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Prehistoric Chief Poweshiek Sheep Tribute Cottage Hill Country School Timeline Newspaper Billy Robinson Maps Photos Links


                      Local history is the ultimate substance of national history. -- Woodrow Wilson


One hundred fifty years ago in 1862, the Ewart story began with the arrival of the three Ewart brothers, Matt, Robert, and Robinson, to Poweshiek County from Ohio in 1866. They were agriculturists and stock raisers were born in Morrow County, OH.  They settled in section twenty of Pleasant Township. The town was established by three Ewart brothers; Robert, Thomas and Matthew according to Ned Ewart. They only allowed settlers of Irish descent so the nearby town of Grinnell grew much larger. The Ewart brothers' uncle, Jim Ewart, who came to Iowa with them, eventually moved to Missouri and lived in the Jesse James territory. Jim became the President of a local bank, but Jesse James never tried to rob it. Legend has it that this man, died a millionaire, drank a full quart of whiskey, for forty years, never missing a day.

The three brothers bought about 2500 acres of land in this section and surrounding sections. The land on which the town of Ewart was later built was included in the purchase by the Ewart family.  The town of Ewart, on the Grinnell and Montezuma Railroad, was laid out by them, and their lands surround it. The Ewart Brothers are well and popularly known throughout this district, and are numbered among the leading stock-men of the West.  From the History of Poweshiek County, IA

The early settlers of neighboring communities stated that the Ewart family accomplished more in the interest of the township than anyone else and were its most influential citizens.[1] Some even went so far as to say that the land was improved at the very moment they purchased it. Historical research reveals that the Ewart family members usually held positions of service to their community, such as participating in legislation, banking, business.

The Ewart brothers built, as a result of the international shipment of cattle all over the world, a beautiful mansion. The brothers shipped cattle; in exchange for payment they would receive some lumber, or more valuable items. These articles kept accruing until there was an item from almost every country in the world. They were incorporated in the house. It had a double row of bricks on the inside and frame on the outside, in some way or another the form of curtains, furniture, or carpeting. It soon became very famous, as it was the most outstanding and finest house in Poweshiek County. It was especially noted in the rural area as most of the pioneers were quite poor.

James McCormick, once a Ewart resident, said that the thing he remembers the most about the house was the steeples. He had been inside the house on different occasions and remembered that the house was magnificent. It had beautiful lighting fixtures, which were not exactly chandeliers, but very similar.

Mrs. Frank Agnew was another Ewart resident. Her story told of music lessons at the Ewart mansion. They were provided by Mr. Way of Grinnell. He came to Ewart periodically by way of the Grinnell-Montezuma Railroad. Perhaps the things that impressed her the most about the house were the upright piano and the hard wood floors. Those kind of things were quite a luxury at that time.

The John Boyd family lived in the twenty thousand dollar mansion at the time when it burned. On a Sunday evening in May, 1923, the weather was slightly chilly, so the occupants built a fire in one of the many fireplaces. Unfortunately, the chimney was clogged, forcing sparks into the house and into the attic. Several fires occurred in the house before the fatal one. Mrs. Boyd remembered roomy closets as being a great asset to a housewife. The Boyd family then moved to Brooklyn.

The house was a landmark for Ewart citizens. It was treasured by them. It even provided employment for young women. In those days, women were denied work at many things. Options included were being a housewife, school teacher, or a maid in the Ewart mansion.

According to Ned Ewart:

"The Ewart Mansion  was built by Robert and Matthew. Matthew never married, but he lived in the house with Robert & his family. Later Matt lived with Robert's son and his family in the house. It was quite a show place in its day; it even had a cork surface tennis court. It was built some years after the founding of the town.

Robert's son was my grandfather. My father was born and lived in the house until he went to college. Unfortunately the house burned while he was a student at Grinnell College. (Circa 1930)."

As late at the 1960's, people still came to the Ewart area searching for the cherished Ewart home. What they found was a house where Lester Slycord lived. Just north of them is the once prosperous town of Ewart.

This statement was found in the History of Poweshiek County of Iowa published in 1880, just five years after the town had taken on the name of Ewart in 1875. "Its business men are an enterprising, get-a-head class and the amount of grain, hogs, and cattle handled at the point will compare favorably with larger places."

This bustling little town's first building, besides the mansion was a residence, built in 1875 by L. H. Harris.  This emphasizes how fast the town grew, for he built the house in the spring, and in December the town was large enough to be called Ewart.

