Davis Corners prominent Howard County ghost town

From Dec. 25, 2019

Howard County - If the three rules of real estate are location, location, location, then one might have thought Davis Corners would be the ideal possibility for a prominent town in Howard County. Almost perfectly in the middle of the county, the community has been the intersection of U.S. Highway 63 and Iowa Highway 9 for decades, and before that, Highway 59 came to Davis Corners from the south, turned east one mile and then continued north. Prior to that, it was the intersection of a stop on the Star Route, a prominent stagecoach route around the area, and a road that led north toward Lime Springs and Chester.
So why didn’t it become that dominant community?
Perhaps the answer that makes the most sense is timing. By the time the community’s development was underway in the mid-1870s, Howard County was well-established, as were most of the towns still in existence today. Cresco was officially platted in 1866 and was incorporated in 1868. Before that, though, the nearby towns of Vernon Springs and New Oregon had dominated the area. Chester was started in March 1858. Lime Springs followed in 1868, although Old Town preceded it, getting its start in the late 1850s. Even Riceville, which was originally a Mitchell County town and later grew to become the county-line straddling community it is today, was well-formed by the 1870s. The only currently-existing incorporated town in Howard County that was built after the 1870s is Elma, which was established in 1886. Even that town, though, had a predecessor that pre-dated Davis Corners – Busti. Saratoga also pre-dated that town, but more on it will come in a future column. So not only was the county largely formed by the mid-1870s, but the railroad had already come through the eastern and northern part of the county, so there was really no anchor – beyond its location – to guarantee Davis Corner’s long-term future. And without a body of water for a mill in the immediate vicinity, not even its central location in the township could really guarantee success for any town built there.
Nonetheless, when the Dawes family bought land in the center of the county in 1874 and built their home, made of stone, they realized their location was ideal for a town. Their land was originally named Dawes Corners, but a government employee, misinterpreted the handwriting on the deed, and Davis Corners was born. A post office was started on July 25, 1877 with Dawes as the first postmaster. It was closed, and the Star Route was discontinued on July 10, 1907 following a visit by a government rural inspector.
Settler William Aberly donated land at the northwest corner of the intersection, and St. Martin’s Lutheran Church was built and dedicated on May 13, 1896. By that time, Davis Corners was known for its predominantly German settlers, so one week, services were given in German, and the next week, they would be in English. The congregation had been in existence since 1870, when Rev. Junge, a pioneer missionary, led services in nearby schoolhouses. The church continued until Oct. 18, 1959. The next year, the land was deeded to the State of Iowa, and the church was removed, initially used as a rural residence by Ray Dempewolf and later moved to Cresco.
The business district at Davis Corners was originally located on the southeast corner of the intersection and included a warehouse, blacksmith shop, creamery and house. Later, there was a general store that supplied farmers and had a soda fountain and sold gas. A warehouse building was located there and held a bowling alley, along with boxing matches which featured local athletes, in the 1930s. A garage was established there in the 1900s and until it was destroyed by a 1952 fire. Pauline Puffer owned Davis Corners Grill restaurant (later part of Hershberger Auction complex), which famously advertised “Good Food” from 1955 until just before her October 2004 death. The store also sold gas and was a bus stop for Hawkeye Stages. It was located at the northeast corner of the intersection and was torn down in July 2018.
Norm Haven owned the Davis Corners dance pavilion, which attracted nationally-known bands, including Emil Velazco and his orchestra. There were also all-night dances and roller skating parties. A small park was located at one point at the northeast corner of the intersection. In 1972, William and Pauline Kovarik Puffer opened a KOA campground southeast of the intersection, complete with an A-frame office, recreation room, laundry, showers, restrooms, swimming pool and fish pond. After the campground was closed, the land was sold to Abe Junge for a car lot, and then Dan Hershberger for Davis Corners Auction, LLC in 2006.
Today, businesses located in the vicinity of Davis Corners include Bodensteiner Implement Company; Rich’s Electric; AgVantage FS, which is located where the community used to stand; and Featherlite Industries. As recently as the mid-2010s, there has been talk about growth there, as some Howard-Winneshiek school board members speculated about the possibility of building a school that would bring in all the children of Howard County at Davis Corners, but that idea has never been seriously explored.
If the archives of Howard County’s newspapers are accurate, Davis Corners was at its peak in the 1930s, when it was mentioned 2,790 times in the newspapers. The 1980s was a distant second peak, with 1,704 mentions in search results.
Today, the community is of Davis Corners has changed greatly from the early and mid-1900s. It consists of a four-way stop at the intersection of the two major highways with a few businesses in the vicinity, but its history is clearly much richer than that, and it remains a well-known part of Howard County lore.
(Note: Special thanks to Marcie Klomp from the Cresco Times Plain-Dealer with her help on this week’s column)
From Jan. 1, 2020
DAVIS CORNERS - The Dec. 25, 2019 issue of Times Plain Dealer had people talking around the area. 
The Peeking into the Past column, written by Casandra Leff of Monitor Recorder, featured Davis Corners history.
One caller to the Times corrected staff on the church being Lutheran, not Methodist. “That was my fault,” said TPD editor Marcie Klomp. “I had it wrong under the caption in the Lime Springs History Book, but correct in the write-up.” The caller also said behind the German Lutheran Church stood the school house.
Another caller, John Wenthold, mentioned some more tidbits. He noted the state had a building on the southeast corner of the intersection. It was a brick or block building. “One time in the 1940s-50s, the snow blower was out there. Two guys had to walk out there from Cresco!”
A blacksmith shop was mentioned in the article. Wenthold thought it might have later been a mechanic shop with a man named “Tiny,” who later worked for Jones Implement in Lime Springs.
