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David Franklin Farnsworth (1842 – 1923)

Sarah Elizabeth Lynes (1844 – 1927)

Text Box: Circa 1900   David F. and Sarah E. Farnsworth family of Plainfield, Iowa

David Franklin Farnsworth, the oldest of ten children born to Calvin David Farnsworth and Lydia M. Nichols, was born on July 7, 1842 in Dunkirk, Chautauqua County, on the shores of Lake Erie in western New York.  His birth and the early years of his life would take place within twenty-five miles of New Albion, Cattaraugus County, New York where his future wife Sarah Elizabeth Lynes would be born on August 6, 1844.  It is not surprising that Calvin and Lydia chose to name their first son David, since Calvin had both a brother and an uncle named David Farnsworth, Calvin’s middle name was David, and their strong religious convictions made the Biblical name a natural choice.  Based upon the birthplaces of his younger siblings Sarah (1844), Adelbert (1847), and Marshall (1849), David spent at least the first five years of his life in the vicinity of Dunkirk, but by the summer of 1849 the family would be found living about 20 miles further east in the small town of Collins, southern Erie County, New York.  Collins was located just a few miles from Perrysburg where David’s great-grandfather William Farnsworth, a Revolutionary War veteran had died in 1835.


David F. Farnsworth appears as a 7 year-old boy in the household of his father in the 1850 census taken on August 14th in the town of Collins.  Living next door to David are his grandparents Chandler and Betsey Farnsworth.  Chandler and his son Calvin both have the occupation of a blacksmith at the time of the census.  In that same August of 1850 the 31 year-old farmer William “Lines” could be found living 13 miles to the south of Collins in New Albion, Cattaraugus County, New York, along with his wife Emily (29) and children William W. (7), Sarah (5), Andrew S. (4), Mary J. (2), and Angelina (7 months old).  It should be noted that later in life Sarah would most often be called by her middle name of Elizabeth or the more familiar “Lizzie.”  All the members of her family were listed born in the state of New York.  In 1838 William’s father James “Lines” was listed as having 2 acres of improved property on Lot 38 of the town of New Albion.  According to Emily’s obituary in 1903, a total of nine children would eventually be born to William Lynes and Emily Perry.  In addition to those children born by 1850, there would be a Josephine, Nettie, Amos, and Eva Lynes.


By late 1850 or early 1851, Calvin and Lydia made the trek “West” to the town of Colesburg, Delaware County, in northeastern Iowa, where his father became an ordained Baptist minister and answered the calling of becoming a pioneer Baptist missionary to the farming towns that began sprouting up in the frontier areas of northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota.  David’s obituary later mentions that “He [David] was converted when a youth of some 12 years.”  Rev. C. D. Farnsworth, as he was more formally known, either preached or worked as a blacksmith in the Delaware County towns of Colesburg (1851 – 1853), Delhi (1854 – 1858), and the now-extinct town of York (1859 – 1861).  David F. Farnsworth (age 13) appears with his parents and siblings on Page 616 of the 1856 Iowa census enumerated at the town of Delhi.  The family is listed as having 60 acres of land on which 200 bushels of corn were harvested from a 6 acre portion of the property.  Since Calvin is actively preaching at the time, it is likely that his eldest son David had a great deal of responsibility on the small family farm.


Coincident with the Farnsworth family moving to Iowa, the William Lynes family pulled up stakes in western New York and headed west to Wisconsin.  The obituaries and census records of Lynes family members indicate that the move took place in the 1852 to 1853 time frame.  The time spent in Wisconsin was very transitory.  Sarah’s later obituary indicated that she moved to Sharon, Walworth County near the border with Illinois, while an 1883 biography of Sarah’s brother William W. Lynes indicates the family also lived around Beloit, Rock County in southern Wisconsin.  In any case, by the time of the birth of their son Amos in 1859, the family was living in Iowa.


