Last night we looked at an old picture of the building that is now Smitty’s Bar and Grill in Solon. In sepia tones, seven teams of horses and wagon are lined up in front of the building on the dirt street.
We can make out the lettering on the windows of the shop: Cerny Bros Grocery, Cerny Bros Hardware and Cerny Bros Feed. While the roads have been paved for many years, much of downtown and the surrounding area resonates of the area’s origins in history before automobiles.
Big Grove Township was established before Iowa Statehood, and the first sawmill was built here in 1839 by Anthony Sells on Mill Creek. There is a subdivision named Mill Creek today and throughout the area, people refer to early settlers or builders of the homes instead of the people who now live in and own them. The names Cerny, Beuter, Andrews and Brown persist, as does the more recent name of Don Kasparek upon whose former farm our home is situated.
It is important to know the history of the area where we settle and I try to spend some time each year understanding Big Grove history. There is a lot there, and there is much to learn. What dominates is the culture we bring with us to this area where all trees indigenous to the Northwest once existed in abundance.
The oak, walnut, hickory, ash, elm and cottonwood that once thrived among numerous pure springs were gone when we bought our lot here. There were grasses and a lone mulberry tree that appeared to have been started from a bird dropping on the re-bar marker placed by Kasparek’s surveyor. The ground had a high clay content which suggested that Don had removed the topsoil before subdividing the plats. When he died a few years ago, I recognized him in our association newsletter and we speak of him from time to time in the neighborhood.
Yet, like Popeye the sailor, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am,” and can’t help but believe who I am is little of the history of this area, and more of the culture I brought with me. That culture is rooted in coal mining, factory workers, farming, home making and the rural culture of Virginia, Minnesota and north central Illinois. Our history as a family goes back on both sides to the Revolutionary War and my line to Virginia goes a hundred years prior to the revolution. That my ancestor Thomas Jefferson Addington is a common ancestor to the Salyer girls of the Salyer-Lee Chapter 1417 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy stands in contrast to the story of Maciej Nadolski working in coal mines in Allegheny, Pennsylvania after the Civil War and then buying land from the railroad in Minnesota.
What of my father’s birth in Glamorgan, Virginia, named after Glamorgan, Wales? And what of the suppression of Polish Culture by the Russians after 1865 that led to a massive migration of Poles to North America? And what of the failure of farming culture that led the Nadolski family to move from Ivanhoe, Minnesota to Argyle near the Canadian border, and then to the Cherry, Illinois mining community? Safe to say, we don’t often speak of these things here in Big Grove.
Perhaps, with time, we will.
~ First posted on Big Grove News, Nov. 23, 2008.