History of Center Township, Fayette County, IA
From: Past and Present of Fayette County, Iowa
B. F. Bowen & Company
Indianapolis, Indiana 1910


This township was organized on the 13th day of February, 1858, by proclamation of the county judge, Hon. J. W. Rogers. The organizing election was announced at the same time and by the same authority, to occur on the first Monday in April, following. The officers elected at that time held only until the next succeeding general election, which occurred in October. There were seventeen voters at the organizing election, and Elijah Hartsough, David Baer and John M. Proctor were chosen judges and James Orr and John Dunham, clerks of the election. They were sworn by C. A. Haywood, deputy sheriff of the county. Elijah Hartsough, David Baer and Thomas J. Llewellyn were elected trustees; James Orr, clerk; Harvey S. Brunson, justice of the peace, and J. F. Lyman and S. Snyder, constables. These were the organizing officers, some of whom were re-elected at the general election in October. Eli Mulnix succeeded H. S. Brunson as justice of the peace, and was also elected township clerk, vice James Orr. A second justice of the peace was also chosen in the person of Harrison Augir. Elijah Hartsough, J. M. Proctor and David E. Snyder were elected township trustees. These were really the first officers of the township who served the full term of one year.

The settlement of this township began in 185o, but Thomas Woodle (later county judge) selected a location at Gamble's Grove in 1849. He was accompanied by Thomas Douglass and Thomas B. Sturgis, who located near him. Woodle entered his land in section 13, on the 13th of January, 1850, and located on it the following spring. Philip Herzog entered land in this township soon after Woodle's entry was made. Thomas D. Robertson entered land here in 1851; J. C. Higginson, Robert Alexander and Harrison Augir, in 1852; John Miller, John T. Webb, David S. Wilson, Addison F. Stillwell, George S. Murray, William S. Murray, Reuben C. Hale, Jacob Snyder, Lyman Morgan, Allen Sparks, Hezekiah B. Bussey, George Clouse, Laurena E. Barber, Jacob D. Folmer, Owen Sykes, and a few others entered land in this township in 1853; Abraham Baer, Thomas J. Llewellyn, Caleb Potwin, James H. Proctor, Stephen D. Helms, Otis Baker, Alarson Hamlin, Robert S. Adams, William L. Coleman, Elijah Hartsough and some whose names cannot be secured, came in 1854; John and Christopher Baer, Cornelius Frye, Clark Roberts and Benjamin Sykes, were among those who took up residences here in 1855.

Thomas Woodle did not remain long in the township, though he secured the establishment of the postoffice at Gamble's Grove, and was the first postmaster there. The office was established in September, 1851, and discontinued in May, 1852. At about the last named date, Mr. Woodle sold his home to Frederick Dunham, and removed from the township, never to return.

John D. Dooley, who was township clerk and justice of the peace in Center township for many years, is authority for some of the following statements: "The first white child born in the township was D. Marion Hartsough, born October 28, 1854. The first wedding was that of Eli Mulnix and Desdemonia Dunham, in 1853. The first death was Mary, daughter of Martin Dunham, in 1852. The first school house was built in District No. 1, about 1859, and has always been known as the Dunham's Grove School House." The first and only church outside of the village of Randalia was built by the Methodists in the south part of the township, and is known as the Fairview church. It was built in 1877, and though it was erected to accommodate the members of the Methodist Episcopal faith, it has never been restricted entirely to their use. All religious denominations have access to it, and it has been one of the few long continuing country churches: Rev. H. S. Brunson delivered the first gospel sermon in the township.

This township is traversed by two railroads, the Decorah branch of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific passing through it north and south, and the Davenport and St. Paul branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul passes diagonally across the northeast corner. The first mentioned takes a due north and south course, cutting off the east two sections until it reaches Randalia, where the line assumes a northeasterly direction, passing out of the township on section 2. These railroads (built in the seventies) had much to do with the early development of Center township. Previous to their coming there was much unimproved land in the township, portions of which was considered as unavailable for general farming purposes. The prairie land is quite level, and was wet and slouchy, and, though affording excellent pasturage, there was not then enough demand for such to render it profitable. But since the advent of the railroads and their stimulating influence, Center township has taken an upward trend, vacant lands have been settled upon and improved, and farms then partially improved and cultivated have been brought to a high state of improvement. The sloughs have dried up, and the once boggy wet land has been reclaimed and rendered the most fertile of corn land, and that, too, without adopting a general system of tiling or ditching, but through gradual encroachment as the adjacent fields were cultivated. There are many fine farms in Center township which equal in value, acre for acre and situation considered, any farms in the county.

This "prairie" township, like all the others, is not entirely devoid of timber, though it could not boast of the quality. Four sections along the Volga, and a few scattering natural groves at other points, comprise the timber land of the township. The southeastern corner, extending over into Westfield township, has some good timber, but the greater part of it is scrubby and not of the best varieties.


In early times there was much controversy over the location of the county seat, West Union being always successful in the contests with other towns. But the defeated candidates, after giving up their ow n contests, decided that in fairness to all, the seat of justice should be located at the geographical center of the county. This point being in Center township, or to be exact, on the line between Center and Westfield townships, an effort was made in 1852 to locate the county seat at "the geographical center," and legislative assistance was sought to bring the matter to a focus. But owing to the very strong opposition to this procedure, the original purpose had to be abandoned, and the General Assembly appointed three commissioners from as many different adjoining counties, who located the county seat on the southwest quarter of section 17, Westfield township, subject to the approval of the voters at the next general election. The proposition was rejected by a majority of ninety five, hence the aspirations of the "Center" were not realized.