A convergence of the Farnsworth and Lynes families took place in York, Delaware County, Iowa.  Bypassed by the coming railroad, the “future great” town of York was only in existence from 1855 to 1875.  The 1860 Federal census of York enumerated on July 12, 1860 shows the Farnsworth and Lynes families living next door to one another.  Dwelling #874 on Page 114 of those records lists the “B. Minister” C. D. Farnsworth (age 39), wife Lydia (37), children David (18), Sarah (15), Marshall (11), Melissa (9), Charles (4), and Elbert (1), and Calvin’s mother Betsey Farnsworth (72).  Living in Dwelling #875 is the farmer William M. “Lyons” (40), wife Emily (37), and children William (17), Sarah E. (15), Andrew (14), Mary (12), Angeline (10), Josephine (8), and Amos (9 months).  Although it is possible they had known one another living in western New York, David Farnsworth and Sarah Lynes became well-acquainted with each other while living in the hamlet of York, Iowa.


David Farnsworth’s course in life from 1860 to 1865 is somewhat uncertain, although his obituary hints that he continued working and living with his parents until moving with them to Bremer County, Iowa in 1865/1866.  During the period of 1861 – 1865 Calvin D. Farnsworth was a preacher without a congregation, working as a blacksmith in Strawberry Point, Clayton County, Iowa which was a short distance to the northwest of York.  It is also known that around 1865 time Calvin Farnsworth preached in the towns of Waukon and Rossville further north in the county of Allamakee.  There is no evidence that David Farnsworth served in the Civil War, although he had a close cousin named James E. Nichols from Colesburg, Iowa who was captured at the battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862 and died in a Confederate prison camp near Macon, Georgia in 1863.

Text Box: 1875 Map of Bremer County, Iowa showing the town of Plainfield in Polk Township.

The Farnsworths first lived in a town named Syracuse located 2 miles north of Plainfield on the Cedar River.

David Farnsworth moved into the new railroad town of Plainfield in 1872 and began his blacksmith business.

In the meantime, Sarah Lynes went on to school in Manchester, the county seat of Delaware County located ten miles south of York.  Her obituary states that she became a schoolteacher and taught until she married at the age of 22.  It appears that most or all of the Lynes family relocated to Bremer County, Iowa before 1865.  In page 22 of her book "Ironhorse and Ironmen - Story of Merchants of Plainfield, Horton, & Syracuse [Iowa]", author Bonnie Gail Smith Jermier writes, “By 1857 new families were moving into the area.  James and Mary (Allen) Lynes came.  James was a carpenter and a farmer who had been born in Ireland.  The family had lived in New York migrating on to Wisconsin before coming to Iowa.  His son William and wife Emily (Perry) Lynes made the trip with them along with some of William and Emily’s children.  William drove the stagecoach from Syracuse to Bradford in those days, until shortly after the Civil War.”  On Page 1146 of the 1883 “History of Butler and Bremer County, Iowa,” a short biography of Sarah’s brother William W. Lynes states, “Shortly after [coming to Iowa], W. W. [Lynes] left the parental roof, for the purpose of seeking his fortune.  He passed some years in different parts of the State, and, finally, in 1863, came to Bremer county and located in Polk Township.” 


The prospects created by the coming railroad may have driven the Lynes family to settle in Polk Township, Bremer County, where William M. and Emily Lynes farmed until 1892.  It may have been the Lynes family that encouraged their old neighbors, the Farnsworths, to move west to Bremer County around 1865.  It is likely that David Franklin Farnsworth required little encouragement to move, for he and Sarah Elizabeth Lynes married at nearby Charles City, Floyd County, Iowa on April 21, 1866.


In her book, Bonnie Gail Smith Jermier also makes several references to David Farnsworth and his father in the early years of the county:


Page 22 - "More families who came to the Syracuse area were the Farnsworths. Reverend and Lydia Nichols Farnsworth came from New York and arrived in [Bremer County] Iowa in 1865.  Their son David came with them and was a blacksmith in Syracuse." 


Page 24 - "Sanford [Vosseller] married Margaret Hirleman at Syracuse on Nov. 29, 1866 at the residence of David G. [sic] Farnsworth and David's father, Elder Farnsworth was a witness to the marriage."


Page 50 - "The people of Syracuse were discouraged when they heard that a [rail] depot was going to be located south of them.  Those that had been meeting for prayer each week decided they wanted to come to the area where the depot was located to establish the Baptist Church.  So in February 1869 they organized with people like the Bements, Barker's (who were people of Ett Magoon), the Hoverys, Betsy Ketchum, Farnsworths, Youngs and Townsends in signing the Charter."

