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Castle Grove Named for Log “Castle”
Pioneers Found It a “Most Desirable Place”

By Dorothy Martin
Sharon Oltmanns transcribed this article from The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sunday, November 11, 1962

Monticello—“Castle Grove, the extreme northwestern township in Jones county, is watered by several creeks. These not only afford excellent fertility in meadow lands, and furnish ample opportunity for stock raising, but they serve to give the pioneer a most desirable place of residence.” Thus wrote R. M. Corbit in an early history of Jones county.
He continues, “Why, the only good spot in the whole world for a sound and secure habitation was supposed to be the edge of a growth of timber, sheltered from the storms at all seasons of the year. There you were with plenty of logs of body wood at one side for fuel in the big open fireplaces; and with plenty of pasture and hay at the other side just for the gathering. That filled the pioneer’s cup of prospective happiness.”

West of Monticello

And so it was in the early 1830s when the Irish, the German and the Yankee first settled west of Monticello. It was 1836 when the first two white men settled in Monticello and not quite one year later when two Catholics, James McLaughlin and Thomas Galligan, first turned west to the prairie.
One of the first houses of any size was built by a man named Beardsley near where the road crosses Silver Creek. Because it was the largest and probably the only residence above a log cabin, it was called a “castle”; and located as it was in a grove of trees, the township was named from it, “Castle Grove”.
A brick house built by a man named Fahey also stood in the flat by the creek and some say Fahey built the Beardsley house as a granary for wheat. Not a sign of these houses remains today, replace by the rock quarry that is being used in the blacktopping of county road A.

Two Still Stand

Two stone houses built in the 1830s are still standing. The Hartley house, located on the Norbert Manternach farm, was first sold to a Mr. Loetscher of Swiss descent. Loetscher’s son, Andrew, was the founder of the now defunct Farley and Loetscher millwork plant at Dubuque.
The stone house was one of two homes owned by the Loetschers in Castle Grove at that time. Since then the house has changed hands many times. At one time it was gutted by fire and the interior was rebuilt. Later a frame addition was built on the west side of the house, but was blown off in a windstorm and never replaced. The lighter brick on the left side of the house was the interior wall of this room.
The other stone house now the residence of the Louis Heiken family.

Several Villages

Although the township, organized in 1855, has had several places within her borders that might be called villages, no place ever approached the size of a town.
Downerville, sometimes called Sumner, located across from the present Marvin Stahlberg farm in the central part of section 14, as well as the village of Argand, had established post offices in the township.
The Castle Grove post office at Argand was oone of the first established in the county with Benajah Beardsley commissioned as postmaster in 1851. This office continued until Nov. 24, 1903, when the rural mail routes were established. Horace Downer was postmaster of Downerville in 1870, but this post office was discontinued in 1872.
The village of Downerville was limited to the post office, with “perhaps a store and blacksmith shop” and eight houses. Albert Higby ran the general store and a man named Regor had a blacksmith and repair shop later owned by Mr. Evans. The last building was moved out of Downerville in 1898 to the farm now owned by Art Muller where it is used as a tool shed and granary.

Grist Mill

By 1872, Levi Berlin and Samuel Stambaugh could see the need for a grist and flouring mill in the township. At a cost of $10,000 they erected a 100-bushel capacity operation in the northeast part of the township near where the George Rieniets’ farm is located.
Ed Miller, 89, recalls many trips to the Berlin mill to have buckwheat ground. The mill burned in 1902 and was not replaced, but portions of an old lime kiln, built in the 1840’s by George Murphy, remained along the road to the Rieniets’ farm for many years.
Early settlers talked of fording the Mississippi with their oxen and covered wagons, and of staying behind while others ventured on across the Missouri to California, a three month trip that takes four hours by plane today.
Beardsley, Downer, Kehoe, McLaughlin, Galligan, Blanchard, Hogan, Waddick, Orcutt, Howie, Chadwick, Deischer, Miller – descendants of some of these pioneers – still farm where their grandparents and great grandparents first turned the soil of the virgin prairie.

Catholic Church

About 1854, the Rev. Jeremiah Tracey visited the growing community on his missionary circuit, first saying Mass in the home of the James McLaughlin family, where the Donald Bertlings now live.
The first Catholic church in Castle Grove was erected in 1854 under the leadership of Father P. McGuinnes. A log structure on a knoll located behind the present parochial residence, it was burned to the ground the night it was completed, by bitter enemies of the growing Catholic community. These enemies, called by some the “Know Nothings”, were long remembered.
The Catholic church witnessed its greatest period of growth from 1837–1880 under the direction of Father Peter O’Dowd. When he arrived, Father O’Dowd found the church in such a precarious situation from the effects of a recent cyclone that three “stout sticks” had to be propped against the outside before anyone dared venture inside.
With a debt of $500 against the church, Patrick Kehoe, Sr., stepped forward to assume the entire debt. It is said he went out and hauled the first brick, placing his bond for $400 on top of it for a new building.

Glowing Accounts

By 1878, the present Immaculate Conception church was dedicated and local newspapers gave glowing accounts of “the faithful copy of some of those grand old houses of worship … which are found in the capitols of the old world.”
Papers gave lengthy descriptions of the 15 frescoes, stained glass windows, altars and “gothic solidity of the exterior … than which there is no finer outside the large cities in the state of Iowa”. The paper continues, “The people of Castle Grove are the prosperous community in Jones county and in the days of their prosperity they have not forgotten to be liberal … in the completion of this church”.
The old frame church was than converted to a schoolhouse and used as the district public school for many years.
Later, in 1893, Father M. S. Murphy transferred the district school to its present site behind the church, veneered it with brick, and enlarged it to its present dimensions. It was then opened as a parochial school, but closed in 1900 due to small attendance and lack of funds. Since 1925, the upper floor has been used as a community hall and the lower as a service hall for parish reunions.
In 1910, after the old parish house built by Father Cogen in 1868 was swept by fire, the current house was built. Rev. L. Bourke, in 1915, further enhanced the grounds with elaborate landscapings.
Both the grounds and the buildings today present the neat appearance of an active rural parish center.
Monsignor J. J. Hennessey, who is the present priest, has served the parish since 1925. In 1946 he began annual summer trips to his native Ireland, returning from his fourteenth tour this year. Some say he is taking back to Ireland bits of the Irish heritage brought from that country more than a hundred years ago.
Father Hennessey was made a Monsignor in 1952, one of few such honors held in a rural parish of the United States. He is now an archdiocesan consultor.

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