Friday, April 23, 2010

Derby, Iowa's Beginning and History

Excerpts from the 1978 Lucas County History Book

Thirteen miles southwest of Chariton Point, as it was known in 1870, English settlers migrated and the town of Derby sprang into existence.  It is located on the southwest quarter of section twenty-four in township seventy-one, north of range twenty-three, west, Union Township.

In June 1875, Mr. J.W. Riggle, laid out Riggle's addition to Derby, containing fifty-nine lots.  While the population in 1880 (174) was not large, Derby was never the less a good point for business as it was situated in the midst of splendid farming country.  The town contained a general store, grain elevators and a post office.  Major Lewis and Mr. Throckmorton bought and shipped large amounts of grain and stock to Chicago.

Derby Postal Service originated from Henderson, Lucas County, Iowa in July of 1866.  The Post office was moved to Derby in February of 1872. 

Before there was a telephone office in Derby, different people had a switch in their homes or store.  They would call people for you.  The following places were switch stations.  The A.J. Fight Home, Dunn's Drug Store, Grimes and Winslow Store and Charley Young home in the country.

The worst fire in the history of Derby occurred on August 2, 1915, shortly after eleven o'clock.  The fire started in the rear end of James Morrison's meat market.  A few minutes after the fire began, the interior of the building was in flames and it spread rapidly to the buildings adjoining.  In a short time the fire had gained such headway that it was impossible to save the frame buildings between the opera house and R.E. Brant's dry goods store, which were of brick.  In less than three hours the seven frame buildings lay in ashes.  The losses amounted up in the thousands and would have been much greater had it not have been for the water-soaked conditions of other buildings from recent rains and the timely efforts of the citizens.

The tax books of 1880 showed 22,800 acres of land in addition to the town of Derby.  A number of the largest and finest farms of the county were in this township.  The first permanent settler was Mr. Hamilton, who located in 1850. 

The first marriage was in the winter of 1851, the people married were J.C. Wetler and a widow, Mrs. Salisbury.

The first death was that of a little daughter of Mrs. Salisbury.

The first school in the township was a log schoolhouse, located in Section 1, now Goshen.  The teacher was Jacob Holmes.  He had 16 pupils and received $1.75 for each pupil.  He paid $1.00 per week for his room and board.  The township was divided later into seven school districts with a schoolhouse in each district.  In the early nineteen hundreds the district in which Derby is situated was made independent.

The first schoolhouse (a two story building) was built shortly after March of 1877.  The main room had a blackboard across the entire front.  It was made of cloth, probably painted canvas.  Across the entire front of each room was a platform slightly higher than the floor where the desks were located.  A large coal-burning stove placed in the center of each room furnished the heat.  Wraps were hung in a hallway and a bench held a bucket of water and a dipper.

The lower grades were on the ground floor, while the others through the eighth grade were on the second floor.  The grades were a bit different from the ones of today.  The pupils advanced from grade to grade by reading.  This schoolhouse burned.  The last schoolhouse built in 1922 was torn down in 1978.  The Derby School District is now a part of the Mormon Trail School District.

Derby was thirty-nine years old when the Derby State Savings bank was robbed.  The safe was blown open and papers and books in the vault were almost a total loss and $5,000 was taken.

The second robbery took place at the Derby Clearance Association in October of 1930.  Two store employees were forced into the vault at gunpoint but heeded the captive's pleas not to lock the door, as no one knew the combination but Mrs. Storie.  The robber then cleared out the money and fled.

The first hospital to be built in Lucas County was built in 1916 by Dr. R. Fred Throckmorton.

Derby had two newspapers printed at different times.  The first one was the Derby Recorder.  It was printed in the late 1890's.  The second one was the Derby Watchman printed in 1917 in the first building east of the school bus garage.

William Wyatt's team (Fan and Fancy) was stolen on a rainy night in 1901, and was driven to Tindall, Missouri where the thief was apprehended by a Pinkerton detective agent.  First, the thief had driven to Goshen, (the opposite direction) in order to confuse the law.  Mack Sowder (the local constable) went to Missouri and returned the prisoner to Chariton for trial.  He was proven guilty and served a time in the penitentiary.  In all he had driven approximately 70 miles, quite a distance in such a short time.  The prisoner, when on trial, said he had no bad habits as he did not smoke, drink or chase women but he would steal horses.

Like many small towns in Iowa, Derby businesses have dwindled and disappeared.  With no school building in town, many families have moved away leaving very few homes and businesses in town.


Anonymous said...

i was wondering where the restaurant was in derby and the name of it. if anyone could let me know that thank you(

David Kiesling said...

My mother, Eveyln Josephine Kiesling (nee Gosselin) was born May 13, 1914, to Joseph Edward and Nan Helen Toll Gosselin on her grandparents Farm (John and Anna Toll) near Derby. She attended one room school houses through the eighth grade. Her first country school was the Ohelmann Country School, about one and one half miles from their home in Derby. At about the age of ten her parents bought a farm of their own, approximnately fifteen miles southwest of Derby. The farm was three miles southeast of Humeston. When her parents bought their farm near Humeston, she attended the Lucerne Country School about one fourth of a mile from their farm. My mom passed away on November 6, 2004, in Cedar Rapids, IA. She always spoke fondly of growing up in Derby and Humeston. As a child in the 1950's our family often visited both towns in the summers as well as my mom's aunt and uncle in Woodburn.

Susan Hunt Williams said...

My great great grandmother died in Derby. She died April 1 1876. The 1870 census has her in Warren, Lucas, Iowa. Are there any resources here to know more about her? She died young. She was 31.

Lynne said...

Susan you can contact the Lucas County Genealogical Society at and they will be glad to research for you.

Anonymous said...

to the anonymous, i could be wrong but the last restaraunt was gusseys if thats any help

Diagoras said...

My father and I used to drive down to Derby for dinners at the Derby Restaurant in 1994-1995. I'm trying to write out my memories of what it was like to experience that restaurant - one of the most wonderful places I have ever eaten. Does anyone know when it closed? Does anyone know of anything even close to resembling this anywhere in the state.

Also, I found this online:

Lynne said...

There are several comments to this article. One person said Gussey's was the last restaurant in Derby, but didn't say where it was. If you send an email to they will probably be able to answer some of your questions. That is the Lucas County Genealogical Society. Lynne

Lynne said...

The Lucas County Genealogical Society may be able to help you. They do research (for a nominal fee) for people and they have lots of information on families who have lived in Lucas County. Their email is

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