Our Founding Fathers
Just imagine, 1869 or so, the civil war had just ended. There were very few farmers in the area, and the town of Walnut's incorporation was 8 years in the future. This area was rolling prairie - not a tree to be found except along the creek banks.
America was caught up with the transcontinental railroad efforts, which came to a climax in Utah when the Central Pacific and Union Pacific met in 1869. The Chicago and Northwestern Rail line, north of here, was the first to span Iowa and reach Council Bluffs (1867) and was part of the Transcontinental route.
One day after the famous meeting at Promontory Point, Utah, the Rock Island line was completed to Council Bluffs. That was May 1869. When had it reached here? One can only guess, but perhaps March of that year. So, that is what we could consider the beginning of our little town. Walnut Station: a water stop on the Rock Island line.
On or about 1870 a Dr. Marcellus Cephas Phinney built a shack on the rise north of the rail line. He was purportedly Walnut's first resident, and acted as physician, minister, druggist and horsetrader. He was appointed in 1870 as our first postmaster, but left for Harlan in 1871.
Also in 1870, Enoch R. Hinckley arrived at Walnut Station from Atlantic and opened a land agency. He was our first land agent, banker, marshall, justice of the peace,and cattle buyer. However, he did not stay long, leaving the territory by 1884. Hinckley was selling Rock Island Railroad land, which had been granted six sections on either side of the road by the state of Iowa to sell as farms, in order to finance the road and the railroad company.
Another important point - much of the land that later became the town of Walnut was already owned by the widow of a Revolutionary War soldier named Robert Devin. His widow had received U.S. Bounty Land Warrant #13745 in 1856 in payment for her late husband's services during the war, and then apparently sold it to a gent by the name of Daniel Noe. Noe later sold it to Benjamin F. (Frank) Allen, Iowa’s most prominent millionaire (he built the famous Terrace Hill residence in Des Moines), politician, and Rock Island executive for $500. It was Allen who platted the original town in 1871.
It's hard to call Devin or even Noe our founding fathers, since they never stepped foot in Iowa. One would have to give the nod to Allen, Phinney, and Hinckley. However, none of these gentlemen stayed long nor are they buried here. The following is a list of our top ten founders.
#10 - Peter Koll
Koll was a German immigrant, and in 1874 he moved to Walnut and started in the implement business. His operation, located at the SE corner of Pearl and ACD, lasted 42 years, aided in later years by his son Henry. Koll also farmed, and was very active in civic organizations in Walnut. The building that Koll Implement occupied may be the oldest wood frame commercial building still standing in Walnut, and is now an Antique Store. It is said to have survived three major fires in the 1880s and 1890s. Koll’s great-grandson Steve settled in the Atlantic Iowa area where his family remains to this day.
#9 - Carl Lebeck
He was born in Germany, and emigrated to America in 1870, arriving in Walnut in 1874 at the age of 29. Along with J.B. Johannsen he opened a general merchandise store. He later bought out the Lodge Brothers store, along with his brother Adolf. He was a founding member of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church (later the Peace United Church of Christ), and was on the first city council in 1877, and also the school board at that same time. He was the first president of the German Bank, and a charter member of the German Verein. He and his wife Minna (Steffen) had seven children, six of whom died in infancy. The Lebeck family name lives on in Walnut to this day, the only one of these ten founders who can make that claim.
#8 - Irad Spangler
A Civil War veteran (Pennsylvania), Spangler went into business in Walnut in 1873, dealing in grain, coal, agricultural implements, and cattle. He was among the most respected grain and livestock men in the state, and maintained his business in town for 42 years. He was an active civic booster, serving on the first city council, and also school board and township trustee. He was a founding member of the Walnut chapter of the Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW). His son Charley continued the family line in Walnut, reaching the post of manager and officer of the Walnut Milling Company. Charley moved away from Walnut in 1958, thus ending the family line in Walnut.
Oscar Lodge, 1899
#7 - Oscar Lodge
Known to his friends as "Fritz", Lodge was a Civil War veteran who fought at the Battle of Shiloh, for the Iowa 11th Infantry. Raised as a farmer, he came to Walnut in 1871 at the age of 44, purchased some land in Monroe Twp for $10 per acre, and with his brothers Leander, Samuel and Albert, opened Walnut's first general store at what is now the NW corner of Pearl and Antique City Drive (ACD). At that time, there were but 3 or 4 houses in the town, and no stores. He was later a partner in a hardware store, and served as postmaster at one time. He was a member of the school board, and was a township trustee. Both of the large homes that he built, one in 1878 (714 ACD) and one in 1900 (313 ACD), still stand today. No known descendants of Oscar remained in the Walnut area after his passing in 1913.
