Showing posts with label Ely. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ely. Show all posts


Ely Train Depot

Below are photos of the Ely train depot that once existed off Dows Street.

Also below are some memories of the train depot by Ely resident John Prastka. Prastka was born in 1885 in Oxford Junction but grew up in Ely.  Before the Ely Centennial in 1972 he hand-wrote his memories of early Ely.  He gave his writing to the Ely Legion, and they are now part of  the Ely Community History Society collections. Prastka died June 1, 1975 at the age of 89.
Click each photo to enlarge it.

John Prastka writes ...
There was the depot.  The agent lived on the second story with his family, and it was of a color like clay and into the paint fine sand was blown so the sparks from the engines would not set it afire.  It had a big pot bellied cast iron soft coal stove in the comfy waiting room from which you could purchase your ticket through a window waist high. 

In the telegraph room was a smaller cast iron stove, and the doors had to be kept open to help knock down the draft and I had seen them red hot in winter at times.  The room often was full of acrid gassy smoke that could make you cough gasping for fresh air.  There were built in benches to the south and west.  The entrance door faced the tracks to the east.  On the ends of this depot were white letters “ELY”.  A long ladder stood next to the north end and held in place by tilting the ladder and pushing it up straight.  The entrance to the second floor was by the outside steps.  The freight room with a pair of scales was to the north and a door at both south and east.  We kids often weighed ourselves there on the scales and looking somewhat wishfully at the candy buckets and boxes, also the sacks of peanuts.  The smell was quite pleasant there.

About 1911, looking west.
The plank platform was on blocks of timber to make it easier for people to board the passenger cars and this platform was all around the depot and extended 40 or 50 feet each way from the front part of the depot where the windows were built out so the telegrapher could see both down the tracks and also up.

A double latrine of same color was set up a little to the west of the depot, men to the west and ladies to the east with the lettering over the doors.

At this time no homes were as yet built east of the tracks, which consisted of the main line. A two switch tracks, and there was also a switch track to the west of the depot.  Just a few rods north from the depot was a wooden water tank where the engines refilled the water tanks of the engine.  The coal was in the center easy to get at by the fireman with his big scoop.

Looking toward Dows Street.

I forgot to write that down near the creamery [Note: where the fire station is now located] was the section house where the hand car and the dumpy [?] were housed and under lock and key, and a short way across the tracks was a tall windmill that pumped the water for the water tank.  The land sloped towards Willow Creek and they need not go so deep to strike water there as it was maybe 8 feet lower than the tracks.  Many were the times us kids climbed to this platform to take a look around and our folks would have worried about us for fear we’d fall, and it is really dangerous to get up on these small platforms as gusts of winds could topple you off.  We were sure-footed however.

For us kids the depot was a sort of hangout, just to see the trains and passenger ones also, come and go.  We noted the styles of cars, caboose and engine types, some had only 4 drive wheels and later came these with 6 and on and on to bigger models, as time passed.

At this time I must write that those engineers who laid out the roadway Ely to Cedar Rapids had committed a grave error and had chosen a bad route north of Ely and had a big incline and a S curve also and many a freight got stuck there.  We kids often would jump off easy there, and of course had to walk back and if barefooted we had to use the dusty road. 


I ran across this account of a train wreck in Ely that happened in December 1887.


A Collision Which Barely Comes Off Without Loss of Life.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., Dec. 30.----The cannonball express on the Albert Lea route, leaving Chicago at 12:05 p.m., was wrecked at Ely, Ia., twelve miles from Cedar Rapids, at 2:30 a.m. yesterday. A heavy drift of snow stopped the train at Ely, and while the track was being cleared, a heavy freight engine with a caboose attached, ran into the rear of the buffet coach, telescoping it and sending the second or rear sleeper into the first as far as the toilet room and turning over the stove.

By prompt action of the passengers and conductor the fire was put out before doing any damage. The other coaches were jammed together, and the second engine converted into a wreck. The freight engine and buffet car were demolished. Every coach was full of passengers and all were jarred and bruised, three seriously, but none fatally. A driving snow storm was in progress, and the passengers thrown out of the sleepers in their night clothing suffered from severe cold. The train left Ely fifteen hours late. The names of the injured are not known here.

The Ohio Democrat, New Philadelphia, OH 5 Jan 1888




Ely Firemen

A couple photos of Ely firemen.  Thanks to the identity help from Ely residents on the Ely Facebook group, I found an article in the Monday, May 28, 1956 Cedar Rapids Gazette of the top photo.  It reads: 

NEW HELMETS, NEW TRUCK FOR ELY FIREMEN - Members of the College-Putnam Townships volunteer fire department at Ely proudly display new equipment - which ranges from new safety helmets to a brand new fire truck. Picture was taken Saturday. In the photo are (front row, left to right): Ed Vavra, Bob Zeman and Dan McCune. Standing are (left to right) Assistant Chief Bill Hajek, Bill Kadlec, Bob Malatek, Ed Jones and Duane Tobias.

