Thursday, March 19, 2015

Austinville Historical Society

Austinville is one of Iowa's blink-and-you-miss-it towns.  It has a grain elevator, photography studio, church, and several houses.  Visit the historical society at 9:00 any Tuesday morning for coffee, and you'll meet friendly people, enjoy delicious cookies or cake, and learn of a rich history of baseball games, bank robberies, and practical jokes.
The town's founders, the Austin brothers, began farming in the area in 1868.  An elevator was built in 1891, and in 1892, the name of the town was changed from Evergreen to Austinville, since another town had claimed the former name.

In 1894, a man named Bode started a store.  Six years later the Bode brothers completed a poultry house.  A mail route came to town in 1902, and in 1911 William Austin, Sam Patterson, and Richard Bode opened the bank, which moved to the building above in 1916.  Not long after, a creamery was built, a church established, and a parsonage built.  The Illinois Central Railroad went through town, and the small, but lively, community flourished.
For bank robbers, a new bank meant a new challenge.  One day a suspicious car came to town.  Mr. Schaap at the implement store alerted the banker, so they locked up and walked to the store.  Sure enough, the men in the car pulled masks over their faces and walked to the bank to declare a hold up.  The criminals found the door locked, and quickly drove away, later to be arrested in Texas.  An attempt to blow open the safe in 1922 was successful, netting $2,370.

Sam Patterson stopped another robbery by locking up in 1930.  Not to be deterred, robbers came again in late 1930 with nitroglycerin to blow open the safe.  They caused quite a bit of damage, but were unsuccessful.

During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt declared a bank holiday, and all banks were expected to close, though for a non-federal bank like the Austinville bank, closing wasn't mandatory, just "patriotic." Patterson had a mind of his own.  He did not close the bank.  

Federal agents soon walked in and asked, "Don't you know your bank is supposed to be closed today?" Without one word of argument, Patterson closed up and went home--but not for long!  As soon as the agents were safely out of town, he was back to work, and the bank was open for business as usual.

Another robbery was on February 17, 1940.  Thieves cut through the three-inch-thick manganese and steel safe.  This time, Patterson had a surprise for the intruders: a container of ammonia. Heat from the torch exploded the container, splattering ammonia across the room, and spotting a wall 8 feet away.  Evidence at the scene suggested that at least one of the men received serious burns. But the robbers made off with a haul of over $1000 and were never caught.

The next bank robbery was in 1977, when $300 was stolen by four armed men.  In 1985, a robber used a stun gun on the teller.  The bank closed in 1998, but Lincoln Saving Bank, formerly a branch of the Austinville bank, remains in Aplington.
Locals, who had always met for coffee at the bank (which also served as the post office), decided to continue the tradition, purchasing it as home of the Austinville Historical Society. (Papa, who visited the historical society with me, is on the front right.)

Mrs. DeVries, front left, kindly gave me a tour of the bank, and Mr. Bolhuis (at the head of the table) generously provided me with a copy of his book Austinville Memories, which can be purchased at the historical society.
Austinville Memories is a compilation of the recollections of area residents.  The author notes that stories may or may not be accurate, but they make for a fascinating read.

As one story goes, a couple people in town had a heated disagreement and were very mad at each other--so mad that one of them hung an effigy on one of the mail hooks.  A couple other guys got to thinking, took the effigy down, and put it in a binder box that just happened to measure 6'x2'x2.'

They set it on a cart by the tracks. The train stopped and picked it up with all due respects.  In the nearby town of Ackley, the undertaker unloaded it with pomp and ceremony and took it home with his horse and gray buggy.  It was certainly a surprise when he opened the "casket!"  The sheriff spent a whole day in Austinville trying to find the culprits, but nobody would tell him.
Left: Austinville baseball uniforms.  The red dress was the wedding dress of the mother of one of the ladies.
Right: The Austinville marching band.

Other stories in the book tell of the first movies in town (which were opposed by the church), new cars, the school, garage, bakery, gas station, and the town's favorite pastimes: softball and baseball.

If you're looking for a place with an intriguing history and the heartiest of Midwestern hospitality, the Austinville Historical Society is the place to go for a morning coffee break! (Don't bother if you're a bank robber!)

65 comments:

  1. I hope you had as much fun putting this post together as I had reading it! Thank you!

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    1. It was fun visiting the historical society and learning more about it! :)

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  2. This was a GREAT read, Bethany. I love stories like those that tell about things that happened in small towns. Love all the bank robbery stories and the "death".....lol Have a great day- xo Diana

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  3. This was fantastic, Bethany! I love learning about the history that took place in small towns....many times it can be quite surprising and interesting :) Enjoy your day!

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    1. It is surprising that the Austinville bank had so many robberies. The Cleves bank, only a few miles away, has had only one robbery.

