History of Eitzen
Eitzen celebrates a rich history of agriculture, baseball, Fourth of July celebrations, and family-run businesses.
(Adapted from “Bits o’ the Past of the Eitzen Community”)
The first settlers that came to the Eitzen area found it a wide open country. A few Native Americans crossed the prairie now and then, and wild animals roamed through the fields and woods, but the place must have seemed like a new world when those early pioneers arrived here. They found the wild prairie grass growing a foot hight. A large variety of flowers and wild strawberries grew all over, but there was not a dandelion anywhere; they were brought in later with some seed.
Most of the early pioneers built their homes near woods. Nearness to timber was important for building their log cabins.
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Many of the early settlers came to this area by way of Lansing or McGregor, Iowa. They reached these places by boat or stage, and from there they walked on foot as much as fifty miles to their future homes, walking behind their lumber wagons drawn by oxen. The wagons carried their few possessions, and served as a shelter for them at night.
There was no bridge across the Upper Iowa River on the Lansing road at that time, but it could easily be crossed at a ford by team when the water was low. There was an old Native American trail from the Upper Iowa to the Root River. The trail crossed the area around Eitzen and Portland Prairie, and the settlers followed this trail. When they reached this part of the country, they knew they had found the place where they wanted to live.
When the settlers first came, the country was full of deer, rabbits, quail, and prairie chicken. There were also wolves and rattlesnakes. There were big fish in the Mississippi and trout and other kinds of fish in the creeks. All the game provided food for the settlers. But on the prairie, it seems that Charles Albee was the only one who had a gun.
The wagons in which the first families came, provided shelter until a log house could be built. The settlers usually came in small groups, in this way they could help each other with the heavy work.
The first homes were usually built without floors, often cloth or oiled paper had to do for windows. Stoves and stove pipes were brought with them. Some cabins had rock chimneys, but more often the stove pipe was continued through the roof. Sometimes the roof was made of brush thatch or dried grass, and sometimes of home made shakes. Most of the roofs leaked. The settlers that came later in the 1860s often lived in abandoned shacks, or stayed with other families until their cabins were built.
Barns were built of poles and fence rails and covered with straw or dried prairie grass. In such sheds oxen and cattle and poultry were kept during the winter. Fences were made from split rails. These were used for yards for cattle and oxen. Hogs were allowed to run wild.
A pond hole was dug to retain rain water for the stock, and for washing unless the hogs got there first. A sort of sled made from the crotch of a small tree was used to haul water in barrels from Duck Creek or Winnebago Creek. Sacking had to be tied over the tops of the open barrels to keep the water from splashing out while driving home.
Cisterns were dug to catch rain water from the shingled roofs of the cabins. The water had a slightly smokey taste, but the settlers got used to it.
The pioneers did not bring many tools with them. A plow, a scythe, a pitch fork, a hand ax, a shovel, and a hoe constituted about all the equipment of the average farmstead. Anything that could be made from material at hand was made at home. They were such things as wagons, sleds, rakes, furniture, etc.
Homes of the settlers were simply furnished. Most of the furniture was home made. Beds were also home made, with ropes for springs. Mattresses were ticking filled with corn husks. Feather beds were used for covers. Candles were made from tallow or wax, and wool was carded and spun into yarn.
Settlers raised such foodstuffs as were needed for their own tables. Such things as potatoes, rutabagas, beans, and other garden crops were grown. Honey was used for sweetening. Apples were dried and stored. Meat was salted, smoked and cured. Coffee, sugar and butter were unknown articles. Lard and goose fat with salt was the spread in use.
Wheat soon became the main crop grown for marketing. Not a great amount of it could be raised, however, since it was sown by hand, dragged in by oxen, cut with a scythe and cradle, and pounded out with flails. Corn was planted with a hoe. The wheat that was sold had to be hauled twenty miles or more by oxen to Brownsville or to Lansing. Wheat flour and whatever other necessities were needed were brought back home. A trip like that to Lansing lasted two days. All the mail, during those first years, came only as far as Lansing. The price that was received for the first wheat sold was very poor: thirty-eight cents a bushel. It gradually went up to $1.50 and by 1864 reached a price of over $2.00 a bushel.
