ELLSWORTH ERA: 1890-1907
(The information contained in this context is taken from I. A. Nichols' Pioneer Days in Iowa Falls, pp 325-335. Some of the information is Quoted directly while other parts are paraphrased. No effort has been Made to differentiate between the two forms.)
I think that it can be said in all truth that Eugene Ellsworth did far more toward the upbuilding and advancement of Iowa Falls than any other citizen in the history of the town . . . He was a man of restless energy and keen business ability and rapidly amassed considerable wealth.
The story of his decision to use his ability, energy, and wealth for the welfare of Iowa Falls is most interesting. Mr. Ellsworth had been in business some 20 years. IT was August 1889, and news had just come to him of the death of his friend Lyman Wisner, the wealthiest man in northern Iowa. Death had been caused by an accidental discharge of a shotgun, the load hitting him in the back of the head. Wisner's heir was his some George who was in love with the daughter of Wisner's bitterest enemy. With George's marriage, the Wisner fortune was able to profit the enemy, a situation which Ellsworth found intolerable. He made up his mind then and there that he would use his energy and much of his wealth for the advancement of Iowa Falls. In 1890 E. S. Ellsworth began his career as a benefactor.
He furnished the push and nearly all the money that erected and equipped the Ellsworth College buildings, took up the annual deficits of the institution, and endowed the school with 4,992 acres of Iowa land. Shortly before his death in 1907 he bought the property east of the college library with a view of erecting another college building.
The city library building and the original Ellsworth hospital building and equipment were largely the fruits of Mr. Ellsworth's labors. The Metropolitan Opera House was another contribution to the town. Ellsworth was the man with the energy, vision and ability to get eastern capital, with which he, with the assistance of local citizens, built the Short Line railway from Iowa Falls to Des Moines, then to Mason City, forming a connecting link in a transcontinental railway from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and San Diego. He built the first golf house and furnished the house and grounds to the golf club free of charge, even paying the taxes. He created the Zoological Park and placed in it deer, elk, and buffalo. He was the force behind the scenes that secured the land and made possible the Baptist Assembly grounds. He built the Ellsworth crusher, put in the dam, and built a railway to the plant. He built four large business blocks on Washington Avenue and at the time of his death had plans ready for the building of one of the largest and best hotels in northern Iowa, to be located on the southwest corner of Washington and Oak. These are just the high spots of the remarkable career of Eugene S. Ellsworth.
E. S. Ellsworth was born in Milwaukee in 1848, son of Orland Ellsworth and Almira Shaw Ellsworth. Following the Civil War the senior Ellsworth moved his family to Iowa Falls where he opened a livery business. Young Eugene helped his father, often driving prospective land buyers out to look at land. In this way he gained a first hand knowledge of real estate. In 1869 he bought his own livery equipment, began handling land on the side, and found time to take a business course at a Dubuque Business College.
In 1872 he opened his own real estate agency offering land in several surrounding counties. A year later he announced a loan business in connection with the real estate agency. Thus we have the beginning of the mammoth land and loan business of Ellsworth & Jones.
In 1872 he married Miss Harriet Northrup of Otisville (now Dows), and in 1875 he had an elegant Second Empire residence constructed at the corner of Oak and Rocksylvania (it was demolished following WW II.)
In 1880 the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Falls and Northwestern Land and Town Lot Company was organized to handle the sale of business and residential lots in the towns along the B.C.R.& N. line. Ellsworth was made secretary of the company and the town of Ellsworth, Minnesota was named for him.
That same year he took L. E. Jones in as office man, and in 1884 took him in as partner under the firm name of Ellsworth & Jones. In 1881 he installed a telephone in his office and one in the B.C.R. & N. depot and thus connected up the town with the depot. He owned thousands of acres of farmland. He put the first steamship on Spirit Lake in 1882, and with some other investors, built the Hotel Orleans at Okobji a year later. In 1884 he built the first of his commercial buildings in Iowa Falls, the Ellsowrth Block a two-story brick double store front on the north side of Washington between Oak and Stevens. This building is still in use.
In the 1890's Ellsworth continued his land and loan business on a mammoth scale. He owned much land in northern Iowa, southern Minnesota, South Dakota, and the Red River Valley. The Ellsworth and Jones loan business developed into a marvelous affair. They maintained offices in Boston, Chicago, Iowa Falls, and Crookston, Minnesota. There were ten or twelve employees in the Iowa Falls office. About every 60 days we (the Citizen office) used to print 2,000 applications for loans. Mortgages were taken bearing perhaps six or seven percent interest and sold in Boston or Chicago perhaps for five to six percent interest. This gave Ellsworth & Jones one percent for their yearly pay for handling the loan. All interest was paid promptly on the day it was due, no matter whether the interest money had been paid to Ellsworth & Jones or not. It may be worthy of note that from the time Mr. Ellsworth began lending money in 1873 until his death in 1907 no mortgage was ever foreclosed on a loan that he or his firm made.
In 1899 Ellsworth built the Metropolitan Opera House, a theater that was unsurpassed by any in the state. Among the actors playing the Metropolitan in the early years were Otis Skinner, Charles H. Hanford, Walker Whiteside, and Sousa's Band. Theater parties came from surrounding town, often by special trains. The Metropolitan orchestra furnished the music for all opera house performances. From 1899 to 1944 E. O. Ellsworth (son of E.S.) was the manager.
E. S. was a major contributor to the Ellsworth Hospital which opened in 1902 (it was replaced in 1935-56). In 1900 he interested eastern capital in building a railroad from Iowa Falls to Des Moines. 1902 saw Ellsworth buying land for a city library. Andrew Carnegie furnished $10,000 and Ellsworth provided the balance of the cost of the library, which was dedicated in 1904.
In 1902 the Ellsworth-Jones office building was constructed immediately east of the Metropolitan, followed by the construction of a three-story double storefront building next door (non-extant). That same year he had built a double storefront on the north side of Washington, three and four doors east of Oak.
He was responsible for getting a promise from the Illinois Central to build a new Union Depot. (Nichols says "the Illinois Central built the present little turtle-back structure, much to the disgust of the people." This is a reference to the depot listed on the NR in 1990.)
In 1901 Ellsworth laid out Highland Park addition and the golf ground, erected a golf house, and organized a golf club. In 1903 he bought the old Kelley woolen mill property, built a dam, erected a stone crusher plant and built a railway switch across the river to it.
In 1905-06 he was busy trying to put Ellsworth College on a permanent footing. In 1905 he brought Ido Franklin Meyer to Iowa Falls from Macomb, Illinois where he was head of a small private college. A four year standard liberal arts course was established and the credits of Ellsworth College were accepted at all the larger colleges and universities. In 1906 Ellsworth raised some $70,000 (much of which was given by himself) and built and equipped Caroline Hall (womens dorm) and the college library, and installed a new heating plant with capacity to heat all the buildings and such other buildings as might be built. In 1907 he endowed the college with 4,992 acres of Iowa land.
Ellsworth owned stock in anumber of banks in Iowa and Minnesota, including the First National, State National, and Peoples Trust & Savings Bank in Iowa Falls and the State Bank of Dows.
Eugene S. Ellsworth died in February 1907. His funeral services were held at the Metropolitan Opera House, which was packed to overflowing. Special trains were run from Clarion and Eldora, and many other communities sent delegations. Such is a brief history of the life of Eugene S. Ellsworth.