Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Hometown

I grew up on a farm in the extreme NW corner of the state of Iowa but my hometown is Larchwood. It's a small town of about 800 people, 15 miles SE of Sioux Falls, SD.
Jesse W. Fell bought the land from Charles Holder (who obtained the land in 1869 by a U.S. Gov't Land Grant) for $1.25 per acre in 1873. Fell, a citizen of Bloomington, IL, was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and it was he who proposed the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. He was also the great-grandfather of politician Adlai Stevenson. Jesse was famous for planting trees wherever he lived. After his purchase of the Lyon Co. land, he immediately dispatched Fred Geizer, to plant trees. The first instructions were to plant willow hedges around every quarter-section of land. Next, Fell turned his attention to the new town of Larchwood. He imported and planted many useful and valuable trees of the European Larch variety along with maples and evergreen varieties. Left: The McGilvria home, 1908.
Larch is a common name for a small genus of trees restricted to the colder parts of the northern hemisphere. Larches belong to the pine family and are unusual among the conifers in that they are deciduous, their soft, needles borne in dense clusters that turn golden and drop in the fall and new leaves do not appear until the following spring. Of the ten species of larch in the world, only three occur in North American. I remember a field trip in a biology class in college at UNI, how impressed the professor was when he heard I was from Larchwood. "Ah, excellent examples of Larch trees!" (I needed all the help I could get to get through biology.)
In February of 1881, Fell disposed of his interest in Lyon Co. to the Close Brothers of LeMars, IA, who, in turn, sold the tract at an advance of about $1.00 per acre to Richard Sykes of Manchester, England in November of 1881. Sykes took up the work where Fell left off. He was well liked and on frequent visits to Larchwood, was royally welcomed and serenaded by the local bands. In appreciation of this courtesy and friendship, he donated two blocks to the city of Larchwood and designated it to be used as a park.
Many of the stately trees still stand there, signaling the origin of the town's name - Larchwood. Family lore passed down said my Great Grandmother Anna Swanson, helped in the planting of some of the Larch trees in town.
Through the years the town has found notoriety for immigrant trains coming through (in 1889, Larchwood was the top station for immigrant cars, having had 20 cars prior to April 1st with more on the way), horse racing (drawing crowds of 1000 for races in 1893), baseball, tornados, floods, and currently supports 4 church congregations. It is also the nearest town for a proposed casino pending licensure. If approved, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission could allow Lyon Co. to proceed with a $90 million casino/resort/golf course a mile from my family farm.
I still call the area home, even though it's been 31 years since I lived there. I guess the old saying, "There's no place like home." stands strong in my heart.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails