Search billions of records on

Cerro Gordo County >> 1910 Index

History of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Ed. and comp. by J. H. Wheeler. 2 vols. Chicago: Lewis Pub Co., 1910


Biographies submitted by Kay Ehlers.  

Henry Keerl  

Henry Keerl

Worthy of a high tribute of honor as one of the sterling pioneers, successful business men and efficient public officials of Cerro Gordo county is Henry Keerl, who died at his home in Mason City on the 27th of December, 1906. He maintained his home in this state for nearly half a century, and honored it by his services as a leal and loyal soldier of the Union in the Civil war as well as by his worthy endeavors as a citizen of prominence and influence. He was incumbent of the office of postmaster of Mason City for a period of seven years and he also served one term as county recorder. He made his life count for good in all its relations and no citizen was held in higher confidence and esteem in the community than he.

Henry Keerl was born in Franklin county, Pennsylvania, on the 14th of December, 1836, and two years later his parents moved to Charleston, West Virginia, which state was then an integral portion of Virginia. At Charleston he was afforded the advantages of the public schools and there was reared to years of maturity. In 1858 Mr. Keerl came to Cerro Gordo county, Iowa, where he became associated in the operation of a saw mill conducted by his uncle, Samuel Douglas, and Elisha Randall. He continued to be actively identified with local interests until August, 1862, when he enlisted as a private in Company B, Thirty-second Iowa Volunteer Infantry, with which he continued in service until the close of the war. For the first eighteen months his service was mostly that in connection with garrison duty, and after having served six months he was granted a furlough on account of impaired health. Within this period his marriage was solemnized. He finally rejoined his regiment at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, and in November, 1863, his young wife, in company with Mrs. Ella L. Huntley, visited the regiment at Columbus, Kentucky, where they remained until the following February, when the regiment proceeded down the river. The Thirty-second Iowa saw much arduous service and endured to the full the hardships incidental to a vigorous campaign. The command traveled a distance of nine thousand miles and covered five thousand miles on foot. Mr. Keerl participated in nine important battles besides several skirmishes and other minor engagements. He advanced to the office of first lieutenant and after the battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, he was the only officer of his company left to respond to the roll, his life having been saved by his water canteen, which deflected a bullet. He received his honorable discharge at the close of the war, after having made a record for gallant and faithful service as a soldier of the Republic. Upon his return to Cerro Gordo county he turned his attention to agricultural pursuits, with which he was actively identified until his election to the office of county recorder, when he established his home in Mason City, where he passed the residue of his life. He held the office mentioned for one term and thereafter conducted a successful enterprise for several years as buyer and shipper of grain. Later he served two terms as postmaster of Mason City, three years under the administration of President Arthur and four years under that of President Harrison. He was a stanch supporter of the policies and principles of the Republican party, was affiliated with the Grand Army of the Republic and as a citizen he wielded much influence in public affairs of a local order. In the matter of religious faith he was a member of the Methodist Episcopal church.

On the 28th of May, 1863, Mr. Keerl was united in marriage to Miss Luxena Randall of Mason City, the third daughter of Elisha Randall, a review of whose life follows this. Mrs. Keerl was born January 17, 1847. She was reared in Edmeson, in the state of New York, and was about eight years of age at the time of the family removal to Iowa. This worthy lady is still living, hale and hearty, and is a member of the Methodist church. To Mr. and Mrs. Keerl were born three children. Irving is represented on other pages of this work. Letty Ellen is a graduate of the State Normal School of Iowa, and she was formerly an instructor of music in the National Memorial University of Mason City, Iowa. She had just finished a special course in the American Institute of Normal Methods of Music and Voice Culture in the Northwestern University of Chicago and she has supervision of work in the public schools of Twin Falls, Idaho. Harry Douglas is a civil engineer, his home being in Clear Lake. He was educated at Madison Wisconsin, and married Miss Maude Dicken of Shell Rock, Iowa. He is a self educated man and very successful in his line.

