History of Grand River Township, Madison County, IA
From: History of Madison County, Iowa
And it's people.
By: Herman A. Mueller
S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chicago 1915


This township was erected by the County Court on the 1st day of March, 1858, and is the southwest subdivision of the county, being bounded on the north and east by Webster and Monroe townships, respectively, on the south by Union County, and. on the west by Adair County. Its surface is mostly rolling but there is a great deal of choice prairie land in this section of the county. It originally had a large body of heavy timber on the Grand River, which is the principal stream traversing its domain. These water courses harbor the timber and they are so narrow and deep that they are hardly visible from the high prairies.

James Nelson was the first permanent settler in the township, coming in 1852. He built a log house on his claim. One of the linn logs was split so as to leave a large crack and this was the only provision for lighting the habitation. This house stood on what was later known as the Marley place.

Soon after Nelson had located, S. B. Barker, A. J. Hastie, Ransom Moon, J. C. Barker, J. F. Barker and William McPherson settled in the same locality. J. F. Barker bought the Nelson claim and the little 12 by 14 cabin for some time sheltered the families of S. B. Barker, A. J. Hastie, J. C. Barker and Lewis Bragg. It also became a hostelry and its latchstring was always on the outside to bid welcome to the traveler. The house at times was so crowded that "when bedtime came the first family would take the back part of the cabin and so continue filling up by families until the limit was reached. The young men slept in the wagons outside. In the morning those nearest the door rose first and went outside to dress. Meals were served, on the hind end of 'a wagon and consisted of corn bread, buttermilk and fat pork, and occasionally coffee to take away the morning chill. On Sundays, for a change, they had bread made of wheat 'tread out' by horses on the ground, cleaned with a sheet and pounded by hand. This was the best the most fastidious could obtain, and then only one day in seven."

Ransom Moon was the immediate follower of Nelson into the township, coming in February, 1852, and taking up a claim in the timber on "Moon Branch," where he built a pole cabin 12 by 14 feet square. In the spring of that year he moved to a town near the center of the township, where he cultivated a farm and improved it by setting out groves of trees, orchards, building fences and erecting necessary farm outbuildings. He became one of the substantial business men of the community and lived on the old homestead many years.

Alvin Greer located here in March, 1852, and took a claim on a beautiful point of land between Grand River and Barker Branch. However, failing to secure the money with which to make his entry, his claim was "jumped," which compelled him to seek another locality, his choice being on the edge of Adair County. Greer met his death while serving his country in the Civil war.

Probably no man among the first settlers in the township accomplished more toward settling and improving the community than Samuel Barker, a Baptist minister, a man of means and great energy of character. With his three sons, O. W. Barker, J. C. Barker and Elihu Barker, and his brother, J. C. Barker, together with A. J. Hastie, the elder Barker arrived in the township in May, 1853, and located in what became known as the Barker settlement. Samuel Barker entered 2,000 acres of land in the township and became one of its most valued citizens. His son, Elihu, served with distinction as a soldier in the Civil war and later took up his residence in Arkansas, where he became quite prominent in state affairs. O. W. and J. C. took up claims for themselves, improved them and long lived here as leading citizens. O. W. held various township offices, among which was that of supervisor, serving on the first board elected. Mr. Barker opened the first road in the township, and his brother, Capt. E. G., enlisted in the First Iowa Cavalry and served 2 1/2 years. He afterwards enlisted in the infantry service. Was county treasurer two terms.

A. J. Hastie, who came with the Barkers, was one of the substantial men of the township, becoming one of its principal stock dealers. It is said that when Hastie put up his first cabin, he and his assistant, J. H. Marley, found the work very difficult and by the middle of an afternoon, having lifted logs until they were utterly worn out, were ready to abandon the preconceived idea of completing the work that day. About the time they had concluded to leave off from their labors a party of engineers in the employ of a proposed air line railroad from Clinton to Council Bluffs approached them. Upon learning of the intended improvement they were greatly cheered, not only by that, but at the time it was current gossip that the contents of an eight gallon keg in possession of the engineers might have done its part toward creating somewhat of the exhilaration the settlers exhibited before the departure of their guests.

John H. Bragg, James Reason and Hiram Pierce settled in the township as early as 1853 and not long thereafter came Philip Osborn, J. J. Greer, E. Pindell, William Kivitt and John Grandfield.

Wesley Cochran, an Ohioan, first came to Madison County in 1851. He returned to his old home in Illinois and afterwards settled in the township permanently, accumulating several hundred acres of land.