Text Box: 1889

Plainfield, Iowa

West side of Main Street. 

David Farnsworth’s blacksmith shop was located across the street from this spot.

As so often occurred in the formation of the towns during this time in American history, the location of the new railroad would determine the success or failure of the settlements.  Such was the case in the demise of the town of Syracuse where the Farnsworth’s first lived and in the town of Plainfield which they would help form.


The following excerpt comes from a Bremer County history summary that was adapted from Project Completion Report Volume 19, Number 31.  It was written by Marlin R. Ingalls, Project Architectural Historian for the Highway Archaeology Program at The University of Iowa.  This background provides a little insight into the towns of Syracuse and Plainfield at the time David Farnsworth first settled and lived in the area:

"Plainfield and Syracuse

”Two miles (3.2 km) north of Plainfield, in Section 18 of Polk Township, was the village of Syracuse.  Platted in the 1850s, it predated Plainfield, but for its first several years it was nothing more than a post office operating out of the house of W. N. Gaines (Grawe 1914:203).  Syracuse was entirely extinct by 1875, and does not appear on any known map.  When the Cedar Falls and Minnesota Railroad came through the area in 1868, the surveyors had decided that Syracuse had too steep a grade to construct a depot (Smith 1968:9).  Once it was known that the most likely spot for a railroad depot was on the level ground two miles south of Syracuse, the settlers platted the town of Plainfield on October 16, 1866.  Named for Plainfield, Illinois, from where many of its early inhabitants had come, by 1875 Plainfield had a population of 300, two hotels, two dry goods and grocery stores, drug, hardware and tinware stores, three grain elevators, a lumber yard, two wagon manufactories, a saw and grist mill, and a railroad depot (Hoover and Reeves 1875:49; Andreas 1970:443).  By 1900 the population of Plainfield had hardly changed at all. A 1914 county history writes of the town:

'Plainfield is quite a busy little town but it shows no indication of growth. As a matter of fact, in 1900, it had a population of 320. However, quite a good deal of trading is done here by the surrounding country. It has good railroad facilities and the shipment of live stock, grain and dairy products are considerable each year [Grawe 1914:204].'”

Text Box: Late 1880’s

Charles W. FarnsworthFor the first six years following their marriage, it appears that David and Sarah Elizabeth Farnsworth made their living farming outside the town of Plainsfield.  Their oldest son Charles William Farnsworth was born a short distance to the north of Syracuse on February 26, 1867, and their oldest daughter Cora Estella Farnsworth was born at or near Plainfield on Christmas Day, 1868.  Their oldest son was likely named in honor of David’s younger brother Charles W. Farnsworth who was born on July 2, 1856 and died sometime in the early 1860’s.  The 1870 Federal census of Polk Township, Bremer County, Iowa enumerated on June 29th lists the farmer David Farnsworth (age 27), his wife “Elisabeth” (25) and children Charles (3) and Cora (1).


Rev. Calvin David Farnsworth formed the First Baptist Church in Plainfield in February 1869, then moved on the following year with his wife and younger children to the town of Spring Valley in southeastern Minnesota to preach and form yet more Baptist churches.  With the exception of the 1876 to 1879 time period when his younger brother Marshall Farnsworth and family lived in Plainfield (probably to help him in his blacksmith business), David Farnsworth never appeared to have any close Farnsworth relatives living anywhere near him for the remainder of his life.  His wife Sarah, on the other hand, was surrounded by her parents and most of her siblings, and the David Farnsworth family became very closely associated with the Lynes family.


Records indicate that David moved into Plainfield in 1872 to set up shop as a blacksmith.  Like his father Calvin Farnsworth, his grandfather Chandler Farnsworth, and his younger brother Marshall Farnsworth, David would practice the profession of a blacksmith.  His oldest son Charles Farnsworth would likewise follow his footsteps and become a blacksmith and an implement dealer.  A local newspaper article from December 1880 mentions that the blacksmith David Farnsworth had sales of $500 that year.  By 1883 his annual sales had quadrupled to $2000.

