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Clay Mills
Deserted Village on the Maquoketa
Jane Lyle provided the photo of Clay Mills. Jane says, "Whoever developed the photo scratched the caption into the negative backwards, so I made a reverse scan of it.

You can watch a brief recent video of Clay Mills on You Tube.

In east central Iowa, near the eastern boundary of Jones county, is the deserted village of Clay Mills.
It nestles in a hidden hollow with cliffs 100 feet high on 3 sides and the south branch of the Maquoketa river 100 yards or so to the south. The village is 4 miles west of the nearest county road, which stops at the village of Canton.
This once busy center began its existence about 1852. In 1853 or 1854, William Eckler and James Hall erected a dam on the Maquoketa river and built a water-powered sawmill. About 1863, Eckler and Myron Walters built a steam mill, which was used for a saw mill. On November 7, 1863, a post office was established with Myron Walters as postmaster. Four years later the plat of the village was drawn, but by the early part of the 20th century, the community was dying out, and the post office was discontinued in 1902.
Other industries included a cider mill, and a lime kiln operated by John Herrington. Built of huge limestone blocks, the kiln still stands as a picturesque landmark about half way up the rocky winding road which climbs the east rim of the lonely pocket, wherein lies Clay Mills. A quarry is directly across the road from the kiln. Rings for tying horses can still be seen on the kiln walls.
Hall, Eckler and Walters built the first half dozen or so houses. The population at any one time was never more than 50. Myron Walters kept the only store, above which was the Odd Fellows Hall.
On Saturday night, loggers and other workers came to the store to turn in time and get cash or credit checks. Men worked for $1.25 a day and saved money. They were furnished a house, garden and pasture. In the store the men sat around the pot-bellied stove and told stories and discussed politics. There was a box of free tobacco and clay pipes for the customers who stayed and sat for a spell. Besides the usual salt and hardware, the store was stocked with ginghams and calicos, ribbons and laces, denims and men's shoes.
Recreation was not neglected. There were regular rounds of square dances and "sociables." A marriage brought well-wishing visitors from miles around. One of the favorite winter pastimes was skating from Clay Mills to Canton and back. Hand made sleds and bobsleds were hooked to log sleds for a free trip up the slopes.
There were turkey and target shoots. A slightly more serious sport was hunting, for game was plentiful. Deer, prairie chicken, partridge and coon were frequent fare on the table. Even an occasional bobcat or eagle was seen. Citizens kept a wary eye for timber rattlesnakes, which wandered into town from nearby ledges.
The people of Clay Mills, intelligent and far-sighted, had an educational system of their own. The schoolhouse, no longer standing, was on the north side of town near the base of the cliff. A child could go as far as eighth grade there. (Note: The children of Myron Walters went on to boarding school, as did "Rilly" Tippett, who married Myron Bartlet Walters, son of Myron.) The school furnishings were home made, the seats and backs were composed merely of split logs. The teacher got her board and room by moving from family to family, and she might get paid as much as $25 a month beside.
The people of Clay Mills attended a church 3 miles southwest of town, built out of native stone by the Baptists and later taken over by the Congregationalists. When a resident died, the little funeral procession wound it's way a mile back toward town to the Clay cemetery of Frozen Hill.
(When the railroad bypassed the town, its doom was sealed. Myron B. Walters sold the land and moved to Onslow in the early part of the 1900s. There he owned an implement and hardware store, and about 1910 he built the first electrically run feed mill in eastern Iowa.)
(Eckler Hall and Walters were all brother-in-laws. They all came to Iowa in 1853 from Ohio, where they had lived for a few years after leaving Herkimer County, New York.)
Submitted by Becky Walters Higginbottom

