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Local

Talk of the towns

Former towns and burghs point to constantly evolving county, state

Diane Dafflitto, secretary of the Jasper County Historical Museum Board of Directors, showcases a map of Jasper County featuring the towns of the past. Towns and burghs in the county came and went during Iowa's formative decades.
Diane Dafflitto, secretary of the Jasper County Historical Museum Board of Directors, showcases a map of Jasper County featuring the towns of the past. Towns and burghs in the county came and went during Iowa's formative decades.

Diane Dafflitto traced an invisible circle somewhere near the center of a Jasper County map. Posted on the wall of an exhibit room in the Jasper County Historical Museum, the chart is straightforwardly made and is riddled with tiny red pins. Strands of string are carefully tied to the heads of each one, extending away from the map toward black text identifying their location.

Dafflitto, who serves as secretary of the Jasper County Historical Museum Board of Directors, tapped her index finger on a slight curve near an area west of Newton and Lambs Grove along Highway F48/Old Highway 6.

“That property right there was my grandfather’s place and where my dad grew up. We moved there in 1950,” Dafflitto said, her finger still hovering an inch or so above a cluster of pins marking a town known as Metz. “It’s still there but it’s not as big as it used to be, of course.”

According to the museum’s “Towns of the Past” display, Metz was first established sometime in the mid-1800s, a few years after Iowa became an official state in 1846.

Historians of the IAGenWeb Project have gathered enough information to know Metz was named after a German town and had a cooperative creamery that made butter and cheese. Metz had an elevator and a depot, as well as other farming community amenities and an in-town doctor. Homes were even heated from coal extracted from a mine one-and-a-half miles away.

Eventually, Dafflitto said Metz would dissolve like many other towns or burghs of that era, such as Farmersville, Tools Point, Seevers, Jasper City and Independence Centre, to name a few. Although lost in time, the history of some of those towns are remembered and contained in the museum. Few folks, if any, know exactly what some of these towns were like back then.

As the museum display suggests, Jasper County has a way of changing through the years. Dafflitto said major changes like the departure of the Maytag Corporation certainly left a lasting impression on the county, but the region was changing all the time. It still does. All one has to do is compare the old with the new.

Westwood Golf Course? Dafflitto said the space was a park long before folks were swinging their nine irons for an approaching shot onto the green. The park was full of equipment that she claimed most people would think is unsafe by today’s standards. (“Things that would make you say, ‘They played on that?’ The slide was, like, a million feet high and it took forever to climb it. Oh, it was great!” she said.)

And that well-traveled highway adjacent to her grandparents’ home? Dafflitto remembered when there was even more traffic driving to and fro. Construction of Interstate 80 didn’t begin until the 1950s, which meant the highway through Newton was getting plenty of use until the early 1970s when the trail was finally completed.

Changes to the county were bound to occur during the mid- and late 1800s, she said. Iowa was just getting settled, leading to some towns sticking around for barely a year or two. At the Jasper County Historical Museum, some of the more prominent towns of that era — Amboy, Clyde, Fairmount, Horn, Murphy, Old Baxter, Turner and Vandalia — are included in an interactive display.

The intercom voice tells visitors that Vandalia used to be located approximately 20 miles southwest of Newton in the Des Moines township, one mile from the Polk County line and a couple miles from the Marion County line. Vandalia served as a trading post in the late 1840s. Back then the town was known as Quincy before it changed names.

Why didn’t some of these towns stick around? Bill Perrenoud, executive director of the Jasper County Historical Museum, speculated several reasons.

A town in northwest Jasper County was expecting a railroad to come through, which forced residents to move way. However, that train line was never created. Some folks expected land southwest of the county to be the location of the state capitol’s move, which, also, never happened. Other areas just didn’t develop the way people thought they might have.

Perrenoud said it is still important to recognize the towns of the past to realize that the county, state and country is always evolving.

“It always changes,” he said. “Nothing remains a constant. At one time Colfax had trolleys when they had the mineral springs. That lasted for awhile and then it left. There’s Old Baxter and Baxter. Newton’s evolved incredibly. We’re still evolving. I think it’s important to recognize that we don’t want to ever forget our past. That’s our history.”

Editor’s Note: “History Lesson” is a weekly series inspired by the Jasper County Historical Museum’s 40-year anniversary. Newton Daily News will publish a story every Friday (until the museum is closed) featuring the people who work to preserve and promote the region’s past endeavors, while also showcasing the historical and educational significance of artifacts and exhibits on display in the museum.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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