History of Spirit Lake, Dickinson County, IA
From: History of Emmit County and
Dickinson County, Iowa.
The Pioneer Publishing Company
Chicago, Illinois 1917


The fact has been stated before in this work that in the summer of 1856 three men - Howe, Parmenter and Wheelock - brothers in law, came to Dickinson County from Jasper County, Iowa, and decided to organize the county, locate a county seat and enter the land upon which it was located, also to lay out a town into lots to be sold for their own profit. The location of the town was decided upon in June, 1857, after the massacre. The three men made two trips here, one before the massacre and one just after the murders. These have been described. First, the men favored the Okoboji crossing, but the fact that this was held by the Granger brothers - Carl and Bill - prevented them from securing it. It is said that the Grangers also had the county seat scheme planned, but later Bill Granger relinquished it in 1859 and left the county, his brother Carl having been killed by Inkpadutah's Indians.


The first plat of Spirit Lake was made by a Newton, Iowa, surveyor named S. W. Foreman, the town to cover one half a section of land. The site was about a half mile north of the present business center of the town. Foreman was promised one tenth interest in the lots for the trouble of making this plat.


The building of the fort and the small stockade has been noted elsewhere. Also, in the autumn of 1857, three or four log cabins were constructed on the site, the first one by O. C. Howe, which was occupied by him during the winter months and a portion of the following summer. His father's family and his own family later came here to live. In the first winter there were very few people residing at the new town of Spirit Lake and among the number just four women - Mrs. O. C. Howe, Mrs. R. Kingman, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Thurston. In fact, there were very few settlements in northwestern Iowa and those that were here were miles apart, Estherville being about the closest to Spirit Lake.

A small sawmill was put into operation in the fall of 1857 and Howe managed by much persuasion to obtain the first lumber turned out here, which he used in the construction of his cabin. Kingman procured a concession upon the old fort and after some remodeling turned it into a hotel for the accommodation of the travelers through this part of the country.

The first frame house in Spirit Lake was constructed by R. U. Wheelock, which structure was also the first of its kind north of Sioux City and west of the east fork of the Des Moines River. During the same season of the year B. F. Parmenter, O. C. Howe, Henry Schuneman and Dr. James Ball constructed frame houses, as did A. Kingman. It is said by one writer that Parmenter afterward sold his house for a hundred ratskins. West of town a home was built by A. D. Arthur, later becoming known as the Barkman house. Other frame houses were built that summer by George E. Spencer and Miller & Jones, the mill firm. Leonidas Congleton came into possession of the Spencer house, which he used until 1863.


In the spring and summer of 1858 quite a number of new settlers came into the town. A spirited Fourth of July celebration was held that year, attended by almost all of the pioneers within walking or lriving distance. R. U. Wheelock, C. F. Hill, R. A. Smith, R. Kingman and other gentlemen helped to plan the meeting, and altogether it was a great success. R. A. Smith, one of the participants, writes: "Lumber was brought from the mill for a platform and seats. It didn't require a great deal as the crowd was not expected to be large. O. C. Howe presided and Doctor Prescott delivered the oration, his eloquence, versatility and tact as a speaker never being more manifest than on that occasion. He was not notified until the evening before that he was expected to speak, and yet his oration would compare favorably with any that has ever been heard here since. The choir, composed of J. D. Howe, R. U. Wheelock and F. A. Blake and Misses Sarah and Mary Howe and Belle Wheelock would command respect and attention anywhere and their rendition of the old patriotic songs was applauded to the echo. The Star Spangled Banner, Red, White and Blue, Uncle Sam's Farm and other favorites were given to the enthusiastic and delighted audience, after which U. A. Smith read the Declaration of Independence. At the close of the exercises in the grove, all parties repaired to the old fort, which had been vacated by the soldiers a few days before, and was again being fitted up for the accommodation of the public by Mr. Kingman. This was made to do duty as a dining room and he and his wife soon had ready a repast that, considering the surroundings and the difficulties in the way of procuring necessary material, would have been a credit to any locality. It goes without saying that the repast that followed was keenly appreciated and hugely enjoyed by all participants. When the repast was over some time was spent in toasts and responses, impromptu remarks and sly hits, which were participated in by the crowd at large and tended much to increase the enjoyment of the occasion. One noticeable feature of all the social events of the early days, was the absence of conventionalities, the hearty good will and good fellowship which characterized the relations of one with another. As evening came on seats and tables were removed and old and young proceeded to enjoy the first dance in Dickinson County, Daniel Caldwell and R. U. Wheelock furnishing the music. Good church members, whose dancing days had been over for years, threw aside their scruples and prejudices for the time being and joined in the general hilarity and 'all went merry as a marriage bell.' "