During the 1860s, a few agricultural machines came into use–a reaper and a horse-powered threshing machine, which made harvesting grain much easier. These helped to increase the wheat crop which was the only crop marketed. Corn, oats and potatoes were used at home. After the mills in Dorchester and the Winnebago Valley were built, people got their flour, cornmeal and ground feed done there.
When the railroad came to New Albin in 1872, farm produce could be sold there, and it was possible then to ship live hogs to market. Before that the hogs were butchered at home in the winter and the frozen meat was hauled to Lansing to be sold.
After C. Bunge Jr. established his store in Eitzen, he took in butter, eggs, hides and poultry in trade. This was another market source for products produced by the early settlers.
After saw mills were put up in both Dorchester and the Winnebago Valley, new buildings with sawed lumber were built. More and more products and machines became available. More and better markets opened up, and with hard work, the people prospered.
The social life of the early day community centered around the church, the school and home. There were birthdays and anniversaries to be celebrated, weddings and other gatherings to attend, and picnics in the good old summer time.
An interesting early-day custom was carried out when a wedding was imminent. A horseback rider was sent out to invite friends and relatives to the wedding. At each stop a gift of money was sewn to the rider’s hat. Often the hat was encircled with silver dollars. He returned to the home of the bride-to-be and she was presented with the money.
There was much excitement when there was to be a barn-raising. Neighbors and friends arrived with proper equipment. The barn went up in a hurry and was duly celebrated. Sometimes there was a barn dance before the hay was cut and stored.
Home parties were popular. At such times the largest room in the house was cleared of furniture and the rug was rolled up and carried away. Many times, Leo Pottratz, Sr., was present with his violin and chord organ that folded up and was carried like a suitcase, to furnish music for the waltz, two-step, polka, schottische and square dance.
Each country school put on a program and basket social sometime during the winter months, and the one-room school buildings were crammed with parents and guests who had come to hear the pupils sing and put on short plays called “dialogues.”
And then there were May Baskets to be hung, and the evening air was soon filled with the sound of youthful voices as they played circle games and sang, “The needle’s eye that doth supply the thread that runs so smoothly…”, “The farmer’s black dog lay on the barn floor and ‘Bingo’ was his name…”, “Four in the boat and it won’t go ’round…”, etc.
The Buchholtz Hall was where dances were held in the early 1900s, mostly at holiday times. In the late 1920s, the hall was known as the Eitzen Theatre, where Louis Buchholtz and Leo Pottratz Jr. had weekend movies, until the coming of sound pictures.
During the Depression of the 1930s, and then the war-time gas rationing period, the merchants of Eitzen sponsored “Free Shows” on the vacant lot now occupied by the Community Center. Lloyd Gimble operated the machine, and car-loads of families came from surrounding areas with boxes, blankets and camp stools to sit under the stars (and sometimes rain) to enjoy the movie.
The local Concert Band, which often played at surrounding County Fairs, as well as a smaller group known as “The Little German Band,” and the Eitzen ball team provided much in the way of entertainment throughout the years. Sunday School picnics were also held in what was known as Bunge’s Woods, sometimes called Evan’s Woods.
The Fourth of July was the big event of the summer. As early as 1865, the people of Portland Prairie and Eitzen joined for a celebration in a pleasant grove east of the then unfinished St. John’s church, now St. Luke’s. Between two and three hundred people came, some by team and others on foot. Civil war soldiers recently mustered out were present.
In later years, the Fourth of July celebrations sponsored by the Eitzen Band were held in what was Bunge’s woods, north of town. The band played and there was a ball game. A platform built in four sections was put up and there was dancing in the afternoon and evening. Ice cream, lemonade and fruit were sold. Eventually, Miss Bertha Bunge donated the land to the town, to be used for recreational purposes. The Community Center was built on that land, and the ball field and playground are still situated there as well. That land, to this day, remains the heart of the Fourth of July and year-round community celebrations and gatherings.
