By MARY WEAVER
RIPPEY, Iowa, Aug. 24, 2022 — A new informational marker explaining the history of Squirrel Hollow Park and its shelter house is now in place in the park located in the southeast portion of Greene County.
The cement holder and plaque are similar to the original 12 historical markers around the county that the late James H. Andrew developed and had placed in 1976, as the United States celebrated its bicentennial.
Through a grant from the Greene County Community Foundation, and labor provided by the Greene County Secondary Roads crew, this new marker at Squirrel Hollow is sponsored by the Greene County Historical Society.
In a document prepared by James H. Andrew in 2006, we learn several events serendipitously occurred — a 1915 flood, the Great Depression influence, leftover funds and the discovery of coal.
The Stagecoach Road from Fort Des Moines to Sioux City had been established on the east side of the Raccoon River, but in 1915 a flood washed away a long stretch of the road, and for nearly 20 years travelers were forced to detour. The discovery of coal a mile south of the present-day shelter house created a desperate need for a road, as 100 trucks with about 4 tons of coal on each one, headed north from the coal mine and an adequate road was sorely needed.
In 1931 the Chautauqua organization of Jefferson was disbanded, but $3000 remained. The funds were used to purchase land and develop the park. The Great Depression had been underway for several years, and a government program CWA, Civil Works Administration, had been created to employ those without work to build roads, sewers, parks, and other facilities to benefit the public.
Under the steady hand of Engineer Melson, along with other community leaders, 60 acres of land was purchased. This was an average cost of $15 per acre.
In 1933, approximately 150 men from around Greene County worked on the project under the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and WPA, (Works Progress Administration). Hundreds of truckloads of rocks from nearby farmers’ rock piles were dumped at the washout created by the flooding of the river. In a description written, it was noted “the first 8-10 loads just disappeared into the mud and water, but slowly a rock shoulder 200 yards long formed a new road higher than any probable future flood.”
Steve Melson recalls his “Pappy” saying the Board of Supervisors wanted to build cabins and the shelter house along the river edge, but because of the previous flood, his grandfather, Engineer Melson recommended establishing the site at the top of the bluff.
Documentation sources vary. One states Iowa State College, now Iowa State University, designed the shelter house, two latrines, the stone entrances, and five fireplaces. Documents further indicate the stone masonry design of the shelter house was credited to William Bodenstein, a veteran stonemason, and Con McNaught.
When the shelter house was nearing completion S.J. Melson arranged for one of the original millstones from the Coon Valley Mill, originally located about one-half mile south of the park, to be brought and installed into the concrete floor. These millstones remain visible today and it creates a heady feeling to know they were brought by an ox team from Pennsylvania by Josh Locke in 1858 so Greene County’s early pioneers could have corn and flour ground.
Work on the road and park began in 1933 and the dedication was held on May 12, 1935. But “inclement weather held the crowd to 500 persons.” Victor Hugo Lovejoy, editor of the Jefferson Bee newspaper, reported that “the massive rock wall along the river, the excellent highway at the foot of the bluff, the drive to the shelter house, the fine timbered upland beauty, all combined together to make this spot a thing of beauty. Its location less than a mile from the site of the cabin of the first settler in Greene County makes it all the more interesting as a spot to be preserved for future generations.”
The stone inscription crafted by Sloan Monument of Jefferson reads:
Squirrel Hollow is a 56-acre county park located above the Raccoon River. It was developed in 1933 and was the second county park in the State of Iowa. Three farmers sold farmland to form the park.
The Des Moines-Sioux City Stagecoach trail ran on the east side of the Raccoon River, and the tracks remain visible one mile north of this location at the Pleasant Hill Country Church cemetery.
In 1933 this shelter house, a male and female latrine, entrance signs to Squirrel Hollow Park, and two fireplaces were built by the Public Works Administration. The structures were designed by Iowa State College, now Iowa State University.
These structures were accepted by the National Register of Historic sites in 1991.
The Greene County Community Foundation, the Greene County Conservation Office, and the Greene County Historical Society are pleased to share this historical information. — October 2021
Due to the COVID pandemic and then supply chain interruptions, the marker was erected in May of 2022. Take a drive over to the park, for a nature hike, a look at the marker, and the millstones in the floor of the shelter house.
The “Hearth & Home” columnist Mary Weaver is a longtime member of the Greene County Historical Society. She lives on a farm northeast of Rippey. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.