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Story of Nevin (Iowa)

by J. Loran Ellis (1901)


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Chapter III, 1857.

Re-inforcements || An Attempted Rivalry || Settling the Town || A Maiden from Boston


On April 13th, 1857, Mr. Joel F. Fales, of Walpole, Mass., arrived at the mill.     He, like Mr. Ellis, was late a member of Dr. Nevin's congregation and Sunday school.  He was the first emigrant from the east this year.  His coming gave great cheer and comfort to those at the mill.

Mr. Fales, before leaving Boston, had purchased a small lot in the new "town of the prairies," and on his way west had bought some apple and pear trees, thinking to set a part of his lot to fruit trees; and perhaps to start a small nursery, to be operated in connection, for a few years; or at least to spend his summers here; going back to devote his fall and winter time to his home business of manufacturing his patent-sewed carpet lining.

The horticultural features of his plans, however, never materialized; his imported fruit trees were lifeless, or at least they never pushed out a bud, after being set out on his village lot; and the proposed nursery adjunct was abandoned by him after looking the situation over.

Mr. Fales being an old acquaintance of Mr. Ellis, he went to board with him at the Dunlap home.

Just twelve days afterwards, the colonists at the mill were greeted by three more recruits for Nevin:  Mr. Briant O. Stephenson, of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, a traveling salesman in the west and south for the firm of Fairbanks & Co., scales, etc.; Mr. Metcalf  D. Smith of Walpole, Mass., a farmer, and Mr. Charles C. Jones, a student, just from Cambridge, Mass.

The two comers last named, on their way west, first met Mr. Stephenson at Burlington.     The latter, who was on one of his business trips to Iowa, became quite interested in the statements of Smith and Jones--in regard to the New England colony scheme that they had accepted.

Mr. Stephenson's bodily health and strength were not over robust.  He thought that perhaps a change of business would be good for him, and this colony project seemed just the proper thing.

The three men, at Burlington, bought a two-horse team, packed their trunks into the wagon and started over-land for the Nevin colony, now at the mill.  After getting half way across the state Mr. Smith got homesick, and wanted to return at once to the east, but his companions finally persuaded him to keep along with them, and they arrived safely, on Saturday evening.

Mr. Stephenson has often since told of the meeting that evening between Mr. Smith and Mr. Ellis, and of the amusement it furnished the settlers in after years.  "When they met," Stephenson said, "they made a break for each other's arms; and then commenced one of those episodes in life which has to be seen to be appreciated, where the actors are two great, brawny men.  The performances were varied and interesting,--first a hug, and then a general pawing over each others shoulders and backs, and, as if to add to the variety and interest of the scene, the pauses in this mimic bear-fight, were filled with sounds which so nearly resembled the opening of a champagne bottle, as to cause a moistening of the mouths of the entire audience.  But they finally reached that point in their history, where the mind is brought to a realizing sense that the possessors belong to this world."

Young Charles Jones came west to prepare for his father, Rev. Jones, of Cambridgeport, Mass., who had bought or bargained for two 160 acre lots (Nos. 22 and 23), for a farm in Nevin.  He himself intending to emigrate west with his family in the following year, to occupy his big Iowa farm.

Mr. Smith, otherwise "Met" Smith, had bought 160-acre lot No. 45 (the farm now occupied by Mr. Steve Fouchek).  He also was planning to farm.

Mr. Stephenson's object here has been partly mentioned before; and, he wanted to see for himself what there was in this new colony prospective settlement for him, and to be in a position if favorable, to return east to advise and aid his friends there in the matter of their coming to Nevin also.

Neither of the three men found as many colonists in the vicinity as they had been led to suppose; but Mr. Stephenson after looking the situation over a few days decided that the place would do, and soon afterwards he returned to Boston, and also to his old home in the Green Mountain state.

In Boston, he had a conference with Turner and Smith, who assured him that all of their promises in regard to Nevin, should be made good.  He did some "missionary" work in Boston, and then in Vermont.  His labors proved successful in forming a party to come west.