     Click the photo to enlarge: 
Back Row
: Assistant Chief Bill Hajek, Bill Kadlec, Bob Maletek, Ed "Sunk" Jones,
and Duane (Toby) Tobias.
Front Row: Ed Vavra, Bob Zeman and Dan McCune, former Chief.
Click the photo to enlarge it.
1. Ed Vavra , 2. Bob Zeman  3.Dan McCune, former Chief  4. Assistant Chief Bill Hajek
5. Bill Kadlec  6. Bob Maletek, 7. Ed "Sunk" Jones, and 8. Duane (Toby) Tobias

Read about the history of the Ely Fire Department (off-site link). 


1863 Jozef Kostlan letter to Bohemia

If you had ancestors that came across the ocean from Bohemia to Linn or Johnson County, you may be interested in reading an 1863 letter, written by Joseph Kostlan to his family and friends in Bohemia.

He tells of crossing the ocean, arriving in America, taking a train to Chicago, arriving in Cedar Rapids and going to his friends the Janko and Rousar families, both of whom lived near what was to become Ely, Iowa.

Kostlan's wife Anna's maiden name was Janko so she was no doubt related to the Janko family.  According to the 1910 United States Census, Joseph Janko (age 54) and his wife, Anna, immigrated to the United States in 1855.

Some of the "local" last names he mentions are:
 Janko, Roušar, Honzik,Vitek, Benes (Benesh), Hromatko, Korab, Rolenc, Louvar, Netolicky, Drahos, Vavra, and he lists Kun as the minister of the "Protestant church".  I believe this church is the Bohemian & Moravian Brethren Church, now the First Presbyterian Church near Ely, Iowa.  It was established in 1858, but did not have a church building until 1868. Until then they met in a Lutheran church just south of Ely, a fact that Kostlan describes.

In the 1880 United States Census Kostlan is listed as a farmer living in Fairfax township, Linn County, so he apparently did purchase land. His older children have no doubt married by this time.

1880 United States Census, Linn County, Fairfax Township
Joseph - age 45 - farmer - born in Bohemia
Anna - age 46 - wife - keeping house - born in Bohemia (I believe Anna's maiden name is Janko.)
Frank - age 15 - son - works on farm - born in Iowa
Wensel - age 14 - son - at school - born in Iowa
Louis - age 11 - son - at school - born in Iowa
Mary - age 7 - daughter - at school - born in IOwa
Edward - age 3 - son

On to the letter!

From University of Minnesota, Digitizing Immigrant Letters
Description:  Letter written by Jozef Kostlan from Linn County, Iowa, to his relatives in Bohemia on December 26, 1863.  Read the background of this letter and see another letter at


In Linn County, December 26, 1863. A letter from America. 

Our dearly beloved fathers, sisters and brother, brothers- and sisters-in-law, uncles and aunts, cousins, godfathers and neighbors, friends and every- one we know with your husbands and wives as well as children, we are greeting and kissing you one hundred thousand times, hoping in God that these lines of ours, longingly awaited, will be delivered to you while you are alive and in good health. As for ourselves, praised be God forever, we are all alive and healthy, and how we have been so far we would like to let you know.

The entire journey from Pardubice to Bremen was very enjoyable since we could not stop wondering at all things and occurrences that we saw. We spent four days in Bremen; it is a very large free city or republic, about four miles around.

From there, early in the morning on the 3rd of September, we, along with our luggage, embarked upon four sailboats. Each of them held about two hundred people, and another, a steamboat, towed us out. The sailboats were tied to it in such a way that we could walk from one to another without fear, and at about two o'clock in the afternoon we sailed into Bremerhaven where they moved our luggage chests to the ship. We were there overnight, and then early in the morning a steamboat towed us into deeper water. Bušek and the inn keeper with whom we had stayed, along with two clerks from the Office who had inspected us previously, all escorted us, and before long the steamboat left. Our escort also boarded a small boat, and then we waved our hats with wishes for health and a safe journey, saying good bye to them and to one entire continent.

The first day was smooth sailing, everyone was on the deck, watching the hills of Europe and ships that were sailing not far from us also heading for America and England, 19 of them. I do not know if [Page 2] they all carried emigrants, but of the two sailing from Bremerhaven one was full of Germans, the other had a mix of passengers; there were six families of Bohemians from Kutná Hora, the rest were all Germans. There were over four hundred souls on our ship.

The next day it began to rock us so unpleasantly that we could not fall asleep, and just over half of us were choking or throwing up. The crew, or sailors, were nailing and tying down the luggage chests to the posts to prevent them from tipping over. It then first occurred to us that much worse times are awaiting us, but thanks to God the voyage was good. But there was always a day or two when it was rocky, and then it was calm again. This lasted for two and a half weeks, and then it was fine all the way till the end.

My weak stomach and constitution were giving me troubles for three and a half weeks. So much so that I could not eat, and as soon as I raised my head, it started spinning, and my stomach was turning, but then I got used to it and food tasted good again. Francek was also in bad shape, although not as long. Anna and Krystýna were also down for about four days, but at least they were not throwing up or were not too sick. Jozífek and Anička were throwing up constantly. That is how it is on a ship, there is fear and stench, thirst and hunger. Thirst and hunger one could have helped, but I am disgruntled over the fact that those who have gone before us did not tell us well enough about it, and they never replied to my last letter.

