1863, Mr. G. White suspended his Nevin farming and went to Des Moines and worked at coopering.  Early in the following year he took up driving a two-horse peddler's wagon from Des Moines.  In December he rented his farm and took his family to Des Moines.  Later in life he quit peddling goods over the country and operated a store on Court Avenue, and finally got rich.  Mr. and Mrs. White are still living in Des Moines; while the daughter, Fannie, still unmarried, has charge of most of the store business.

The daughter, Edith White, at one period long ago, attended school in Des Moines a school mate of William Mason; eventually, the two married.  Later, the Masons lived in Chicago.  Wm. E. Mason is now a United States senator from Illinois.  They have an extensive row of younger Masons.



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