Saturday, October 20, 2007

Union Church at Davis City

While we’re in the neighborhood of Pleasanton, Nine Eagles State Park and such, it would be a shame to go directly to Lamoni and not turn right on Highway 69 and go on into Davis City, situated right on the Grand River and the home of a fairly remarkable survival, Union Church.

Davis City now is home to about 250 people and its business district, like those of most small Iowa towns, has fallen on hard times. But also like most small Iowa towns, it once had high aspirations. A native Scotsman named John Clark, who once operated a milling business here that now is hard to conceive of, was responsible for many of those.

I’ll let a biography of Mr. Clark, published on pages 336-341 of the “History of Decatur County and Its People” (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1915) tell his story and, indirectly, part of Davis City’s. It’s a good read.

Clark’s principal monument today is Union Church, built during 1878 to serve as a home for the village’s three congregations (Methodist, Presbyterian and Christian), none of which had a building. It’s a very plain building, as befits a Scotsman, but gracefully designed and beautifully constructed of brick. Most churches constructed by people of means in 1878 were highly decorated. This building instead looks back to plainer Federal times. It also contained (and still does) the town clock. Clark himself claimed no religious affiliation, but an affection for all --- thus his Union Church.

I do not know what the building is used for today, if anything. It is well maintained and the front seems to have been given a fairly recent sprucing up. And I’m glad it’s still here.

John Clark’s 1915 Biography:

Although more than a quarter of a century has elapsed since the death of John Clark, his memory is still enshrined in the hearts of those who knew him and the influence of his work is still potent. He was one of the earliest manufacturers of woolen goods in Iowa and was also connected with the development of the lumber industry in this state. For many years he resided in Decatur county and was prominently connected with its industrial and financial growth. His integrity and sense of justice were equally as well developed as his business sagacity and power of initiative, and his life was a force for righteousness.

John Clark was born in Paisley, near Glasgow, Scotland, on the 25th of September, 1813, and three years later was brought by his father, John Clark, to America. The family landed at Philadelphia and settled on a small river flowing into the Delaware, about ten miles from that city, where the father conducted a cotton factory. While living in Scotland he had been a silk weaver. In 1818 removal was made to Beaver county, Pennsylvania, and two years later he took his family and went to New Lisbon, Ohio, where both he and his wife spent their remaining days. She was a member of the royal family of Stuarts of Scotland, her father, Charles Edward Stuart, being the prince of Scotland and her grandfather the king of the united kingdom of England and Scotland. Her demise occurred when she was but forty-five years of age and her husband also died when comparatively young, being forty-eight years old at the time of his death. They left four sons and five daughters, all of whom are now deceased.

John Clark of this review resided in Columbiana county, Ohio, until the fall of 1846, when he removed to Jefferson county, Iowa, with his family and engaged in the wool-carding and cloth-dressing business in connection with the manufacture of lumber. This was the pioneer plant of its kind in Iowa and was farther west than any similar establishment. In 1843 Mr. Clark lost the entire mill property by fire but through the assistance of others his machinery was replaced and he was enabled to resume business. His mill cut the first plank for the first plank road in Iowa and its history forms a part of the industrial history of the state. In June, 1856, Mr. Clark removed to Decatur county and settled in Morgan township, purchasing a thousand acres of land from the government, half of which was timbered. He erected a sawmill upon his holdings and added two burrs for the manufacture of flour and also carding machinery, while two years later he installed spinning machinery and looms, manufacturing all kinds of woolen cloth. During the Civil War the demand for woolen goods was so great that twelve looms were kept busy and he handled not less than seventy-five thousand pounds of wool annually. In 1869 the First National Bank of Leon was organized with a capital stock of fifty thousand dollars and Mr. Clark was elected the first president of the institution, continuing in that position until it was reorganized as the Farmers & Traders Bank. In 1870 he, in connection with his son William, bought the mill property at Davis City and five years later he and his sons erected the flouring mill which is still in operation at that place. He had the astuteness of mind which enabled him to recognize opportunities where others saw none and he also possessed the energy and aggressiveness to formulate and carry into execution plans for the utilization of such opportunities. These qualities made him a pioneer in the manufacture of cloth and lumber in Iowa and his connection with the industrial and financial development of Decatur county resulted in good to the community as well as in his own material prosperity.

Mr. Clark was married on the 25th of September, 1834, in Columbiana county, Ohio, to Miss Grace Gammill, who died September 21, 1835. To them was born a daughter, Elizabeth, now the widow of James F. Bolon, of Davis City. On the 21st of September, 1836, Mr. Clark married Miss Margaret C. Gammill, an older sister of his first wife, both of whom were daughters of James Gammill, a native of York county, Pennsylvania. To this union were born two sons and four daughters, of whom two survive, namely: Williams, a resident of Omaha; and Mrs. Caroline Biggs, of Leon. Mrs. Clark passed away upon her farm near Davis City in 1902.

Mr. Clark was a republican in his political belief but was never an aspirant for official honors. He never identified himself with any religious organization but realized that the work done by all the churches of a community is of great importance in promoting the moral welfare. He also saw the advantage of church unity and in 1878 erected a good church edifice which he presented to all of the religious societies of Davis City, representing two branches of the Methodist denomination and the Presbyterian and Christian churches. The building is still used by the three congregations and is known as the Union church.

At the time of his death the Decatur County Journal published the following: “Deceased died as he had lived, calm, placid and self-possessed, September 4, 1888, aged seventy-five years. Thus ended the life of John Clark, one of nature’s noblemen, a model man and citizen, a noble and honored father, a loving and true husband, a friend whose friendship was like the light of the sun, true and steadfast in its course. The life of Mr. Clark furnishes an example to the youths of today of what may be accomplished by energy and continued labor, combined with the honest and noble resolution of benefiting his fellowmen with a portion of the material results of a successful life. Mr. Clark was fully aware of the seriousness of his last illness some time prior to his departure and made every arrangement for his burial. Also in talking over the matter with his children he stated: ‘I know that my case is a critical one and that no physician can do me any good. I leave my case entirely in the hands of Providence and feel perfectly resigned, let that be as it may, it’s all right.’ This well balanced and perfect consciousness was with him when he breathed his last, for, leaning back into the arms of his son James, surrounded by those he loved, he said to all: ‘I am going --- I will soon be gone.’ ”

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