The first store to be constructed as such was a house built in the fall of 1858 by A. Kingman, who sold it to A. D. Arthur who, in turn, moved it into town. W. B. Brown and Harvey Frantz fixed it up as a store building. M. M. Mattheson, a Mankato, Minnesota, Norwegian, was the first man to place a stock of goods on sale in Spirit Lake. This was in the fall of 1859. He moved his stock to Yankton, South Dakota, in 1863. G. Blaekert then occupied the store until 1867, when he disposed of it to George C. Bellows. It was then moved and turned into a shoe shop.

The first hotel in Dickinson County was erected at Spirit Lake in the summer of 1859 by R. Kingman. This is excepting the use of the old fort as a hostelry. This was the only hotel building then between Sioux City and Mankato, Minnesota. Kingman named his hotel the Lake View House. After the Minnesota massacre Kingman contracted a case of "pedes frigidi" and sold out to Joseph Thomas of Jackson, Minnesota. The latter operated the hotel for about two years, enjoying a good patron age all the time. He sold it in 1864 to J. H. Johnston, who ran it until 1867, when he sold to Thomas Wycoff, who moved it to the site of the Crandall House and afterwards sold to Orlando Crandall. It was afterwards moved to make room for the Crandall House and was later demob. ished. The Antlers Hotel, the leading hostelry in Spirit Lake at the present time, was opened to the public on June 28, 1902.


The town site question was in the early days a troublesome matter. The facts of this case are well written by It. A. Smith, who knew the details of the transaction and sets them forth as follows:

"The fact has already been referred to that the government surveys had not been made when the town site was selected. Indeed, they were not wholly completed and the plats filed in the local land office until about January, 1860. Of course, nothing could be done towards securing the title to the town site until after the plats were filed. This was nearly three years after the site was first selected. The ardor of the first projectors of the scheme had cooled off materially by that time, and none of them cared to advance the $1.25 per acre necessary to secure the title, and so the matter was allowed to drag along year after year.

"The writings that had been given for lots were not worth the paper they were written upon. People bought and sold and trafficed in the buildings, but so far as town lots were concerned, they were a standing joke, a laughing stock and a byword.

"Matters pertaining to the title of the town site drifted along in this uncertain and slipshod way until some time in 1864, when Mr. Barkman conceived the project of claiming it under the provisions of the preemption law and proving it up as a private claim. Other parties had considered the same scheme previous to that time, but so far none had cared to undertake it. Mr. Barkman made his claim sometime during the summer of 1864, and proved it up June 10, 1865. It may be well to remember right here that none of the land in either Center Grove or Spirit Lake townships was ever offered at public sale or was ever subject to sale by private entry, and the only way title could be acquired at that time was to prove up either under the pre-emption law, the homestead law, or the town site law. The pre-emption law was the least trouble, provided there were no contestants. The other townships of the county had previously been offered at public sale and were for several years subject to sale at private entry, but these two townships were left out. Barman's claim comprised the east half of the southwest quarter, the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter, and the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 4, Township 99, Range 36, and contained one hundred and seventy five and thirty five one hundredths acres, which was one half of the original town site. Of the other half, the northwest one fourth of the northeast one fourth was claimed by G. Blackert, as a part of his homestead, and the balance, consisting of the west one half of the southeast one fourth and the south one fourth of the southwest one fourth was taken by Joseph Currier and proved up January 1, 1867.

