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May 17, 2013

Springtime with the Buffs

So what are the Rural History Buffs doing now? Spring is here, the hills are green, and little

brown and white Buffs’ signs are popping out all over. There won’t be another official tour for a

few more months but you can create your own tour. Try the RAGBRAI® route between Pella and

Bussey – not during RAGBRAI® – to scan the history of this area from steamboat times.

There’s a sign for the town that never happened, Amsterdam. Back in 1848 when steamboats still plied the Des Moines River, Amsterdam was platted to have 60 blocks, divided into 490 lots, with a public square and a site for a city market! There was even a plan for a North Amsterdam. Briefly, the industries of burning lime and manufacturing brick drew people there, but the flood of 1851 left town plans abandoned. No South, East or West Amsterdam either.

My favorite is the old Wabash Railroad Bridge. On the National Register of Historic Places since 1998, it’s visible from where T-17 turns west. As old iron bridges get more and more rare, it’s a treat to see this one, still reaching clear across the Des Moines River. Built in 1882 for the Wabash Railroad, it was purchased and rehabilitated by the county for vehicular traffic in 1951, but has since been closed to public use. Locally, it’s known as the “One Dollar” bridge. Early settlers used a ferry at this crossing established by David Durham around 1849. For centuries before that the Indians had used this site as a place to ford the Des Moines River.

And a spot where you can actually see one of our rural schools! Drive out south on Highway 14 and cut back on 130th Place to about 1610. There is Brownlee School sitting high in its faded glory, reminiscent of a poem once favored in rural schools: “Still sits the schoolhouse by the road, a ragged beggar sunning ...” No beggars now probably, but a warm memory scene. The Buffs sign was a gift from the children of the late Lorin Harvey.

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