100 years ago/1923: Only Survivor of First Family Has Birthday

Mrs. Sarah Brewer-Bonebright Today Celebrates Eighty-seventh Birthday — Extracts of "Founding of Newcastle" Given — Remarkable Chain of Events During Life-time.

Sarah Brewer Bonebright is pictured with her chickens at the family compound that, in time, became Wilson Brewer Historic Park. Bonebright's father was Wilson Brewer, who founded the town of Newcastle, which became Webster City.

Editor’s note: Because her birthday falls on this day, it seemed appropriate to move the daughter of this town’s founder to the front page.

The only living survivor of the first white family that ever lived in Webster City, is today celebrating her eighty-seventh birthday. Her name is Mrs. Sarah Brewer-Bonebright and she is spending the day just as she usually does, caring for her chickens and geese, doing light household tasks and visiting with her family and friends who come daily to sit beneath the great wild grape arbor at the door of her home, at 222 Ohio street.

Mrs. Bonebright is a remarkable specimen of pioneer American womanhood on her eighty-seventh birthday. Her mental faculties are scarcely impared; her hearing is good and her eyesight still good. Her face is indicative of the excellent disposition which discards trifling worries and finds pleasure and enjoyment in the simplest, plainest things of life: the growing of a plant, the gathering of the first apples that fall from the trees in the yard; the dispatch of a basket of fruit or flowers to some neighbor.

Mrs. Bonebright came to the site of her present home when but 13 years of age. The family of her father, Wilson Brewer, removed with ox teams and covered wagons from Kokomo, Ind., to a point near the Bone’s Mill site, in September, 1848. In the late fall of the next year, her father and brothers prospected northward, opening a trail along Boone River and built themselves a hunting shack near Hogs-Back. The first log cabin for the family was built by Wilson Brewer on the banks of Brewer’s Creek, located almost directly south of the present residence on Ohio street and nearly midway between Superior street and the C. & N. W. RR. The cabin had a dirt floor-surface and the roof was made from strips of bark. Think of this, you dwellers in latest modern stucco and brick and frame residences, lighted with electricity and floored with polished oak and walnut which is covered with expensive rugs of Oriental weave! They moved to this cabin during the Christmas season and the creek at that time furnished a full supply of water for stock and laundry, never going dry. The water for drinking and cooking was carried from a spring near the old Chase Mill site. Many local grown-ups have drank from that spring when they were children.

Mrs. Bonebright has lived thru a wonderful stage of America’s development. Her eyes have seen the transition from ox team to noiseless motor cars and airplanes. From the “grape-vine” telegraph, to wireless telegraph and telephone. From one little log cabin, located in the crabapple and wild plum thickets on the north bank of Brewer’s Creek, she has seen this community grow into a thriving, striving, town of 6,000. All the changes of the habits of life in 74 years she has witnessed, and yet survives to tell the tale.

And she HAS told the tale. That is one of the fine things about it. Thru her daughter, Mrs. Harriett Closz, she has told of her life and the lives of others of the pioneer settlers of this town, named “Newcastle” by her father, of the ways and habits of life and existence, which tale has been incorporated into the book “The Founding of Newcastle,” and is the first authentic record of this city’s growth. This is a valuable bequest to the generations yet to come to this town and the entire community today extends congratulations to Mrs. Bonebright, and sincere wishes for continued years of enjoying life in Webster City.

The younger women of the town might well pause a few moments and consider the difficulties that attended the girlhood of Mrs. Bonebright who today celebrates her birthday: no clothing unless she or her mother spun it themselves; no shoes unless a cobbler could be obtained and then the crude results of his workmanship would cause many a smile today; every article of food had to be prepared from the very beginning. Lard was rendered, meat was butchered cured or salted down, before cornbread could be made, the corn must be raised and ground, however coarsely.

There was no church when Mrs. Bonebright was a young girl: quoting from her book, she says: “I attended Sunday school services at the Stanley cabin and there learned verses from the New Testament which was presented to me by Granny Peabody. The growth and attendance at both the sacred and secular services made it necessary to change the meeting place; so a building at Division and Union streets — a log dwelling occupied by the Wheeler family who kept a stock of supplies — was chosen. Day-school sessions also were held here with Mrs. Wheeler as teacher until another change was necessary.

“I remember very well the first dance I ever attended away from home. It was at the cabin of a neighbor on what is now the F. D. Young home south of town. My brothers and I walked the entire distance and enjoyed the recreation, notwithstanding the fact that the road led thru hazel-brush, gooseberry thickets, fields of Spanish needles and beggar-lice burrs. Father had brought to me from Des Moines a light calico dress and some red ribbon for neck and hair. My mother finished the dress for the dance, and the costume was quite a change from the homespun and home-dyed daily apparel. The outfit was given to me as a reward for working in the field during father’s absence on his trip to the fort.”

One might go on indefinitely quoting from the “Founding of Newcastle” and giving a later generation a small idea of the many vicissitudes thru which Mrs. Bonebright has passed during her lifetime here. It would be a duplicate of the life of many a young pioneer woman of the time, who is still living. Mrs. Bonebright’s memory will linger long in the minds of her children and her friends as a delightful example of her kind of woman, a kind which is fast disappearing from the face of the earth.


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