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Story of Nevin (Iowa)

by J. Loran Ellis (1901)


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Chapter III, 1857 (continued)

Religious Meetings || Early County Roads || Turner and Smith in Nevin || Passing of the Mill || Digging of Wells || Hotel and Store


On Sunday afternoon, July 26th, there was a meeting of most of the Nevin colony, at the Ellis house; at which a Bible-class was organized.  There were fifteen persons present:-- Rev. N. Day, Chas. Austin, wife and daughter Martha; J. L. Haddow, Mr. and Mrs. H. Harris, M. D. Smith, Mr. and Mrs. S. Pierce and daughter, Mr. John White, Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Ellis, and E. Day.  The sixth chapter of Matthew was read, and the lesson was duly discussed.  Mr. Austin was chosen Bible-class teacher; and it was decided to have meetings every Sunday forenoon.  The gathering also voted to have meetings for preaching service on Sunday afternoons, when practicable. The Bixbys, Eastmans, and Mr. Jordan were at the mill; and Joseph and George White were gone to Mr. Pleasant on business.

The next Sunday (August 2nd) was a beautiful day.  The regular Bible-class was held at the Ellis house; and in the afternoon, public religious service was held; Rev. N. Day preaching a sermon from Matthew 24:44.  This was the first gospel preaching within Nevin boundaries.  There were twenty-one persons present at the preaching, all of the previous Sunday's persons except Mr. Haddow; and also John and James McCall, J. McDougall, J. Harlow, and Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Cutler and mother.  After this meeting, the appointments of both Bible-class and preaching services were in the afternoon.     The Bible-class was continued every Sunday, at the same place until, after September 15th, when their meetings were, for the winter, discontinued.  Rev. Day being called east on business a few weeks later, preaching services stopped also.


The first county road crossing Nevin lands, was run from the northwest corner of section 3, by way of Nevin common, to the southeast corner of section 1, township 73, range 32; there to connect with a recently laid out road in Union county, running to Afton.  The colony township portion of this "Afton to Lewis" road was run on April 22nd, 1858; Mr. Ellis was commissioner, and Mr. Frank Whitney of Adair county was surveyor.  The second road in the same place, was laid out on the 4th and 5th of June, 1858, which connected Nevin common with the southwest corner of the Joseph Scott farm in Carl township.  The third road was laid out June 22nd and 23rd 1858, from Adair county line, by way of Nevin common, to Wm. Whipple's "Mystic," in township 72, range 32.  Mr. L. V. Ritchey was commissioner, and Mr. J. L. Ellis was surveyor.  There were no permanent bridges built near Nevin, for a number of years later


On the evening of August 13th Mr. Roswell W. Turner and Mr. Richard B. Smith, of Boston, also Mr. Briant O. Stephenson, from the east, arrived in Nevin, the "Mecca" of the west.  This was the first visit, together, of the two Boston gentlemen, to the place since March, 1856; when they were in the west to enter their Nevin lands.  Making their headquarters at the Ellis house and sleeping under its roof; our Mr. Stephenson narrated an incident that happened that first night, to the supreme annoyance of Mr. Turner; but to the others present, it was ever after a subject of merriment.

Mr. Ellis's house had not yet been shingled, but was boarded and battened up and down the roof.  As the boards seasoned, the cracks opened and thus let in the rain.     This night, it seems that one bed was so situated under some boards laid across collar beams, that it would in some measure be protected should it chance to rain.    Messrs. Stephenson and Smith finished their day's business a little before Mr. Turner retired.  Fresh air and ventilation being in these days quite a consideration, they generously relinquished the bed under the eaves to Mr. Turner.    He, obeying the divine injunction, "Take no thought of the morrow," retired to dream of fair prairie lands.

At home, Mr. Turner had enjoyed the luxury of a shower bath, but he had no idea that such things existed in Nevin; however, true Yankee enterprise has no limits, the shower bath was before him.  About 2 o'clock an unlooked-for shower of rain commenced to fall.  His roommates awaking, discovered him sitting on the foot of his bed.     Although nothing to be afraid of could be seen by them, he was shaking as if he had seen the ghost of some one of his former land customers.

