February 26, 2024

Woodburn history on display

One of the Woodburn history displays at the Osceola Public Library.

On display now at the Osceola Public Library through February is a collection of Woodburn history, courtesy of Lynnette and Steve Davis.

In 1997, Lynnette was given the idea to create a book about Woodburn after a suggestion made by the Clarke County Genealogical Society. Having an interest in family, genealogy and local history since her teenage years, Davis decided to take on the task.

“I took the challenge as it was right up my alley,” said Davis.

She and Steve grew up on farms near Woodburn, both attended school there until its closure, and Steve’s family dates back to the 1850′s in the Woodburn area. Lynnette created a questionnaire that she sent out for people to fill in about their families who were also from the area. She additionally asked for family photos or other Woodburn historical photos to make copies of them to include in her work. The Davises interviewed a number of people as well to collect information on Woodburn history.

One of the Woodburn history displays at the Osceola Public Library.

During the research and writing phase, Lynnette was employed at Querrey Motors in Osceola. She spent her lunch breaks at the Clarke County Courthouse, looking at the Woodburn lot map and making lists from the deed books of all the transactions in the business district. The couple also spent hours at the Osceola library going through microfilm, and taking notes on any mention of any names, businesses, dates or any other interesting facts. Lynnette sorted the business information into a spreadsheet that could be more easily sorted to show the information on who owned and ran businesses throughout the year.

In the end, there was enough information for a two-volume set that was released in 1998 -”Woodburn, Iowa: Life in a Railroad Town,” - of over 700 pages.

Though there were two printings of the volumes, the increase in production costs became too high for the Davises for what they were charging. There is a copy available in the genealogy reference section of the Osceola Library for in-house use, and Lynnette said she’s glad they did the book when they did.

“So many of those with great knowledge of the town in its heyday have since passed on,” she said.

The display at the library features photos and write-ups in the display case at the top of the stairs, as well as a display on top of the fireplace mantle and the bookshelf behind the case.

When asked what was the most interesting thing that she learned in her research, Lynnette said it was hard to pick just one, as she’d uncovered so many details about each business and family as she delved more into them. One such example can be seen in the storyboard above the fireplace at the library, which were photos left at a vintage shop in California and returned to Iowa when the shop manager found Lynnette.

One of the Woodburn history displays at the Osceola Public Library.

She found the story of Dr. Marion Thompson “M.T.” Martin to be a fascinating one. A young doctor, he served in the Civil War from Missouri, was captured at the Battle of Shiloh, then later came to Last Chance, Iowa to be a postmaster first and then had a mercantile. Martin came to Woodburn in 1875 to set up his practice and a drug store, and was actively involved in the town. He built a brick factory and Martin’s Hall, the latter of which housed businesses on the lower level and an opera house on the top. Martin’s son, Cortez, owned Star Cars and sold Chevrolets there.

Lynnette also spoke of the only murder to ever take place in Woodburn, in 1898. Dr. William Festus Swisher was formerly from West Virginia, and moved to Woodburn in 1894 where he owned a livery stable for some time and had an office on Main Street (today known as Vine Street). One evening when returning home from an office north of the livery barn, he was murdered, and the case has never been solved.

Today, Lynnette and Steve live in Altoona, but are often back to the Osceola area to visit family and friends. Lynnette is the president of the Woodburn Alumni Association, which has opened up to all those who attended the Woodburn school, not just those who graduated; the last graduating class was 1958. Lynnette’s works have previously been displayed at the library, with several pictures on display last summer.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.