The Boaks enjoyed travel

It’s so good to be back in Webster City. Diane and I had a wonderful time in southwest Florida for the month of February. But don’t forget the words of the immortal Dorothy Gale: “There’s no place like home.”

Now that I’m back, with a new knee that seems to behave as it should, my desire is to continue the writing of this column. It seems Our Neighborhood has positively impacted some readers, indicated by those who have taken time to say so. I am so glad that my own enjoyment of learning about the Webster City residents of the past also brings a similar feeling to others. I have to say, however, that there will be more periods where the column will not show up; the love for travel in this wonderful country of ours is a strong force.

The September 29, 1886, edition of The Webster City Freeman contains an article that sums up my own feelings quite well. It seems a Mr. and Mrs. William Boak, of this area, had spent a summer traveling and exploring the American west and southwest. They were favorably impressed by California and enjoyed Wyoming; they were not as enthused by New Mexico … (we all have our opinions).

William Boak was no stranger to travel. He was born in Virginia in August of 1825. When he was 11 years old, in 1836, his family moved overland to Mount Pleasant, when Iowa was part of the Wisconsin Territory and the U.S. Dragoons were “keeping the peace” in the area. In 1849 William married Miss Samantha Payne and, three years later, William joined an ox train of six wagons and ventured to California along a route that contained little except scattered military posts about every 200 miles or so. After spending 18 months in the gold territory, William returned to Iowa and bought land in Hamilton County. He farmed 490 acres of beautiful land, north and west of Webster City, and became one of the wealthiest farmers in the county.

Charles Aldrich wrote of William Boak, “In the fall of 1856, an early frost left the corn crop in poor condition. The next winter he was compelled to purchase some feed for his team. For this he paid $1.50 a bushel, giving his note drawing ten percent interest, having little idea how it was to be paid. The pay date came along quickly, as pay dates are apt to do, and he began to look at some way out of debt. The only means that presented itself was to cut wood and deliver it to Webster City. But at that time the very best wood was bringing only $1.00 a cord. He was a stalwart chopper and was able single-handed and alone to cut and deliver two cords a day. The amount of his debt was not so large but it was whittled down to zero by the time it was due.”

William and Samantha raised eight children. It’s interesting to note that his eldest daughter married and relocated to — New Mexico. Boak was very active in the administration of Hamilton County, serving several terms as a supervisor and was influential in the county Grange. He and Samantha later traveled when they could and seemed to enjoy life together, even after they moved into town and lived on North Des Moines Street. William passed on March 5, 1901, and now resides in part of Our Neighborhood.

The end of the 1886 article on their trip out west rings true to me today.

“Mr and Mrs Boak have had a very interesting summer of it, and came back to their very pleasant Iowa home realizing that in all their travels they found no spot (all things considered) that could tempt them to turn their backs on this portion of “the great middle kingdom.”

Our Neighborhood is a column by Michael Eckers focusing on the men and women whose presence populates Graceland Cemetery in Webster City.


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