A few weeks after this, Mr. Ellis succeeded at a cost of $60  in getting 10,000 shingles, from Odell's newly-set-up steam shingle factory, situated between Quincy and Nodaway; to cover his roof.  The inevitable institution of shower bath was, however, immediately reopened at the residence of the Pierces, on the Jones-Day farm, with the added feature of a stock of umbrellas at hand, so that when a subject began to feel the "shakes" coming over him and wished to shut off the invigorating streams, he had but to spread an umbrella over his head.

Messrs. Turner and Smith having completed the line of title to Nevin lots, by the recording of their last authenticated Nevin plat at Quincy, on August 19, 1857, they were prepared to do needed business with the settlers.

Their first business was the building of a hotel, which need had been pressed by the Vermonters.  They contracted with Stephenson and Bixby to build a hotel of given dimensions and specifications, on the southeast corner of block C, to be finished by June 1, 1858.  The contract also provided for the building of a barn in the rear.     The contract price was $3,500 for the job.

The next day Turner and Smith executed deeds as follows:  120 acres in 160-acre lot No. 7 to Mr. Austin; 160-acre lot No. 43 to Mr. Stephenson; 10-acre lot No. 87 to Bixby and Stephenson; 160-lot No. 6 to Henry Harris; 160-acre lot No. 8 to Norman Harris; 2 1-2 acre lot No. 118, and lot 3 in block I to Mr. Ellis, and perhaps other deeds.     On the day following, Turner and Smith started o their return to Boston.


Soon after Turner and Smith had gone back east, it became known in Nevin that Day, Whipple & Co., now owned and managed the mill property, they having bought the interest of Turner and Smith.  And it was evident that Mr. Stephenson had finally decided not to invest in that property.

The lumber business was continued until the first week in November, the same year; when they introduced a grist mill attachment to the saw-mill.  This was in due time established, and was operated by them for a number of years.  Mr. J. P. Jordan, the "Co." proprietor, had died at the mill, October 12th, so the mill firm became Day and Whipple; furthermore, a Mr. Walton about that time bought an interest in the property.  A long generation before these lines were penned, the mill had disappeared.  The lands are now a portion of Jay Hurlbut's big stock farm.

Mr. Jordan's death was the first among the colonists.  The body was buried the next day, in a parcel of ground set off later as a burying ground, about half a mile northeast of the mill.  Rev. Norris Day officiated at the funeral, which was attended by some Nevin people.  Mr. Jordan left a family residing in Maine to mourn their loss.


During the summer and fall of 1857, Mr. George White deepened his home well to twenty feet and walled it up with creek boulders and small stones.  Within the same period, Mr. Ellis dug and made three wells each of them was twenty-nine feet deep, all on high land.  The first one, dug at his house, collapsed during a big rain fall after he had gotten five feet at the bottom walled with river stones; so he had to dig another near by.     The third well dug was at the hotel.

The particular point of interest in the sinking of these three wells was, that Mr. Ellis dug all of them without any assistant.  He would go to the bottom of his digging by way of a ladder, spade up and fill his mud bucket, and then go to the surface, and hoist up with windlass, his bucket of mud.  He would then empty it and go down again; in this way he completed the digging of them all.

The two last wells dug were walled with burr-oak, sawed curbing, set horizontally, and built square to the bottom.  They both furnished a good and abundant water supply for many years, before the curbing decayed.


Work commenced upon the hotel, to be called the "New England House," on the 7th of September.  The barn was enclosed first, so as to furnish a work shop for the carpenters.  The work on the hotel, under boss carpenter John Bixby, was pushed along fast.  Frame and lumber were procured from Day & Co.'s saw-mill.  Pine finishing lumber, shingles, lath and hardware were hauled from Burlington.  Mr. Stephenson had started with three teams on the 27th of August for the railroad terminus at Mt. Pleasant to get his store goods and nails.  Two of the teams got back September 16th, and the store was opened the next day.  The other team, which had been clear to Burlington, and returned by way of the new route to Nevin from the east,-- Barkers mill on Grand River,"-- did not arrive home till twelve days later.  The work of hauling store goods and hotel materials was continued, and the building of the New England House went on from week to week till Thanksgiving time.



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