The first store, however, was not erected until the following spring of 1876 by A. B. Woods, who later became the leading business man of Ewart. He was not only the general store manager in Ewart, but the postmaster, and the station agent for the railroad.  Mr. Woods was a veteran of the Civil War, fighting for the Union. He attained considerable notoriety in December 1864 during the taking of the Spanish Fort at Mobile Bay, AL; his company was in the middle of the fighting. Mr. Woods was honorably discharged at Selma, AL in June 1865.

The Grinnell-Montezuma Railroad was built in the fall of 1875, running diagonally northwest and southeast. J. B. Grinnell in his Men and Events of Forty Years stated:

"The Grinnell and Montezuma Railroad, of which I was president, was built under my contract. It kept the county seat where the people were mainly liberal, and despite the bad faith of a few, did not bring the predicted loses. The sale was to the Iowa Central, which finds it a good feeder and not a local foe to its business."

J. B. Grinnell, M. Snyder, and John Hall were the main contributors to the railroad, which was built by subscriptions of people along the line at a cost of $55,000 each. The eighteen-mile railroad ran two trains each way, every week day in 1880. These excellent railroad facilities were a great asset to Ewart. Seventy-three years ago in 1939, the track was removed. The railroad was still being used at the time of the track removal. What helped the economic arm of the railroad was the Ewart stockyard and the subsequent shipment of cattle. The Ewart family and farmers that lived nearby used the railroad for cattle shipment.

Another asset of the village was its doctor, W. B. Cotton, born in Ohio. His father was an early insurance salesman. Dr. Cotton attended Cleveland Medical College, first practicing medicine in Nevada and Cumberland, Ohio. In 1876 he came to Iowa and took more medical training in Keokuk. He came to Ewart on May 23, 1880, from Daytonville, Iowa. “His wife was highly cultivated and held considerable literary attainments.”[2]

Another man interested in the medical profession was W. H. Harris. He was born in Grinnell and attended medical college in Chicago. He came to Ewart in 1859 and engaged himself in the drug business. "The drug business" most likely meant that W. H. Harris was a pharmacist. Harris was prepared for the medical profession by learning that field of knowledge. He did not have sufficient education in 1859 to practice medicine.

Ewart not only had outstanding professional men, it had in 1880 the outstanding farmers! W. C. Cleland, was born in Ireland. Before coming to Ewart, he lived in Rock Island, Illinois, for eight years. In Ewart he began life in very moderate circumstances, but because of his thrift and industry he prospered. He farmed four hundred acres, mostly under cultivation, and well stocked. He also had a fruitful orchard.

Ewart’s shoemaker, George T. Burns, conceived the idea that the West offered better opportunities than Philadelphia for an ambitious businessman. After living in several different towns nearby, he came to Ewart in March 1879.

Newton Wasson was the wagon maker and general repairer during the 1880’s. Being quite an accomplished and industrious workman, he built up a large trade.

Ewart had a mattress factory, operated by Mr. Decker. The mattresses were made by hand. The business died down for awhile, so the factory closed only to reopen in later years. Since Mr. Decker’s death, the factory has no longer been in operation. Settlers came West with none of the luxuries known to the East Coast, like mattresses.

The barber shop was opposite from the elevator. Other businesses included a creamery, the implement store, the lumberyard, and an ice cream parlor. The creamery was a cooperative that ran for a few years but was not very profitable, so it was remodeled into a dwelling house and sold to George Berry, who has lived there until his passing in 19??.

A business that might have made Ewart a bustling, large city was the Quaker Oats Company. John Stuart’s successor to himself and his partner was his son Robert. Born at Embro, Ontario, Canada, in 1852, he became interested in his father’s business. While still a boy, however, he dreamed of bigger things than that which were in Ingersall, and larger companies than his father’s took shape in his mind. A cereal mill in Cedar Rapids, Iowa owned by John Stuart, his son Robert Stuart, and their partner George Douglas. [3]

Before he became of age, he came to the United States where he was intrigued with the profitable looking opportunities for the oatmeal millers. Robert was so enthusiastic about the prospects in America that in 1873, he and his father set out to seek their fortune.

They first went to Chicago, and thought that the city was the ideal city for their mill. However, they, as many settlers, had the urge to go father west. They crossed the Mississippi and looked for a good place to construct a mill. One of these communities was Ewart.

