Amish, Iowa – or Joetown, as it’s called by some of the locals – has never been a large community. Officially, it’s an unincorporated town in Washington Township of Johnson County, Iowa (see maps below), and records indicate that it had a population of 64 in 1902, 75 in 1925, and 117 in 2014.
Interestingly, the little town of Amish has three connection points with my Boller family. First, it’s the burial place – Pleasant Hill Cemetery (see below) – of Frederick Boller (1815-1887) – who came from Ohio to Johnson County (Washington Township) around the same time as my gg grandparents – Jacob & Catharine Boller (1853). As you can see from the map (below) Frederick owned land just north of Jacob Boller’s farm – which is located just a few miles southeast of Amish. Read more here.
Secondly, Amish was the location of my great grandparents’ wedding. Yes, Daniel J. Boller and Barbara J. Miller were married in Amish on November 22, 1881. Their marriage certificate is shown below. Read more here.
And thirdly – speaking of Daniel J. Boller and Barbara J. Miller – I’ve also just recently uncovered the amazing fact that my ggg grand aunt Susanna Miller – Barbara’s great aunt – was, along with her husband – Daniel P. Guengerich – the first pioneers to settle in Washington Township of Johnson County! Coming from the Casselman River Valley in Pennsylvania/Maryland, Susanna and Daniel first arrived here in 1846, with my ggg grandparents – Benedict B. & Barbara Miller – following around 1851, and my gg grandparents – Jacob & Catherine Boller arriving in 1853 – just about the time Amish was being established! Read more here.
History indicates that Amish was first established – in the 1850’s – near the drinking well that had long been used by stage coach drivers on their weekly trek from Iowa City to Oskaloosa. Apparently, this well had been dug by early Iowa settlers and it served as a convenient stopping post along the 70-mile trail, located at the 16-mile mark southwest of Iowa City.
By the late 1850’s, a small tavern/inn – The Sixteen-Mile House – had been built near the well, making Amish into a small, centrally-located community for those living in Washington Township of Johnson County. According to tradition, a merchant named Joe Holloway was the owner of the hotel and people began calling it, Joe’s Place. So over time, you guessed it. Amish also became known to the locals as Joetown. Today, the Kalona Historical Village pays tribute to the beginnings of Amish/Joetown by displaying the original Joetown Well – now restored – on the museum’s lawn.
Of course, the long-term future of Amish as a larger city was determined by the placement of the railroad. As you can see from the map below, when the Burlington/Cedar Rapids & Northern (BCR&N) Railway came through in 1879, they decided to place the east/west tracks five miles south of Amish, creating a new community that was named after the prized bull of a local Washington County farmer – Kalona. Read more here.
Sadly, that one decision – while great for Washington County and Kalona – pretty well sealed the fate of Amish. And while the community has never disappeared like many others that became Iowa ghost towns (see list here), Amish/Joetown pretty much became an afterthought to many, especially after the U.S. Post Office pulled out in 1903.
Below is a rare postal cover that dates back to January 1883 – when Charles C. Yoder had his Dry Goods Store in Amish (pictured above). The U.S. Census from 1880 (below) reports Charles – age 32 – his wife, Maggie – age 30, and their 3-year-old son, Ray, living in Amish and shows C.C.’s profession as Drygoods Merchant.
From the amount of postage on the envelope – 13-cents – it’s obvious that C.C. Yoder was sending something of value to Marshall Field & Company in Chicago. On the back side, Field’s marked the letter received on January 26, 1883, and it’s our guess that the letter might have contained a check since the front side mentions a possible account number (No. 22/19).
Most everybody, today, recognizes the name Marshall Field as one of Chicago’s best-known retailers with their famous department store (now owned by Macy’s) on State Street. But in 1883, Field’s – while a big name in Chicago business – was not known so much as a high-end retailer, but as a regional wholesaler of dry goods around the Midwest. As you can see from the 1881 ad (above right), the sale of Dry Goods, Carpets & Upholstery was the primary focus at the time.
Which explains why C.C. Yoder – a dry goods merchant in Amish, Iowa was in regular communication with M. Field & Co. – the dry goods wholesaler in Chicago.
As we mentioned earlier, by 1880, the BCR&N Railroad was moving freight through the new village of Kalona, and according to later census info (see 1900 & 1925 below), C.C. Yoder returned to farming, but, apparently, still owned a general store. Amish, on the other hand, as a bustling eastern Iowa village, slowly gave way to the vibrant farm community to the south, and by the late-1920’s was on a sharp decline.
Charles C. Yoder, and his wife – Margaret P. Palmer (Maggie) Yoder, according to U.S. Census Records, remained in Washington Township/Johnson County for the remainder of their lives. As part of the large Amish/Mennonite community, Charles was born on September 21, 1847 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, while Maggie – born in June 1848 – was from Ohio. Like my Boller family, it’s very likely that Charles and Maggie moved to Johnson County as children with their families, and then met and married here on September 7, 1873.
C.C.’s obituary states that he graduated from SUI in 1869, and went to work with the Iowa City firm of O.C. Donaldson, Pratt and Lee, with whom he opened his Dry Goods Store in Amish (1871), taking full ownership in 1874. Apparently, the Yoders had one boy – John M. – who sadly, failed to make it beyond infancy, while their other son, Ray W. – born in 1877 – helped his father run the Dry Goods Store (see 1910 census below), but soon moved to Iowa City and managed Yoder Coal Company until his death in 1950. Apparently, the Dry Goods Store in Amish closed by 1920, as C.C. reached his 70’s.
Earlier, we mentioned the Joetown Well, which was located near Joe Holloway’s hotel in Amish. Built in the 1850’s, the hotel went by several names – The Holloway House or Joe’s Place and was located on Angle Road (see map above). Apparently in 1888, Joe Holloway’s son sold the hotel and it was torn down around 1890. Two years later (1892), C.C. Yoder bought the property – which was very near his Dry Goods Store, and built the Wahl House, which hosted many village events. In 1950, the Wahl House was sold and moved to Kalona, where it stands today – serving as an integral part of the pioneer village at the Kalona Historical Museum.
Charles C. died on June 4, 1930, at age 82, while Margaret (Maggie) P. lived on until July 8, 1934 – age 86. Both are buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Amish.
Here’s a big salute to the Yoders and the Iowa farming community of Amish/Joetown!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.