Irving W. Keerl

A scion of one of the pioneer families of Cerro Gordo, Irving W. Keerl, able and popular cashier of Iowa State Bank of Mason City, has passed his entire life thus far in this county, where it has been his to gain a position of prominence and influence in connection with business and civic affairs and where he holds a secure place in the esteem and conifdence of the community. He was born on a farm in Mason township, about one mile south of Mason City, on the 2nd of December, 1866, and as a memoir to his father, the late Henry Keerl, appears on other pages of this work it will not be necessary to repeat the data in the present sketch.

Irving W. Keerl was reared to maturity in Mason City, to whose public schools he is indebted for his early educational training. He left the high school when sixteen years of age and he forthwith initiated his associations with active business affairs, having held various positions, including that of clerk in the local post office under the administration of his father, who long served as postmaster of this city. In 1894 he became clerk of the courts of Cerro Gordo county, and in this responsible office he continued to serve for three consecutive terms of two years each. At the conclusion of this period, in 1900, he became associated with Nathan C. Kotchell, George W. Brett, D. W. Telford and William E. Brice in the organization of the Iowa State Bank of Mason City, which was duly incorporated with a capital of fifty thousand dollars. Of this institution he has been cashier since the beginning and concerning the bank special mention is made on other pages of this publication. Mr. Keerl has shown much discrimination and administrative ability as a financier and his influence has been potent in connection with the upbuilding of the position of the substantial and popular business with which he is thus identified. He is also and interested principal in other business enterprises of local order and is one of the aggressive business men and public spirited citizens of his home city and county, where he ever lends his influence and co-operation in support of all measures taken for the general welfare of the community. He has been one of the most active members of the Mason City Commercial Club, of which he was the first secretary and of which he has also served as treasurer and president, of which latter office he was incumbent about two years.

The political allegiance of Mr. Keerl is given without reservation to the Republican party and he has been active and loyal as a worker in the local camp of the same. He was chairman of the Republican committee of Cerro Gordo county for several years and he is now a member of the state drainage board to which position he was appointed in 1909 by Governor Carroll. He is affiliated with the local organization of Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Modern Woodmen of America, Knights of Pythias, the Modern Brotherhood of America and others. On the 14th of June, 1893, Mr. Keerl was united to Miss Grace B. Matthews, who was born in Richland, Wisconsin, and came to Mason City in 1901. She is a daughter of J. C. and Delia Bancroft, who are now deceased. Mr. and Mrs. Keerl have two children : Winston and Robert.

John Kew

The late John Kew, for many years a prominent resident of Cerro Gordo county, was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1840, and died in Rockwell, Feb 28,1910. He was the son of William and Jane (Smith) Kew. The family concluded to seek new fortunes across the seas and came to the United States on a sailing vessel, the voyage taking nine weeks. They went to Cherry Valley, Illinois, and John Kew secured work by the month upon farms in Boone county. The father died and the mother and the children removed to Winneshiek county, Iowa. Here John Kew remained for about a year with a brother-in-law and then returned to Illinois. Meantime, the mother and her son George moved again to Clay county, Iowa, where they took up a claim. After proving it up they were besieged by grasshoppers which continued in such numbers that they sold out and came to Geneseo township, Cerro Gordo county, where the mother remained until her death. Mr. Kew was one of eight children as follows : Mrs. Mary Casterton, (deceased), formerly of Decorah, Iowa ; Mrs. Fannie Darrington, of Hester, Iowa ; Mrs. Jan Casterton, (deceased), formerly of Canton, Minnesota ; Mrs. Ann Moorehead, of Rockwell ; John, the subject of this biography ; George, living in Rockwell ; Mrs. Emma Young, of Canton, Minnesota ; and Edward, who died in England.

To the lot of John Kew feel in full measure the experience of the pioneer in a new country. During the progress of the Civil war he pulled up stakes in Illinois and located near Rockwell, or as it was called in those days Linn Grove. He came in company with his future mother-in-law and her family and remained with them for a number of years assisting them in the agricultural ventures. In the late '60s he bought land, this being a tract of eighty acres of wild prairie land. He hauled logs from Mason City and with the aid of a lumber saw constructed his first house and built a log stable. With his own hands he broke the sod and made all the improvements on the place. From time to time he added to his first purchase until he was the owner of four hundred acres, all but sixty acres of which he improved himself. He later built a frame house and barn and in various ways made his place up-to-date. Mr. Kew and his wife were among the first members of the Christian church at Rockwell and afterward when its services were discontinued they affiliated with the Congregational church. Politically Mr. Kew was a Democrat and held the office of road commissioner.

