First Presbyterian Church Near Ely

The church prior to 1893 - click to enlarge 

Around 1856 immigrant families from Bohemia began meeting in their homes on Sunday for simple worship services using prayers and song books they had carried with them from the "old country".  They helped their German neighbors build the Banner Valley Lutheran Church (located at Ely Rd and Hoosier Creek Rd) which was dedicated in 1859.  As thanks for their help, the congregation allowed them to use the church buildings on Sunday afternoon.  

By October of 1860 the families had secured a minister from their homeland to lead their services. Rev. FrantiĊĦek Kun dutifully served his people and the community in these early years and after the Civil War ended, he called upon them to build a church of their own. Funds were raised and the cornerstone laid in 1867.  By July of 1868 the building was completed on the ground where the First Presbyterian Church cemetery now sits west of Ely.  The church was a simple structure, 30 by 40 feet with 3 windows in each side and 2 doors in front - one for the men and the other for women.  

Originally, the church was called the "First Bohemian & Moravian Brethren Church".

In 1883 the church was moved 1 mile north to its current location and in the fall of 1893 the church was expanded to include a balcony and bell tower.  The bell first tolled for Rev. Kun's death in January of 1894 where over 1000 people from the Midwest attended his funeral. 

In the following years the Chadima or "West Church" branch was started to serve the people of Swisher and the Rogers Grove Church was purchased and used to serve those East of Ely - all served by the same minister from the "Mother church", now almost 50 years old.

The church and congregation in late 1920s / early 30s - click to enlarge

Over the next 50 years descendants of the first families still made up much of the congregation and until the 1950s services were conducted in the Czech language.  The year 1958 brought big changes; first the congregation joined the Presbyterian church and became known as the First Presbyterian Church near Ely.  The other event was a major addition where Sunday school rooms and a modern kitchen were added as the church celebrated its centennial. 

The history and heritage of this church and its first minister, Rev Kun, is unique. It has a very special place in Czech-American history as the first Bohemian/Moravian independent church in the United States. The same building that is at the center of the current structure is mostly unchanged over the years and the Czech spirit that built it is still as strong as ever. 

In August 2008 the church that started out as the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren Church celebrated its dedication after 150 years of prosperity and serving the Ely community. A special service and potluck were planned. Descendants of the original families still can be found on membership rolls where they and other faithful families are still carrying on the work that was started so long ago.

Taken after the 150th Anniversary celebration at First Presbyterian Church near Ely in August of 2008.

**Note: Also view a bit of history about this church at http://www.elypres.org/our-history.html


Banner Valley and the Fuhrmeister Family

On April 15, 2021 Dan and Debbie's Creamery of Ely posted a story on their blog: 

"THE TOUCHBERRY LEGACY WILL LIVE ON; The historical Fuhrmeister Farm on the south side of Ely, Iowa becomes a permanent part of our family’s journey to sustainability on our dairy farm and creamery.
(Please click the link to read the story.)

Carolyn (Fuhrmeister) Touchberry and her husband, Bob Touchberry.

The Fuhrmeister Family are Ely area pioneers. Christopher Fuhrmeister came from Germany and bought land south of Ely in 1838. He then returned to Germany and brought his family over.

From THE CEDAR RAPIDS REPUBLICAN, Thursday, December 14, 1905.
(A.J..Fuhrmiester obituary)

His father, Christopher Fuhrmeister, was .... a wagon maker and meeting with reverses, came to this country to recoup in the mill business. He crossed the ocean several times before removing his family here and was a great admirer of General Jackson, naming his son (Andrew Jackson Fuhrmeister) for him while the family were still residents of the old country. 

He wished to save his sons the necessity of serving in the army; he knew that in the United States there would be a better future for them, and these reasons entered into his decision to move his family to the United States.

The family came to this country in 1841, landing at Baltimore, and coming by canal boat and rail over the B.& O. Railway to Pittsburg. Thence they came down the Ohio and up the Mississippi to Muscatine and arrived at Iowa City, October 14, 1843. They settled at once on the old Fuhrmeister homestead farm near Ely. 

FROM: Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 16, 1981  -  Forrest Fuhrmeister, 90, poses at left with the lad he helped raise, Mike Albaugh, 42, in front of a marker on Forrest's farm. The marker indicates that Forrest's great-grandfather, Christopher, settled in the Ely are in 1838. Christopher purchased Forrest's present farm in 1871.

(From the same 1981 article) The original Banner Valley Post Office sits in Fuhrmeister's back yard, a memento of days when the area was known as Banner Valley rather than Ely. Settlers in the 1840s and 1850s would stop at the one-room cabin to pick up the mail.


