A Brief History of Dorchester
by Leland Wenig
Dorchester was settled in 1853 by Edmund and Harvey Bell, who erected a grist mill. In 1873 the village plot was laid out by Sylvester and Elsie T. Haines and placed on record but remained unincorporated. The Haines family came from Dorchester, Massachusetts, and thus the village received its name. Soon after the village sprang up with a store, blacksmith shop, wagon shop and sawmill, and thus a thriving business center by the 1870s and an active town in the 1900s. Today it is a quiet town with a trout stream, a lively tavern, and a supper club that has a fabulous Friday night fish fry.
The self sufficient community had two grocery stores operated by Joe and Mabel Kumpf, and the other, the Coppersmith Mercantile, built from local limestone. It had its own doctor, chiropractor, boot and shoe shop, creamery, hotel, roller mill, meat market, produce station, brewery, two garages, restaurant, farm implement, bank, post office, dance hall, barber shop, school and two churches. The town and surrounding farms supported each other.
A legendary crime occurred in the early 1900s. A school teacher was murdered in the basement of a schoolhouse in the valley between Dorchester and Bee by an enraged suitor. Was he jealous? Spurned? Whatever the reason the murderer paid for the crime with life in the state penitentiary at Fort Madison. [note: see the 'Lil Bits section of this website for more on this murder]
Through Dorchester history families sustained the spirit of the town. Some farmed, ran businesses, played in the Dorchester Cornet Band, ball team and attended churches and school. Perhaps when the work and play were done, they stopped for a refreshment. The population remained about 100 through the years, perhaps a little less today.
Today the post office is operating with an officer. The original stone building is about 140 years old. The tavern is operated by Dennis Homewood, and the supper club is operated by Lennie Burke, and loyal long time residents remain and happily thrive. A trailer court borders the creek for vacationers and fishermen. Waterloo Creek still provides prime trout fishing for local folks and long distance visitors.
My fondest memories of Dorchester are of Roy Coppersmith who was a wise man in everything he said and did. Sunday afternoon Roy's motorcycle would come out of its garage. If you were one of the lucky kids you might get a ride. There were always plenty of kids to participate in summer and winter sports.
Dorchester Cornet Band ca1900
Front L-R: John Shefelbine, George Wenig, Harry Reinbolt, Charles Steinbach
Middle L-R: Joe Kumpf, George Kumpf, Henry Shefelbine, Wallace Long, Emil Shefelbine
Back L-R: Will Shefelbine, Ben Wenig, Henry Schultz, Fred Wenig, Albert Long, William Luehr
Dorchester Baseball Team ca1904
Front L-R: George Kumpf, Pat Danaher, August Schulte, Henry Shefelbine
Back L-R: Harry Reinbolt, Roy Coppersmith, Joe Kumpf, Chris Schwartzhoff, Charlie Steinbach
[Caledonia Argus] Editors note: The article and photos about the history of Dorchester, Iowa, were submitted by Leland Wenig of Berlin, Wisconsin. Leland was born and raised in Dorchester, which is located about 20 miles south of Caledonia. He married Jean Rice of Caledonia. A picturesque small town of Dorchester set in the upper Iowa river hills of northeastern Iowa has a colorful history.
- source: Caledonia Argus, Caledonia, Minnesota, January 24, 2007; republished on Allamakee IAGenWeb with the permission of Dawn Schuttemeier, of the Caledonia Argus. Click here to visit the website of the Caledonia Argus.
- article & photos scanned by by Errin Wilker for Allamakee co. IAGenWeb
Return to 'other history' index