A History of Eitzen: Timeline
1847: John Ross, a native of Pennsylvania, came to Jefferson Township, the earliest arrival in this community.
1851: The first man to stake out a claim in this township was Freeman Graves of Vermont, who in 1848, came west as far as Wisconsin, remaining until the spring of 1851 when he started on foot for Minnesota. He crossed the river at McGregor, Iowa. Mr. Graves came to this community and all by himself put up a shanty on the south half of the southwest quarter of section 23. He staked out a claim for 200 acres with the southern part extending into Iowa. Mrs. Graves was also the first white woman in this territory.
1851-1852: More settlers trickle into the area, including Mrs. J. Robinson and sons; George Carver; and the Everett brothers. The Everett brothers, coming from New Portland, Maine, were the first pioneers to come to Portland Prairie, which included Eitzen and the territory to the northwest. It is thought that the Everetts gave Portland Prairie its name. John Coil settled in the area in 1852, as did William Jones. It was Jones’s daughter, Lizzie Williams, who became the first teacher in Eitzen, in District No. 52, an old log house. Later, in 1860, a stone schoolhouse is built.
1853-1854: The Tippery brothers, Duty and James Payne, Charles Albee, Jeremiah Shumway, Michael Sheehan, Timothy McCarthy, and John and Jacob Meyer all settle in the area. John and Jacob Meyer are the first German settlers to arrive here.
1854: Alex Batchellor, the first doctor, arrives.
1854: The first preaching of the gospel was by Leonard Sharp, a Campellite, who lived in Jefferson on section 30. He came about once a month and preached at Mr. Coil’s house to as many people as could be gathered. In January of 1856, he was killed by a falling tree.
1854: Patrick Sheehan, son of Michael Sheehan, is born in May of this year, the first white birth in the area.
1854: The first marriage of the area is performed by Justice of Peace E. D. Eaton, uniting Mr. Albert Leach and Mrs. Martha McDonald.
1855: The first death in this community is recorded, of Mr. Spangler. He is buried on the bluff between the upper and lower mills in Winnebago Valley.
1857: Luella Melbin is the first child born in Section 32, which is now the village of Eitzen.
1858: Minnesota is admitted to the Union, and Eitzen became an independent municipality. The first town meeting is held on the 11th of May, 1858, at the home of Mr. E. Laflin, on Section 32. Mr. Laflin takes the chair, and Mr. Freeman Graves, the senior resident, is elected moderator, and Asa P. Beman, clerk. At ten o’clock the polls open and they are kept open until five o’clock. The following men are elected: supervisors: Joseph A. Melvin, chairman, Fred Kohlmeier and Edmund Lynch; clerk: Lovel Houghton; assessor: Lark E. Laflin; collector: Harvey E. Jones; overseer of the poor: John Tourtelotte; justices of the peace: Asa P. Beman and Herman Carsten; constables: Fred Ruhe and James Templeton; overseer of the roads: Freeman Graves. Thus is the new town started on its career as an independent municipality.
1858: A mail route is established between Brownsville, Minn., and Dorchester, Iowa. Intermediate stops are Crooked Creek, Winnebago Valley and Portland Prairie. The Portland Prairie station is first located at the Asa Sherman home. The Winnebago Valley station is first located at a house in section 22. The mail is due once a week.
1859: Rev. Muckurtz, a missionary, conducts the first German church services at the home of Frederick Kohlmeier. They later found the St. John’s United Evangelical Church in 1863.
1860: The first mill in the valley, called the Upper Mill, is built of stone. It is finally put into operation in 1865. In 1877, the old stone building is razed and a new two-story wood-frame building is erected, which still stands today. The Lower Mill is built in 1865.
1860: A stone schoolhouse for District No. 52 is built and the first term in that building is taught by Miss J. C. Jones, who later marries Edmund Stevens, at $18 per month. This building burned, but is rebuilt in 1875. The present two-room schoolhouse is built in 1905.
1862: The first blacksmith shop in Eitzen is owned by Thomas Biggs.