They were very impressed with what they saw, so they decided to build the mill in Ewart. Unfortunately, the Ewarts would not sell land to them! The Ewarts did not want their town any larger than it was; they had originally planned the town and owned the major portion of it.

Disappointed, the Stuarts kept searching and finally their choice fell on Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where they decided to build their mill: a mill which was not like the lesser one they had left behind in England, but one which was truly American, full of new life and great adventure. It could have been in Ewart! Ewart was first choice.

It was said of Ewart when it was in its prime, that its citizens were “consdierably in the advance of the average intelligence and enterprise.”[4]

Seventy three years ago the railroad track was removed; the general store, the wagon box factory, the creamery, and the barbershop eventually closed. All that was left was a grain elevator and a blacksmith shop. Ewart joins the ranks of "Ghost Town." The chance to become as prosperous as Montezuma, Malcom, or Grinnell faded away. Some say the decline of the businesses in Ewart was caused by the advent of automobiles. People went to nearby towns to do their purchasing.

Fires plagued the community, and were topic of conversation many years. Most of the business portion of Ewart was destroyed by fire in 1910. The citizens rebuilt it at once, improving the business district considerably. However, other single fires lowered the morale of the community. Some of the business men then went on to other larger towns.

The churches have helped to keep a mutual feeling among the people of Ewart. If it were not for the spiritual guidance and uplift of the United Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, Ewart’s people would not have been so closely knit together.

Some years prior to the organization of the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist of the township had formed a class, later organized a church society and erected a modest, but substantial building. The Methodist Church was not very strong. It was discontinued about in 1952 and the building was torn down about 1954. The early church had two services each Sunday. At regular intervals were the typical old fashioned tent meeting revivals.

The history of the Ewart Presbyterian Church is properly a history which grew from a pioneer Sunday School into the growing church of today. The organization began September 4, 1876, with ten charter members. For awhile, services were held in the depot, and then they were moved to the Cleland school house. The grain elevator was made use of in the summer, and it was here the first preaching services were held. Rev. Shearer from Oskaloosa preached from behind a dry good box that served as the pulpit. Bundles of lathes served as pews for these first services.

The first church building was erected in the summer of 1880 on a lot that was a gift from the Ewart family. It cost the 32 members $1000 for the 30 X 46 frame church. This building burned in 1902.

A new church was soon built and was paid for at the same time the contractor turned it over to the church authorities for a cost of $2800. The faulty construction of the second church, and its inability to meet the needs of the present day, led to the building of the present-day church in erected 1922. Today the building stands; there is no active congregation and no church services held.

The Presbyterian Church had evening services during its early years. Frank Agnew said that on Sunday evenings one could hardly find a place to be seated. In the earlier days, there were no movies or other activities to attend; church-going on Sunday evenings served as entertainment for young people as well as for the older folks. It was a community event.

Today the church is a prosperous one, and as it was in the early settlements, is a very vital part of community life. Early Sunday morning one can hear the chimes of the church bell calling people to come to worship God.

Another important part of Ewart was its school. In the early days, citizens established schools wherever enough pupils could be called together. The leading educators of Pleasant Township included John Cassidy, Owen Farmer, A. B. Woods (the owner of the now Ladely farm), Alvin Jones, Alexander Porter, and C. W. Gould, Robert Ewart, and many others.

“The early settlers, although poor as the poorest, could always be relied on to vote a tax support of their schools.”[5]

As Ewart grew, the small school house in the west part of the district serving Ewart soon could not accommodate all of the pupils. On September 17, 1883, a portion of District #7 was cut off, including the town of Ewart, from which sub district #9 was formed.

This met with strong opposition in the township, but A. B. Woods rented a house and hired a teacher for the summer term. On September 15, 1884, the board in regular session passed a motion to abolish the newly formed sub district #9. In spite of this, the board members were very persistent and did not give up hope for a school.

Again on March 16, 1885, the electors were asked for $800 for a school house, but unfortunately they failed. On May 21, 1887, another vote was taken, which resulted in a tie, showing that they had made some progress. Finally, on May 28, 1887, a motion to build a schoolhouse in Ewart carried. The tax to build the school in Ewart was the sub district alone, and it amount to something over $800.

In a few years the school was destroyed by fire, but a larger one succeeded it, in which two teachers were employed and the higher grades added.