On January 1, 1868, John Kew took as his wife Margaret Dillingham, born in 1853. She was the daughter of Sidney and Catherine {Sweet} Dillingham, the former a resident of Troy, New York, and the latter born in New York. The Dillinghams were early settlers in Boone county, Illinois, and came to Cerro Gordo county at the same time as Mr. Kew. Mrs. Dillingham and her son William bought considerable land in Geneseo township. Mr. and Mrs. Kew became the parents of four children, these being : William H. : Lellia, wife of A. C. Campbell, who resides upon the old homestead ; Edward, living in Rockwell ; and Katherine E., who died when about two years of age.

William H., the eldest son of John Kew and a substantial merchant, was born June 19, 1869 in Geneseo township and received his education in the public schools, finishing with a course in the Rockwell high school. His first agricultural activity was upon his father's farm, which he made his home until 1892, when he commenced farming on land rented from his father. Mr. Kew married in 1893 and continued to rent and operate his father's farm until 1907 in which year he bought a home in the town of Rockwell and removed to it. In the winter of that same year he and his brother-in-law, A. C. Diestlemier, formed a partnership and bought their present general merchandise business. They enlarged the stock and in 1908 Mr. Kew bought the store building in which they are now located. Mr. Kew was successful as a farmer, employing progressive methods, and his principal object in coming to Rockwell was to give his children an opportunity to attend school. He is a stanch Republican and for four years was township assessor. He is an advocate of the cause of good education and is at present a member of the school board. Fraternally he enjoys membership in the I.O.O.F., and the Modern Woodmen of America, and he and his wife are active members of the Congregational church.

William H. Kew was married July 20, 1893, the lady to become his wife being Miss Louise M. Amendt, who was born in Stephenson county, Illinois, and came to Hardin county, Iowa, with he parents, Sebastian and Wilhelmina (Kottman) Amendt. There the father owned and operated a farm for a time, but later he sold it and removed to Geneseo township, where he bought the farm upon which he lived until his death. His wife survives and makes her residence upon the old homestead. She was a native of Stephenson county, Illinois, and the father was born in Germany. Mr. and Mrs. Kew are the parents of five children, as follows : Eugene E., Millie R., Lellia A., Luella and Ross W. All of them are at home and in attendance at the public schools.


When it is stated that the subject of this review is at the present time (1910) incumbent of the office of mayor of Mason City , it will at once be understood that he maintains a strong hold upon public confidence and esteem in his thriving and attractive home city. Here he is engaged in the practice of law and he holds precedence as one of the most able and successful members of the bar of Cerro Gordo county. In later years, he has also devoted special attention to the real estate business, in which his operations are now of important order and wide scope.

Mr. Kirschman finds a due mede of satisfaction in reverting to the fine old Hawkeye state as the place of his nativity and he is a member of a family whose name has long been identified with the annals of this commonwealth. He was born on his father's farm near New Hampton, Chickasaw county, Iowa , on the 21st of September, 1863 , and is a son of Andrew and Christina (Markle) Kirschman, both of whom were born in Germany , whence they came to America when young folk. Their marriage was solemnized in the state of New York . The father had served an apprenticeship in the shoemaker's trade in his native land, but after coming to America he identified himself with the great basic industry of agriculture, through his association with which he achieved independence and definite prosperity. He first came to Iowa in 1856, and his marriage was celebrated some time later, so that his wife did not arrive in this state until 1858. He became one of the representative farmers of Chickasaw county, where he developed a valuable farm and where he continued to reside until his death, which occurred in 1880. His widow, who is now seventy-four years of age (1910), now maintains her home in the village of New Hampton and is one of the highly esteemed pioneer woman of that section of the state. She is a devout member of the German Evangelical church, as was also her husband, and the latter was a Democrat in his political proclivities. Of the six children all are living except one, and the subject of this review was the oldest in order of birth.

