The Big Rock

The Big Rock

History has always been my favorite subject when I was in school and the older I get to becoming history myself the more interesting history becomes to me. One Iowa history story  The Big Rock  is a sad, but interesting story that I wanted to share with my readers. I came to know about The Big Rock  while doing genealogy research on my family and finding their history on where and how they lived. I even created a Milligan Family Tree Website where everyone could share family photos and keep them for future generations. So I was always looking for new family members who might have information and photos they would like to share and put on my site.

During my research I found out on both sides of my family I had grandparents, great grandparents, and even gg grandparents who were farmers and now I understood where this desire to farm came from, farming has always been in my genes. Our farm, is only a few miles from were my gg grandparents had a farm and log cabin and their farm was just down the road from the Big Rock. My Aunt Mary told me about a cousin of ours who I had never met named Swede Hamilton. She said he was about 80 years old and he only lived a few miles from my farm in Iowa and I should call him to see what photos and information he had.

I was a little apprehensive about calling Swede, I didn’t know what to expect. Would he be in a nursing home and not remember much? Would he be on his deathbed and not want to see or meet me and would he have any interest in seeing my family tree site or sharing any photos he might have. I just didn’t know. It turns out I shouldn’t have worried. Swede turned out to be the nicest, sharpest, and most active 81-year-old guy I have ever met. From spring through fall he drivers a bulldozer putting in farm ponds and in the winter he runs a trap line for mink, otters, muskrats and an occasional bobcat. He also loves to fish and most of all, He  loves genealogy and was a wealth of information on our family. Him and his nephew Ben Schaefer who was a genealogy buff had many photos they were willing to share. 

My wife and I went to meet Swede and his wife Shirley at their home in Iowa. They live out in the country off a gravel road where most people don’t lock their doors or even take their keys out of their cars. Crime is almost nonexistent there. So I thought it was safe to leave the keys in the ignition as we went into Swedes house to talk. I should have told my wife about my plan because the first thing she does when getting out of the truck is to lock the door. Yep she locked us out with no spare key to get back in. Old habits of living in the city all her life are hard to break. It all turned out ok, they had a friend who owned a body shop in the town of Chariton about 12 miles away and they had used him before to unlock their car. This gave us more time to talk to Swede and his wife to get to know them better and to find out what a nice couple they are.

After getting our truck unlocked Swede  drove us around and showed us where my gg grandfathers farm and log cabin and where Swedes grandfathers, Ben Dorhety’s farm was. He also took us to  the little cemetery where they are all buried. He then showed us where the Big Rock used to be.

This is the gravestone of my gg grandfather Levi Coles who fought with the North in the Civil War

This is one of many photos Swede and his nephew Ben shared with us. It is a picture from left to right of my gg grandparents Levi, and his wife Hannah Coles with Levi’s sister Phebe and her husband John Matson in front of my gg grandparents farm and log cabin.

My great-grandmother and Swedes grandmother were sisters and were two of 7 children that Levi and Hannah Coles raised on their 40 acre farm in a small log cabin.

Another picture of my gg grandparents log cabin.

When I first contacted Swede, he told me about his nephew Ben Schaefer, who had most of the family pictures and we started exchanging pictures. The picture I put at the top of this post was one of many that they had sent me. I was very curious about the Big Rock and I asked Swede where this picture was taken, me thinking it must be out west somewhere, I had never seen anything like it in Iowa before. He told me it was just down the road from Levi’s farm and he used to play on it as a kid, but it was blown up some time in the 50’s.

I wanted to know more about the Big Rock so I started searching for information online and I came across an article in the Lucas County Genealogical Society website. The article said the Big Rock was by the community of Norwood and Geologists said it was foreign to Iowa. It was pushed and rolled here from some place far up North by the Glaciers that came through Iowa 50,000 years ago. It used to be the pride of Norwood and was a big gathering place where there was lots of weddings and picnics that took place there. One energetic photographer used to advertise that he would be at the rock on a certain date and 41 people showed up. Even long before the first settlers arrived in the area the Sax and Fox Indians used it for centuries as a gathering place for tribal councils and as a mile stone on hunting journeys.

In 1952 the county was building straight farm-to-market roads interlacing the countryside and the giant boulder was in the path of one such road and instead of just going around it, some knuckle head from the county thought it would be best to just blow it up, even over the protest of the residents of the community.

The Lucas county engineer’s office estimated the Rock weighted 118 tons, and was 95 cubic yards. They used diamond drills and honeycombed the rock and placed sticks of dynamite in and blew the rock up. Some residents cried, and all were saddened to see it go.

Here is the thing that really pissed me off about the whole thing and I am sure it did the local residents as well. They still built the road around the spot were the boulder was. It must have been bigger and deeper in the ground then they thought. So a unique part of Iowa, a gift from the Glaciers was destroyed for no reason. How dumb was that.

To this day, you can still see the spot where the road curves around where the boulder stood for centuries.

The spot to the right of this picture is where The Big Rock stood for centuries

This is all that is left of the Big Rock, this peice was donated to the Warren County Historical Society by Swedes nephew Ben Schaefer.

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About Gordon Milligan

I am a conductor for a commuter railroad in Chicago IL, I have bought a 40 acre farm in South Central Iowa that I plan to retire to in 3 yrs. I want to raise and grow most of my own food using sustainible and organic methods. I have a blog that journals my journey to becoming a farmer.
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