Those Places Thursday: Newton Iowa and the Old Settlers Meetings

A Pioneer Dwelling from History of Jasper County, Iowa, Western Historical Co.,1878. Page 61, GoogleBooks.
A Pioneer Dwelling from History of Jasper County, Iowa, Western Historical Co.,1878. Page 61, GoogleBooks.

Every place has their old settlers- those who braved a hostile land and brought ‘civilization’: farming and ranching, churches and school houses, commerce and vice, as well as families and friends. Newton in Jasper County, Iowa, had meetings of these brave [some would say foolhardy] souls regularly in later years, and the original book recording those get-togethers is in the Jasper County Historical Society Library. The book may also be found online, at the Iowa GenWeb Jasper county page for Old Settlers of Newton, Iowa.

Wonderful records were kept by the Old Settlers Association, and they are a wealth of information for anyone whose ancestors were pioneers in the area. Even for those of us whose families were latecomers to the area, “Old Settler” groups recorded many stories of the life that was, and may have continued for some years after our ancestors moved to the area. Plus, these stories are just delightful reading!

Only those persons who were residents of the Newton area prior to 31 May 1855 were invited to the party held by Albert Lufkin, himself an early settler, at his home on 30 May 1885. Albert had arrived in the area on 31 May 1855, but since the 30th anniversary of that date fell on a Sunday, the gathering was held on the Saturday before. Albert invited about 50 persons, which was all he could entertain with the size of his home.

Of course, as the years went on the gatherings became smaller due to further migration, old age, and death of the members. They began to invite those who had come after 1855 in order to keep the party at about 50, and at one point, had over 100 people, the largest gathering in Newton to that date.

The Old Settlers Association met on 1 June 1891 at the Lambert House Parlors in Newton.

“The tables were lighted as of old Pioneer days with tallow dips and cotton wicks hanging out of saucers of Lard. All at once however, (as the eyes of the Company were not as good as 36 years ago,) the full blaze of the Electric lights – was turned on and the dainties disappeared in a manner to reflect – credit – upon the digestion of the company, and the skill of those who prepared the repast.”

What changes those early pioneers, some of whom may have been born about 1830, witnessed throughout the century!

One of my favorite stories from the Newton Old Settler’s Association:

“I might tell of some of our meetings; I will mention one that was dismissed without the benediction, in consequence of bees stinging the preacher and congregation, but enough for now.” B. Aydelott.”

There are newspaper accounts of the meetings, and those include many of the events of the meeting as well as the historical. Food was, of course, a primary focus of the event, with storytelling, songs, and speeches after, although sometimes, that good food was a problem:

“A. J. Osborn had eaten too much and didn’t feel much like talking.”

"Breaking Prairie" from History of Jasper County, Iowa, Western Historical Co.,1878. Page 63, GoogleBooks.
“Breaking Prairie” from History of Jasper County, Iowa, Western Historical Co.,1878. Page 63, GoogleBooks.

By the time my ancestors arrived, there was probably little prairie left to break, but farming was still a difficult task back then- even today. (What would our ancestors have thought of air conditioned, GPS-guided combines???) Our  families who took up residence in Jasper County were:

Sylvanus Rufus Benjamin and Sara Ann Palmer in 1865 or 1866

Jonathan N. Benjamin and Hannah E. Ford in 1867

John S. Roberts and Elizabeth Ann Murrell  by 1868

Robert Woodson Daniel and Margaret Ann Hemphill (between 1866-1870)

Frederick Asbury “F.A.” McMurray and Hannah “Melissa” Benjamin by 1870


Cynthia A. Benjamin (1841-1925), sister of Hannah Melissa Benjamin, married Reuben K. Lambert- perhaps she was the “Mrs. Lambert” who prepared such delicious repasts for the Old Settlers?

A handwritten note under the newspaper article for the [likely] 1896 Old Settlers Association meeting noted that $6.68 was collected, and the disbursements were listed. The reunion had been planned to be outdoors but because of rainy weather, it was moved to the Armory. Three dollars were disbursed to “Will McMurry for rent of hall.” William Elmer McMurray (1874-1957) was the son of F.A. and Melissa (Benjamin) McMurray. There was also a note that, “The drapage bill is still unpaid, and nothing in the treas.” (Drapage would be cloth hanging festively, such as red, white, and blue festoons/banners.)


The moral of the story? Even though I knew my family members were not early settlers in Jasper County, Iowa, reading through this booklet gave me information about times both past and present. One can do a search within the document to find family names, but sometimes it is just more enjoyable to read through and get a sense of what life was like for early settlers, and those same folks when they became “Old Settlers.” You never know what you will find- the payment to Will McMurray was quite a surprise in this booklet!


Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Old Settlers of Newton, Iowa:

2) The “dainties” referred to in the 1891 meeting would have been small appetizers and desserts.

3) Old Settlers of Newton, Iowa, page 6.  Bee Sting- unknown date of newspaper article, unknown newspaper.

4) Ibid., 14. Eaten too much- unknown date of newspaper article, unknown newspaper. Probably between 28 Apr and 9 June 1896.

5) Ibid., Will McMurry- page 19, Secretary’s note of 09 Jun 1896.


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