Frederick A. Kirschman was reared to the sturdy discipline of the old homestead farm, which was the place of his birth, and after completing the curriculum of the common schools he continued his studies in the Upper Iowa University at Fayette. After leaving this institution he was a student for some time in Valder Business College at Decorah, this state, and in preparing himself for the work of his chosen profession he attended for two years the law department of the celebrated University of Wisconsin, at Madison, in which he was graduated as a member of the class of 1891 and from which he received his well earned degree of Bachelor of Laws. There he was admitted to practice in the United State circuit and district courts in June, 1891, at the time of his graduation. He then returned to Iowa and located in Mason City , where he has since maintained his home. Here he was admitted to practice before the Iowa supreme court and later in the United States circuit and district courts in this state. He gave virtually his undivided attention to the work of his profession for a period of fifteen years, within which he gained marked success and high reputation as a versatile trial lawyer and admirably fortified counselor. He served as city attorney for Mason City from 1901 to 1905, and since his retirement from this office he has devoted himself more especially to his real estate business, though he still gives more or less attention to the work of his profession. He is one of the interested principals in the F. A. Kirschman Land Company, in which his associates are Frank E. Nelson and Thomas C. Pierce. This company, of which he is president, has attained a position of distinctive priority in the handling of improved and unimproved property in Mason City as well as farming lands in Cerro Gordo county. Mr. Kirschman has been the architect of his own fortunes and thus his distinctive success is the more gratifying to contemplate.

His genial personality and sterling character have gained to him the high regard of the community in which he has elected to make his home, and as a citizen he has always shown the highest order of public spirit and progressive loyalty. In politics he was formerly aligned with the Democratic party but he now gives his allegiance to the Republican party. In the spring of 1909 Mr. Kirschman was elected mayor of Mason City , on the People's ticket, and he is giving a most able and satisfactory administration of municipal government. He is affiliated with the Masonic fraternity, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Modern Woodmen of America, the Modern Brotherhood of America and the Tribe of Ben Hur.

On the 21st of September, 1892 , Mr. Kirschman was united in marriage to Miss Nellie Meader, who was born and reared in Winneshiek county, where her paternal grandfather took up his residence prior to 1850, thus founding one of the old and influential families of that section of the state. Mr. and Mrs. Kirschman became the parents of five children, all of whom are living except one son who died in infancy. All the children were born in Mason City and here the four surviving children are attending school, --Cecil F., Orton A., Esther L. and Roy M.


A self-made man and one of the most progressive of his community is found in the person of William Knaak, who owns and occupies a fine farm in section 6, Lake township, Cerro Gordo county, Iowa.

Mr. Knaak was born June 14, 1850, fifty miles from Berlin, Germany, son of Christian and Charlotta (Tech) Knaak, both of whom came to this county and passed the later years in the home of William Knaak, where they died, the father in 1884, at the age of sixty-four years ; the mother, February 15, 1899, at the age of seventy-seven years.  In their family was one other child, a daughter, Amelia, now the wife of Fred Schmidt, of Clear Lake , Iowa .

In his native land Mr. Knaak received a common school education, and after the removal of the family to this country and their settlement in Detroit , he began working at the carpenter's trade.  That was in 1870.  He soon mastered the trade and engaged in contracting and building, and was thus occupied when the panic of 1873-4 came on.  The brought about a change in the plans and operation.  In April, 1874, he came to Cerro Gordo county, Iowa, and bought forty acres of land in section 8, Lake township, of which he settled won to farm.  This land he improved from the wild state and cultivated until 1884, when he sold it, and with the proceeds purchased eighty acres of his present farm, then untouched by the plough.  Subsequently he made other purchases of land until he now owns two hundred and eighty acres in Lake township and one hundred and sixty acres in Lincoln township, the former being the home farm, which is improved with two sets of buildings.  He has a large, modern home ; a barn, thirty-six by one hundred and twelve feet in dimensions ; a double crib, thirty-two by sixty-four feet, with solid concrete floors and foundation, besides feed sheds, hog houses and numerous other farm buildings—all his own work.  Since 1883 he has been feeding and shipping cattle and hogs, handling annually about one hundred head, which he ships to the Chicago market, always going himself with the shipment to Chicago .