One day in April Mr. Wm. Whipple, the "Mystic" farmer, came to the mill, and tried to induce our waiting colonists to abandon the project of again trying to settle the Nevin lands; and, instead of that, to go down to his Mystic.  His trip proved fruitless; not a man could he seduce; though Mr. McDougall was willing, provided someone would buy his Nevin land, first.


Monday morning, April 27th, bright and early, Mr. Ellis, with Mr. Fales as his helper, started for the colony lands, to commence the work of building his house.  He had employed some one with a team, to haul them and their belongings--such as carpenter's tools, cooking stove and utensils, some provisions, and a little bedding--to the building site previously selected.

Arriving at the place, they first erected a temporary cabin, close by; its size was 10x12 feet, walls and roof of boards; it had no floor.  Completing it before night, they moved in with their things, set up the stove, and made a bunk for two sleepers, in good season to prepare and eat their first supper in Nevin, by early candle light.

For years afterwards, they often told about that (to them) interesting first day and night of theirs, in the newly relaunched town of Nevin:  The day had been warm and pleasant; the calm, clear sunshine was such as only Iowa is prone to experience.  As the sun went down the prairie chickens came near and cooed their welcome to the newcomers, as they, resting from their labors, stood in the doorway of their completed cabin.     The burned over ground was bare and almost black.  But the grand vista,--swell on swell of rolling prairies that receded to the distant horizon, with only    a few detached groves in sight--gave them inspiration, making them feel buoyant with youthful hope and anticipated happiness.

The evening was spent by the two bachelors, in writing long letters to their respective sweethearts residing in the east:--Miss Trask and Miss Lewis.  The prospective young wives, were no doubt filled in heart with warm reciprocal sympathy, as they in due time received and read their epistles from the west.

Mr. Austin and Mr. Ellis had been for some time getting their lumber and frame along from the mill, to their respective places.  They now proceeded as fast as they could, in house-building operations.  On May 5th the frames of both houses went up; and during the month were finished on the outside, the floors laid, and some other inside carpentering done.  Mr. Austin and family moved from Hazel Green to their Nevin farm dwelling on June 3d, 1857.  The store building frame was put up the day previous, and it was done about June 20th.  The Ellis house was ready to be occupied the first week in June.


On the 17th of  May, Mr. R. W. Turner, from Boston, accompanied by a Mr. Haddow and Miss Theresa M. Trask, arrived at the Gibbs hotel, Fontanelle, the latter two intending to become Nevin settlers.  They had come by rail as far as Mt. Pleasant, where a livery rig, consisting of a two-horse, three-seat, covered carriage with driver, was hired to bring the three through.  They followed the stage route via Knoxville and Winterset.  The trip was comfortable, and was without any very notable event.     At one place where they spent the night, the grown daughter of the hotel keeper, solicited Miss Trask in the morning to remain long enough to cut her a dress pattern, for a dress pattern, for a dress like the one she was traveling in; of course she did not stop.  At Winterset they were an hour late for the regular noon meal, and so they got but a slim dinner; for meat, the only thing was chicken bones that had once done duty at the hotel meal.  At Clarks station (near Greenfield), they stayed over night, where the talkative Mrs. Clark sat on the foot of Miss Trask's bed till nearly midnight, telling her stories about Adair county, and especially about Fontanelle sayings and doings.   The next forenoon the party arrived at Hotel "Gibbs," Fontanelle.   Before 24 hours had passed there came a man from Winterset inquiring for a young lady who had taken dinner, two days before, at the Winterset hotel, whom he had noticed there, and had seen start out with the rest of the team load for Fontanelle.  This unmarried gentleman, it seems was in need of a wife, and was favorably struck with the graceful and rather jaunty appearance of the young woman from the east, and was ready, presumably, to fall at her feet and confess--in case opportunity presented itself.   Mrs. Gibbs pityingly told him that the lady was supposed to be engaged to a young man at Nevin, and had come west to marry him.  The aspiring lawyer got no chance to meet the maiden from Boston, and so he went back to Winterset, disappointed and down-at-the-mouth.



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