The early teachers were paid $25 to $30 a month during the summer months, and $35 to $40 during the winter. The school sessions began with a six month year and gradually increased against some opposition to seven, then eight, and finally to the present day, nine month school session. Teachers’ salaries also increased little by little until about $300 a month was paid in 1957, the last year that the school was open.

The school closed in that year as a result of the Consolidation Program. The school that had once educated over 50 students a year under two teachers in two rooms, semi divided in the early years, but partitioned off into two separate rooms later, was used as a voting center until it was torn down due to disrepair.

It was just west of the school house on the Kenneth Haworth farm that an airplane crashed in 1916. Eccentric Billy Robinson lived in Grinnell. Kenneth Haworth’s brother who was attending Iowa College (now Grinnell College) and father went to see Billy. While they were there, Billy was in a good mood and decided to show them his airplane, which everyone in surrounding communities knew he had, for it was unusual to own an airplane. However, few people really got to see the airplane up close, for some reason, Billy had constructed a large wall around it.

Everyone who had an airplane was trying to set new altitude records!

A few days after Kenneth Haworth’s brother and father had seen the plane in 1916, Billy took the little craft for a flight. He rose to an altitude of 14,000 feet, but he blacked out because of an insufficient supply of oxygen. Fortunately he recovered consciousness before anything serious happened.

The following day he took the airplane up to an even higher altitude, and again – so it is thought—he lost consciousness. He was not so lucky this time. His plane crashed on the farm where Kenneth Haworth once lived. One could find debris for quite a large radius. The cushion on the plane was found on the porch of the house where the Ladely family resided. The cushion was placed in the farmhouse attic and stayed there for many years until Mrs. Ladely cleaned the attic and threw it out.

Just south of the school house on the east side of the street was the ball field, where at first hard ball was played. Later, bleachers and flood lights were erected in the late twenties or early thirties. The Ewart team, which consisted of farmers and merchants of Ewart, was described by Frank Agnew as a “pretty fair team.” This team played teams from neighboring towns. The games were big events in the community at first, but the attendance dropped and the interest lowered, so about 1938 or 1940 the games were discontinued. In the ball field's place now stand government grain bins.

One of the greatest changes in the history of mankind was the electric light. It must have an outstanding day in the memory of persons who witnessed it when the lights were first turned on in Montezuma. It is known to have caused some difficulty in Ewart as shown by the article from the Montezuma Republican of December 12, 1888: It Fooled 'Em.  (Please read in the Newspaper section). When the railroad came and passed through Grinnell rather than Ewart, the town became a footnote in the history of Poweshiek County.   

Other changes have come, such as the telephone and other are yet to come not only to Ewart but to the whole world. The changes that are written in this paper could be classified as legend; still others are factual. Whether completely true or not, it helps to keep alive the story of Ewart. 

Today if you drive through Ewart, you will be reminded of ghost towns and sleepy communities. There is an absence of businesses and exchange of money. No railroad, no Jesse James to rob the train, no elevator to store corn. The area is surrounded by mega farms and huge machinery to till the soil. An occasional truck drives by. A car. A wave from the drivers. Today the largest feature in the town is the cemetery. It has been absorbed into the larger community of Iowa farming as we know it in the 21st century.

  [1] Parker, Prof. L. F., History of' Poweshiek County, Iowa, Vol. 1. Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.1911. p. 306.

  [2] Wikipedia

  [3] History of Poweshiek County, Iowa. Des Moines: Union Historical Company. Birdsall, Williams, and Company, 1880, p. 773.

  [4] History of Poweshiek County, Iowa. Des Moines: Union Historical Company. Birdsall, Williams, and Company, 1880, p. 631.

  [5] Parker, Prof. L. F., History of' Poweshiek County, Iowa, Vol. 1. Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.1911. p. ??

Thanks to the following people for interviews conducted by Mary Lou Ladely Iverson in 1961:

  •   Mrs. John Boyd 

  •   Mr. and Mrs. James McCormick

  •   Mr. and Mrs. Frank Agnew

  •   Mr. and Mrs. Booker Kiner

  •   Mr. and Mrs. Bert Stemsrud

  •   Mrs. Edith M. Hockey 

  •   Howard J. Thomas, Jr. of the Quaker Oats Company

  •   Kenneth Haworth

  •   Russell and Dorothy Ladely

  •   Many other local residents



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