And while Mr. Knaak has for years carried on extensive operation in farming and stock raising, he has not confined himself to these.  From time to time he has identified himself with other enterprises.  He is a director, and adjustor for eight counties, of both the Iowa Mutual Tornado Insurance Company and the Town Mutual Fire Insurance Company, and is a director of the Cerro Gordo Farm Co-operative Creamery Company at Clear Lake , of which, for seven years, he was president. In 1904 he erected the postoffice building in Clear Lake , a modern, two-story, brick structure, the only fireproof building in the town.  For years he has been prominently identified with the Cerro Gordo Fair Association, in which he is a director and superintendent of cattle.

Fraternally, Mr. Knaak has membership in various organizations in Clear Lake, including the F. and A. M., the K. of P., the M. W. A., Yeomen, and M. B. A.  Politically he has been a life-long Republican, active and enthusiastic in the work for the party, serving as a committeeman and as delegate to various conventions.  For ten years he has served as school treasurer.  All this is without a knowledge of its language, and who by his own efforts, beginning with the first reader, without a teacher, acquired a usage of English.  In the summer of 1910 he and his wife made a visit to the old home in Germany .

Mr. Knaak married, August 18, 1872 , Miss Wilhemina Trebesch, who was born in Germany , November 28, 1849 , a daughter of Frederick and Christiana (Zone) Trebesch.  The Trebesch family came to the United States in 1872 and settled at Detroit, Michigan, where her parents died, the father in 1884, at the age of sixty years ; her mother in 1890, at the age of seventy. To Mr. and Mrs. Knaak have been given six children, namely : Herman, at home ; Annie, wife of Herman Buss, of Clear Lake, Iowa ; Matilda, wife of Frank Tesene, of Lake township ; Hulda, at home ; Flora, wife of William Schmoll, of Lake township ; and Frances, at home.


Peter Knutson, for the past thirty years a dealer in general hardware at Clear Lake , Iowa , owns the two-story-and-basement building his store occupies and does business under his own name, furnishing employment for four men.  Also he owns the comfortable and attractive home on West Fifth street which he built and in which he and his family live.

Mr. Knutson is a Scandinavian.  He was born in Norway July 15, 1844 , and was a young man of twenty when in 1864 he left his native land and came to America .  Here he landed with practically no capital.  Like the majority of his countrymen, however, he had learned a trade and he was not afraid to work, and his experience here is interesting as showing what may be accomplished by an enterprising young man.  He went direct to Minnesota and in Austin began in a small way in the boot and shoe business, shoemaking being his trade.  Later he turned his attention to dealing in general merchandise, and in 1876, confined his business to hardware.  Four years later he came to Iowa and settled at Clear Lake , and here since 1880, for a period of thirty years, he has conducted a prosperous business, handling a general line of hardware.

After coming to this country, Mr. Knutson married a young woman of his own nationality, a Miss Olson, who had emigrated from Norway to America in 1862.  Of the children born to them, six are living, all natives of Cerro Gordo county, namely : Charles, engaged in the hardware business at Ventura, Iowa ; George and Clarence, in the store with their father ; Mrs. S. M. Stimby, Mrs. Dunsmore and Mrs. A. A. Prestholt, all of Clear Lake. One daughter, Mrs. Christianson, died at Clear Lake at the age of thirty-six years ; and some others died in infancy.

Politically Mr. Knutson is a staunch Prohibitionist.  He has served in various local offices, and at one time was the candidate of his party for the office of state treasurer.  He belongs to the Gospel Missions, in which he is an elder.


In 1905 President Roosevelt conferred upon Nathan C. Kotchell appointment to the office of postmaster of Mason City , and of this position he has since been incumbent.  The commission thus granted in connections with public service was a fitting recognition of the high character and distinctive personal popularity of this pioneer business man and influential and honored citizen of Cerro Gordo county.  He has maintained his home in Mason City since the 13th of March, 1878 , and he was about nineteen years of age at the time when he thus identified himself with the interests of the city and county in which he was destined to gain marked success and prestige through well directed effort along normal lines of enterprise.  Though Mr. [Kotchell] well merits the title of pioneer he is in the very prime of his strong and useful manhood and continues to mark the passing years with definite and worthy accomplishment as one of the world's gallant army of workers.  He is president of the Iowa State Bank of Mason City and has other local interests of important order, including those represented in the Mason City Loan & Trust Company, of which he is vice-president.