In 1871, Christopher Fuhrmeister purchased the present farm from George Stream, also an early pioneer.

- By Luther Andrew Fuhrmeister

In 1853 my maternal grandfather, George Stream, (pictured on right) came from the state of Ohio and purchased the land now owned and lived on by Forrest Fuhrmeister. I remember this anecdote coming from the lips of my mother Lucinda Stream Fuhrmeister. "Stage coaches ran right by our house and the drivers would stop to feed and water their horses and leave mail to be distributed to settlers in the community by her father George Stream. ... The stage coach drivers would pick up any outgoing mail left at the Stream home. Therefore it can be truthfully said that my grandfather George Stream was the first one active in the capacity of postmaster in the south part of Linn county.

This post office was known as the Banner Valley Post Office. Below is a very early photo of the house that was once on the farm. There are also two photos of a part of the house, which still stands on the farm, and is designated as the Banner Valley Post Office.



In the year of 1856 a Post Office was established about one half mile South of the present site of Ely. The Banner Valley Post Office was short-lived.  November 27, 1856, George H. Walker was appointed the first Postmaster.  George Stream received an appointment as Postmaster on December 24, 1859.  The third and final appointee was Alexander Gillmore, receiving his commission December 15, 1864.  On July 23, 1866, the Banner Valley Post Office was discontinued.

THE ELY POST OFFICE, established May, 1871

Application was made by Samuel A. Stream (pictured at right) to the United States Post Office Department for a Post Office to be established near the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad, ten miles South of Cedar Rapids and to be known as the Ely Post Office. The application was signed by Samuel A. Stream and verified by W. H. Shuey, Postmaster at Western College, Iowa, on April 20, 1871. The Ely Post Office was established on May 16, 1871, at which time President Ulysses S. Grant commissioned Samuel A. Stream as Postmaster. He served as Postmaster for three years and one month.





1943 Thrashing Time

Here's a photo sent by Marvin Stastny taken around 1943 at the Lumir Truhlar Farm at threshing time.These women were probably gathered to cook food for the threshing crew. I'll bet there was some good eating going on!

BACK: Margaret Malatek Stastny Havlick ...  Viola Stastny Becicka ... Carrie ?? ...  Fanny Hovorka ... Lenora Truhlar ...Tillie Elias
FRONT  Grandma Halva ?? ... Rita Becicka Kral ... Audrey Stastny Conner Selby ... Matilda Horak Truhlar Stastny sitting on right... Eunice Elias in front..

Marvin Stastny's comments:
Lenora Truhlar was Rachel Garnant's mother and my step-aunt.
Tillie Elias was Evelyn Stastny"s mother. She was married to Lloyd Stastny. His dad and my dad were half-brothers. 
Matilda Stastny was grandmother to Rachel, Lloyd, Audrey, Rita and me.


St. Joseph Day in Ely, 1949

For many years the town of Ely's population consisted mostly of people who originated in what is now known as the Czech Republic. One of Ely's customs was the celebration of St. Joseph's Day on March 19th. St Joseph is the patron saint of the Czech people.

From the Solon Economist, March 24, 1949.Click the article to enlarge it.

Thanks to Ed Vavra for sending the original of this photo for us to see. Ed is the son of "Little Joe" in the photo! Click to enlarge it.

FRONT ROW: Joe W. Kadlec, Joe Denk, Joe Lorenc, Joe Vavra, holding his little grandson, Joe Vavra, son of Mr. & Mrs. Edwin Vavra, Joe Holets, Joe M. Becicka and Joe Simon, Rt. 2, Cedar Rapids.

BACK ROW: Joe Becicka, 2234 Fruitland Blvd, Cedar Rapids, Joe Krivanek, Rt. 2, Cedar Rapids, Joe Hajek, Rt. 2 Solon, Joe Topinka, 200 C Street SW, Cedar Rapids, Joe Stastny, Joe Melsha, Joe Buresh, Rt. 2 Cedar Rapids, Joe Stroleny, Rt. 2 Cedar Rapids, and Joe Zbanek.
Solon Economist, Thursday, March 24, 1949

Ely 'Joes" Observe St. Joseph's Day
By Katherine Worley

Just like the rains seem to uncover mushrooms in the spring, March 19 brought out in our community every man identified by the name of Joseph to take part in a festive celebration honoring the Saint's name.