On the anniversary of the Zderaz church consecration, it was Saturday. White loaves of bread were passed out to us, and they tasted as good to us as the holiday pastries to you. There was [Page 3] a fellow travelling with us who had a concertina. On that Sunday the sailors were having their third music party. They were dancing, and the German passengers with them, for they feared nothing even when the luggage chests were rolling about and water was splashing into the ship. They were just laughing. Well, there is no need to be afraid, for everything is arranged in such a way that no danger can come up easily, and no one can escape God’s will anyway. Among all of us aboard no one died except the Mlejnek’s girl and also one of the German’s. A good sailing ship costs as much as the entire village of Zderaz, and steamships much more than that, and there are hundreds of those ships, especially in New York.

On the day of the smaller consecration holiday in Zderaz we reached the desired shore, and there we remained at anchor for 24 hours. Then we really could not stop wondering at the steamships, moving on the water faster than trains on rails. Everyone had forgotten about their suffering, and many were jumping with joy when they saw the flat ground and the beautiful huge city.

Our sea voyage lasted forty days. Then we travelled six days in America by rail. We arrived in Chicago, which is a very large trading city – the railroads reach it from seventeen directions, and there are already over one hundred and seventy-five thousand souls, all Czechs, living there.

On the morning of October 20th, we safely reached Cedar Rapids. The Jankas (Janko) were going to have a music party. Honzik was delivering beer barrels, so we were able to get a ride with him, and at once they prepared a feast for us. They have a nice house, three rooms, and so many horses and ox teams, cows and a lot of pigs. They are doing very well, and they are sending a hundred greetings to all their friends.

When Roušar learned that we were there he [Page 4] came to get us right away, and then we had a good time again and we have ever since. This year the Roušars lost two mares with colts. They also have a large house, one mare, one colt, and three mules. They are stronger for pulling loads, and more expensive than horses, and last up to a hundred years. They have nine head of cattle and over forty pigs. In one day we have just slaughtered fourteen of them for sale. They each had two hundred fifty pounds (140 kilos).

Vítek and I helped Jozef with building the farm, he also has nine head of cattle. I have visited Vítek as well, also the Beneš’s, Odvárkas, Hromatkas, they are all healthy and well. They all send their hundreds of greetings to their friends. They are about ten miles (your style) from the Roušars. The area around the Roušars here are is full of Czechs, and from near you, such as Koráb from Borová, Rolenc from Voldříš, he is also sending greetings to his friends. Louvar and Netolický; Skutyčka and others who are unfamiliar to you. The English are people especially honest and good-natured when one can talk with them.

Do not blame me for not writing for so long for I thought I would first look around here, maybe even buy something, but so far I have not bought anything. Prices will not go up now with the war. Gold is very well regarded here. In Bremen we got 42 American gold dollars for one hundred Austrian guldens. In paper we would get a third more so we are by far better off than when the Drahoš’s went, since the currency has become stronger in Bohemia and weakened here. So they did not make anything on their money.

The journey from home all the way here cost about one hundred Austrian guldens for one adult, with approximately one hundred fifty pounds of luggage (80 kilos). [Page 5] One could do it for even less than that. So, if anybody asks, I will write everything from the beginning to the end, how to arrange things to great benefit. To invite you to join us here – that is a very difficult thing because without your own desire or wish, all convincing is in vain. Second, I do not know whether God would bring you here safely. Third, it is still the same here with the war, the state of Iowa is required to send 13,300 men. Fourth, not sure whether you would like it here as much as I do for all of the good things that you are lacking, such as good land in great abundance, come also with many difficulties.

To describe how everything works here, I would have to write much only based on hearsay, and you know that people are of many different opinions, so I will allow myself some time and, God willing, if I can stay alive and healthy here for one entire year, I will relate everything to you then. For now, I will try my best according to my knowledge and conscience.

In the vast surrounding area here, the land is similar to the fields of the Vávras, but you will not find a stone on it. It is good ground, in some places up to twelve feet of good soil. Everything grows here, and new soil is easily broken here since there are no forests, only nice meadows. The prairie is plowed by a big plow pulled by four teams of oxen. It is done in June or July, that time is said to be very hot. It works so well that in the spring they sow wheat directly in it. Less seed is needed here for everything, and it yields more. Everything here is done by machines. Roušar also has a cutting machine together with his neighbor.

Cattle does not require much, there is enough to graze on in the summer. [Page 6] And in the winter they can be fed corn straw. Cattle are always kept outside during the winter, but for horses there are stables.

The weather is very strange here, at one moment terrible cold and lots of snow, then suddenly there is a thaw. But the winds are stronger here since there are no high mountains, wind can blow freely, and there are fewer forests as well. Cattle of all kinds can be found here and as big as yours. Only I have not seen goats yet, but they do raise them in some states.