M. C. Walters came to Iowa by way of a Steamer from Cleveland, Ohio to Detroit, then took the "cars" from there to Rockford. His family with relatives went on to Canton, Iowa by way of wagon and he stayed in Chicago waiting for a wagon to arrive. The family took the trip with a man by the name of Glidden and arrived safely at William Eckler's in October 1852. Some of the family came by way of wagons and oxen. About 1853 William Eckler and James Hall erected a dam on the Maquoketa river and built a water power saw mill. About 1863 or 1864 Eckler and M. C. Walters built a steam mill which was used for a sawmill. The old water mill was then fitted up as a grist mill.
A school house was established on the north side of Clay Mills by M. C. Walters and he was also the postmaster.
In the business directory for 1882, he was listed as a grocer and sold shoes at Clayford, Iowa.
On 10 October 1882, he and Mary A. Newberry were married by Rev. H. Casler of Cold Brook, New York. (This marriage info is from the Herkimer County Historical Society, copied from a newspaper article. His address in the article was Clay Mills, Iowa and hers Cold Brook, New York.
From the Hall Family History (Notes for Maryette [Mariette] Hall) by Mrs. R. M. Green and submitted by Becky Walters Higginbottom.

Deserted Village on the Maquoketa
by Byron Arnold
(This article has some of the same info as the one above, but also some different information.)
In east-central Iowa, near the eastern boundary of Jones County, is the deserted village of Clay Mills. It nestles in a hidden hollow with cliffs 100 feet high on three sides and the south branch of the Maquoketa River 100 yards or so to the south. The village is four miles west of the nearest county road, which stops at the village of Canton.
This once busy center began its existence about 1852. In 1853 or 1854 William Eckler and James Hall erected a dam on the Maquoketa River and built a water-power sawmill. About 1863 or 1864 Eckler and Myron Walters built a steam mill which was used for a sawmill. The old water mill was then fitted up as a grist mill. On Nov. 7, 1863, a post office was established, with Myron Walters as postmaster. Four years later the plat of the village was drawn, but by the early part of the twentieth century the community was dying out, and the post office was discontinued in 1902.
Other industries included a cider mill and lime kiln operated by John Harrington. Built of huge limestone blocks, the kiln still stands as a picturesque landmark about half way up the rocky winding road which climbs the east rim of the lonely pocket wherein lies Clay Mills. A quarry, overgrown with briers, is directly across the road from the kiln. Rings for tieing horses can still be seen on the kiln walls.
The daily life of the folk in this community of long ago was cozy and quiet. The sun rose late and set early and high winds were never felt because of the surrounding bluffs. James Hall and William Eckler built the first half dozen or so houses. The population at any one time was never more than 50, Myron Walters kept the first and only store, above which was the Odd Fellows Hall.
On Saturday night loggers and other workers came to the store to turn in time and get cash or credit checks. Men worked for $1.25 a day and saved money. They were furnished a house, garden and pasture. In the store the men sat around the potbellied stove and told stores and discussed politics. There was a box of free tobacco and clay pipes for customers who stayed and sat a spell. Besides the usual salt and hardware, the store was stocked with ginghams and calico, ribbons and laces, denims and men's shoes, but no women's shoes. Recreation was not neglected. There were regular rounds of square dances and ice cream "sociables". A marriage brought well-wishing visitors from miles around. The Irish up on the prairie seemed to make a habit of "snatching" girls from the hollow for mates. One of the favorite winter pastimes was skating from Clay Mills to Canton and back. Hand-made sleds and bobsleds were hooked to log sleds for a free ride up the slopes. There were turkey and target shoots. A slightly more serious sport was hunting, for game was plentiful. Deer, prairie chicken, partridge, and coon were frequent fare on the table. Even an occasional bobcat or eagle was seen. Citizens kept a wary eye for timber rattlesnakes which wandered into the town from nearby ledges.
The people of Clay Mills, intelligent and far-sighted, had an educational system, of their own. The schoolhouse, no longer standing, was on the north side of town near the base of the bluff. A child could go as far as the eighth grade there. The school furnishings were homemade, the seats and backs being composed merely of split logs. The teacher got her board and room by moving from family to family, and she might get paid as much as $25 a month besides. The people of Clay Mills attended a church, three miles southwest of town, built out of native stone by the Free Baptists. After a time the Congregationalists took it over and held services. When a resident died the little funeral procession wound its way a mile back toward town to Clay Cemetery on Frozen Hill. Some of the headstones, or what's left of them, show dates over 100 years back.
Clay Mills is almost inaccessible. The only passable road is the aforementioned one from the east, and it is usable only during the driest months of the year. One way to get to this road is to drive northwest from Canton and inquire along the way. There are no road signs. A tourist does not drive from the ridge tops down into the valley. In this interval one will find one-half mile of very rocky, rutty trail hardly wide enough in places for one car. It makes an interesting and scenic walk however, and then, when one arrives in the hushed atmosphere below he is suddenly in another world.
If preferred a rugged hike can be taken westward from the Langer farm a short distance upstream from Canton. This will take the traveler through four miles of Maquoketa River bottom, a large part of which is rough going but it has its compensations. An observer thrills to Towering Eagle Rock and the screaming red-tailed hawks soaring and wheeling above it. And if one is really alert, he might see the big pileated woodpecker skimming over the tree tops. A five-foot pilot black snake, its body shimmering like a gun barrel, may be found stretched across an old logging road. Native white pines tower dark over the oak-hickory forest. Tired junipers cling to the clifftops rising above the river.
Some of the descendants of the early settlers still live nearby. A grandson of Myron Walters, Roy Walters, lives in Onslow. Fred Smith, whose father was Henry Smith, operates the general store in Canton, Dimp Sinkey, of along line of Sinkeys, lives in Central City.
Other families which have made homes in Clay Mills include the Haveys, Carrs, Taylors, Nabbs, Rynersons, Bickfords, Moores, Wilches, Streets, Hoges, Falness's, Howards, and Tippetts. The last family to live in Clay Mills was that of the Fay Sagers. They were still there as late as 1931.
From The Des Moines Register, Sunday, August 18, 1957, and submitted by Janet A. Brandt

