The Steamboat Rock Historical Society and the Ackley Heritage Center recently sponsored the third tour of ghost towns in Hardin County, Iowa. Some of my roots go back to that area as my grandmother, Jeanette Sievers, was born in 1875 in Steamboat Rock, and many of my other Ostfriesen ancestors settled in Grundy County, in adjacent German Township.
Along the way there were stops at:
Hazel Green–Now only a well-kept cemetery remains. The first burial was a mother and twin daughters in the spring of 1856. A planned town of the same name never materialized.
Hazel Green Cemetery
Abbott–only one house is left from this former town.
Bunjerville–now called Cleves. An actor portrayed Nantje Bunjer who regaled us with stories of how he sold seven acres of land to the railroad for one dollar so the tracks would be built close to his land (and outwitted the town fathers of Ackley); a member of the Dillinger outlaw gang ate a meal at Cleves; a massive corn spill from an elevator and the honesty and diligence of area farmers in aiding the clean-up; and, foresight and generous donation of land for a park .
This “gentleman” cutout figure waved to us at Cleves but remained silent. I wonder if he had a slight hangover!
Robertson–Nothing remains of this town, but the planners of this tour had erected signs indicating where various buildings and sites were formerly located.
Abbott–One house is the only reminder of this former town. Our guide told us some of the town still existed into the 1960s.
Prairie Settlement in Ackley–Our final stop included a museum, I-House (so named because of the appearance from the front), barn, school house, and more. Joerg Rochlitzer (originally from Leipzig, Germany) portrayed Fokke Hayunga and told of his life story. His accent lent authenticity to his narration.
Joerg Rochlitzer portraying Fokke Hayunga.
Through all this we learned that Wertij Stienblock and family members were the first Ostfriesen family to settle in Etna Township. They came in 1853 and endured tremendous hardships, including the terrible winter of 1856/1857. After the Civil War and, with the construction of the railroad, other settlers came to the area and formed what was the largest colony of Ostfriesen people in the United States. It is estimated there were 2062 Ostfriesen families (about 10, 310 individuals) by the 1880s. My ancestors (Sievers, Groenevelds, Schwans, Wortelkers, and Huismans) were among them!
Model of a covered wagon. Not too luxurious for travel over the prairie.
Model of an early cabin. Dried prairie grass was used by the Stienblock family for the first winter in Iowa.
It’s so gratifying to see this history told and preserved. (A DVD is available from the Steamboat Rock Historical Society). If future tours are held, plan to buy your ticket early. This tour was sold out!