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  4. Hi Bethany, What an interesting post. As I’m starting to read it, I’m already smiling, looking at that window in the bank (first photo) that simply says “Austinville Office” … Now how great would it be to have just one central spot to take care of all town business? I like it. Next, having grown up in Texas, I was reminded of Austin in the Lone Star State. That Austin was named after Stephen F. Austin. Curious … the last name Austin … we don’t hear it very often. So now we have Austinville, Iowa, and Austin, Texas. The Iowa Austins … I wonder where they were from? Enjoyed all your photos here … especially the old typewriter. Did you happen to notice it’s the “Noiseless” model. :-) Ah, for the good ol’ days. Well, maybe not … What a pain that “white-out” was to fix mistakes! (Maybe that was because I made so many mistakes.) Backspace key is somewhat easier. :-) I like that photo of the “locals”. A photo like that makes me think of “the essence of America.” They look like the kind of people I like to have running the bread basket of the world. Solid citizens! Another thing that comes to mind: Did you notice over the entrance in your first photo … BANK … the sign made of concrete, and then, the last photo … PUBLIC-SCHOOL. Why don’t we do those things anymore? Is it that we change so much now that we can’t put names in concrete? Nice work, Bethany, on this historical post. John

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    1. The Iowa Austins were Henry and Walter I believe. The folks at the historical society probably told me where they came from, but I don't remember. From the old shows I've watched, those typewriters must have been quite a challenge to work with compared with today's word processors! Very good observation about how the signs used to be a part of the buildings. People used to build/make things to last!

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  5. Blink or you'll miss it towns are aalways the most charming!! You captured the essence of this beautiful place!!

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  6. Thanks for sharing another interesting place Bethany! This was such a fun post to read. xo

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  7. I just did a post of old bank buildings. This one looks so solid. Tom The Backroads Traveller

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  8. small American tows are very interesting.. It is different history than in Europe..

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  9. love the history they're preserving there - in items, buildings and lore. :) great bank building! so cool they're using it today!

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  10. What a great and interesting post. Really enjoyed reading .....
    So glad they keeping the old building alive.

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  11. This is a great post! I'm glad they still use the building. The part about the robberies was very interesting, as was the part about the effigy.

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    1. The town has a colorful history to say the least!

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  12. I love to tour small towns to see what they have to offer historically, and I really enjoyed this post. The bank architecture is quaint and sturdy looking. Love all the photos, especially the teaset. :)

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    1. It is surprising how much history small towns hold that easily could be missed.

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  13. I grew up in one of those "blink-and-you-miss-it" towns so was especially interested in this post, Bethany. Your photo of the Austinville Bank looks surprisingly similar to the bank I remember in our town (not so much the actual structure as the sense that it was considered a landmark of importance to the townspeople. Loved the stories and love that you took the time to learn about a heritage as rich as any in a large city.

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    1. Rural and small town areas are a great place to live!

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  14. oh this place is beautiful! i'm really digging that stone work. it might seam strange, but just really love reading bank robbing stories, especially whey they've happened in a real place i've visited in real live or though pictures :). and the baseball uniforms are priceless. so. cool.

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    1. Bank robberies are undesirable, but the do make for neat stories! :)

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  15. I love discovering tiny little towns. Cute bank.

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    1. Around here some towns are so small they barely exist. Others, like Hardin City, don't exist anymore. Their histories are interesting though!

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  16. Wow! They've sure had a LOT of attempted bank robberies! I love learning little histories like that--history is so much more than simply the big, huge events that we learn about in school.

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  17. Hahaha...love your last line! What a fun tour this was. So many bank robberies. Sheesh... It's so much fun visiting "blink-and-you-miss-it towns". Once upon a time they were flourishing and they have great stories to tell.

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  18. These little towns have such great history. Nice post!

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  19. I love little towns, this one is awesome!
    Great photos and history of this little town!
    Thanks Bethany

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  20. Austinville is a fascinating little town. Wonderful post!

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  21. Well, this little place has an interesting and quirky history! :) I like the outside of the bank building! Good shot. :)

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  22. such a fun post Bethany. love hearing stories like this.

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  23. Austinville sounds very much intriguing. It may be a small town but it has such a rich culture and history; I would love to go visit!

    xoxo Morning

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    1. If you ever get the chance to visit the area, let me know!

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  24. What a wonderful post, and what a wonderful rich history Austinville has! Sounds like The Austinville State Savings Bank building was and still is the heart of town, If those old walls could only talk!

    I still live in one of those "Blink and you'll miss it towns" and I love it! One of these days I hope someone writes a book about all the "stories" that have been passed from generation to generation...

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    1. It would be awesome if every little town would have a book of stories like Austinville does. The walls of the bank may not be able to talk, but at least they have friendly spokespeople to tell us their stories!

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  25. Wow! Such interesting stories from a little town/

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  26. Loved reading this post. I feel like I was there with you and what fun. I love historical places and learning how folks lived in different times. Thanks for sharing!

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  27. Ahhh my darling, it is a huge joy to read you. I've finished reading recently a lovely historical IWW book (you read my post) and it is still in my mind. So, for now, historical staff would be just right for me. Liuba x

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  28. That sounds like my kind of place. Except for the coffee. You reckon they might have some tea handy?

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    1. Hmmm...I didn't see any tea, but I think there was some juice or punch. :)

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  29. Neat post! The biggest place I have lived in was 100,000 people. Too big and I was happy to move on.

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    1. That does seem like a bit much for comfort. ;) We country people need our elbow room!

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  30. Hello Bethany!:) It was great reading about the history of Austinville, and I'm glad the bank is still being used today as the Historical Society.Wonderful stories about bank robbers, and the development of this small town.

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  31. I enjoyed this post as well, Bethany. Thanks for sharing some of the interesting history around you. :-)

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  32. What an interesting place, the story is very interesting as well, (love the photos). Thank you for sharing.

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