Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Mike Even and the town that wasn't supposed to be

[continued from yesterday]  

Off the record.  Who knows if it’s true or not, but he says that when St. Mary’s, the most beautiful church in Sioux County, was being built, the priest decided it should have those twin towers that are its signature, because the new one in Granville only had one.  Stand up there at the top of the hill with Mike Even sometime, then look up at those bell towers, and thank goodness for petty parish rivalry.  Nobody else in the county has a St. Mary’s.

Off the record.  The Even brothers—there were five of them—100% boys who got blamed for almost all the evil that took place in Alton in the late 30s and 40s—lived across the street from Dr. Dirk Gleysteen, an Alton physician.  The Even brothers delivered the Sioux City Journal around town, and every morning walked across the street from their place and into the Gleysteen mansion—it’s still there too—ascended the open staircase, turned right, and brought Dirk’s brother, Dr. Rod Gleysteen, his Journal in bed.

Off the record.  When the liquor store burned during the February, 1937 fire in the Stronks Building, right downtown, good Samaritans helped parley the hooch out of the premises by way of washbaskets and get it safely across the street to Elmer Goebel’s building.  The story goes that some of that booze actually got there, too; understandably enough, some of it didn’t.

The early history of Alton, Iowa, is, in some ways, a history of fires. In 1885, the Union Depot and freight house burned completely—total loss, $6000, cause unknown. January 28, 1886, the business that would run Alton for many years, Slagle Lumberyard, then just in its infancy, went up in flames. Total loss, $4000, plus a buffalo robe, a silver-tipped grizzly bearskin and a mounted bull elk, probably the only one back then or ever to stand guard in Sioux County. September 22, 1886, Hawkeye Roller Mills, down at the river, burned to the ground, a mill that cost almost $30,000 to build.  Also gone, 15,000 bushels of wheat. Alton’s history book calls it “the worst blow the town and community had experienced since the grasshopper invasion.”

Back then, Alton was a wooden town.

That year, 1886, the men circled the wagons and started a volunteer fire department. None too soon.

For thirty years, Mike Even’s father, Matty, who ran the gas station where those five brothers all worked from the time they were old enough to hold a broom, was fire chief.    

Off the record.  One of those great old houses that grace Alton’s hillside streets was threatened by fire years and years ago, but the volunteer fire brigade got there early enough to save the place, even though the family had most of its prized possessions already lined up safely outside.  When the house didn’t go up in smoke, the old man was steaming mad, Mike says—he remembers it well.  After all, there would be no insurance.

[tomorrow: more Alton history]  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rock Valley has a St. Mary's.