In this state the wild game is different, no deer, hares are smaller, but pheasants and partridges are plentiful and they are more expensive than farm raised poultry. In other states it is all different, for America is very large. The state of Iowa is as large as the entire Austrian empire, and there are 32 such states. And there is still room for entire new states. So if all of Europe moved here, it still would not be as crowded as it is for you. In some places there are forests just like yours, they are very old and now being turned into fields as well. But how? They are set on fire and the wood burns all the way to the roots. We saw a lot of this on the way here.

Tell Koks that there are mills here, both steam- and water-powered, working the same way as your steam-mills. There is also a Czech miller nearby who has set up a mill although he did not come here with much. There is a lot of work for him around here so he is rather wealthy. They charge twice as much for milling here as they do in your country.

I can’t think of a better way for children but to come here, since work is paid very well here. A craftsman does not earn all that much more than laborer. [Page 7] A laborer earns 1 Austrian gulden during the winter, 2 in the summer. During harvest up to 3 guldens plus meals. When a 17-year-old lad goes into any trade, the first year he gets one hundred guldens, 150 the second year, and 200 the third year. A girl can go to the city and earn 150 guldens. She does not do anything besides laundry and housecleaning, and she will get good food too. Women here wear long dresses and hats or caps. A regular farm hand makes 200 guldens. So we can’t really complain, we should rather be joyful.

To make a long story short for farmers, especially those who work hard, it is much better here than in your land. Women have it especially nice here, although they do not have a house as large, and men are not dressed as fancifully, they do have a table with food that would be hard to get in your land. And if someone would want to have a life like here, their farm could only support it for two years. If people here were as frugal, they could save more here than there. Except for food, everything is twice as expensive here. For about 1200 Austrian guldens, one can get a nice 40-acre farm with cultivated land and a house. An average horse is 200 guldens, ox 60, cow 40. A three hundred pound pig (170 kg) costs 30 guldens. A measure of wheat (94 liters) is 3 guldens, corn 1.80, barley 2.30, oats 2.

I do not have more to write, so I am greeting the Kopeckýs and all friends. One more time we are sending you one hundred thousand greetings and kisses and wishing you a happy new year. And if perhaps this letter is for some of you our first and last, especially you, our old father, since according to human understanding your grave is perhaps drawing nearer, so rest your gray head in peace and take consolation in your descendants reaching their happy destinations, and hope that after not too long a time our dear God will re-unite us. I will end my letter with that. I am leaving you to God and console myself in the hope that in a short time your dear written lines will reach us again. Jozef and Anna Kostlán, Franc Kostlán. Krystýna Janko.

[Page 8] Religion is of multiple varieties here, but mostly Evangelical (Protestant), Catholic believers are as numerous as Jewish in your land. No one is prevented from worshiping in their own way, everyone can praise God the way they want. We go to an English church but in the afternoon since the English go in the morning. The Roušars go there with us, and the other day Mrs. Beneš was there also. The only holidays celebrated here are the first day on New Year’s and Sundays, no other holidays. There is a preacher here from Moravia, a certain Kůn, he is a wise man and a good orator, so in many ways he is above your pastor. The church is about one hour away.

Tell teacher Jarošovský that there are not many prospects for him here, for there will not be any Czech schools established here – unless he would like to start another life. And you sister, please let me know how you parted with father Jarošovský and what he told you on the way and if they would not like to send us some news. Please tell us how they are doing. I am also greeting Vince, wherever he is and how he is doing. I would invite you here, for my first wish would be to see you again. But now I’d rather wait to see how it is going to end up with the war. Meanwhile I will settle down so that you could come and join me. If you have shed any tears for us, you can dry your eyes now. It’s been going well for us, and if it is God’s will for us to meet again, then we will talk about what we are holding in secret now. Therefore I wish you all good health and be well, may the Lord be with you.
Jozef Kostlan

If Busek has sent a letter to you do not pay too much attention to it since it is not as he says. When I get a good idea of how things are here, I will tell you better than that.

(Read the background of this letter and see another letter at


Help identify

If your family has lived in the Ely-Shueyville area for a long time, please make some time to view the unidentified photos from our blog to see if you can help identify some people.  

Thanks for looking!


Christmas in 1896

Merry Christmas 
from the Ely Community History Society!
Here's what was happening in Ely in 1896!


The Naming of the St. Quentin Post

Be sure to read "The Naming of the St. Quentin Post", researched and presented by Post Historian Rob Smith this past Veterans' Day.  It tells the story of two men from Ely, Joseph Dvorak and Charles Noska, who died near the city of St. Quentin, France in World War I.  Smith does a wonderful job of taking us back in time and describing  the conditions of the war the men experienced, as well as conditions back home.  Other Ely area men who died in World War I were Joseph Filipi, Joseph F. Kriz, and Frank Moses, Jr.  Read the story at St. Quentin Post website

Read other history posts at the Legion blog.  Click the drop down under the tab "History" to see all the articles offered.  Great job!


Cowboys terrorize Ely in 1900

Thanks to Ely resident, Rob Smith, for finding and sending in this article.  It is s story of some young men who delivered a number of broncos to the Ely area from a Montana ranch.  All was fine until they began drinking in the town of Ely.

From the Cedar Rapids Republican
September 29, 1900
"They had the whole town terrorized, compelling people to close their places of business, making them get down on their knees in the street .... They refused to be arrested ..."