On Saturday night in the I.O.O.F. lodge hall the Josephs congregated again to observe St. Joseph's day in much the same manner as they have for many years. Business men and retired farmers from miles around gathered to take part in a custom that was brought over from the old country.

The oldest Joseph in Ely, Joseph Becicka, a retired lumberman, is the only man who came over to this country as a child who can remember how the patron saint's day was celebrated in the Czech country. He has told his friends over here that it was the custom in the villages to go out and serenade the Josephs and Josephines and collect a few cents for refreshments. There were always a few fellows who could play instruments, and they went along with the serenaders.

The Ely Josephs for several generations have gone around the town serenading the Josephs and then after gathering up the crowd, would congregate at the lodge hall for refreshments. But now they have eliminated the serenading and had the entire celebration at the hall.

Instigators of the celebration called out the local Odd Fellows band to liven up the occasion and play familiar Czech tunes during the evening.

Joseph Holets, local banker, said he helped to commemorate the patron saint for over 50 years. He played the drum in the band. He remembers when "the boys used to come to the farm to get his father, the late Joseph Holets, Sr., and how he tagged along as a small boy for the whole affair.

Because the Josephs had such a dim future before their 1948 celebration, with no "Little Joes" to carry on as they have been doing for so many generations, Holets offered a $25 war bond to the first little Joseph born in the Ely community.

Just one month from the day the offer was made, a son was born to Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Vavra of Ely, and he became the winner of the bond offer. He was named Joseph after his grandfather, Joseph Vavra, also of Ely. Little Joe Vavra accompanied his grandfather Saturday night and was initiated into the realms of the Josephs on their special day.

Eighteen Josephs attended the affair, twice as many as last year. Several Josephs made a special effort to attend so that the celebration of the saint's day in their honor would not die out in the local community. However, Ely's longtime resident, Joe Novotny, shoe cobbler, Joseph Becicka, Joe Havilicek and Joe Kremenak were unable to attend because of illness. Kremenak remembers that the celebrating at Ely used to start at his home, because there were three Joes in his family, and he has been instrumental in keeping up the precedent.

The entertainment included card playing, visiting with old friends, topped off by dancing and refreshments. For the last three generations the women never attended the celebrating, but this year each Joseph asked his "Mrs." to come along.

The Josephs attending were: Joseph Simon, J.M. Becicka, Joe Holets, Joe Vavra, Joe Lorenc (oldest Joseph attending), Joe Denk, Joe W. Kadlec, Joe Melsha, Joe Statsny, Joe Topinka, Joe Hajek, Joe Krivanek, Joseph Becicka and Little Joe Vavra.

Other Odd Fellow friends in the community also took part in the affair and helped the Josephs celebrate.
Below is a 1953 photo of "Joes" sent by Ed Vavra,
again showing "Little Joe" sitting on his grandfather's lap. 

Joe Stroleny  2. 
FRONT ROW:  1. Joe Kremenak 2.         3. Joseph Holets 4. Joe Vavra with "Little Joe" Vavra on his lap"  5. Joe Simon

Another photo perhaps from 1954/1955?


1923 News Article

If you want to learn about the early history of Ely, here's your chance! Why not take some time and read about the early days. 

(A link to the article is at the bottom of this post.)

The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette published a full page spread on the town of Ely on August 4th, 1923 entitled

"ELY - It's Community One Of The Oldest In County"
- by John R. Battin

(Some of the headings on the page are ...)

Town founded with coming of railroad in 1872
but first settlers near there in 1838.

Samuel Fackler, 93, who came in 1840 recalls stirring events of early days;
Fuhrmeisters also among first who pioneered there, are prominent.
New school house is being built; Town has own light plant;
Say business is good

(J.C.Dvorak) Active in civic affairs; Gained fame as "Barefoot Mayor" when in office ten years ago;
(F.J.Krob) World War Veteran Present Town Executive

Sub-headings are:

(Under Samuel Fackler)
Lives in One-Room Cabin
Simple Diet
Oust Speculators
Met Frontier Justice
Ferried to Cedar Rapids

Mrs. Fuhrmeister, Pioneer
Prominent Family

Goes Barefooted (J.C. Dvorak)
Prominent Odd Fellow
Town Laid Out in 1872

Bank Organized

War Veteran Is Mayor (F.J. Krob) 

Photos are titled
"Some Pioneers and Street Scenes of Ely"
"New Schoolhouse"

 There is also information on many businesses then in Ely.

Click here to access the article.
It is located on Google Drive and if you hover your cursor over it you'll see a "+" sign that you can use to enlarge the article to make it readable.