"As before stated, Mr. Barkman obtained title to this June 10, 1865, but it was nearly live years after this his first survey and plat were made. The survey and plat covered but eighty acres. The southeast one fourth of the northwest one fourth and the northeast one fourth of the southwest one fourth of Section 4, and was made by Emmet F. Hill sometime in 1870. This plat had been filed, but not recorded, and was lost at the burning of the courthouse in November, 1871 (correction). At the next term of court Mr. Barman procured from the judge an order authorizing him to file for record a copy, the original having been destroyed, which was done.

"Previous to proving up his claim, Mr. Barkman had promised those having interests in the town site that in consideration of their not putting any obstacles in the way of his securing title, he would deed to them without further consideration the premises to which they laid claim or to which they were entitled. This part of the bargain was honestly kept, and those having buildings on the town site received title to the lots on which they were located. It was in fulfillment of this promise that the county received title to the block on which the courthouse is located, and the school district the one on which the schoolhouse stands.

"Somehow the idea has gained credence of late that Mr. Barkman deeded the courthouse block to the county in consideration of being released from the old swamp land contract, of which he was one of the assignees, and that he be allowed to make a new contract whereby all of the swamp land should come to him. Now this is a mistake. The old swamp land contract had nothing to do with the title to the courthouse lot. Mr. Barkman had nothing to do with the town site when the courthouse was built, and it was not until after the town site was abandoned by its original projectors that he conceived the idea of proving it up as a private claim. He had not observed the details of the preemption law very carefully and had any determined opposition been made could not have proved up, and he was only too glad to agree to any reasonable proposition that those living on the land to which he sought to perfect title saw fit to make. He had never lived on the land at all. There were others who had lived on it for years, and had any of them offered any serious opposition he could not have perfected his title, and for that reason he promised to protect the rights of all parties, and to carry out the agreements previously made by the original projectors relative to streets and public grounds, which promise was kept to the satisfaction of all concerned.

"As before stated, Mr. Barkman proved up his claim on the 10th of June, 1865, and the patent to the land issued April 2, 1866, but it was not until the summer of 1870 that the first survey and plat of the town site were made. Mr. Barkman, in deeding to those having prior interests in the town site, did not in all cases make his descriptions by lots and blocks, but deeded in patches of different dimensions describing them by metes and bounds. This accounts for so many additions, some of them being on ground covered by the original plat. The measurements of these tracts were often carelessly made, which had been a source of much perplexity in adjusting lines and corners and determining the rights of parties. As regards the southwest one fourth of the northeast one fourth of the section, Mr. Barkman never laid that out into lots and blocks at all, but sold it off in patches of from one to ten acres. These tracts were afterwards laid out and platted by their respective owners as additions to the town. It was in this way that Rice's, Crandall's, Whitlock's, Shroyer's and several other additions on that forty were made."

It has been noted before that the town of Spirit Lake suffered a great decline during the years of the Civil War. By 1865 the town was in a miserable condition. Many of the settlers who had enlisted in the army went to other fields when mustered out instead of returning to Dickinson County, and those that did return brought little of progressive character with them.

The old Lake View House was moved from the north end of town to the future site of the Crandall House, now the site of the Antlers Hotel. George C. Bellows at this time also opened a shoe shop on the later site of the Stevens Building. The store was next occupied by a drug store, in charge of H. C. Nims. This is said to have been the first drug store in Dickinson County, although there had been drug dealers in the county prior to this time. George Haskins succeeded Nims and held the property until 1876, when the building was moved away to make room for the Beacon Block. In the former Mr. Snyder opened up the first banking business in the county, in conjunction with William M. Smith. The business of banking was formally begun on February 1, 1877.

