Charles "Uncle Charlie" Taylor

The Tribune's special 1928 edition celebrating Story County's 75th anniversary
carried this account by Charles Uncle Charlie Taylor.

When I first came to Iowa, I was going into a new country.  All of the settlers were scattering through the West like a flock of pigeons, it seemed to me -- on to where there was better feeding grounds.

It was the ninth day of March, 1868 when I pulled into Ames, then a straggling slough town, which boasted of little else than a new railroad.  The first night I put up at the old Sherwood, later the West House, which stood on the spot where the Masonic Temple [later stood].  Well, sir, when I came to Ames at 24 years of age, the little town was fit for nothing but buffalo wallows.  It was the wettest ground I ever saw in my life.  Only a few prairie mounds offered a really dry place to stand.


Old Depot - 1867 (Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive)

At that time the south side of the tracks looked like the more favorable place to build a town and several of the settlers attempted to establish a few stores there.  But N.A. Rainbolt, W.E. Lucas, and Henry Kingsbury came in and built stores on the north side.  That cinched the business for the north side and the landing for the railroad cars was put on the north side of the tracks.  The old depot stood a little northwest of the present freight depot on Duff Avenue.

In the old days, we young nimrods had it handy when we wanted to hunt.  Neither did we have to go a hundred miles to catch a fish.  I remember the two main sloughs which came together down where the present Northwestern depot stands.  The east slough went up through Main Street then angled off to the vicinity of Beardshear School.  The west branch went up toward Thirteenth Street.  I have seen catfish go spawning clear up to Beardshear School and many a string of chubs have we caught in the ponds around Main Street.  Ducks were more plentiful then and they would come sailing in on the pond west of the high school site.  Howard McClain and I used to draw to see who would get the first shot at them in the morning.  If they fell too far out on the pond we would have to risk swimming in nine feet of water to get them.


Chicago & North Western Depot grounds - 1904

All of what is north Ames, except Douglas between Seventh and Ninth and over on Duff in the Eleventh Street neighborhood was just one slough after another.  After you got down to the end of Grand Avenue near Col. L.Q. Hoggatt's old farm, the ground was better drained because the water ran towards Squaw Creek.  The worst hole in town was right where the present depot stands.  When the railroad company was building its road, the piling had to be 18 feet before it hit solid blue clay.  There was water on the surface to a depth of nine feet.

I hadn't been in Ames long when Osborne, a druggist came and built a store.  There was one feature about the store which seems unbelievable now.  Mr. Osborne had a trap door in the floor and when he wanted water for household use, he would drop a bucket down and bail it up dripping full of clear water.  John Bousquet ran the store a little later, and it was from him that I gained experience as a clerk.

During this time the resident population was growing right along.  John L. Stevens promoted the building of a number of houses and among these was a plot on the south side of the tracks near the depot.  However it did not prove to be as popular as the promoters expected and more dwellings continued to go up along Douglas and Kellogg.  We moved into a place at the northwest corner of Thirteenth and Duff which we occupied for many years.


At that time the greater part of the town and the fourth ward was farm land.  When I first viewed the college grounds, masons were just laying the last of the foundation for the Old Main building.  The area around there was raw prairie and I was offered land on the south side of Lincoln Way to Knapp Street for $32 an acre.  Then another reasonable investment that I passed up was the 120 acres at Westgate and southwest toward the Horticulture farm.  I could have bought that for $28 per acre.  It had a hundred fruit trees on it, and the honey locusts were so thick that you couldn't run a rabbit through them.

The first passenger train into Ames arrived in 1865 and after the railroad was permanently scheduled, I recall we had to flag the train if we wanted to take passage to Boone or Ames.  When it was necessary to do this, I would tie a red handkerchief to a stick and wave it vigorously as the train drew near.  The engineer did not kick on picking up passengers along the open tracks.

The narrow gauge from Des Moines caused a great deal of excitement and speculation as to its probable success.  Its coming helped complete what the college had started -- in making a town out of what was once little more than a flag station.


A number of years ago, there was agitation aroused in the fourth ward which favored a splitting with the downtown district so as to make two towns.  Before we knew it, there was a petition to favor such action; to rename the fourth ward West Ames.  It riled me and I found a man by the name of Edwards from Iowa Falls who was willing to help circulate an opposing petition.  The matter was reported to Stanton, Welch and Beyer at the college.  They were heartily in favor of leaving the town as it was and endorsed our petition.  Finally we got three petitions to going and swayed public opinion to our side.  In the election which ensued we skunked the opposition by 79 votes, but they would not quit and referred the matter to the state supreme court.  The court upheld our victory and rendered a decision that the town should be left intact.

From those two widely separated units as far as distance was concerned, I have seen Ames grow to the largest town in Story County.  When I came here there was one little frame school house, and Iowa State College was housed in one building.  It seems a miracle that such changes have come in the normal span of life.  But greater and more wonderful ones are on ahead for the youth.