J. H. Marley was born in Indiana in 1832. He located in this township in April, 1853. He engaged in farming and stock raising. Mr. Marley was one of the prominent men of the community, held various offices and about 1878 was elected as a member of the board of supervisors.

J. Thomas immigrated from Ohio to Iowa in 1854 and located in this township with his bride of a few months.

H. C. Wright was a native of North Carolina. With his father he immigrated to Indiana in 1840 and came to this county in 1854, locating on section 15, Grand River Township. Mr. Wright enlisted in the Fourth Iowa Infantry and reenlisted as a veteran in the Civil war.

W. M. Kivitt was a North Carolinian who immigrated to Indiana in 1831 with his parents. He arrived in Madison County and this township in 1855 and became one of the leading farmers and citizens of the community.

W. O. Lee, when first coming here in 1855, occupied part of his time in teaching the children of the neighborhood. He developed into one of the substantial farmers of the community and in 186o married Angeline Barker, a daughter of one of the pioneers. Mr. Lee was a veteran of the Civil war.

J. C. Grandficld was a settler in the township of the year 1856. He was a native of England and arrived in this country in 1855.

A. Bonham, with his wife and family, left the State of Ohio in 1857, and coming to Madison County located on section 23, Grand River Township. He raised a large family of children and became one of the useful and prominent men of this community. Among his children were D. Bonham, Mary, Benjamin, Hannah, W. G. and Samuel.

J. H. Mack, who afterwards became one of the leading physicians of the county, was born in Guernsey County, Ohio, in 1837, settled in Indiana and Illinois and from the latter state came to this county in 1858, making part of the journey up the river to Des Moines and landing at the mouth of Coon River. He came on foot from Des Moines to Grand River Township, where he engaged extensively in farming and accumulated large bodies of land. Doctor Mack enlisted in the Forty seventh Iowa Infantry in the Civil war. Returning to Grand River he took up the practice of his profession.

When the township was first placed under the hands of the white men it offered to them an abundance of wild fruits such as crabapples, plums, cherries and the like. Within a few years thereafter many orchards had been planted and were producing bountiful crops of apples, pears and cherries. There was also plenty of wild game in the timber, such as deer, elk, turkeys and smaller animals, which provided liberally days of sport for the skilful huntsman of that day, and added largely to the larder of his good wife. It is also related that wild hogs were found in the timber, long legged brutes, wild and fleet as a deer. Their presence here was attributed to the Mormons, who had lost them while wintering at Mount Pizgah, in Union County, in 1847.

Other matters of interest might be spoken of concerning this township, but it is to a great extent the same as the general history of the county,which finds a place elsewhere in this volume and its companion volume. It is sufficient to say that in all respects Grand River Township is a very good one in which to find a permanent home, for its farms are at a high state of improvement and its territory has all the modern advantages, good schools, churches, well kept roads, telephonic communication and daily mail service by way of rural delivery routes. The community is also favored and blessed by the location within its borders of one of the best little trading points in Madison County.


This little trading point is about eighteen miles southwest of Winterset, and is on the divide constituting a water shed between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. It is surrounded by a splendid scope of country and is in the midst of a very fertile farming and stock raising region. Grand River, worthy of its name, wends its way closely by the town, and in an early day not only supplied water power for milling and other purposes but upon its banks stretch bodies of timber provided by Nature for the uses of mankind.

Macksburg was laid out on sections 9, to, 15 and 16, March 23, 1874, for the owners of the land, W. O. Lee, J. H. Mack, E. G. Barker, A. J. Hastie and John D. Love; R. A. Patterson, surveyor. The name adopted is taken from one of the prominent early settlers of Grand River Township, whose high character, indomitable energy and enterprise are chiefly responsible for the establishment of this one of Madison County's commercial centers. Dr. J. H. Mack will long be remembered for his own sterling characteristics and Macksburg will further serve to perpetuate his name in local history.

Near the town site of Macksburg a postoffice was established in 1863 and given the classic name of Venus. A. J. Hastier, a pioneer of the township, was installed as postmaster, and the office continued in existence until 1870, when it was abolished for the reason that no one could be found to assume the onerous (?) duties of the establishment imposed by the Government. However, the office was reestablished in 1871 and when Macksburg was founded the office was removed to the new town and given its name, with Dr. J. H. Mack in charge, and from this time on Macksburg began to grow and soon assumed the proportions of a village that gave evidence of one day being able to take its place in the front rank, as a business and shipping point.

John H. Marley and J. D. Love, both of whom were at one time in charge of the postoffice, were first in the field as merchants and were active in increasing the interests of the town and its uphuilding. Other mercantile establishments and industries secured a footing in the "burg" and today there are a number of business enterprises that call to the place a class of people well equipped to purchase goods suitable to their means, which is saying a good deal, as they come from farming districts surrounding the town that cannot be surpassed for fruitfulness and prosperity anywhere in the State of Iowa.