In 1869 a restaurant building was constructed by Roscoe Brown, but shortly afterward sold by him to A. W. Osborn, who utilized it as a residence after moving it down town. Dan Bellows also erected a building to be used as a saloon. E. P. Ring was a later proprietor of this grog shop. George Edwards purchased the structure, moved it to the rear, and it was used as a dining hall for the Minnie Waukon Hotel which he built in 1874.


A new era of building commenced in Spirit Lake about 1869, when increased numbers of homesteaders came into the county with the purpose of settling upon the open prairie. Daniel Stone constructed a concrete store on the northeast corner of Hill and Lake streets, where A. M. Johnson first opened up a general merchandise business, in the year 1870. E. Palmer and Henry Barkman erected a building in 1870, which was afterward known as the postoffice building. Palmer placed a hardware and agricultural implement stocks in this building.

The first blacksmith shop in Spirit Lake was established by Jemerson & Chisholm in December, 1870. In 1874 A. M. Johnson abandoned the concrete block which he first occupied and took up quarters in a new building on the corner north of the courthouse. The next building was that built by Philip Doughty in the summer of 1873. It was sixty by twenty five feet and two stories in height. Doughty occupied the main part with a general store, which later passed into other hands. It was known as the New York Store, the Variety Store, and was finally moved away to make room for the Stevens Block.

In the spring of 1877 T. J. Francis and S. P. Middleton built a blacksmith and machine shop. A. L. Sawyer and P. S. Mott first started in the livery business in 1874. Johnston & Gilbert succeeded them and also had charge of the Spirit Lake and Sibley and the Spirit Lake and Worthington stage lines. J. F. Dare was the first man to enter the furniture and undertaking business here. The first lumber yards were started by F. W. Barron and D. L. Riley in the early '80s. In 1882 J. A. Ellis built the Dimond Store and started into business, but soon sold out to John Dimond. Henry Baxter bought the old postoffice building and a few other structures and moved them together, calling the combination the Baxter House. On June 1, 1882, the Lake Park House was opened to the public.

The first brick business block in Spirit Lake was erected by E. M. Betzer on the northeast corner of Hill and Lake streets. This was the start of better building operations in the town. In 1893 B. F. Stevens, of St. Louis, decided to construct a brick block in the city upon a large scale, choosing the northwest corner of Hill and Lake streets for a site. The property was owned by Mrs. Abbie Rice, Marcus Snyder, William Hayward, F. F. Phippen and Mr. Ashby and was purchased by Stevens. The property then included the Beacon Block, the Variety Store and the Snyder Building, the first named being torn down and the others moved to different sites. The block was made ready for occupancy by February 1, 1894, and the first to occupy the new structure were: the First National Bank; Bergman & Farnham, drugs and groceries; E. C. Renken, drugs and stationery; John Dimond, general store; Copley & Blackert, hardware. The opera house in this block was opened on the night of February 25, 1894, with "The Galley Slave," played by the Woodward Theatre Company. The Masonic and Knights of Pythias Orders occupied the lodge rooms in this block.

In the spring of 1894 A. M. Johnson moved away his store building from the corner north of the court house and erected a new and modern brick structure. The store was opened in its new quarters, the same as at present, on the first of December, 1894. In 1898 Lovesee and Hurd erected a modern and fully equipped steam flouring mill.


Believing that the town of Spirit Lake had grown to sufficient size and importance the people of the community in 1879 decided to incorporate it as a city. This was accomplished according to the law in October, 1879. and the following first officers were elected: A. B. Funk, mayor; W. F. Pillsbury, recorder; A. M. Johnson, J. A. Doughty, W. H. Bailey, T. L. Twiford, J. T. Whitlock, Henry Baxter, trustees.

