My great grandfather, Daniel J. Boller was born in 1856 on the Boller farmstead located in southwest Johnson County, Iowa (see map below). The industrial revolution was at hand and Daniel’s life reflected the times in which he lived. Following America’s great Civil War (between 1870 and 1890), most young people transitioned from working on the family farm to better-paying jobs that took them into cities.
After D.J. (as he was called) married Barbara Miller (1881) in Amish, Iowa, they had two boys – my grandfather Waldo (1884), and his younger brother Frank (1886). By the end of that decade, the Bollers had moved from the Boller farm in Johnson County (near Kalona) to Grinnell to work with D.J.’s younger brother, George, in running a furniture business. All the while, D.J. was also going to school, learning a new highly-marketable trade – becoming an undertaker!
Furniture and undertaking may, at first glance, seem like an odd combination. However, during the pioneer days, the role of undertaker quickly fell to those with related skills: the cabinetmakers, who could build caskets for the deceased. So, it was quite common then for a merchant to successfully operate a small furniture store while also offering the community the services of a well-trained mortician. Read more here.
For D.J. Boller, he saw the opportunity to transition from farming to furniture, so in 1896, after being trained as an undertaker, relocated his family to a nearby Iowa community that lacked both a furniture store and a well-trained mortician – a vibrant farm community called Wayland, Iowa – located in Jefferson Township of Henry County. Click here to read more about this little town with three different names over its first 40 years!
Records show that a wide variety of businesses sprung up in Wayland over its first 40 years. Like other Iowa communities, there was never a shortage of industrious men and women who saw the opportunity to make a good living by providing much-needed services to the growing population. One of Wayland’s (Marshall) earliest enterprising citizens, Christian Roth Sr., did what so many others did across Iowa in the 1850’s – erected a brewery on his homestead, which was completed in 1856 at a cost of over $4,000. Up until its closing in 1884, due to new Iowa prohibition laws, Roth’s Brewery was a prosperous business with a capacity of ten barrels per day!
A wonderful resource we have used in gathering info for this page is Wayland – The First Century (BH-105).
So, as we said, in 1896, D.J. and the Boller family moved to Wayland in order to open up the Boller Furniture Company – bringing to the area both a fine selection of furniture and the much-needed skills of an undertaker. Records show, however, that Daniel was not the only man in town bidding for the people’s business. During this same period (1891-1900), John Hamil opened a furniture store, and John Magdefrau started a furniture, casket making, and undertaking business as well.
In late 2021, an Ebay retailer listed this very rare Wayland business poster (above right), and when we told him that this was a family heirloom, he cut me a great deal. This poster not only gives us a great overview of Wayland at the turn of the century, but also offers us the only look we have of the interior of Boller Furniture Company (above left). And from what we can see, it certainly looks like the shop was loaded from ceiling to floor with inventory! The poster proudly hangs in my office!
Records from The Wayland News (1902) indicate that D.J. entered “a pretty (tastefully arranged) wagon” in the July 4th parade – one that “displayed a handsome, furnished room, giving the listeners the benefit of some music from an organ.”
Click here to continue reading about D.J. and Barbara Miller…
Click here to go on to Boller Furniture Company – Wayland’s Finest For 45 Years – The Second Generation.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Wayland Museum, WaylandIowa.com
Jefferson Township Historical Survey, WaylandIowa.com
Jefferson Township Historical Survey -Appendix, WaylandIowa.com
Chapter Three: Daniel J. Boller & Barbara Miller – From Farming to Furniture: Establishing a Trade in Iowa, Marty Boller, From the Heartland of Europe to the Heartland of America, 2006
Furniture and Undertaking: An Odd Combination?, Jocolibrary, January 16, 2014
Washington Township farmer also made coffins, Irving B. Weber, Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 18, 1976, p17
Daniel J. Boller, Find-A-Grave
Barbara Miller Boller, Find-A-Grave
Click here to go on to the next page…