In the center of the town is a block of ground which was a donation from Dr. J. H. Mack for park purposes. It is a pretty spot and on its four sides are ranged most of the business houses. The park was originally the site of a schoolhouse and was secured by Doctor Mack by trading other property for it. Mention of the schools will be found in another chapter.

While Macksburg does not have in her confines a printing press, her business interests, schools, churches and local gossip find a place in the Blacksburg Record, a five column quarto, established in 1911. The paper is edited by Mrs. Shell and published at Lorimer.

With its bank, several general stores, among which is also the postoffice, implement concerns, lumberyards, drug and drygood stores, livery stables and garages, elevator and recently acquired railroad facilities, Blacksburg continues to retain her place in the county's commercial affairs and socially the town is considered par excellence.


The village of Macksburg was incorporated as a town, November 5, 1876. Dr. J. H. Mack, M. Osborn, J. D. Love; J. D. Rawls and W. O. Lee were appointed commissioners to provide for and call an election, which was held at A. J. Mack's store. The judges of election were A. J. Mack, W. O. Lee, M. Osborn; clerks, George Dudley and J. D. Love. Dr. J. H. Mack was elected the first mayor of the newly made municipality. At this time the business interests were represented in the following industries: General stores, Love, Sharp & Company, Levi Wolf; hardware, Lee & Lafler; drugs, J. J. Clark; millinery, Mrs. Mahan; insurance, W. O. Lee; carpenter, L. T. Townsend; shoes, Gray Mahan, A. Kirtland; harness, J, T. Johnson; blacksmith, H. L. Harden; wagon maker, A. Hammers; physicians, J. H. Mack, J. A. Rawls, T. M. Comuck; hotel, T. H. Gilbert.


The first bank in Macksburg was established in August, 1902, as a private concern, by L. W. McLennan, of Afton, which continued under Mr. McLennan's sole control until in April, 1903, when the Blacksburg National Bank was organized. The incorporators were L. W. McLennan, J. M. Wilson, L. T. Townsend, J. H. Mack, Cass Pindell, I. D. Harrison and Mart Rowe; and first officials, J. M. Wilson, president; J. H. Mack, vice president; E. O. Klingaman, cashier. Capital stock, $25,000.

In March, 1904, W. W. Walker succeeded to the cashiership, and in 1908, upon the death of Doctor Mack, L. T. Townsend was elected vice president by the board of directors. J. M. Wilson met an untimely and tragic death, June 21, 1910, and was succeeded in the presidency by L. T. Townsend; at the same time Mr. Harrison went into the office of vice president. The latter died in November, 1910, and Martin Rowe became vice president. Finally, Mr. Townsend disposed of his stock and Eugene Wilson, son of J. M. Wilson, was made president of the institution on February 8, 1913.

Plans have been completed for a new bank building, which will stand on the corner of North and East streets. The structure will be a one story brick and it is anticipated the new home of the bank will be ready for occupancy in the spring of 1915. Present officials: President, Eugene Wilson; vice president, Martin Rowe; cashier, W. W. Walker. Capital, $25,000; surplus, $10,000; deposits, $62,000.


The Macksburg circuit of the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in the fall of 1874 and consisted of the following places: West Branch, Pleasant View, Hebron, Pleasant Valley and Skunk Hollow. The congregations of the last four held services in schoolhouses. The Macksburg society first met for worship in the Kivitt schoolhouse and continued so to do until the church was built in 1874. The dedicatory sermon was preached by Rev. Thomas Berry and the regular pastor was Rev. A. Thornbrugh. Up to this time Macksburg was a part of the Winterset circuit. Rev. Thomas Berry became president of Simpson College and, in 1876, secured enough subscriptions to meet the quite heavy indebtedness of the society. At this time Rev. I. M. O'Flyng was the pastor. Ministers following the last named were: D. O. Stuart, September, 1878, to September, 1879; F. D. Funk, 1879-80; George M. Jeffrey, 1880-81; B. A. Fassett, 1881-82; J. H. Senseney, 1882-83; J. D. M. Buckner, 1883-84; J. H. Warfield, 1884-85; John Webb, 1885-86; A. O. Miller, 1886-87; E. E. Raymon, 1887-88; William Johnston, 1888-89; J. S. Mason, 1889-90; W. E. Harvey, 1890-92; I. M. O'Flyng, 1892-94; F. S. Bunting, 1894-96; M. H. Ellis, 1896-97; D. Martin, 1897; F. B. Dunn; 1899-1901; C. Knowl, 1901-02; J. G. Duling, 1902-04; C. E. Trueblood, 1904-06; W. C. Smith, 1906-07; J. N. Hosier, 1907-08; Ivan R. Mills, 1908-10; Roy N. Spooner, 1910-12; L. B. Shannon, 1912-14; Fred E. Whitney, 1914.