The mayors who have served since this first election have been: J. A. Doughty, J. W. Cory, B. B. Van Steenburg, Silas Northey, A. W. Osborne, E. M. Betzer, E. D. Carlton, J. B. Stair, A. F. Bergman, V. A. Arnold, William Hayward, A. W. Osborne, C. L. Stoddard, E. G. Fitz, John W. Hartman, C. S. Arthur and Oscar Lindquist.

In the matter of public improvements, Spirit Lake has not made rapid progress. Electricity was first used in the town for lighting in 1894, when B. F. Stevens erected a plant, primarily to light his new building, but also to supply current to local consumers and to the city. The current was first turned on February 5, 1894. Six years later he presented the power house and heating and lighting plant to the city. Not until the last year or so has Spirit Lake been adequately provided with water facilities. A pumping station and elevated water tank now supply sufficient water for the city's use and for fire protection. Sewerage is a recent improvement, but paved streets have yet to come. Boulevard lights were placed on the downtown streets in 1912.


The first bank in Dickinson County was established by Marcus Snyder and William M. Smith and opened its doors for business January 1, 1877. Snyder later bought out Smith's interest in the institution and named it the Spirit Lake Bank. The bank then went into the hands of Duff, Pearsall & Company, and later became the Dickinson County Bank, the Dickinson County Savings Bank, and is now conducted under the name of the Spirit Lake National Bank.

In the summer of 1877 B. B. Van Steenburg, the elder, erected a small building on the north side of Hill Street, which was afterward occupied by his bank. This bank is now the First National. This institution has grown until now it is the principal banking house in Dickinson County. The officers are: C. E. Carey, president; O. S. Jones, vice president; Fred W. Jones, vice president; G. H. Rozema, cashier; L. A. Price, assistant cashier. The capital stock of the First National is $50,000; the surplus about $30,000; and the deposits average nearly $500,000.

The Spirit Lake National Bank is now officered by the following: B. B. Van Steenburg, president; Marcus Snyder and H. H. Buck, vice presidents; G. C. Taylor, cashier; A. D. Chisholm and Harry Kuhn, assistant cashiers. The capital stock is $50,000; the surplus approximately $25,000; and the deposits in the neighborhood of $350,000.

The Farmers & Merchants Bank of Spirit Lake was opened for business on April 3, 1916. This bank was organized by Estherville business men. John P. Kirby is the president and B. A. Gronstal the cashier. The capital stock is $10,000.


In the chapter on early settlement in this history of Dickinson County something is said of the early mail routes to and from the settlement at Spirit Lake and difficulty of transporting mail matter across the prairies. It is needless to repeat this description. The office at Spirit Lake was established in February, 1858, and R. U. Wheelock was made the first postmaster, a position which he kept until he left the county in 1863. His leave taking was not expected to be permanent, consequently B. F. Parmenter superintended the office in his name during his absence; the office was kept at his residence near the site of the Presbyterian Church. In two years Parmenter moved to Boone, Iowa, and turned the few duties of the office over to G. Blackert, who was the next commissioned postmaster. The office was then kept in his residence on the later Carlton residence site. Blacker kept the office until 1869, when he resigned, and was succeeded by Eben. Palmer. Palmer kept the position until 1883, when the office was made a presidential one. Following him, these men have filled the position of Spirit Lake postmaster: A. B. Funk, A. F. Heath, E. L. Brownell, A. F. Bergman, Joseph A. Smith, A. F. Bergman and G. W. Stapleton. M. C. Nelson is the present incumbent.


The most disastrous windstorm ever experienced in Dickinson County occurred on May 3, 1905. At seven o'clock in the evening the fury of the gale struck the city and destroyed buildings and property of fully $50,000 value. The Spirit Lake flouring mill and the Rock Island depot were more seriously damaged than any other buildings in town. Several people were injured by falling timbers and debris, but fortunately no one was killed. Many miraculous escapes were reported from the country districts, where great loss was suffered also among the live stock.

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