Notes From the Lake

Dear Readers,

Well isn’t this a fine start to the 100th Year Celebration of Iowa’s Parks and Lakes a pandemic and all of them are closed! We all hope not for long.

The Sac and Fox Indians, on their trapping trips to Wolf Grove and along Wolfe Creek, often camped on ground now covered by the artificial lake. The Indians had a well-beaten trail from “Luka” (Tama City’s original name) up through Deer Creek Valley to Union Grove. The Indians were friendly.

One of the early settlers was William C. Bywater who was impressed by a “beautiful timber tract from whose rugged southeast hillside gurgled a forceful flow of pure cool water.” Mr. Bywater walked all the way from Maquoketa to make sure the grove and spring were on Section 32, Spring Creek Township in northwest Tama County. This done, he then in 1853 went to the United States Land Office at Dubuque to secure his claim. He built and lived in the first home in Spring Creek Township. The home was built of logs from the grove.

The next settler, Emaniel Kuns, moved in 1854 to a log cabin just west of where a graveyard was later plotted on the west edge of Union Grove. In the same year came the Conant and Bowen families, entering lands near Deer Creek southeast of the grove. They footed trackless prairies and ferried waterways on their hike to Dubuque to clinch their land claims. Luckily the settlers enjoyed a mild first winter the weather resembling an Indian summer.

The first permanent settlement at Union Grove was made by the families of Stephen King and his son, W.B. King. They purchased the Bywater place and made Union Grove a community center. During the winter of 1855, the King cabin not only housed this family, but also the family of W.B. King’s brother, Orpheus King and that of James Boaks, a brother-in-law, and that of a hired man.

When Orpheus King built his home near the Marshall County line, his family shared their house with the Edwin King and John Fleming families. These early settlers knew the true meaning of brotherhood and helping one another. I don’t think they ever had heard of social distancing. It’s a wonder they didn’t have a pandemic.

Mr. King and his neighbor, Mr. E.L. Kuns, both having school-age children, worked together to promote the building of the widely known Union Grove schoolhouse, the first of nine schools in the township. It was located on ground now covered by the north edge of the lake, close to the road leading to Gladbrook. In this pioneer schoolhouse were held spelling schools, singing schools, Sunday schools, church services, debates, literary societies, Punch and Judy shows, and elections.

Transportation was a big problem for the pioneers. True, Mr. King had his horses; his neighbor, William Merrill, had his mules; neighbor S.S. Mann, his oxen, but such means of travel meant weary hours and hardships on trips of sixty miles to a flour mill and grocery store, usually in Iowa City. Wagons often had to be unloaded to lighten the uphill pull over soft ground. Community hopes ran high with rumors of a railroad coming to Tama City through Deer Creek Valley to Union Grove. It did get to Toledo and after stalling there for some years, switched off a few miles on the abandoned grading of a Toledo-to-Waterloo project and to the new town of Gladbrook, leaving Union Grove two or three miles west of the wished-for railroad.

The village of Spring Creek Union Grove as we know it began in 1864. The large general store (also 1864), owned and operated by Joe Schichtl, was a general store and post office downstairs, and a community room and dance hall upstairs. After the town of Gladbrook was started, this building was moved to Gladbrook in 1881 by the use of planking, wooden rollers, and horses turning a large capsun wrapped with cables. For many years this building was known as “Honeymoon Flats” by Gladbrook residents.

More to come next time on the history of Union Grove State Park and Lake.

A special thanks to the late Alberta Sharp and T.E. Mann for their histories on Union Grove and the lake.