Iowa’s surviving pioneers, acutely aware of their mortality as the 19th century ended and the 20th began, drew together in increasing numbers to celebrate themselves and their accomplishments --- uncharacteristic in a way for men and women for the most part of great modesty. Old settlers’ associations sprang up in every corner of the state, including Lucas County.
The prime mover here was Col. Warren S. Dungan, a universally admired Chariton attorney, former lieutenant governor and genuine pioneer. For several years, the Lucas County Old Settlers Association sponsored annual get-togethers, usually day-long events featuring picnics, shared memories, oratory and displays of artifacts. As a rule, at least one pioneer was invited to write down his or her memories of the old days, then read the result to his assembled contemporaries during these annual celebrations. Dungan collected these accounts for his files.
In 1903, the Washington Township Auxiliary of the Lucas County Old Settlers Association was formed and its first meeting held in Russell on Oct. 18. Alfred Goodwin, then 70 and cashier of S.H. Mallory & Co.’s Russell Bank, was invited to be the principal speaker.
Goodwin, born during December of 1832 in Maine, had arrived in Russell in 1869, two years after it had been platted along the new Burlington & Missouri River Railroad line by Henry S. Russell, trustee for B&MR land interests --- and named for himself.
A jack of many trades, Goodwin had mined in California and Colorado, taught school and served in the Civil War (Co. D, 17th Illinois Infantry) before making a fresh start in Russell at age 36. He was the community’s second postmaster (reappointed later for two additional terms), its first mayor after incorporation in 1887 and a justice of the peace. He also was the husband of Ellen (Sweet) Goodwin and the father of several children.
Col. Dungan, as would be expected, attended that October 1903 meeting and brought home from it Goodwin’s hand-written script --- on sheets of Russell Bank stationery --- which he duly filed away.
As a rule, these old settler memoirs also were published in Lucas County newspapers of the day, and it seems likely Goodwin’s account of Russell history was published in the Russell newspaper that fall, but a 1922 fire destroyed all but scattered copies of its back files and we can’t be sure of that.
Not long thereafter, Dungan was instrumental in merging the Old Settlers Association, its Washington Township Auxiliary, an old soldiers association and other groups into the Lucas County Historical Society, one of the first Iowa county societies to be formally organized and incorporated.
The society did not last, however. Sons and daughters of the pioneers were not sufficiently interested to allow the organization to build momentum and it faded way. It would take 60 years, three (going on four) wars and the Great Depression for history to reassert itself and the current Lucas County Historical Society to rise in the 1960s.
After Col. Dungan’s death in 1913 at 90, his files were passed on to the Chariton Public Library for safekeeping and for many years maintained in filing cabinets in the library’s periodicals room. Upon organization of the new Lucas County Historical Society, these files were deaccessioned by the library to it, where they remain.
So here again, after more than a century, are Alfred Goodwins recollections of Russell as it was when he arrived there:
In February 1869 Henry C. Goodwin, R.R. Fogg and Alfred Goodwin arrived in Russell. That event though unimportant is the first to be noticed. They found the town in the first stage of settlement. The dead prairie grass of the previous summer lay where it grew on the ground now covered by the business part of the town. The streets were known only by the stakes driven by the surveyor. Cattle and hogs run at large day and night to the disgust of fastidious people. Houses were few and scarcely sufficient to accommodate those already living here; and it was even more difficult then than it is now for strangers to find room to lodge in. Those who had houses were generous in sharing their scanty accommodations with the new comers and thus the difficulty was overcome.
The railroad accommodations were such as might be expected in those days when it was built only as far west as Afton. There were four trains a day, two going west and two east. N.B. Douglas was station agent. This railroad was then the B. & M.
In speaking of houses it is worth while to mention those that were in the limits of the town. On the north side of the railroad there was only one house, and that was occupied by Michael Kahoa. There were two railroad buildings, the depot and a warehouse, which about that time was occupied by temporary residents and sometimes for public meetings. It afterwards became the grain warehouse of Boggs & Plotts.
South of the railroad along Lowell Street were located the blacksmith shop of A. G. Tremaine, a dwelling house occupied by F.S. Morgan and H.W. Elliott’s store. On the north side of Short Street at the western extremity was the residence of F.M. Wimberly, and on the south side at the eastern extremity that of Levi Olmstead. Dr. J. R. Hatton’s residence was a little beyond in Smith’s Addition.
There were three dwelling houses on the south side of Shaw Street, namely Mrs. N.E. Van Dyke’s, Thomas Lynch’s and Denis Foley’s.
