Monday, August 29, 2011

A Sunday call on Squire Wadlington

I’d been meaning to pay Squire Wadlington another visit, but hadn’t gotten around to it even through he’s not far away --- down yonder from Sunny Slope Church of Christ just over the line from Wayne into Appanoose County. And there wasn’t much need to hurry anyway --- he’s been dead since 1878.

But Squire (whose given name was Spencer F.) was an interesting guy and his gravesite is an interesting place, buried as he is all by his lonesome under a big red cedar just north of the ruins of the fine brick house he built in 1866.

I finally got around to heading that way Sunday afternoon on a day that started out clear, then turned to rain and finally to a mix of clouds and sunshine. But cool.

To get there from here (Chariton), drive south on Highway 14 to the Millerton turn-off. Head east through Millerton to New York, cross the Jordan River, pass by Bethlehem and finally the pavement will come to a “T” with the Confidence-Promise City road at Sunny Slope.

Drive straight on east past the church, now on gravel instead of pavement, and keep going in that direction. If you go too far, you’ll drive into Lake Rathbun. Don’t do that. But you’ll know you’ve gone too far if see the lake and the long bridge downstream on the Plano road.

As you’re approaching the lake, you’ll enter a broad “S” curve. Keep your eyes focused on brush along the south side of the road just before you turn into the first part of the curve and you may catch a glimpse through a gap of the the tombstone surrounded by an iron fence and under its tree back in the pasture. Continue on around the curve and watch on the right for the gated entrance to the pasture driveway.

The folks who own the land don’t mind if you visit Squire and even mow access trails to his grave and around the ruins. Just make sure you close and chain the gate when you leave --- and stay out of the ruins, they could be dangerous and if there was anything there worth stealing it would have been stolen years ago.

This is the view of the house you’ll see down a short avenue of trees as you enter the gate. As you can see, it’s been eaten alive by brush and volunteer trees. All that's visible is the east gable end.

Swing to the northwest rather than heading straight for the house and you’ll come to the gravesite under the huge cedar that was planted more than 130 years ago to mark it. You'll be approaching from the southeast, but this photo was taken looking in that direction.

Here’s the grave in relationship to the house, its ruined north gable end just poking above the trees.

And here’s a close-up of the inscription, partly obscured by something I had no intention of getting anywhere near.

I’m indebted to Bill Heusinkveld’s excellent 1999 “Cemeteries of Appanoose County, Iowa,” in which he summarizes historical accounts of Wadlington. This way, I don’t have to go through my notes and do the work myself.

Wadlington was born Feb. 6, 1807, in Kentucky and arrived in Appanoose County during 1845, when he was about 38. The old Appanoose County history books maintain he’d married in Kentucky, secured a divorce after his wife cheated on him and after that did his best to avoid women entirely.

There is no proof, however, that he ever was married --- or that he was mad at women at all --- so he may just have been, as they say, a confirmed bachelor. By all accounts he was honest and genial, although considered a little peculiar.

Anyhow, he opened a primitive store in his cabin just northeast of where Centerville now stands in 1845, and the two commissioners appointed by the territorial legislature to locate the county seat met at that cabin before beginning their work. The first Appanoose County Board of Commissioners met in Wadlington’s cabin, too.

He eventually moved his store to the west side of the Centerville square and built a brick house in town. He served as probate judge, justice of the peace and as Centerville’s first mayor.

He also was a charter member of First Baptist Church and, according to Heusinkveld, gave the congregation its first bell. Because he was dissatisfied with its sound, he chipped in 25 silver dollars to be recast into it after it had been hauled by wagon to St. Louis for that purpose. Wadlington also was a devoted Mason.

As the 1850s ended, Wadlington shifted his interests from commerce and city life to farming and stock raising --- and life in the country. According to current owners of the property, Arthur and Mary Lemley, Squire bought his 250-acre farm in Independence Township from Joseph Delay during January of 1859.

The house on it was constructed in 1866, according to Heusinkveld, of brick burned where the house was built set atop a high basement of limestone quarried from a nearby outcrop. There also was a buggy and harness shed and a large brick barn, according to Heusinkveld.

On my last visit, the ruins of the house were entirely visible and it was possible to get a better idea of what it might once have looked like. There appeared to be four large rooms on the first floor on either side of a central stair hall. Each room had a fireplace served by a chimney stack that, unusual in Iowa, protruded from the exterior walls of the house.

Actually, I don’t know that there were that many fireplaces --- although the chimney stacks are of fireplace size, some may have served only stoves.

Here's the southwest chimney stack. Notice the fine brickwork and how well the bricks have endured the passage of time.

In addition to the north and south gable ends, gables roughly the size of the end gables were centered on the east and west facades and bedrooms were located in this half-story.

This is a view from the northwest toward the interior of the east gable, showing the upstairs window that would have faced the road.

By 1870, Wadlington had welcomed into his home the Martin Elam family. According to the Lemleys, the Elams were “traveling west to seek their fortune and happened upon Squire Wadlington’s farm to rest for the night. The Elams were a welcome addition to Squire’s life and he invited them to stay.” This information is included on a sign attached to the cedar tree guarding Wadlington’s grave.

In addition to the Elams, Squire’s younger brother, James Wadlington, was sharing his home during 1870, according to census records.

Wadlington died here on Nov. 4, 1878, reportedly of the effects of a harrowing trip home from Centerville in a snowstorm and infection in a leg caused by a kick from a mule. At his request, the Elams buried him just north of the house and the big red cedar now standing sentinel was planted to mark the spot.

Wadlington had willed his farm to Martin Elam, who farmed it until his own death in 1911. It was then purchased by Elam’s daughter, Dora, and her husband, Cal Teater, who farmed it until 1945. Their son, Martin M. Teater, farmed the place until 1961, when Lesley F. Lemley purchased it. Arthur and Mary Lemley inherited the farm from Lesley, according to the sign. They were responsible for restoring Wadlington’s gravesite.

Very little of the house can be seen now, although more will be evident during winter when leaves have fallen. The brick shell seems to be largely intact although at least one gable has fallen --- and the brickwork and stonework is fine. The roof and the frame interior, however, have collapsed.

Anyhow, that’s the story of my Sunday afternoon visit to Squire Wadlington. It’s an interesting place, worth the visit just to say you’ve been there. There’s nothing else quite like it around here.


Wanda Horn said...

That gravel road east from Sunny Slope Church is important in my family. The families of both my dad's parents lived on that road when Grandpa and Grandma were courting. Grandpa was Elmer Frye, son of Lewis Frye, who owned some small coal mines on the north side of that road not far east of Sunny Slope. Grandma was Alice Isetta Barrell, daughter of Alfred and Lovilla Barrell. When they married in 1903, Grandpa was 21 and Grandma was only 14.

Anonymous said...

1GREAT stuff but I have a question. Benjamin Pearson who owned much property and farming land in Centerville and also at Keosauqua, claimed in his diary that he erected a building he refers to as "Wadlington House" at Centerville prior to the Civil War. He also stated that he was assisted in building Wadlington House by one John Westenberger. Was there another residence for Wadlington before this home? Or could the 1866 date of your home be in error? Or was "Wadlington House" a reference to a commercial property in Centerville?