1863: St. John’s United Evangelical Church is organized at the home of Henry Deters, and in 1864, they build Eitzen’s first house of worship. A few years later, this congregation divides to form two new churches. In 1866, one group purchases a lot from Mr. C. Bunge and form the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Church. The other group forms the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1871.
1865: The people of Portland Prairie and Eitzen join together for a Fourth of July celebration in a pleasant grove, east of the then unfinished St. John’s church (now St. Luke’s). Between two and three hundred people come, some by team and others by foot.
1865: Conrad Laufer begins to keep travelers occasionally. In 1867, he opens a saloon, and in 1871, he erects a hotel.
1866: C. Bunge Jr. starts a store in a log building in Eitzen. In 1868, he is appointed postmaster of Eitzen, located at his log store. When the post office comes into being, it needs a name. The name Eitzen is chosen because Mr. Bunge came from Eitzen in Germany. Later in 1907, C. Bunge Jr.’s daughter, Bertha Bunge, becomes postmaster, a position she then holds for 46 years.
1871: The Zion Lutheran Church is organized, and the church is built.
1875: James Payne brings the first baseball to the community.
1876: The Methodist Church is built on Portland Prairie. The Portland Prairie Church’s cemetery contains the grave sites of many of the first pioneers to the area, the oldest dated 1770-1857.
1878: Heat injures the wheat and the following year, a second wheat failure occurrs, and people either switch to stock raising or leave the area and move to Dakota.
1884: Rev. John Jahn resigns from the pastorate of St. John’s United Evangelical Church. Later, the St. John’s congregation joins with nearby Immanuel Lutheran Church to form St. Luke’s Evangelical Church.
1890: The C. Bunge, Jr., store building is erected by Christian Krueger and Henry Roeber, who build it all by hand. They start building on the third of March, and finish by October 1. The walls of this building are three feet thick at the base and taper to 1.5 feet at the top. The rock is quarried a few miles from Eitzen and brought to the site of the building. There the stones are faced, trimmed, measured and fitted piece by piece. No big machinery is available to raise the stones into place, meaning these men are very efficient builders.
1894: The first Eitzen band is organized, and the charter members are as follows: Barney Gerling, Ferdinand Voight, August Wiemerslage (known as Little Gust), H. A. Wiemerslage (known as Big Gust), Leo Pottratz St., William Krueger, and Fred Monk.
1896: The telephone is introduced into the community, with the central office at the George Cass home.
1896: The Crystal Creamery Company is organized. Heretofore, the cream had been gathered and brought to a station at the Henry C. Fruechte farm and from there taken to Lansing, Iowa. For a few years the cream was taken to New Albin, until the Crystal Creamery Co. started. Emmett Rice is the first buttermaker.
1897: William Brammer starts a butcher shop. The sausage mill is powered by two ponies.
1898: The first organized ball club is formed, with the following members: Herman Schultz, Richard Pottratz; John Holtzworth, Otto Thies, Carl Deters, William Hannebuth, August Pottratz, Albert Pottratz, and Henry Gerling.
1902: Bertha Bunge becomes postmaster, a post she will hold for 42 years.
1905: The stone two-room grade school is built. The building still stands today.
1908: The fire department is organized on July 6th. The officers elected are: H. H. Fruechte, President; August Wiemerslage, Vice-President; F. H. Deters, Secretary; F. F. Deters, Treasurer; and Henry Staggemeyer, August Guhl, L. H. Deters, Directors.
1909: The first bank opens for business, located in a new brick building on Main Street, where the Post Office stands today.
1911: The first five silos are built in the community.
1912: The first cars arrive.
1912: The creamery burns to the ground, and rebuilding takes place the same year. While it is being rebuilt, the cream is taken to both Wilmington and New Albin, Iowa.
1912: Frank Paus builds his blacksmith shop. That same year, the Farmer Store is organized, with is later sold to Herman Kurk Jr., who operated it until 1960.
1917: St. Luke’s Church (formerly St. John’s United Evangelical) is struck by lightning and burned. The present brick structure is completed in 1918.
