Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Nov. 10, 2007.
WORTHINGTON — The talk was of the fall, of September and October.
Talker One: “The leaves surely hung on for a long time. I thought some of the trees would never lose their leaves.”
Talker Two: “I don’t think there was as much color this year as there has been some years.”
Talker Three: “That was because of all the rain in October. There were so many cloudy days. The rain spoiled it.”
Talker Four: “You know maple trees — whether they are bright colored or just ordinary — this depends on the soil. If the soil is right, a maple tree will be just sensational in the fall.”
So things went. There was a general question: “You ever been to New England in the fall?”
I said I had been. One time. This was in the old days when we had public transportation. I got on an airliner at Worthington, changed planes at Minneapolis and flew into Boston. It wasn’t really expensive. I could never have driven for the price of the airplane ticket.
Out of all this came a conversation about the local region being New England, or New England Two. Through the 1880s, on past 1900, the British crowded into northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota. What they did was fabulous. They were centered on Le Mars, Iowa, but — well, the Close Brothers came to own 500,000 acres in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.
The “History of Sioux County, Iowa,” also relates, “The Duke of Sutherland, one of the wealthiest peers of England, bought between sixty to seventy thousand acres in Rock and Nobles counties in Minnesota. Over sixty square miles of land in Osceola County were selected for the company …”
The Close brothers company — the Iowa Land Co. — opened offices in Le Mars, Sibley and Pipestone. The office at Sibley was a large brick block 128 by 80 feet. “In the summer of the following year the firm bought from the St. Paul and Sioux City (railroad) the town site of Bigelow, Minnesota …”
The Englishmen were wholly out of the pattern of settlement in our region. These were not homesteaders. The English were wealthy gentry. They didn’t sell undeveloped lands; they first built farm houses, in a pattern, and they built barns and sheds. They sought buyers who had a minimum of $2,500, which was a “comfortable sum” in that era. They established new towns (Quorn and Ireton, in Iowa) and they helped to develop towns. The Close brothers built Pipestone’s hotel.
There were many “Close houses” on farms across the local region. Although it is not apparent any longer because of remodeling and additions, the house on Evergreen Farm on the north edge of Worthington where Bob and Del Burns long made their home was a Close house.
The British were well along the way to creating a Midwest New England. At Larchwood, they planted hedgerows around their sections. They organized polo teams and cricket teams and they “rode the hounds.” Their rowing clubs competed at Spirit Lake. The British had no saloons; they had pubs. A tea dealer opened a business at Le Mars.
The British developers had notable success and they stirred fears. A bill was introduced in Congress to attempt to block the “leviathon companies” from buying public lands. These area Englishmen also were prominent in their homeland. There were four Close brothers. William Close was a minor British sports hero, a well-known “oarsman” for Cambridge University.
The Le Mars newspaper reported (1879), “Last Thursday another installment of English capitalists reached Le Mars … by the 1st of January, one hundred others will sail for America with Northwest Iowa as their destination …”
Many of these newcomers were second sons, barred by British law from inheriting their fathers’ estates. Many were spirited young men known through the region as The Pups. The Pups rode across the local countryside, sometimes entering towns “to paint the place a rip, staring red.”
Gradually the big investors disposed of their holdings. The Close brothers were disheartened when brother Fredrick was killed in a polo game at Sioux City in July 1890. As with all immigrant waves, the British became “assimilated.”
The Close brothers office at Kingsley, Iowa, near Sioux City, is preserved as a museum and can be visited on request.