The schools of Center township are organized on the rural independent district plan, that is, each school is a corporate body and the board of three directors has entire control of all school matters within their districts. There are eight schools thus organized in the township, and one independent town district at Randalia. Of the eight districts, four had nine months' school during the last year, two had eight and a half months and one had eight. Teachers' wages ranged from thirty two dollars and twenty two cents (the lowest) to forty dollars per month. One male teacher was employed at thirty five dollars per month, the balance of the teaching force being females. Of two hundred twenty four pupils of school age in the eight districts, one hundred fifty four were enrolled in the schools, with an average attendance of nearly thirteen in each district. The smallest school in the township is No. 4, with eight pupils between the ages of five and twenty one years. No. 2 is the largest, with a school population of forty six, and an averaged daily attendance of twenty four. The school houses in these districts are valued at four thousand six hundred ninety dollars, with school apparatus valued at four hundred fifty eight dollars, and five hundred twenty two volumes in the district libraries.


These prosperous villages are the outgrowth of the coming of the railroads, the former being situated on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, and the latter at the junction of this road with the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul.

Randalia is located on the east half of the southeast quarter of section 15, which was entered by Frederick Boyes April 12, 1855. It became the property of J. N. B. Elliott in 1868, and on the 6th of June, 1872, he deeded the right of way to the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Minnesota Railroad Company, and sold the remainder to Randall Brothers in the fall of 1873. The village plat was surveyed by P. F. Randall, and was filed for record December 9, 1874. A. J. F. Randall commenced the erection of a two story building in July, 1874, this being designed as a business place and dwelling on second floor. This was the first building erected on the town plat, and it has been continuously occupied as a store building and postoffice since the latter was established. The first stock of goods placed in this building was owned by C. Hurlbut of Fayette, opened in the spring of 1875. But the name of Randall is inseparably connected with the town, and A. J. F. Randall has been a continuous business man there longer than any other person. The second building was the Randalia Hotel, erected by N. B. Underwood, who was also a merchant in the town. This was opened as a hotel in the late fall of 1874. It has had a continuous existence as such, under several different proprietors.

In the days of almost universal wheat growing among the farmers, Randalia was an excellent market place, as being intermediate between the larger towns, and also because of having several buyers there who believed that "competition is the life of trade." There were at one time four warehouses operated by different firms of produce dealers, and their traffic extended to almost everything raised on the farms. The town is still a good market point, and some good stores of general merchandise, stocks of farm machinery, mechanical shops, etc., are maintained by progressive business men. Everything usually found in towns of this size can be found in the thriving village of Randalia. The railroad was completed to this point, from the north, in August, 1873. The postoffice was established in October, 1874, with A. J. F. Randall as the first postmaster, a position which he held for many years.


The first religious services in the new town were conducted at the school house, by Rev. Moulton, in 1876, the school house having just been completed. This building served for a public meeting house for some years. The Methodist Episcopal church, which had been dormant for some time, was reorganized in the autumn of 1877, with seventeen members, and services were conducted for a number of years by Rev. Lyman Hull, who met the people once in two weeks at the school house. This organization has been maintained and quite regular services are held, often under the preaching of students from the Upper Iowa University, but in later years by regular pastors appointed to the circuit. The history of this church and its membership appears more fully in the history of the Methodist Episcopal church of Fayette county, by Hon. C. B. Hughes, elsewhere in this work.

A Baptist church was incorporated February 1, 1878, and an effort was made to build a house of worship the same year. The membership was quite strong for a few years, being served by the pastor of the church at West Union. This also is more fully treated in the article on the Baptist church of Fayette county, by F. Y. Whitmore.


When the town was incorporated the limits of its school district coincided with the corporate limits, thus creating a small independent town district upon which the burdens of proper school facilities were liable to exceed the limit of taxation established by law. But the adjacent territory belonged in rural independent districts, the taxpayers in which guarded their territory with jealous eyes. The patrons of these adjacent schools also objected to distorting their districts into irregular shapes to accommodate the town, and considerable controversy arose, the matter being finally settled in the courts, and the boundaries of the Randall district enlarged and established as at present. The record of the final proceedings in this matter, and the final establishment of the school district, was filed with the county auditor on the 18th of December, 1897. A school of ten grades was established, and an additional room provided for the teaching of the sixty three children in the district. The school house is valued at one thousand five hundred dollars; the average compensation of the two female teachers during the last year was forty seven dollars and fifty cents, and the duration of the school, nine months. A regular system of graduation is installed, and the school is fully on a par with other schools of like conditions.

Randalia has one bank, an Odd Fellows lodge, Grand Army of the Republic post and Women's Relief Corps, besides several fraternal insurance organizations, and is the present headquarters of the Fayette County Farmers' Mutual Fire Association, that being the home of the secretary, J. E. Holmes.

The business men of the town are progressive, public spirited citizens who have an abiding faith in the future of the town.


With the building of the Davenport and St. Paul branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad to the crossing of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern at this point, a depot and transfer switch was established, and a man placed in charge. This was in 1878, and the depot was the only house in "Donnan" for several years, if we except one or two nearby farm houses. But within comparatively recent years there has been quite a building boom at this ideal location, and several residences, stores and a hotel are the outgrowth, and the little hamlet has found a prominent place on the map of Fayette county. Some well to do retired farmers have taken an interest in the development of the town, with gratifying results. The future of Donnan, at the crossing of the two railroads which traverse the county from southeast to northwest, and from southwest to northeast, may easily be predicted; and it is not too much to say that it will eventually outstrip its near by rivals in the race for trade and transportation. The village is situated in a splendid farming community, with no rival town, except Randalia, nearer than six or seven miles.

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