Read the story by clicking the below image to enlarge it.


Old drawing of Ely CSPS Hall

View of the scan sent from the Czech Republic (Click to enlarge)

Recently Ed Vavra, ECHS Board President, received a scan of a line-drawing of the Ely C.S.P.S. Hall from a contact in the Czech Republic.  It appeared in the "Kvety Americke" published in 1887 in Omaha, NE.

Č.S.P.S. stands for "Česko-Slovenský Podporující Spolek" (Czech-Slovak Protective Society). It was a large fraternal organization supporting the welfare of Czech and Slovak immigrants to the United States. It offered a type of insurance for the Czech people.

The Ely C.S.P.S. was located on the east side of Walker Street between Dows and Traer Streets. (behind the library)

Read an earlier post about the Ely C.S.P.S.

A close-up of the line-drawing (Click the image to enlarge it.)

A view of the C.S.P.S. Hall from an old postcard.


Joseph Wojtishek

The Ely Community History Society has received a history on Josef Wojtishek (also seen as Vojtisek, or Woitisek) from Scott Phillips, a genealogical historian who has translated a large number of publications from the Czech language to English. 

The Wojtishek history appeared in Amerikán Národní Kalendář, Volume: XXI, Year: 1898, Pages: 196-208, under the heading of “Memoirs of Czech Settlers in America"

The1898 history appears on the following links on Phillips' site "Onward to Our Past". 

Link 1 (scroll down to find the Wojtishek history);  Link 2;   Link 3

Read more about Joseph Wojtishek in an earlier blog post.
Here is the transcript of the 1898 article:
Josef Wojtishek from , Linn County, Iowa, was born in 1837 in Jimramov, Moravia on the Bohemian border where his parents worked as farmers. He attended local elementary school there. When he finished that school he helped his parents until 1853 when they sold everything they owned in order to leave for America. They hoped that their hard work would be better rewarded there. Another reason was to avoid military service for Josef and his brother. None of them wished to see them wearing the tight jacket of an Austrian soldier.

They went via Bremen to Galveston, Texas where they landed after 8 weeks of fortunate sailing. They continued on to Houston where they then stayed for 2 weeks. A Protestant preacher Bergman, from Cat Spring in Austin County, tried to convince them to move there, but they did not like the intensely hot weather of Texas, which they were not accustomed to. They were also afraid of the lack of good spring water, a really rare commodity in Texas.

Due to these reasons they decided to go back to Galveston and from there continued on to New Orleans. From that town they sailed via the Mississippi River north to St. Louis where they planned to settle. But they did not like that town too.  During this time there were some riots and therefore they decided to go to Chicago.”
“In Galena, Illinois the father of Wojtishek became very sick and on the third day after their arrival in Chicago he died. Everyone can understand the feelings of these poor immigrants staying by the coffin of the man who was their main support and breadwinner.  After they buried their father for his eternal rest, they continued on as orphans to Caledonia, Wisconsin, near Racine.

In this town there lived some other Czechs including some of their friends from the Old Country. They went there to buy some land and settle there. But the land in Caledonia was already too expensive and for newcomers it would have been very difficult to start there. Several families from Caledonia were going to move to Iowa at this time because land was cheap there and the people who had already settled there sent them good news. So the Wojtishek family decided to move there, too.

They bought a pair of oxen and together with another four families started the journey. After two weeks of traveling they reached Cedar Rapids. This was about eight miles from the place called Hoosler Grove (now Ely). At this place they occupied governmental land and started to farm. In the surrounding area were a lot of redskins in those times and also a lot of wolves. This made it difficult for the newcomers. Their first summer Josef, together with his younger brother, built a hut. Despite the fact that the hut was a primitive one they were proud of it and having one made it feel like a palace to them.

Three years later their mother remarried and in 1862 bought 40 acres in the same neighborhood and Josef remained alone on the first farm. His brother helped at both places and also worked for other farmers. In that time (1862) he married Miss Anna Riegel,[also Rigel] who came from an old Czech patriotic family.

They worked hard on the farm until 1872 and being successful, they found themselves able to buy more land. In the mentioned year he already owned 280 acres and an additional 80 acres, which they later sold. But his wife suffered from gout and could not be of much help to him. Therefore he began thinking about starting a new business. In 1872, together with one American, they established a profitable drugstore [general store] in Ely. But they went separate ways some time later. From that time on Wojtishek has had his own store and thanks to his hard work it has flourished.”

At a later time later he (Ed: Josef Wojtishek) took advantage of an opportunity to join a grain store, where he successfully worked together with his co-partner for sixteen years. In 1888 he paid his co-partner for his portion of the store and since that time he has been the sole owner of the store.  Wojtishek became a wealthy man because in addition to owning the drugstore [general store] and grain store he is a stockholder in one bank in Cedar Rapids and for some time he was also its chairman. He also is the owner of 275 acres of great soil in Linn County.