Circa 1910 – Farnsworth and Son business is the tall white building on the right


The following entry comes from the 1883 History of Butler and Bremer Counties:


Page 1175 - "D. Farnsworth, an old settler of Plainfield, was born in New York State in 1842.  When ten years of age, his parents came west, and settled in Delaware county, Iowa until 1862, then came to Bremer county, and settled in Plainfield.  Soon after his arrival, he opened a blacksmith shop - which trade he had learned of his father- and has since followed that business.  Mr. Farnsworth was married to Miss Elizabeth Lynes, a native of New York State, on the 21st day of April, 1866.  Four children have blessed this union - Charles W., Cora E., Addie M., and Allie."


Page 1172 of the same 1883 history relates the following under a section entitled PRESENT BUSINESS OF PLAINFIELD:


"D. Farnsworth built his shop, 22 x 40 feet, and commenced blacksmithing in 1872, since which time the business has increased until it reaches $2000 per year."


In a tally of the town merchants, the April 23, 1896 issue of THE PLAINFIELD BELLE NEWSPAPER listed “Farnsworth and Son” as both a blacksmith and a purveyor of lumber and farm equipment.  An 1898 article mentions that “David Farnsworth has been tearing down his old building on the corner of Main and 2nd and will build a large new one 30 x 80 feet….”  On Page 132 of Bonnie Jermier’s book she writes that as the new century (1900) arrived, “David Farnsworth was still in the Smithy business and sold buggies.”


In a letter dated May 2, 1989 to Rebbecca (Farnsworth) Calderwood, Richard H. Roach of Plainfield, Iowa describes his grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s business:


“Charley [Farnsworth], along with his father [David], were the town’s blacksmiths.  They repaired buggies, farm implements, made horse shoes and did the shoeing of horses as well.  David Farnsworth was renowned locally for his ability as a blacksmith.  They were considered one of the well-to-do families of the community.”

Text Box: Graves of infant children Frank D. and Nellie May Farnsworth

Located by parents’ grave in the Willow Lawn Cemetery, Plainfield, Iowa



During the 1870’s David and Sarah Farnsworth had four more children, all born in Plainfield.  Neither Frank D. Farnsworth (1872 – 1874) nor Nellie May Farnsworth (1874 – 1876) lived to see their third birthday.  Adelaide “Addie” Myrtle Farnsworth was born on September 17, 1877, and her sister Alice “Allie” M. Farnsworth was born on September 06, 1879.  The Federal census taken on June 1, 1880 in Plainfield, Iowa lists the blacksmith David Farnsworth (38), wife “Elisabeth” (35), and children Charles (13), Cora (11), Addie (2), and Alice (10 months).  Living just a few doors away is Sarah’s brother William W. Lynes and family.  William Lynes is also working as a blacksmith, presumably with David Farnsworth, at that time.  On December 13, 1883 David and Sarah’s youngest child Ray Linden Farnsworth was born in Plainfield.  In 1901 Ray Farnsworth, along with his future wife Minnie Marie Simbric, would be numbered among the four students that constituted the first graduating class of Plainfield.


Circa 1890 – Sarah Elizabeth (Lynes) Farnsworth

The writing on the back of this water-damaged photo indicates it was a gift to her youngest son Ray


David Farnsworth was considered one of the founding fathers of the town of Plainfield, Iowa.  In addition to running a successful business, he was an active leader in the community and was a leader in Plainfield’s First Baptist Church which his father had founded.  One of his obituaries summarizes his involvement when it writes, “He was made town treasurer at the time Plainfield was incorporated, which position he held for many years, and treasurer of the town schools for a period of thirty years……He served the church well in all its capacities; as clerk, treasurer, choir leader, Sunday school teacher, and life deacon.”  His active community service is often noted in local history books and in contemporary newspaper accounts.

Circa 1921 – Photograph of David Farnsworth family probably taken at a Lynes family reunion.