On the north side of Ames Street stood the Presbyterian and the Episcopalian churches, both unfinished, and the residence of M.L. Plotts, which was at the east end. East of Ames Street in Smith’s Addition was the Labagh House, the only two story building then in Russell. It was built by Rev. Mr. Labagh, an Episcopal minister. In that house lived the family of William N. Colegrove and three others. This included all the houses in Russell. The Labagh House was the principal resort of strangers and transient people. It stands now where it was then with very little alteration in the premises.
The Episcopal church bilding was afterwards moved a number of times and used for a variety of purposes. It now stands on the east side of Prairie Street between Shaw and Ames.
The Presbyterian church building was also moved away, and was finally converted into a dwelling house, the same in which Thomas O’Donnell is now living.
During the remainder of 1869 a number of other buildings were built, among them a dwelling house by A. G. Tremaine, one of D. F. Comstock, and one by Geo. C. Boggs, the Mill by West Fry, a small hotel by Alonzo N. Goodwin, and the two story building where the post office is now by Henry C. Goodwin.
The new arrival(s) that year besides those already named included Wm. G. Stearns and Granville A. Goodwin.
Dr. L. Sprague came in 1870; E. Powell, Dr. C.B. Powell, James H. Cook, Newton Howell and J.F. Sprague in 1871; J.B. Ferguson and Dr. W.A. Palmer in 1872; A.J. Woodman and Levi Wilson in 1873. Some of the earliest residents came from the neighboring country. Among them were John S. Blue, Elijah Allen, William Fulkerson, John Bentley and James Grayson.
Six persons are now living in Russell who were here in February 1869. They are Geo. W. Plotts, Mr. and Mrs. Kahoa, H.W. Elliott, J.D. Van Dyke and Alfred Goodwin.
N.B. Douglass, besides being station agent, was postmaster and justice of the peace. H.W. Elliott kept the only store, the first in Russell.
The first school was taught in the Presbyterian church building by Miss Julia Scott, now Mrs. G.F. Carpenter, commencing in April 1869 and ending about the first of July. The first preacher, Rev. Mr. Labagh.
In the winter of 1870 the citizens of Russell held their first public social gathering in the old railroad warehouse. It was in the nature of a picnic.
The Russell District Fair was held in the Fall of the same year. Mr. Elijah Allen was the promoter and President.
In December 1870 the depot was broken open and robbed. Mr. Douglas, the agent, had been there late at night, and on going to his home had taken with him all the money on hand belonging to the railroad company and post office, which he said amounted to about fifteen hundred dollars, and was taken from under his pillow while he was asleep. Although havoc was made of the papers in the depot, nothing of value was taken away except some postage stamps. Some of the citizens went out in search of the robbers, but no trace could be found. Mr. Douglas had been the most trusted of the company’s agents, and enjoyed the unbounded confidence of the community. After an investigation by the company, which was never made public, he left their employ.
In the beginning of 1871 Russell had assumed the appearance and dignity of a town. Hogs were restrained, but cattle run at large for years afterwards.
Goodwin Brothers had a store, there was a hotel, and also a place where beer and native wine were sold. The native wine seemed to have been made of corn and rye. The name of the firm of Young & Holman is probably remembered by only a few people.
In 1873 A.J. Woodman built his hardware store, which fronted on Lowell Street. Newton Howell commenced the business of harness making in 1871, and continued it as long as he lived, enjoying the exclusive trade of Russell in that line.
H.W. Elliott built his brick store in 1875, it being the first brick building in Russell.
The first Methodist church building and the first school house were built in 1872. There is no recollection of any further public improvements until about 1875 when some sidewalks were built, and a brass band was organized. The sidewalks have been succeeded by better ones; but not so with the band. It is to be regretted that the platters of the town or the early settlers failed to provide a piece of ground for the use of the public. A refined and cultured community cannot help feeling the want.
Washington Township had many settlers before 1869, but there were still large tracts of uncultivated prairie; and the woodlands bordering Chariton River could be traversed from east to west without the vexation of wire fences. They afforded a pleasant resort for hunters, and those people living in towns who felt the need of recreation.
Most of the settlers were found along the route leading from the south east through the central part of the township towards Chariton.
To the east of Russell the prairie was unoccupied for three miles, the nearest house in that direction being W. Y. Cowings. Along the prairie was seen an old road called the Mormon Trace, which was said to have been one of the roads traveled by the Mormons in their migration west.
To the south there were three houses within two miles, Isaac Van Gilder’s, John Jackley’s and Henry Wiltsey’s, and to the west that of William Nelson. Thus in a territory two miles wide and four miles long there were only four houses outside of Russell.
This completes all that is worth recording of the recollections of one who by force of circumstances remained here until he learned that there is no better place thatn Russell and Washington Township, where the people possess the best qualities of citizenship.