He has a three living children. His son, Fr. J. Wojtishek, is a popular physician in Cedar Rapids and a daughter Marie works as a teacher in the public schools there. The youngest daughter, Anna, still lives with her parents.
However, Wojtishek is a cool-headed man who always works with invincible energy. This is the reason for his successes in business and in farming, too. His wife is alive too and she likes to talk about their hard beginnings in this country that they overcame.
Below: Daughters, Anna Woitishek (left) and Marie Woitishek (right)



Remembering Ely in the 40s and 50s

We have received an email from Lloyd Duffe, a long-time Ely resident who now lives in Columbia, South America. He tells of growing up in Ely in the 1940s and 50s.

10-18-13 Letter from Lloyd Duffe who lived in Ely for many years.

Trying to recall and write about the past is good medicine at times and I should try to push myself a little harder in this regard. This bit of writing and recall made me think back to the 40´s and 50´s in Ely and some of the things that took place that I am sure are not recorded and there are all too few left that would remember this time.

One interesting one, is the Summer of 1944 when a large group of Mexican´s were working on the Rock Island railroad both North and South from Ely. A side track was built along the rail line behind Vavra Lumber where their bunk and mess cars were located. I am not sure of the exact number of workers, but think it was close to 50 including foremen and workers who ranged in age from 16 to high 60´s.  I delivered news papers to several supervisors there on Sundays, when I had the paper route in town for the Des Moines Register. I got to know several of the younger ones well. I helped several learn to dog paddle in two excellent swimming holes in Rogers and Hoosier creeks near town that Summer. I could not walk by either tavern on Saturday without someone in this group of workers buying me a soda or ice cream cone. It was quite a Summer for a 12 year old. Many evenings and especially on Saturday night, there was guitar music along Main Street, in front of Les Philips and Rusty´s Tavern.

Pay day and Saturday night had the younger ones having the telephone central operator call for taxies to take them to Cedar Rapids and the brighter lights. The older one´s were more prone to be satisfied with Main Street Ely and be able to take the majority of their pay back to their families. Early nylon shirts and trousers were already in mode that summer and the younger workers liked to splurge on some quite expensive and wild color combinations they would come back with from their trips to Cedar Rapids.

Another thing that really livened up the town was the Tuesday night once-a-week movie. I worked for the fellow who ran this traveling theater for the better part of two years. Unfortunately I do not recall his name. He had a route of small towns in the area, where he and his wife put on weekly movies. She ran a pop corn machine and the movies were held in the old Legion Hall. My job was to set up the benches and chairs, take them down and clean up the place the next day. In the Winter, I stoked the two pot belly stoves, that was the hall's only heat.

Movies were extremely popular even though the majority were Cowboy & Western. Especially when the intermission drawing got up to 25 or more dollars - that was a lot of money at the time! Anyone who ever attended a movie signed a guest book and a number was placed in a wooden draw box. Five dollars was added progressively each week. If the person's number that was drawn was not in attendance, the following week's drawing went up another five dollars. Let the prize get up to 30 or 40 dollars and there weren´t enough seats for all the people coming to the movie in the hopes of walking off with a big prize. Many wives from the countryside would also come to town on Tuesday evenings to shop at the Sladek grocery store.

The Odd Fellows Lodge was extremely active in the 40´s and 50´s and their meetings were always on Tuesday evenings. At one time, Ely was the 7th largest Lodge in the State with a larger membership than the population of the town. I personally was signed up at 18 years of age like almost everyone else of this age group in the community and surrounding countryside. Sixty-three years later there are less than 20 of us still left and meetings are no longer held on any regular basis. Those in the community try to get together for a luncheon once a year to renew old times. Dick Netolicky was in charge of this for years and I think Bud Lingel, now handles what is left of Lodge functions.

The last graduation class in Ely High School was in 1945. After that students from the immediate area attended surrounding schools at Solon, Shueyville, Mt. Vernon or Cedar Rapids Schools until Prairie Schools started the first High School classes about 1957.

During the late 40´s a big thing for the farm boys and even myself living in town, was the Putnam Pals 4H Club. Living on what was my parents acreage on Fuhrmeister Street, we had room for livestock and I raised Hereford baby beef cattle to show at the All Iowa Fair for 3 years. The club had two basketball teams for several years. The younger members had a few games with surrounding area 4H Clubs. In 1949 and 1950 the older member team was made up of some of us in High School and a couple players that had just graduated from school. Over this two year period we played anyone we could schedule a game with; other clubs, church league teams in Cedar Rapids, Legion Clubs against older players and an occasional High School team. Right now, I think the only two left from this group are Bernard Erenberger and myself. I always considered Bernie the best player on our team. He played a lot of basketball and baseball at old Wilson High in Cedar Rapids. Others that rounded out this team were Bob & Richard Netolicky, Vernon Erenberger and myself. We played 30 games during the Winters and Springs of 1949-50 winning 29 or them. The only loss was when Bernie was absent because Wilson High had a game the same night he was committed to.

As I seem prone to usually do, I have managed to rattle on considerably and it is more than time to close.
 - Lloyd Duffe


Read a story about a murder that took place in the Ely area in 1898, from Iowa Unsolved Murders.

Tracks in the Night: Murder of Edward Moore
by Nancy Bowers



1860 Tornado

Taken from Cedar Rapids paper, "The Cedar Valley Times", June 7, 1860.  

