More Historical Roots: Marcus | Marathon | Webb
Then and Now
by Pearl Madson, January 1994
The earliest explorer of record, an Italian, labeled this southern part of
Clay County, Iowa as "No place suitable for settlement." Later acquired
by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase at four cents
per acre, it was part of the new state of Iowa when it was admitted to
the Union in 1846. Of the first recorded settlers crossing the vast
open prairie, it was said "They went until they found a tree," and so
chose to live near the Little Sioux River, the passage way for the
Indians who were here before them.
Some of the names found on record
in the 1850's: Oldfield, Gillette, Kindlespire, Gowen, Williams,
McClay, Mills and Duroe. Nearest "amenities" listed as in 1856: Post
Office at Peterson, 30 miles away; flour mill at Estherville, 35 miles,
and railroad at Iowa Falls, 120 miles; best source of supplies and the
nearest doctor were at fort Dodge. This 70-mile trip included a
forty-mile stretch of open prairie unmarked by a house or even a tree.
Winter trips were avoided if possible. Some attempts were fatal.
of the land was not desirable for farming, as it was dotted with sloughs
and lakes abundant with fish and wildlife. Herdland Township was the
apt title for the area which reached east to the County line and
included Mud Lake and Pickerel Lake, when it was set off from Douglas in
1873. In 1889, Garfield Township became the entity set off from
Herdland. Immediately southwest of the present site of Webb, the Big
Slough "assumed the dignity of a lake."
By 1899, a surprising
number of well-established families had survived the initial shelters of
dugouts and sod houses, and now resided in newly built wooden homes of
basic design: two rooms upstairs and two downstairs. Many groves of
trees were started on the homesteads. All conveyance was by horse-drawn
vehicles, with perhaps a few ox-teams still in use. The farm horses
were often ridden or hitched to buggies and sleighs, and of course
"shank's ponies," one's own feet, often did service.
homes, many sizes of kerosene lamps were big improvements over the
tediously made candles or twists of cloth inserted in tallow. One-room
schools were scattered over the countryside no closer together than two
miles, and were the centers of social and church activities as well as
readin', writin', and 'rithmetic. Established area towns included:
Marathon, Ayrshire, Ruthven, Spencer, Sioux Rapids and Peterson. Newell
and Storm Lake were grain and livestock markets, though Fort Dodge was
still the major basic source of supplies. W. C. Gannaway had the first
store here on Church Street in a simple unpainted wooden building.
AND THEN CAME 1900 AND THE RAILROAD!
The Milwaukee Railroad planted a sign that read "Glenora" to the east of
D. White's drilled well and corral for his grazing cattle. The present
Fritz home includes the original house he had also built there. One
report states it was he who named the new town "Webb," honoring his
mother as that was her maiden name. The Postal Service had objected to
Glenora because it was so much like Panora, already in existence. His
uncle, Albert W. Boyden, had earlier laid claim to all the land east of
the "little road called Church Street," then filed "the original plat of
Webb, Iowa" on November 2, 1899. A copy hangs in the Webb Public
Library. the town almost doubled in size in 1900 when the five block
Forrest Addition west of Church Street was filed for record. At that
time, the first and only telephone was on a single wire coming from
Marathon to the Drug Store.
There was a great surge of business
establishments also: Two General Stores, Drug Store, Hardware,
Creamery, Livery Stable, Barber shop, Harness shop, Hotel, Butcher Shop,
Bank, Lumber Yards, and a Grain Elevator. Mail was simply left in the
depot and people sorted their own until 1902 when the Post Office was
established. There was also a doctor here in 1899, another in 1900 that
stayed for six years. then Dr. E. a. Rust arrived and practiced
continuously until his death in 1965. With the great influx from other
countries, Swedish, Danish, Irish, German and Dutch were some of the
languages spoken in Webb. Neither speech or absence of telephones were
deterrents to Coffee Time, however. On neighborly lady simply waved her
coffee pot out the door in invitation. The first house built after the
town was recorded is still being used at Boyden and Third Avenue.
Other additions to the town have included Welle's Addition in 1920. The
most recent was Brown and Hopkins Addition in 1957. It lies west of
Church Street which remains in the place, an coincidentally, passes by
both the Methodist and Baptist churches.
Episcopal Church was organized by the uniting of three Sunday Schools in
the area in 1893. After the Baptist group that met at Mud Lake School
disbanded in favor of a church in Webb, the First Baptist Church was
organized and the building constructed in 1900. Until then, both
churches met for services in the one-room school building, alternating
morning and afternoon services. Now they followed the same pattern in
the new church sessions. The Methodist Church building was begun in
October 1902 and in spite of frozen crops that fall, followed by too
much rain to plant the next spring, dedication of the new wooden
building was achieved with the entire indebtedness taken care of on June
7, 1903. Trinity Lutheran Church was also established in Webb in 1942
and regular services held into 1990.
