ROCHESTER — Although there are only a few homes remaining in Rochester, Iowa today, Rochester was once a major trading center between Eddyville and Bellefountaine.
Established as a community and trade center in 1850, Rochester was vibrant until the 1880s when families moved away when transportation needs outside of water changed. The town dried up and the families moved away.
According to the following Oskaloosa Daily Herald article dated August 1934, steamboats brought the old town of Rochester on the Des Moines River into prominence. But the river settlement retained importance as a shipping center long after the flood years had made river transportation in Iowa a reality, according to Frank Bartlow.
The article continues below and identifies the residents of Rochester.
Mr. Bartlow, was born at Rochester March 23, 1861, eleven years after the town was founded by John Wright and spent most of his life in that community. His home, at that time in 1934, was the summer residence of Miss Elizabeth Hawkins.
Rochester was the principal trading center for a territory extending along the river between Bellefountaine and Eddyville. Mr. Bartlow declares and in its heyday boasted two general stores, two blacksmith shops, a hotel, sawmill, wagon and broom factory,, school and more.
John Barnes operated one of the stores and with Frame Laughlin ran a sawmill. Lem Reeves owned the other store. Ed Roberts and Jake Bartlow, the latter an uncle of Frak, were the two blacksmiths.
The broom factory was run by Mr. Gilbert. The two-story gravel house built by Mart White from line burned on the river bank eventually became the home of the Benton Wagon Works. Ivabod Lott owned a shingle machine and made shingles and Mr. Prichard and Mr. Eveland made harnesses.
Mr. Bartlow’s father built and operated the first ferry across the river at that point. Dr. E.A. Boyer, residing just west of town, and Dr. McCae looked after the health of the community and Rev. A.T. Woods of Olivet ministered to the spiritual needs of the residents.
The hotel, an old stagecoach tavern, operated by A.Y. Thompson, is now the summer residence of the Warren Kalbach family. Mr. Thompson taught school, along with Sarah Covey. Mr. Pearson made baskets for sale. The postoffice known as Auburn, was in charge of “Aunty” Reeves.
Among the old residents recalled by Mr. Bartlow were Van Delashmutt, Henry Kendig, who was township clerk and recorded livestock by drawing pictures of the animals. Israel Foster, Lon Church, George Dixon, William Morgan, Marion White, Rich Thompson, Frank Seavers and Andrew Billings.
Only two residences stood in the block between the present road and the river, says Mr. Bartlow, and these finally fell into the water as the river cut into the bank. The homes were originally occupied by Mr. Gilbert and “Grandpa” Pearson.
Mr. Bartlow recalls when two pleasure boats put in the appearance at Rochester. The families of the owners resided on the boats and produce was accepted from passengers when cash was lacking.
As the transportation changes occurred the town gradually dwindled. Families moved away. Buildings were razed and the materials hauled to farms and towns along the railroads. Little now remains of the original community. Besides the Hawkins and Kalbach homes, another early dwelling, that of Israel Foster, is used for grain storage on the Walter DeLong farm.
Today there are still homes in Rochester where families enjoy a quiet rural lifestyle. Visitors are welcomed to Rochester with a sign that seems to boasts that Old Rochester is still there.