Iowa experienced terrible loss from tornados on Sunday, June 3, 1860.  Below is the portion that tells of the tornado in the Ely area.  It was located at the Cedar Rapids Library newspaper archives.

"The cloud to the southward passed over the town of Shueyville, about 9 miles south of this city [Cedar Rapids], destroying 2 dwellings; and then passed on through Banner Valley, unroofing the Lutheran church.  No lives were lost at either of the above places.

It then took a southeasterly [should be northeasterly] direction towards the Cedar River, passing through the Roger's settlement, seven miles from Cedar Rapids, on the west side of the river, destroying the dwellings of Mr. Thompson and Mr. Carns.  Mr. Carns' son was instantly killed.  A child 7 years old was carried by the storm a distance of 2 miles over the Cedar River.  The destroying fiend then took a jump, and the next we noticed of its work was at St. Marys, a small hamlet 2 miles south of Mt. Vernon.

If you wish to read the full article, click here to download the .pdf file.



Click the photo to enlarge it.
Above is a photo of the C.S.P.S. Lodge Hall that used to stand on the east side of Walker Street between Dows Street and Traer Street in Ely.  Č.S.P.S. stands for "Česko-Slovenský Podporující Spolek" (Czech-Slovak Protective Society).  Many dances & events were held in this hall in the past.

Below are memories of the CSPS Hall written by John Prastka.  Prastka (also Praska) was born in 1885 in Oxford Junction but grew up in Ely.  Preceding the Ely Centennial in 1972 he hand-wrote his memories of early Ely, which is now part of the collections at the Ely Community History Society archive.  


The CSPS Hall had a wooded lot nearby with benches under the trees and that was quite close to the center of town.  Diagonally to the northwest was just about as much open space under trees that would have been nice for a band stand but Ely as yet had no band.  

At the CSPS Hall the main picnic was July 4th and usually the New Year’s Eve dance, which lasted all night, where as July 4th it started at noon and dancing kept up till daylight the 5th.  Close to the hall some booths were set up like a roulette wheel with numbers on it and after so many paddles were sold each having 3 numbers on the paddle, then this wheel was given a spin and with a strip of leather passing over wood pegs it stopped at a certain number and if you held that number, after holding your breath, you got a choice of some gadget from the stand.  Of course, like all wheels of chance, they were rigged to enrich the operators.

There was usually on the grounds some man from Cedar Rapids who had a cane rack, and sold you so many rings for lets say a dime or 15 cents and you could try your luck to throw the ring to lasso a cane.  Colored rubber balloons were sold at the same stand.  Someone sold hot peanuts and popcorn. 

At the hall at about midnight the kitchen had kettles like a wash boiler into which were placed bologna and wieners, and there was rye bread cut up to go with it, and that was the real stuff, none made so good today.  The stand in the hall sold lemonade with cut up lemons floating in tubs and sugared up, and one could buy it if he preferred it instead of beer.  The girls usually asked for it and you could buy oranges, also paper sacks of hard sugar candy.  But beer was sold mostly, and the floor had to be swept by a broad push brush occasionally as it got dusty from the mud on the men's shoes. 

Every so often glasses of beer were carried across the whole length of the dance floor to water up the thirsty band musicians, who got dry quite often.  Heavy candles were set in holders so each musician could read the sheet music, and when these candles burned low to short stubs, it was a sign that it was close to daylight, especially July 4th.  Not so on New Year’s Eve. 

Not all the farmer boys danced even though they brought their guests or maybe even sweethearts but they stood 1/3 way from the bar just looking at the dancers.  Often when their sweethearts were nestling too close on some gay town blade, they got jealous and could start a fight.  Hardly a dance took place without some fights. 

Only a few of us are alive who could describe these dances, plays of home talent, medicine shows that were held there at times, and maybe it is just as well that I took over this job.

Besides the dances that were held at this old dance and lodge meeting place. there were the home talent plays given say 3 or 4 during the cold quiet winter season.  Small groups of Bohemian players were invited by the lodge members who loaned them the hall and these came to replay what was shown in the large CSPS Hall on 3rd Street SE in Cedar Rapids.  These were the days before radios, television sets in color, the phonograph and you had only traveling minstrels, Chautauqua plays, church plays and programs and revival church meetings that stirred the people up when they got in some rut and did not attend church steady enough and would fall back. 

The Ely people were hungry for some sort of recreation and so the CSPS Hall was used to give plays with a very small charge for admittance to pay for light, heat and the books that had to be bought or rented from which plays were written first in long hand for each player to memorize for the final night and there was usually only one rehearsal, which was not hardly enough as many actors didn’t know their parts making it hard for those who did.  Some were clever enough to supply their own words and one never did know his right words.  There was old Frank Sladek (the tiling man) and he loved to ad lib.  Each play had a concealed person who spoke the words softly so they could get their bearings from chapter to chapter.  There usually was a leading man, also a leading woman who had the heavier parts in a drama being a comic one or a serious one.  My sister had some leading parts and got used to the stage and did not panic or get stage-fright.  She usually had the tedious job of writing parts for the other actors and actresses, and many were the long nights by a poor kerosene lamp was this job done.