This church has a membership in the circuit of 200 and at Macksburg 76, with an average Sunday school attendance of 80. In the fall of 1914, the church building met with improvements that cost about $3,000. On the lot adjoining the church is a neat and comfortable parsonage.

West Branch society was organized in September, 855, by Rev. W. C. Williams, who delivered the first sermon at the home of Reverend Rawlins, a local preacher. The succeeding meeting of the society was held at the home of James Pearson, and the members continued to meet here the following four years, at the expiration of which the Pearson schoolhouse was requisitioned for the purpose and used until the church was built at Macksburg. This appointment was originally a part of the Afton (Union County) and Ringgold Mission and then became identified With the Afton circuit and remained therein until the formation of the Macksburg circuit in 1874.

Pleasant View society came into being in 1856, under the direction of Rev. Joel Mason. The initial leader was S. W. Mulligan and services were held at the home of Jerub Richmond until the year 1865. From here the society moved to the F. M. Walker schoolhouse, which later was purchased, remodeled and dedicated to all things sacred. The appointment originally was a part of Brooklyn, or Ohio, circuit and remained as such until 1867, when it became part of the Winterset circuit and then, in 1878, was transferred to the Macksburg circuit.

When organized, Hebron was one of the appointments in the Macksburg circuit and so remained until 1883, when the church was removed 234 miles south, to Union schoolhouse, No. 2. Rev. J. D. M. Buckner was in charge. Hebron was annexed to Orient circuit in 1889.

Skunk Hollow appointment at the time of its organization was a part of the Macksburg circuit and later was consolidated with Pleasant Valley, in order the better to build Zion Church. The union of the two charges, however, was never satisfactory.

Pleasant Valley society was organized by Rev. W. C. Williams, who preached his first sermon to this charge in the Peters' schoolhouse, where services were held the succeeding six years and then the Pragg schoolhouse was used and the society came to be known as the Pleasant Valley class. In 1881 it was consolidated with the Skunk Hollow class and Zion Church was built by them in 1881-82.

Bethesda Baptist Church was organized May 5, 1855, at the home of Alexander Barnum, who, together with his wife, was of the organizing members. The others were Hiram Pierce, the first pastor, and wife; Dr. J. H. Mack and wife, William Kivitt and wife, Ransoms Moon, John H. Bray and wife, Capt. E. G. Barker and wife, Robert and Catherine Wilson, John A. and Sarah N. Marley, Nancy A. Barker, Mary Moore, Elizabeth Rawlins. The first church was a small frame affair that was built the year of the organization, and stood on the hill one half mile southwest of town. The present building, also a frame, was erected in 1874 and cost about two thousand dollars. Its predecessor was removed to a lot subsequently purchased by L. C. McKibben.

Rev. Hiram Pierce occupied this pulpit a number of years, but how many could not be learned and the early church records were burned in 1911. During the past four or five years the church has not been supplied with a regular pastor and the church membership, at one time quite large, has been decreasing steadily, through deaths, removals and other causes. It is now anticipated that soon a resident pastor will be secured. The present number of names on the church rolls is 32.


Grand River Lodge, No. 406, I. O. O. F., was organized October 2, 1880. Macksburg Encampment, No. 186, was organized October 21, 1902, and Hawthorne Chapter, No. 350, Daughters of Rebekah, was organized October 23, 1896.

At one time the Grand Army Post was able to muster at its meetings quite a large body of veterans. But what with the ravages of time and disease, the ranks of the post have so thinned out that the organization now can scarcely muster a corporal's guard. There is still a Woman's Relief Corps that meets occasionally.

Evergreen Camp, No. 4133, M. W. A., was organized August 12, 1896.


Macksburg has a railroad. That fact is certainly worthy of mention before the closing of this chapter. Whether it always will have one or not is, as Rudyard Kipling says, another story. Be that as it may, the Creston, Winterset & Des Moines Railroad, having a line of track twenty one miles long and reaching from Creston to Macksburg, was built in 1912 and on the 31st of December of that year the first train of cars entered the town. The line has been in operation under many vicissitudes practically all its life, and it is said that unless the property is placed under different management Macksburg will be bereft of an improvement in which she took a great deal of pride.

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