1917: A few tractors come to the community.
1920: Herbert Deters starts his implement business, as part of Frank Paus’s blacksmith shop and garage. In 1941, Deters purchases the farm equipment business from Paus and moves his office across the street. His sons, Warren and Garnett, take over the business in 1962, and later a large new machine shop is built to accommodate the expanding business.
1923: The Portland Prairie 4-H Club is organized, with the distinction of being the first 4-H club in Houston County.
1924: Radios come to Eitzen.
1928: The road to Caledonia is graded, the work is done with horses and mules. In 1929, the road gets crushed rock.
1928: Louis Meyer hitches the Eitzen fire engine to his new four cylinder Chevrolet truck and tows the machine to the L.H. Kruse farm fire, ending the horse-drawn era.
1930: The road to Waukon is graded, with gravel put on soon afterward.
1930: Boots Wiemerslage opens his service station.
1931: Louie Buchholtz gets the first school bus to service the Eitzen area. He operates the service for 25 years, until LeRoy Meiners takes over.
1933: Leo Pottratz starts his produce business, which he has until 1973, when he sells the business to Harold Meyer. Also in 1933, Louie Staggemeyer opens The Dug Out, after prohibition is repealed by President Roosevelt.
1936: The Eitzen Bank is robbed by the “cream can bandits.”
1938: Ben Pottratz opens his grocery store. Later in 1961, it is sold to Milton Staggemeyer.
1940: R.E.A. (Rural Electrification Act) comes to Eitzen.
1940: Lester Bucholtz starts a meat locker, a business that changes hands throughout its history, but is still in business today.
1943: The creamery again is destroyed by fire. The next creamery is built on a new location in 1944, and as nearly fireproof as possible.
1946: Milton Paus becomes postmaster at Eitzen; he will remain the postmaster until 1982. That same year, a Ford V-8 fire truck is purchased by the Eitzen Fire Company, and a new fire station is built.
1947: Eitzen is incorporated as a village. The first mayor is Ben Pottratz.
1955: A new highway to Caledonia begins construction.
1955: The Community Center is built and dedicated. Cost is about $20,000. Much labor is donated by local and area residents. The land on which it is located was given to the town by Miss Bertha Bunge, to be used for recreational purposes.
1957: The road to Waukon is blacktopped.
1961: Dial telephones come to Eitzen.
1961: Junior and Tom Wiebke build a big grain elevator, and business expands to include an extensive fur business.
1963: The fire department builds a new fire station.
1964: The Eitzen bank is robbed again.
1964: Byron and Marie Bunge purchase The Dug Out and rename it “Bunge’s Dugout.” They will operate the bar and supper club for about 20 years.
1970: The Houston County Historical Society acquires the Bunge Store, for a museum.
1971: The creamery discontinues business, and the building is sold to Junior Wiebke to use for his fur business.
1974: Eitzen Bank builds a modern building.
1975: Telephone lines in the Eitzen community are put underground.
1977: Eitzen is selected as a candidate for “Minnesota’s Cleanest City”
1980: The Eitzen Lions Club is chartered on April 13th.
1980: The Post Office is moved to the old bank building on Main Street, where it remains today.
1981: The Eitzen museum building (formerly C. J. Bunge store) is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1981: The Eitzen school closes its doors, and merges with the Caledonia school district.
1986: The Eitzen bank is robbed on Halloween, by someone wearing a mask.
1998: Deters Implement is sold to Hammell Equipment.
2004: Eitzen Bank begins to expand to other communities. A loan processing office opens in Caledonia in 2004, and then expands to a branch office in 2007.
2007: Matt Burrichter opens Eitzen Truck Shop
2008: Eric Sauer opens ESR Mods shop.
**: Wiegrefe Senior Housing is built.
2016: Eitzen Bank opens a branch in La Crescent.
2017: Eitzen State Bank changes its name to ESB Banking & Insurance.
2018: Bob Meiners, whose baseball career spanned 23 years of playing and managing the Eitzen ball team, is nominated for the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.