Wenthold called the pavilion the ballroom. He remembers Floyd Foote lived a mile-and-a-half to the north. “He could hear the music when he was doing chores.”
Pauline Puffer had the restaurant at Davis Corners. “She had a very good restaurant and a good reputation. When we got married and lived west of Lime Springs, we’d go down there on Sunday. It always seemed full.” In addition, he said many truckers stopped for lunch and supper. 
Davis Corners itself had very long right turn lanes that yielded to traffic. The “corners” still has the right turn lanes, but they are about one-fourth the size of the ones used in the mid-20th century.
Wenthold concluded the village did pretty well, considering it didn’t have a river for a dam/power plant or a railroad.
Anyone with more information can certainly stop in at the Times office at 214 N. Elm St. in Cresco or call 563-547-3601 and ask for Marcie.
From Jan. 15, 2020
DAVIS CORNERS - The history of Davis Corners has had quite a few readers going back in their memory banks to share more information on the little community.
Reader and historian Janice Strike shared some more information on Davis Corners after reading some of John Wenthold’s memories from the Jan. 1, 2020 issue of the Times Plain Dealer.
“I believe that it can definitely be stated that the ‘Tiny’ John referred to in the article on Davis Corners which appeared in this week’s paper is Clarence Ripley. Clarence’s obituary appears in the Nov. 23, 1967 issue of the Lime Springs Herald, front page.”
She went on to say that Jones Implement in Lime Springs was a John Deere dealer.
Strike did not know how Clarence came to be known affectionately by the nickname “Tiny.” “Perhaps the farmers ‘Tiny’ served had something to do with his nickname,” she speculated. “His son Jim shares the tall stature with his father.”
She continued, “If I recall correctly, the Ripleys lived a little east of Lime Springs. Perhaps that is where Clarence died. The farm house, though vacant for several years, is still standing and can be seen from the Lime Springs/Cresco pavement by looking north.”
Lorraine Kach of Rochester called to say she and her husband, the late Leonard Kach, were the last couple married at the Lutheran Church at Davis Corners. She also confirmed German was spoken at the church as her father  was confirmed there.
Mary Stevenson of Lime Springs called to verify Tiny was indeed Clarence Ripley. She said he was a nice man. She also said Dean Fortney was a partner of Ripley’s at Davis Corners. She said the Ripley family lived two miles east of Lime Springs on the Lime Springs-to-Cresco Road, the first place on the west when driving north.
A call to Dean’s son, Bruce, confirmed the connection. He added, “Roy Jones told me some stories of the partners. One was that during the Model T era, one would lift the car up, while the other changed the tire!”
Another partner of Ripley’s was Red Schultz, according to Ray Murphy. “When a Model A came in, Tiny and Red would put straw on the floor and tip it on its side to work on it.” He also said Tiny got his nickname because he was big guy.
Again, anyone with more information can certainly stop in at the Times office at 214 N. Elm St. in Cresco or e-mail tpdeditor@crescotimes. com or call 563-547-3601 and ask for Marcie.
To be published Feb. 5, 2020 issue
DAVIS CORNERS - The area has been buzzing about the articles the Times Plain Dealer has been printing about Davis Corners and Clarence “Tiny” Ripley. It’s been a few weeks since the third installment, but below is more on the subject from area folks.
• Dorothy Ripley called to say she was married to Clarence’s brother, Dale. His nickname was Racket. She said sister Vernice’s nickname was Ole and Vivian’s was Peanuts.
Dorothy’s family started farming south of Cresco and then at Kendallville. When Dale moved to Cresco, Clarence asked him to work for him in Lime Springs.
• Barb Mohs, whose mother was Ripley’s sister, corrected a statement from the Jan. 15 issue. Ripley actually died of a heart attack in the house they had in Lime Springs. He was his lunch break from the John Deere dealer. She confirmed all the kids had nicknames.
• Susan Ripley Hejlik, Clarence’s daughter, was kind enough to e-mail some information about her dad that others might find interesting.
“Dad got his nickname, Tiny, most likely from his father. Everyone in the family had nicknames: Fatty, Fizzle, Ole, Peanuts, Racket and Tiny. And yes, when Dad had his garage in Davis Corners he weighed well over 300 pounds and was 6’2” tall. 
“Mom (Virginia Voyna Ripley) told my brother and I that Dad was late for one of their first dates because his garage had burned that day and everything was lost. But he still came over for the date! 
“Dad started working for the John Deere dealership in Lime Springs at some point after that. I remember going there to visit when we were small. At one point, someone even had a pet monkey! 
“Dr. Abner Buresh suspected Dad had a minor heart attack in 1956-57 and advised him to lose weight. Dad lost about 100 pounds but the nickname stuck.
“My parents rented the farm mentioned in the article from Lucille Ewy (later Jones) for a few years, but Dad gave up on the idea of farming. The time to work his land conflicted with the needs of other farmers and their broken farm equipment. My parents bought a ‘fixer-upper’ on Merrill Street that didn’t even sell at auction and we moved to town. (The house was demolished just a few years ago.) 
“We had lived in town for about four years when Dad had a massive heart attack and died during a lunch break at home on Nov. 16, 1967. He was 52. It was four days after my parents’ 15th wedding anniversary. Mom was 46, I was 10, and Jim was eight. After his death, I remember a church full of people at his funeral. 
“Growing up, I only heard what a good, caring man he was; never anything bad. We were fortunate to have him in our lives for the time we did. 
“Thank you for remembering him all these years later!”
Again, anyone with more information can certainly stop in at the Times office at 214 N. Elm St. in Cresco or e-mail tpdeditor@crescotimes. com or call 563-547-3601 and ask for Marcie.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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