Museum 75th Anniversary

Friday, March 16, 2018

Promise City - One of a Kind

The title above is the Promise City logo.  In the 1990’s long before internet searches were commonplace Promise City resident, Alice McMurry, researched the town name and came to the conclusion that there is only one Promise City in the world.  Now with the ease of googling she has been proven correct.  Google the town name and there is only one answer, Promise City, Iowa population 113.  We aren’t sure if that includes dogs. 
   The first settlers arrived at this flat spot on the plains in 1852. There were a number of  homesteads located close to one another and the settlers said this area had great promise to become a city. A post office was established in August 1856 and the name Promise City became official.  However, the town was not platted until 1881 and had a population of 300 at the time.

Wayne County was first joined with Appanoose and Des Moines counties. In 1848 Wayne, combine with Appanoose, was separated from the Des Moines county, but it was not until 1851 that organization began, and it was divided in precincts later known as townships. The northeast quarter, precinct Number One, was known as South Fork precinct.  Probably so named because the south fork of Chariton River runs through it.

One of the first settlers to arrive was John Henanman. In 1854 Elisha Kinser age 47,along with sons David, 22,and Michael, 21, came from Indiana by ox cart to southern Iowa.  Michael, his wife Elizabeth, and brother, Samuel Kinser came to this area in South Fork precinct in 1855.   Also that year, John Estep and family settled here.

In the fall of 1856, John Estep, John Henanman, and M.J. Kinser began to lay the first site of the town, which they called "Promise of a City," and could only hope that it would someday fulfill the name.   Elizabeth Kinser, wife of Michael, would stand on the roof of their log cabin and call the men to dinner while they were working to lay  the site of the town. 

     A furrow was plowed from Centerville to Corydon in the spring of 1856 by John Ferren at a cost of $5. This was the early beginning of a road between Wayne and Appanoose Counties’ and much of this path followed closely the present-day route of Highway 2.  Soon after a road was established the stage coach began traveling between Centerville and Lynn (Leon?) in 1859. 

The Railroad Comes to Town

When the railroad came through in 1871 it gave a boost to Promise City and more businesses came to town.  There was a bustling and active main street where one could purchase almost anything.  There were general stores, banks, drug store, furniture store, millinery shop, hardware store, restaurants, lumber business, Dr. Offices, blacksmith, churches, and  hotels.  For a time there was even a newspaper, Promise City Press, a special edition of the Lone Tree Press of Seymour with four columns weekly of Promise City news.

Barker House Hotel

    One hotel, built by Willis Carr, was the Western Hotel, operated by R.N. Barker. It later became the Barker House operated by Calvin Barker and Harve Barker. The charming photo at left shows a group of children, including Amy Robertson at far left, on the front porch of the Barker House.  This hotel was across the street from Amy’s home where she grew up. (The hotel was located where the home of Cary & Brenda DeVore is now just east of Lockridge Lumberyard on Highway 2.)
Pictured in front of the Barker House Hotel are L-R - Amy Robertson, Lenore Newland, Frank Rynyon, Everet Barker, Faye Runyon, Robert Alexander, and  Iva Barker.  The Barker's were grandchildren of Calvin Barker, the hotel proprietor.

Robertson Brothers General Store

Samuel Sharp operated a general store on the east side 
of the main street which he later sold to his son-in-law to be, Greenleaf Robertson and his brother Grant.  Greenleaf soon married Sharp’s daughter Iona and they became parents of Amy Robertson. The Robertson Brothers operated the general store that bore their name from 1892 until 1942. 

The front original front entrance of the general store can be seen in Prairie Trails Museum in the Main Street Gallery. It is the front of a general store exhibit.  The glass has a small hole from a gunshot reportedly by Grant Green.  The store had apparently been broken into or someone had tried so Grant was sleeping on the store.  Upon hearing  a sound in the night he raised up and took a shot through the door. No one was injured and there is no word on whether there was a burglar.  It makes a good story for a museum tour!
 The store was located where the Promise City Community Center is now, on the east side of Center Street. 

When the community center was in the planning stage Amy Robertson donated the lot where her father's store had been and gave a sizable donation for construction.  The community center was designed to resemble the general store.  It is designated in memory of Robertson Brothers General Store. 

Promise City's Round Barn

On the east edge of Promise City was one of only four octagonal barns, sometimes called "Round" barns in Wayne County.  It was located on what was known as the Anderson farm.  It had long been a landmark but was destroyed by fire in 1957.

The Farmers State Bank built in 1903 by the Robertson's was the first bank in Promise City.  Nate Robertson was the cashier for many years. After the bank closed the building was purchased by Amy Robertson.  in the 1940's Amy and partner, Tilda Schmidt had a toy factory in the building, selling wooden toys all over the country. 

The building is the only brick structure left in Promise City.  It has had a number of uses, including as a cafe for several years.  The building is currently home to apartments.  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Millerton's General Store

Best Store in Town

A staple in any small town is a general store.  Millerton, Iowa had one of the best that still is in operation today in 2018. 

Fry's Store in Millerton is well known to anyone in several counties, especially farmers, electricians, plumbers, or anyone looking for that hard to find replacement part.  If it was made or still made today Fry's probably has it somewhere in the recesses of that old building.  Francis Fry opened the store in Millerton, Iowa in 1944.  The following, written by Herb Owens was published in the Des Moines Register in 1958.

Nine Buildings, 125,000 Items!

Millerton, IA  - A 5-foot bookshelf wouldn't hold all the catalogs necessary for running the general store operated here by Mr. and Mrs. Francis Fry.

From cookies to corn-cribs, the Fry enterprise include a stock of more than 125,000 items and occupy nine buildings in Millerton.

Francis Fry, 46, is a highly versatile artisan who handles repairs on radios and televisions sets, carburetors and brake systems. He also repairs - and carries a full line of repair parts for -all lines of small motors, like those for washers and lawnmowers. 

Fry sells and installs electrical systems, plumbing systems, heating systems. And he has four service trucks - each for a different service so there's less loading and reloading. 

Wife Handles Grocery Unit 

Mrs. Fry, the former Dorothy Krouse, handles the grocery, sundry and light hardware departments of the business. Before the grocery line was taken on, Mrs. Fry had become adept at finding the right auto or small motor part for customers. 

Currently the Frys have but one full-time employee. He is Kenneth Reynolds, 20, an alert, industrious youth who gradually is learning most phases of the business. 

Electronic work is Fry's favorite activity. As a youngster he started experimenting with electricity in the 32-volt home plant on his father's farm. He was 14 when he did his first professional electrical wiring job. 

At 16 he opened his first radio and electrical shop in Corydon. And in 1935 he built his first television set and scanner, demonstrating picture reception on a 3-inch "tube" at the Corydon shop. The telecast, from Kansas City was specially scheduled for Fry's demonstration.

During World War II, Fry served as an electronics instructor in the army. Upon his return, he went back to business quickly. He acquired a Millerton building for storage - and it soon became his operating headquarters. 

"The business just grew," Fry said. "One thing led to another. For instance, from installing stock watering systems, I got started in plumbing work. I, and the fellows I had working for me actually studied nights to learn the business. 

Editors Note:
Francis Fry passed away December 16, 1989 at 77 years of age.  A jack of all trades and master of many. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Millerton is a Good Town

Millerton is a Good Town

The following was published in the Corydon Democrat under this heading on January 14, 1915 just two years after Millerton came into existence. The youngest town in Wayne County owes its existence to the Rock Island Railroad.  

 Late in the fall of 1910, the Rock Island Railroad company surveyed a road from Carlisle, near Des Moines, to Allerton to connect their two roads and make a direct route from Kansas City to the Twin Cities. This road materialized in September, 1913. It was known as the St. Paul and Kansas City Short Line. This opened up new territory for railroad service and gave farmers a closer trading point. It also gave Millerton its birth.

 In 1912, George Miller, of Corydon, purchased the farm on which Millerton is built. He laid out a town selling twenty acres to the Rock Island at a low sum on order that the station would be placed on this site. The following year, in June, the Corydon Lumber Company purchased some lots and began to build. In 1915 they had a 156 x 58 shed, an office 24 x 36, and a coal bin 12 x 32. According to the news article, "The yard is well equipped and the best of service is rendered. Morgan & Wright are in control of this year."

Building Frenzy

 Soon Millerton boasted several businesses.  In 1913, Grant Markley purchased the town site and  began erecting buildings.  Markley built a fireproof block, each room being 20x40.  William Winslow had a grocery store and novelty store in one room of the block. Dr Luthy had an office in another of the rooms. Yet another room in the block held O.M. Brown harness shop, which was well equipped to handle all kinds of repair work.  One of the remaining rooms was slated to become a restaurant.  Another was occupied by men wintering in Millerton to be on the job when the spring building rush began.

 Markley got busy selling lots, giving the people a chance to buy lots cheap. His policy was, "Not a big price, but a big Millerton."

 By fall of 1913, William Markley began to build a three-front cement block building. R.T. Thatcher soon purchased two of the rooms, putting in a general store that had a large inventory and purchased poultry and grain.  The other room was rented to B.J. Cizkovsky for a jewelry and musical store.  Mr. Cizkovsky was also the new postmaster.

The remaining room was purchase by the Bank of Millerton. George Miller, president; Lem Kimple, vice-president, and J.L. Murrow, cashier. In the rear room of the bank building John M. Closky had a barber shop.