Cedar Rapids had some quite talented Bohemian players and many from Ely went to the Cedar Rapids CSPS Hall to see plays, often in the dead of winter in dark evenings.  Mr. Joe Denk would take out the gasoline powered section car and hitch – it is the dumpy over which planks were laid to seat a half dozen women and men and a 9 mile trip to Cedar Rapids was undertaken with chances of getting hit by some train, but worse for they sat in a heated room (for the play) and then got numb and cold going home so it was dangerous to hold on.  They were that hung up for to see a play.

Looking down Walker Street toward Dows Street, C.S.P.S. building on the left.

The Ely Fire Department burned the CSPS Hall,
which was in great disrepair, as a practice fire in 1996.
Also see a newer post showing a line-drawing of the CSPS Hall in Ely.


Unknown Wright family photos

Please CLICK HERE to see all the photos

One of the collections at the Ely Community History Center Archives contains a folder of scanned photos labeled "Unknown Wright Family Photos".  The collection was donated by Wilma Carson, formerly of Ely.   Does anyone recognize people in these photos?  If so, please email us at the address in the right column.

I have found the following family in the 1900 Census.  I do not know if this is the same Wright family.

1900 U.S. CENSUS
name:     Z L Wright
event place: ED 86 Putnam Township, Linn, Iowa, United States
birth date:     Jan 1867    birthplace: Wisconsin
relationship to head of household: Head
father's birthplace:     New York     mother's birthplace:     Canada Fr
race or color: White     gender:     Male
marital status: Married     years married: 10    estimated marriage year: 1890

Household / Gender / Age / Birthplace
head     Z L Wright     M     33     Wisconsin
wife     Clara Wright    F     28     Wisconsin
son     Floyd L Wright   M     9     Wisconsin
daughter     Zella Wright     F     8     Wisconsin

Citing this Record: "United States Census, 1900," index and images, FamilySearch (, Z L Wright, ED 86 Putnam Township, Linn, Iowa, United States; citing sheet 8A, family 146, NARA microfilm publication T623, FHL microfilm 1240443.


Joseph Woitishek & Jan Hanus, Ely merchants

John Prastka was born in 1885 in Oxford Junction but grew up in Ely.  Preceding the Ely Centennial in 1972 he hand-wrote his memories of early Ely.  He gave his writing to the Ely Legion, and they are now part of our collections.  He knew Joseph. Woitishek because his brother clerked for him in his store, which is now the building that houses the Post Office in Ely.

Following are a couple descriptions of early people in Ely.

JOSEPH WOITISHEK (Vojtisek in Czech)  
Caption: Joseph Woitishek was born in Moravia in 1837.
In 1853 he and his family arrived in Galveston, Texas and made their
way up the Mississippi, coming to Hoosier Grove (now Ely) in 1854, where
he bought land and farmed. Later he operated a general store
and was involved in the grain trade.
Mr. Prastka writes:
“Mr. Joseph Woitisek, Ely’s foremost financial success and richest person and merchant, had a lingo so much different than most people.  He wore a full beard about like Santa Claus is pictured, only his hair and beard were black or dark brown.  His talk was fanciful and he used so many phrases which differed from what an ordinary person ever uses.  He was not direct and to the point.  He beat about the bush.  .....such as “Yes, Mr. so and so, it could be just like this and how could it be otherwise?”  “For instance” was used a lot, also “that is”.  There were many fanciful words mixed and interwoven between his talk.  He also used them in his Bohemian languge.   “Ku prikadu totish” – “That is of course” was used the most.  He was nick-named by the Bohemians “Old Totish”.  ................The story goes on to tell about how Woitishek played checkers and who he played them with ...   "Woitishek lived in the house behind the store and “raised many different colored chickens and delighted in feeding them.  He would call out names he had for each one and throw the hen a few kernels of corn off the palm of his hand, and the chickens gathered all around him.

See a newer blog post about Joseph - a translation of a history about him from a publication in the Czech language.


An early ad for Jan Hanus Undertaking, Ely, Iowa.

Mr. Prastka writes:  “Mr. Hanus was an undertaker who wore chin whiskers, a small man in stature and he loved his daily nip of brandy at the saloons – a very restless type to the point of being nervous.  He had long waits between funerals and so had to raise a hog or two and kept many chickens in his barn yard.  He was good at carving walnut and finishing it, making nice bureaus and trunks, etc.  I think when Ely was new he made caskets with nice handles on and lined the inside.  (John Prastka used to hang around with a Hanus son, and tells of helping to clean the hearse before funerals.)  He also says, “When I was reported at Ely as dead at the time I got fever in the Navy, Mr. Hanus made a few trips to the train depot to see if I’d arrived there as a corpse!”  However, John was very much alive.

A copy of a translation of the Hanus ad from
 the Solon Economy newspaper, about 1895


Early Dows Street photo

Below is one of the earliest photos of Dows Street in Ely.  It probably taken pre-1890 and looks west down Dows.  The house that appears to be in the middle of the street in the mid-background is where the convenience store stands today in 2011.