Seated: Ray, Sarah, Allie Thompson, Charles   Standing:  Addie Roach, David, Cora Hastings


All of David and Sarah’s five surviving children married in Plainfield.  Charles Farnsworth married Phoebe Mary Renn on October 07, 1891.  Cora Farnsworth, who lived to be 97 years old, married Clarence E. Hastings on December 4, 1895.  Clarence farmed near the town of Horton (east of Plainfield) and later became a carpenter and painter in Plainfield.  On August 11, 1896 Addie Farnsworth married Edwin Alonzo Roach, the son of the Irish-born Civil War veteran John Roach who had started a successful grain trading and seed business when Plainfield first incorporated.  Alice “Allie” Farnsworth wed Reuben Richard Thompson on Christmas Day 1904.  Reuben was a newspaper editor and publisher in the small southeastern South Dakota towns of Baltic and Hartford for many years  The youngest son Ray Farnsworth married his classmate Minnie Marie Simbric on August 17, 1904 and became a banker, first in Plainfield, then in the town of New Hartford, Butler County, Iowa.  Later he would become the accountant for his son Gerald Farnsworth’s radio and television sales and service business in Waterloo, Iowa. 


Contemporary newspaper accounts from both Plainfield and from The Nashua Reporter of nearby Nashua, Chickasaw County carried frequent articles and references to David Farnsworth and his children.  Many of these dealt with the social doings of the local residents that are typical fare for the small-town newspaper.  One event involving the David Farnsworth family that was often given wide coverage was the annual Lynes family reunion that began in 1906 (and continues into the 21st Century).  The June 18, 1908 edition of The Nashua Reporter gave an entertaining account of the Lynes Reunion that was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. David Farnsworth, which was beset by one of the worst storms of the season.  The July 1, 1920 edition of the paper describes the 13th annual Lynes Family Reunion at the A. D. Leaman home in Nashua, which featured “a sumptuous dinner, served under the shade trees on the lawn.  Covers for 72 persons were laid around a 60-foot table, and as the Lynes family has an unexcelled reputation for being the best of cooks, the reader can imagine something of the dinner that was served.  Immediately following this Photographer H. D. Jewett took a picture of the group which congregated upon the long piazza for this purpose.”  Farnsworth family members that were mentioned in this article included Mrs. Thompson and son of South Dakota; Ray Farnsworth and family, New Hartford; Clarence Hastings and family, Horton; Messrs. and Mesdames David and Charles Farnsworth and E. A. Roach and family, Plainfield.


Text Box: 1921 – 4 Generations

David Farnsworth with daughter Addie Roach, grandson Howard Roach, and great-grandson John RoachImage26
David Franklin Farnsworth died at Plainfield, Iowa on January 13, 1923 surrounded by family and a community that he had played such an important role in developing.  His wife Sarah Elizabeth (Lynes) Farnsworth lived another four years and died at the home of her eldest daughter Cora Hastings in Plainfield on October 12, 1927.  The were both buried in the Willow Lawn Cemetery in Plainfield in the same plot as their infant children Frank and Nellie, who had died fifty years earlier.


The following obituary of David F. Farnsworth was found in a local newspaper:




“D. F. Farnsworth, Long Time and Prominent Resident of Plainfield Died Last Saturday.


“David F. Farnsworth was born at Dunkirk, N.Y., July 7, 1842, and entered into life eternal at his home in Plainfield, Iowa, on January 13, 1923.


“He was the eldest son of Rev. C.D. and Lydia Farnsworth.  At the age of 9 years, he, with his parents came to Iowa, locating in Delaware county.  Here they resided until in 1865 at which time they moved to Bremer county, where he has continued to reside until called Home.


“He was converted when a youth of some 12 years and became a member of the First Baptist church of Plainfield, when the church was in its infancy.  His father being the first pastor of this church.  He was a loyal supporter of the church and its teachings throughout his life.  His presence, his help, and his financial support were as ready and as dependable as were the Strong Arms of Him whom he loved and served.


“He was united in marriage with Miss Elizabeth S. Lynes, April 21, 1866 at Charles City, Iowa.  To this union seven children wer born, viz.: Mrs. Cora Hastings of Six Mile Grove, Mrs. Allie Thompson of Hartford, S.D., Ray L. of New Hartford, Iowa, and Charles W. and Mrs. Addie Roach of Plainfield, one son and one daughter dying in infancy.


“He was made town treasurer at the time Plainfield was incorporated, which position he held for many years, and treasurer of the town schools for a period of thirty years.


“Beside the widow and five children he leaves to mourn his irreparable loss nine grand children, one great-grand-child, three brothers and three sisters, and a multitude of warm and sympathizing friends.