Another building held a window and door frame factory operated by William E. Green.  The rock Island station and the stock yards were built around this time also.  Allen Crone built yet another building where G.E. Dawson had a blacksmith shop. Another building owned by the lumber company was occupied by N.W. Dunham's barbershop.

This building frenzy continued and by late 1914 there was an opera house, drugstore, hardware and furniture store just waiting to move in.  A two-story hotel built by H.J. Adams was to be constructed in spring of 1915.

C.E. Hatfield erected a cement block factory in summer of 1914 that was well fitted with modern machines for making cement blocks.  Mr Hatfield also ran the city dray lines.

Livestock buyer was L.L. Thatcher. L.J. Iverson was one of the first to come to Millerton and built a fine home. He was a section foreman on the railroad.

"Early in the year 1913 the present town of Millerton was nothing more than a corn field. In fact, those who built in this year had to clean away the stalks before starting. During this year three residence were completed, those of Louis Ryan, L. thatcher, and B. Thatcher. Up to present year (1915) thirty more houses have been competed and three are under construction and still houses are in demand, some of our business men not being able to move their families here."

~ In less than two yeas time the town of Millerton began and was seemingly filled with people, businesses, and homes.  It was a town with great expectations.

Millerton in the 1930's

The following story is taken from Along the Way written by Robert Stech in 1976. This was originally published on Prairie Trails Museum facebook page in 2017. 

In 1911 an Iowa road map showed a small town named Ovid in the approximate vicinity of what is now Millerton. In 1913 the Rock Island Railroad sliced through the countryside from Chariton to Corydon. With the coming of the railroad the sizable, thriving town of New York, three miles to the east of where Millerton is located, soon died, as the merchants and the general population moved to the rail line. 
Ellis & Zora Bull  Hardware Store and Post Office

In the early 1930’s Millerton had a population of one hundred eighty seven. It had three grocery stores: Buoy’s, Gilman’s, and the Mulenburn grocery. Millerton also had two gas stations: one owned by Reese Dotts, a Pure oil station and the other a Phillips 66 owned by Earl Krouse. As in many small towns the gas stations were the favorite rest and recreation centers, havens for the town pitch and cribbage players. The average farmer stopped for an hour or two when he bought gas and played a few hands. They were also the local source for communications on the recent happenings in the community. Ellis and Zora Bull operated a drug and hardware store as well as a livestock buying station, mostly hogs bound for Morrells at Ottumwa.

Glen Draper waiting for the mail 
John McClosky, the barber, cut hair for 25¢ per head. Dr. Corbin tended to the communities medical needs from his office upstairs above Bull’s store. Floyd Hook managed the lumberyard, and Charlie Ammenell was the small building carpenter at the yard. Bill Green was the village carpenter and repairman and a fellow named Yeigh set up and operated a blacksmith shop for a few years. The local restaurant was operated by Maud Bone and Merle Owens was the local auto mechanic.

In the 1930’s the local hotel had been abandoned as such and was used as a boarding house for teachers. Martha and Mary Stech also boarded teachers and custom quilted and hooked rugs.
The mail came to Millerton three times a day on the railroad. Harvey Double and Glen Draper (pictured at left) transported the mail to and from the depot and the post office in a red wheel barrow. The post office was in Buoy’s store. Myrtle Buoy was the post mistress. As in most small towns in the 30’s, Millerton’s bank failed, never to reopen its doors.

Center- Myrtle Buoy, Glen Draper, and Zora Bull hand out mail 

The town fire department consisted of a man-powered fire engine, a light buggy wheel conveyance. It held somewhere between 50 and 100 gallons of water and had a pressurized water tank. The town water supply was a couple of cisterns in close proximity to Reese Dotts gas station. The water supply came from the roof of the gas station that captured the rain water. After several years of non-use, it was discovered that the water would burn. The station’s underground gas tank had rusted out and the gasoline had polluted the cistern water. 

Millerton High School

Millerton School 

Millerton High had a new gym and six basketball players. These six fellows out-played the larger schools and won a consolation trophy in a county tournament. There was also a girl’s team at Millerton High.
Millerton even had a mini Fourth of July celebration. A fellow from Corydon tried to start an open air movie on a vacant lot between the restaurant and the bank building. A small flickery home movie type of projector showed movies to the people on Saturday evening. The admission was a quarter and there was a drawing for a basket of groceries. 

Today, most of the population has changed. Many of those who lived  in Millerton have gone to their just reward, and their descendants have spread to the four winds. (Editor’s note: The author Robert Stech was born in 1921 on a farm near Millerton. In 1974-75 he wrote a weekly column, “Along the Way” for the Town and Country Journal/Farmers Weekly of Humeston, IA).

In 2013 the population of Millerton was 46.