Elkader’s founding pioneers are focus of cemetery walk

Error message

  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 133 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to get property 'settings' of non-object in _simpleads_adgroup_settings() (line 343 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Warning: array_merge(): Expected parameter 1 to be an array, bool given in _simpleads_render_ajax_template() (line 157 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in include() (line 24 of /home/pdccourier/www/www/sites/all/modules/simpleads/templates/simpleads_ajax_call.tpl.php).

David Beck will share information about Elkader’s early pioneers during a tour of the Eastside Cemetery on Saturday, Oct. 28. People can attend one of three tours at 1, 3 and 5 p.m.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


It will be a walk through pioneer history on Saturday, Oct. 28, when local historian Dave Beck takes history buffs and other curious attendees on a tour through Elkader’s  Eastside Cemetery. Groups will visit the grave sites of the early pioneers who founded and built the city, while also learning about the impact they had in their lifetimes.


Main Street Elkader (MSE) hatched the idea, though Beck noted it had swirled in his head for the last few years. It just needed the right instigating factor, and when MSE contacted him about a week ago, it was the opportunity to make it happen. 


While a week to prepare an hour-long walk through a cemetery talking might seem a daunting task, for Beck, it’s just a regular day.


That’s because Beck, who has slowly become the de-facto historian for Elkader and somewhat Clayton County, has developed a life-long interest in digging up stories and sharing history. He also spends time walking through the cemetery, almost as a hobby, jotting down names in a notebook to research later. He takes notes on questions he might have about a specific pioneer that finally comes to mind during one of those walks. 


There is endless curiosity when it comes to Beck’s love of history. It helps that cemeteries tend to be peaceful places where thoughts can be gathered.


Aside from strolling through the headstones seeking out history, the week of preparation is also reinforced by Beck’s volunteerism in numerous organizations that deal with history, such as the Clayton County Pioneer Cemetery Commission, Motor Mill Foundation, Elkader Historical Society and Garnavillo Historical Society. He also currently serves as president of the Clayton County Genealogical Society. 


If it can be found in the history of the area, Beck either knows it or knows how to find it—as he has done for this particular walk, spending hours researching each pioneer through a combination of looking at old newspapers and online sites such as Advantage Preservation, Ancestry and Find a Grave.


This passion for history is stirred by Beck’s desire to learn and share, so people can “know about” the people who came before them. 


“It helps honor their life to remember them, so they’re not forgotten forever,” Beck said. 


History unshared is history lost.


It’s partly why he wakes up at 2:30 a.m., writing down notes, thinking about the stops and what to say, or simply coming up with more questions that need answered. It’s also why he has mapped out the route for the walk, and though he will have a binder full of information, compelling stories and facts, the thoroughly-studied Beck probably won’t need it.


Learning about the past has long been an interest of Beck’s. It’s something that started by looking into his own family history on Feb. 2, 1999, when he remembered his dad had an old document, his great-great-grandfather’s naturalization papers from 1863. It piqued his curiosity, so he went to the courthouse to find some records. While there, he found a probate record, and from that moment, it all started to “blossom.”


A similar thing has taken place with all the volunteering Beck has done. 


“You know when you start being that person that volunteers for organizations, your name gets out there. And next thing you know, you’re drawn into,” Beck said.


This is how Beck went from gathering information for Motor Mill and somehow found himself researching Andrew Clemens, the self-taught folk artist from McGregor who is credited with inventing the sand art bottles, for an auction house in Ohio. 


“Once that ball is rolling, and you become an active person in that order, it gets the word out, and then more people keep asking,” Beck said.


MSE asking is just further evidence of the ball still rolling, and it’s rolling right into the Eastside Cemetery, where the majority of the pioneers are resting. According to Beck, it is the oldest cemetery in Elkader, dating back to the late 1840s, giving it added gravitas for a tour about the people who helped shape Elkader into what it is today.


One of the 15 people on the tour is Elisha Boardman, who arrived in 1836 and was one of Elkader’s first permanent residents, settling on the banks of the Turkey River and establishing Boardman Township, which was later renamed Elkader in 1846. Boardman also established the first farm, and together with other early settlers, built the first schoolhouse. 


Then there was H. H. Singer, who opened the first trading post, and Wolfgang and JB Schmidt, who brought electricity to Elkader.


Also on the tour is Frank D. Bayless, who established a drugstore and trained apprentices to go out and establish their own stores. John Thompson will make an appearance as well. Thompson was the first business owner in Elkader and purchased land in 1844 and 1846 and built the Elkader Flour Mill Company with Chester Sage and Timothy Davis. The Elkader Library now sits on the site of that mill, which closed in 1939.


“He was an entrepreneur. He wanted to get things done and he didn’t count the cost. It was a handshake and let’s do this,” Beck said of Thompson. He added that such behavior got Thompson in some serious trouble a time or two, but that story is for the tour.


One person who is not on the tour, but Beck believes deserves more credit than he gets, is the often-overlooked Chester Sage. Sage was one of the individuals, along with Thompson and Timothy Davis, who laid out the plan for the community and was involved in the flour mill, having built and run the first structures, according to Beck. 


Though Sage left for Missouri in 1852, before finally settling in his home state of New York where he is also buried, Beck was both passionate and adamant that Sage was equally responsible in the creation of Elkader and is as much deserving as anyone featured on the tour.


“Sage, with Thompson, built this town into what it began to be,” Beck said.


At the end of the tour, Beck hopes those who attend the walk will “remember those people that forged this town into what it is and the hardships they went through.” 


Hardships like diphtheria and cholera, trying to build huge structures without the ease of modern machines and of, course, flooding, which damaged the flour mill in June 1880, taking out half the massive stones on the river side of the mill. The damage didn’t deter the townsfolk, who simply rebuilt the mill.


“That’s the pioneer spirit,” Beck said.


Beck believes people are interested and will come out to the walk, especially if history is any indication. Previous events revolving around history have been well attended, like the photo history he did for Elkport-Garber and the 175th anniversary event in Elkader. The reason for this attachment to history, most notably in small, rural towns, is about a sense of pride.


“I think, deep down, people take pride in their hometown,” Beck said.


Anyone interested in the tour and learning more about the pioneers of Elkader can attend one of three tours on Saturday, Oct. 28, at either 1, 3 or 5 p.m. Organizers suggest people park on the street near the Congregational Church and meet at the west entrance by the church. Dress appropriately for the weather and for walking.


The walk is free, with donations encouraged for the benefit of Main Street Elkader. 

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.3 (3 votes)