#6 - Oswald Bruce
Bruce was raised in Ohio, and at the age of 16 joined the Ohio Infantry to fight in the civil war. In 1864 he was taken prisoner by the rebels in Georgia. While a prisoner he was allowed to vote for president, casting his vote of course for Abraham Lincoln’s second term. Later that month he escaped prison, and was discharged from the service in July 1865. He came to Walnut in 1873 and opened a drug store which he operated until his death in 1914. He was a civic giant in Walnut, being elected to our first city council in 1877. He was a founding member of our masonic lodge, our AOUW chapter, and the local Woodmen of the World camp. His descendants lived on in the Walnut area until 1952, with the passing of Marjorie Bigelow Williams, a granddaughter.
#5 - William Linfor
He came to America from England as a boy, and located in Walnut in 1872, engaging in the real estate and insurance business. Some time later, he became the engineer of the Walnut Milling Company, a post he held for 27 years. He was elected our first mayor in 1877, serving three consecutive terms. He was Justice of the Peace for a time, a charter member and long-time officer of the local International Order of Oddfellows, and an elder and Sunday school superintendent for many years with the local Presbyterian church. The Linfor line lived on in the Walnut area until Inez Abel, a granddaughter, passed away in 2011.
#4 - Peter Carstensen
He emigrated to America from Germany in 1870, and made his way to Walnut by 1876 with his parents and brother Ingwer. In a very short time, his impact on Walnut was significant. He and Ingwer opened a blacksmith shop, and in 1884 in partnership with JB Johannsen built the large brick structure that still stands as our bank and telephone company office. Carstensen patented and manufactured innovative harrows in this building. The harrow tooth could be reversed to pull the other direction, a novel invention at the time. PC bought out his brother Ingwer in 1901, and operated this business until his death in 1912. His son Charles was a violin virtuoso, going by the name of Carl Hermann. Another son, William, lived in Walnut his entire life, becoming the superintendent of the municipal light plant. Bill never married, and with his death in 1964 the family line ended in Walnut. In fact, none of Peter and Anna’s four children had children.
#3 - John Johannsen
JB emigrated to America at the age of 25, and two years later, in 1873, came to Walnut. He was engaged in the mercantile business for some time, and then in 1882 embarked in the loan and insurance business. He married Anna Carstensen, daughter of Peter and Anna. In 1884 in partnership with the Carstensen brothers built the large brick building at the NW corner of Highland and Central (now ACD), which still stands today. While Carstensen utilized the west half of this building, Johannsen ran his land, loan and insurance business in the east half. Interestingly, JB was a soldier in the regular German army at age 21, and served 4 years in the war against France. He was elected to our first city council in 1877, and was reelected many times. He was a longtime Justice of the Peace for the township. Johannsen was into everything civic, and a real promoter for the town. He served as mayor in 1910. He served on the school board for several years. He died in 1919, one day after bringing his wife’s body back to Walnut from California after she had passed. None of their seven children settled in the area.
#2 - Benjamin F. Bixby
Benjamin Franklin Bixby was born in Maine. After trying his luck with the California gold mines in the early 1850s, he moved to Iowa and joined the Union army. After his discharge in 1864, he settled in DeSoto Iowa as a station agent for the Rock Island Railroad. In 1874 he came to Walnut, and served as Rock Island station agent for fourteen years, a very important position in the town. He served on our first city council in 1877. He was our postmaster from 1889 to 1893. None of his four children remained in the area.
#1 - Frank Hanna, MD
Dr. Hanna was trained in Iowa City and was one of the first graduates from the school of medicine. He then received post-graduate training in medicine at the state medical college in Chicago, IL. In 1873 he came to Walnut, and at the time of his death in 1936 had practiced medicine 62 years in this area. He and his wife did not have children. During his time as a physician, he made many house calls, driving sometimes 50 miles a day to visit the sick. He stated that “The kids died like flies”, with cholera-infantum. Then in 1878 and 1879, diptheria broke out, and sufferers would die in 12 hours. He would say he wore out a horse a week dashing from one farm to another.