Nathan C. Kotchell claims the Badger state as the place of his nativity, as he was born in Jackson county, Wisconsin , on the 4th of November, 1858 . He is a son of Amos and Susan (Cadwell) Kotchell, who were numbered among the sterling pioneers of that state and both of whom were of stanch German lineage.  They continued to reside in Sparta , Wisconsin , until their death, and there the father followed the vocation of farming.  The subject of this review was reared to maturity at Sparta , Monroe county, Wisconsin , to whose public schools he is indebted for his early educational training.  His independent career had its inception through his identifying himself with railroad work, and for some time after his establishing his home in Mason City he continued to be employed as brakeman for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad.  Effective service brought promotion, as he was given the position of conductor in 1880.  He thereafter served as freight and extra-passenger conductor for the road mentioned until 1887, when his impaired health compelled his retirement from this line of work.  In that year, he became associated with L. F. Cadwell in the conducting of a livery, ominibus, draying and general transfer business in Mason City , under the firm name of Cadwell & Kotchell. The firm built up an enterprise of most prosperous order and one that took precedence of all other of similar character in the city.  With this business, Mr. Kotchell continued to be actively identified until the 15th of March, 1899 , when he sold his interests and gave about a year in rest and recreation, for the purpose of recruiting his health.  Through his connection with the enterprise noted Mr. Kotchell laid the foundations of his very substantial success, and he is now recognized as one of the influential capitalists and business men of the city, to which he came when a young man, with but little in the way of financial resources.

In August, 1900, Mr. Kotchell became associated with other representative citizens in the organization of the Iowa State Bank of Mason City , which was duly incorporated under the laws of the state, with a capital stock of fifty thousand dollars.  He was the vice-president of this institution during the first two years of its existence, and was then, in 1902, elected in president, of which chief executive office he has since continued the able and valued incumbent.  He began his service in the office of postmaster on the 18th of February, 1905 , and he has administered the service with all of discrimination and ability. The force of employes in connection with the various details of the work of the Mason City postoffice now aggregates more than thirty persons, including the deputy postmaster, fourteen clerks, eight city carriers and eight carriers on the rural delivery routes.  The business of the office has shown a splendid expansion under the regime of Mr. Kotchell, and its aggregate annual transactions have reached the noteworthy average of nearly sixty thousand dollars.  The present fine government building in Mason City was completed in 1909, and the postoffice has been in operation therein since the 15th of February of that year.  The Mason City Loan & Trust company was incorporated in August, 1908, with a capital of fifty thousand dollars, and of this institution, which exercises most beneficent functions, Mr. Kotchell has been vice-president from the time of organization.  Mason City has no citizen who exemplifies greater loyalty, progressiveness and public spirit than does Mr. Kotchell, and his aid and influence are ever to be counted upon in connection with measures and enterprises tending to subserve the best interests of the community.  He is a wheel-horse of the local contingent of the Republican party and has long been a valued factor in its councils and work in Cerro Gordo county.  He is affiliated with the local organizations of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and the National Union, and his genial personality has gained and retained to him warm friends in both business and social circles.

At Decorah, this state, on the 9th of August, 1899, was solemnized the marriage of Mr. Kotchell to Miss Cora M. Hicks, who was born in Preston, Minnesota, where her father, the late Benjamin G. Hicks, was an honored pioneer and influential citizen.   Mrs. Kotchell received excellent educational advantages and is a woman of gracious presence and distinctive culture.  For several years prior to her marriage she was a popular teacher in the public schools of Mason City , and she has since been a prominent figure in the best social activities of her home city.  She is a member of the Sorosis Club and a former president of the Women's Federated Clubs of Mason City.  She is a member of the board of trustees of the Mason City public library and was a member of the building committee that had supervision of the erection of the fine new library building.  She has much literary ability and takes a special interest in educational work.