In having to do some research in the property records of the Courthouse today, and tracking back in time some ownership questions that needed answers, I happened to notice some of the old transfer books and leafed through one of them. It really is amazing how much Mason City and North Iowa has changed since the time when the patents were issued to those first settlers back in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Those first pioneers were of course farmers coming from the east looking for opportunities to better their living standards. Considering how easy we have it when moving from one location in the State to another, one can only imagine how difficult it was in the days before railroads, electricity, gas powered engines, and everything else that makes our lives easier today. Several years ago I was reading a journal of sorts written by one of my relatives back in the 1860’s where he spoke about it taking two weeks to haul grain in a wagon pulled by oxen from the fields to a mill that was over near McGregor in Eastern Iowa and return with freshly milled flour. All forms of life must have been certainly primitive by our modern standards, but their way of life worked and our fertile lands sustained life and it was good. Coming from a farm family whose ways were likely considered primitive as well, we had to work hard, but the experiences were delightfully memorable. My favorite expression I would share with people in years past was, “For someone to feel as though they really understand the world in which we live, they first must spend their childhood on a working farm, and then sell real estate for at least five years.” I would often have to explain why I would say such a thing. Firstly, growing up on a working farm causes one to experience and understand the connections we have with plants and animals. Secondly, to sell real estate for five years will likely give one the opportunity to experience all seven faces of mankind. For me, each transaction is special because the buyers are special, the sellers are special, and of course the parcel of real estate is special. Too many times people think I have a razor sharp memory because I can recall faces and places. I likely remember because those faces and places were special and unique moments to be remembered.
In getting back to the hard times of the 1850’s and 1860’s, I can certainly say most people have no idea that in the 1870’s when this city was growing by leaps and bounds, there wasn’t electricity, no running water as we know it, and primitive sewage systems at best. Many of the stores, apartments, and homes had outhouses and wells. Kerosene lamps and candles had to be used for lighting, and wood stoves and fireplaces had to serve as sources for heating. Wood burning cookstoves were mainstays for creating hot meals. It’s no wonder there were so many fires back in those times. With all the open flames day in and day out, it was just the law of averages catching up with them. I can remember grandparents being terribly scolding towards grandchildren caught playing with matches. Many a barns and homes were burned by curiously mischievous children.
Time always heals and progress continues. If there were gold stars to be given for the good life we now have in Mason City, they would certainly go to the early settlers of our area who weathered storms and endured hard years to become our planters of progress.