Much of the best farm land
here was once under water. In 1912, a major undertaking, draining the
Big Slough, was begun. A huge dredging machine, many extra tillers, as
well as local men and their teams, helped change the face of the country
and the economy as well. Suddenly in 1916, the job was finished.
Farmers also did much to improve the quality of their livestock.
Louthan and Crow were two names known for their fine hogs.
continued to grow rapidly, but disaster struck in the fall of 1913 when
fire destroyed the east block of business places. Come the nxt spring,
the west block was ravaged. This time, brick was used in some of the
Interesting books of reference include A History of
Clay County, Iowa by W. C. Gilbreath in 1899, and Steele and Addison's
1909 History of Clay County. Both contain many biographies of early
settlers. In Webb, one who stands out was J. L. Addington, the
publisher of the Webb Record newspaper from 1900 until his death in
1926. He is described as "publisher, meeter of trains, planter of
trees, counselor to young people." Grieve, Burkhart, Lohof, Cook,
Matthews, Naclay, Crow, Sanderson, Speed, Streeter, Marker, Bittinger,
Strruck, Hart, Peelgren, Templeman, and Morris.
were scattered over the countryside at least two miles apart. Most
included first through eight grades, and in the words of one who taught
such a school: "each with one unmarried teacher
who was expected to start the winter fires each morning, keep the place
clean, deal with the full-grown pupils who came to classes only in
winter months, board in turn with families of her district, ad in all
things, live up to strict puritanical rules laid down by the school
board. Salaries ranged up to $25.00 per month."
school serving Webb became too small and some classes were held in
upstairs rooms on Main Street until the four-room building was built in
1903. The school had developed from eight to ten grades when the
two-story building was built in 1916-1917. Later, under the tutelage of
Jean Turner, as superintendent, the Webb School became a fully
accredited 12-grade institution. Miss Turner continued to be a resident
in the community as Mrs. John Grieve.
In the 1930's, the typical
farm family was self-sufficient: They had their milk cows, poultry for
eggs and meat, a pen of hogs, pasture and hay. Corn cobs and wood were
common fuels for cooking and some coal was used for heating. Horses
supplied all power in the fields. One of the improvements that helped
everyone during that era was the grading and graveling of most of the
dirt-surfaced "farm roads" that marked off the 620-acre sections of
farmland into neat squares. In turn, most farmsteads consisted of 90 to
350 acres of land.
Wednesday and Saturday were "town nights" when
farm people brought their cream and eggs to town to trade for food and
supplies, and townspeople joined in the visiting. Their original gazebo
had disappeared from Main Street, but the Webb Band occasionally
entertained from the movable stage pulled into the center of Main
Street. Yearly traveling "Toby" tent plays came to town for a week or
so, but local talent was revealed in weekly programs. Once the main
feature was a wedding! A few years later, long benches placed west of
the lumber yard were the seats for free movies sponsored by the
merchants once a week.
The consolidation of schools, as well as
farms, has continued to the present. In 1994, the square sections of
farm land are still marked off by the miles of graveled roads, but many
are barren of buildings. There are still many "family farms," though
they may often number their acres in the 1000's. By sharing implements
and expertise, costs and labor, several second and third generation
family members work together and separately, as previous sections of
neighbors used to do. Each year brings new ideas and machines to
decrease monotony and increase return for labor, but demand more funds.
Planting and harvesting seasons still demand round-the-clock activity
at times. Weather is still the director. In recent years, Rural Water
systems have alleviated the necessity for drilling new wells on each
farm. Small towns such as Webb are also subscribers to the service.
of land barren of inhabitants naturally led to decreased school
attendance. With pressure to provide more and more varied curriculums
and increasing salaries for teachers, neither the teachers nor the money
is there to operate. Webb School in turn absorbed Garfield
Consolidated and part of Corner Community. Schools, later combined with
Gillette Grove, then absorbed Dickens to become South Clay Community
School at Gillette Grove. The newer gymnasium with stage and lunch room
at Webb continued to be used for programs and basketball. However, the
end of the school year in May 1993 saw the final graduation services for
high school students at South Clay.
The Baptist and Methodist
churches continue their services in their respective modern one-story
buildings on Church Street. The Webb First Responders have answered
many emergencies in town and country, as have the Volunteers of the Webb
Fire Department. By dint of long hours and dedication to their
enterprises, merchants on Webb Main Street, together with the interest
and support of town and country people, continue to make Webb a good
place to come home to.