“He served the church well in all its capacities; as clerk, treasurer, choir leader, Sunday school teacher, and life deacon.  He lived close to His Master and he firmly believed that great good could be accomplished thru prayer and both in public and in the privacy of his own home often lifted up his voice praise and thanksgiving for the blessings of life, and in the words of most earnest supplication and love for the souls of all mankind.  His was a life of service for the Master, many a burden has been lightened, many a rough path made smooth, many a tear been dried, many souls won for the Kingdom because of his efforts and riches of grace.  We can fittingly say of him in the beautiful words of Paul, ‘He has fought a good fight, he has finished the course, he has kept the faith; henceforth there is a crown laid up for him which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give him in that day.’


“Funeral was held in the Baptist church on Tuesday afternoon at 2 o’clock, conducted by his pastor, Rev. C. F. Brown, and burial was made in Willow Lawn cemetery.  The pallbearers were his nephews, Ira Collins, and Frank Lynes, Waterloo, James J. Lynes, Waverly, and Will and Kendall Lynes, Plainfield, and a grandson, Howard Roach.  The relatives from a distance were Mr. and Mrs. James Farnsworth, Spring Valley, Minn., Mr. and Mrs. Ira Collins and daughter, Miss Faye, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lynes and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Smith, Waterloo, Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Lynes and mother, Mrs. Ella Lynes and Mrs. C. J. Brodie, Waverly, Mr. and Mrs. Sheu and Mr. and Mrs. Al Blasier, Nashua, J. D. Hartson and daughter, Mrs. H. W. Meyer, Charles City, Mr. and Mrs. R. R. Thompson, Hartford, S. D., Mr. and Mrs. R. L. Farnsworth and son Gerald, New Hartford, Iowa, Mrs. Julia Farnum, Mrs. Fred Lawrence, Fairmont, Minn., and Mr. and Mrs. A. D. Leaman, Nashua, Iowa.”


1910’s – Sarah E. Farnsworth (3rd from left) with arm in her sister’s.  Included in the photo is her husband David Farnsworth and 3 daughters (women located standing from left – Addie Roach (2nd), Cora Hastings (5th), and Allie Thompson (6th)).


In describing the life and surviving family at the time of her death, the Thursday, October 20, 1927 edition of a local paper gave the following obituary [partial below] of Sarah Elizabeth Lynes:




“Mrs. David Farnsworth, Highly Respected Resident for Many Years. --- Whole Community Mourns.


“Sarah Elizabeth Lynes was born in New Albion, New York, August 6, 1844, and was the eldest daughter of William and Emily Lynes.  When nine years of age she, with her parents, moved to Sharon, Wisconsin, and a few years later to Iowa.  She attended school at Manchester and then engaged in teaching school in Bremer county until the age of 22 years, when she was united in marriage to David F. Farnsworth of Plainfield, on April 21, 1866.  He preceeded her in death on January 13, 1923.  To this union seven children were born, five of whom survive, as follows:  Charles W., Mrs. C. E. Hastings, and Mrs. E. A. Roach of Plainfield (Iowa); Mrs. R. R. Thompson of Hartford, S.D.; and Ray L. of Waterloo (Iowa);  Frank D. and Nellie May having died in infancy.  She is also survived by one brother, Amos A. Lynes of Long Beach, Calif., one sister, Mrs. A. J. Blasier of Nashua, Iowa, nine grandchildren, four great grand children, many other relatives and a large circle of friends.


“She was baptized and joined the Baptist church at Plainfield July 16, 1876, and for more than half a century was a faithful and consistent member, always being ready and willing to assume a large responsibility in every department of church endeavor.  She was widely and favorably known throughout the Cedar Valley Association and the memory of her kindly words of advice and encouragement will long survive.


“Although she had been in failing health for some time, no grave alarm was felt about her condition until a very few days before death, which occurred Oct. 12, 1927, at the home of her daughter, Mrs. C. E. Hastings, with whom she had lived the past three and one-half years, at the age of 83 years, 2 months and 6 days.  She was a kind and loving mother, a sympathetic neighbors [sic] and a trusted friend…..[a  poem]….


“Funeral services were conducted at the Plainfield Baptist church, Rev. Oscar [Peter?]son officiating, on Saturday.  A large congregation of relatives and friends gathered to pay their …[rest of obituary missing]."

July 2003

Willow Lawn Cemetery

Plainfield, Iowa