Lost in Time

High up in the Rocky Mountains, where men came and went as quickly as the gold they mined, it is not uncommon to stumble across an old, abandoned mining town, a cluster of tumbledown building left empty when the gold ran out.
But here in Iowa, different circumstances prevailed. Towns often died for different reasons. Perhaps the railroad, then so vital to a community's survival, was built too far away. Or maybe, one by one, folks just moved away, leaving behind the buildings they once called home.
That's what happened to a tiny hamlet nestled in a quiet valley southeast of Cascade near Temple Hill.
Once upon a time, as many as 22 families lived in the village of Clay Mills, which had an official U. S. post office, but no electricity, indoor plumbing or telephones.
The people that lived there made their living from the land. A quarry yielded limestone, the woods were rich in lumber, cattle grazed in the pastures and drank from the creek flowing through the valley, and crops thrived on the upland prairie.
While children skipped off to school, their fathers cut the timber into lumber at a small sawmill. The limestone was fired in a kiln several hundred yards up the trail from the village.
Some of the limestone quarried at Clay Mills now lies in the foundations of St. Peter's Church at Temple Hill and the monastery at New Melleray.
Holy thoughts were not on the minds of some Clay Mills residents, though. Moonshiners flourished during the Prohibition era, going to great lengths to hide their stills and caches of fermenting mash from revenue officers and from each other.
The snows of winter isolated the tiny hamlet. The only way to reach the rest of the world to get supplies was to travel the six miles to Canton by bobsled.
The land on which Clay Mills sits is now owned by Mrs. Emily Sagers, who lived there with her husband Fay since their marriage in 1929.
Mrs. Sagers remembers the life in Clay Mills well. She talks of tough times in the cold winters, but she also longs for the taste of the maple sugar the families used to make.
Gradually, Mrs. Sagers said, people began to leave Clay Mills for the modern world beyond the quiet valley. When she and her husband left in 1942, only one house was still occupied, and she recalled that that home, too, was soon abandoned.
Clay Mills was left alone, a cluster of empty building. The post office began to crumble. Vandals broke into what was once the Sagers home. The limestone kiln grew choked with weeds.
The road to Clay Mills is now washed away, and the cattle that graze on what was once Main Street have a tough time negotiating parts of the rocky, rutted trail.
A visitor to the tumbledown village might wonder about the people who lived there, what they did and why they left. The comforts of our modern world seem very far away.
A community that once lived has died, and as if to echo the thought, a pair of turkey vultures slowly circle overhead, their wings casting ominous shadows over the small cluster of what were once homes.
Few remains to tell the stories of Clay Mills, of the people that lived, worked, and died there. All that remains of the town are the gray weathered buildings, standing in silent defiance of time in the last rays of a setting sun.
From Cascade Pioneer-Advertiser, June 17, 1982, and submitted by Janet A. Brandt.

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