Friday, January 29, 2010

Big Rock - Big Heartache

Amid the gently rolling hills of Norwood, a few persons stood at the roadside as Mrs. William (Ruth) Curtis related the story of the big rock, which has always been the pride and joy of the people of that community.

She pointed out the stake set by Avery McNeer and her husband, Bill Curtis, where, to the best of their memories, the giant granite boulder had stood for countless ages.  Long ago, geologists had stated that the boulder was foreign to Iowa, that it had come rolling and tumbling down from the north in one of the five glaciers which pushed ever so slowly across this area, plowing out basins for later lakes and forming the low graceful hills so pleasant to look upon today..

The last three glaciers covered only part of what is now Iowa.  The centuries rolled along.  The Earth's climate changed and when the last glacier came into the relative warmth of this region approximately 50,000 years ago, the great rock came to rest as the ice pack that had nudged it along, began to melt and trickle off into Otter Creek, then into South River, thence into the Des Moines River and finally into the Mississippi, leaving the boulder to wait in silent loneliness for more centuries to pass until the Red Men should come and live out their centuries here.

Tom Castile
Then came the white man and children to play around it and clamber over its vast expanse; families together round its basse, enjoy their picnics and have their pictures taken.
Many legends and other thrice told tales have grown up around the rock.  T.D. Ashby recalls that one Tom Castile claimed to have carried the rock on his shoulder as he walked out here from the east, using it as a table by day and a shelter by night.  When he arrived at Otter Creek Township he was so tired he could not lift it again but was proud to leave it to show coming generations the superior kind of men who settled and developed this region.

Other legends, less fantastic, deal with the original owners of the land-the Sac and Fox Indians, who it is said, used it as a measuring mark for their journeys from tribal seats.  Indian chiefs of neighboring tribes met there and, over their pipes of peace, pledged to fight the invasions of the white man who would soon be over runing their domains.

Mrs. Avery McNeer
Many activities took place around the rock.

Helen Niswender said:  "When I was a teenager, I used to climb up there and luxuriate in the fragrance of the new mown hay.  How sweet and all-pervading it was."

Ruth Curtis said:  "I used to climb up there and look out over the world."

An energetic photographer sent out word that if everyone who would like to have their picture taken by the rock would be there on a certain day, he would take the picture.  Forty-one people showed up.

Mrs. Avery McNeer has the unique distinction of living all her life in the shadow of the rock.  She was born on the east side of it.  Her father was Elmer Curtis and their old house still stands, although unoccupied.  Her grandfather was Moses H. Curtis, one of the very early pioneers there.  Since her marriage, she has lived on the west side.

 Progress vs. Sentiment 

Said Lewis Ashby, an early merchant of Norwood, "The Rock has always been here and I suppose it will always be."

But Alas! The white man's unending quest for progress must be reckoned with.  Some philosopher said, "There is nothing so permanent as change."  Came the year 1952 and farm-to-market roads were interlacing the countryside.  Jack Cady of the County engineer's office showed this writer the blueprint of the proposed Otter Creek road and gave the rock's statistics:
     Glacial origin.
     Volume 95 cubic yards.
     Weight 118 tons.
     -and it lay squarely in the path of the proposed road.

The bulldozers came in and with them the diamond drills and the high explosives.  The big rock was honeycombed for the insertion of the dynamite sticks.

Then came the trigger moment, Mrs. McNeer sat in her home 40  rods away hearing first the blast, then the shattered fragments falling like hail all around.

There were tears.  There was heartache in the community.  One chunk showing half a honeycomb lies at the doors step of the McNeer home.  Three fairly sizeable pieces lie buried at the bottom of a 20 ft. fill near the site.  The rest lies in the road bed of the Otter Creek farm -to-market road.
     Nothing that is, can pause or stay.
     The moon will wax, the moon will wane;
     The mist and cloud will thurn to rain
     The rain to mist and cloud again.
     Tomorrow be today.

Here is a link to an interesting site with a story about Big Rock (Gordon Milligan)


milligansganderhillfarm said...

My great great grandparents were early poineers and had a log cabin and farm by Otter Creek. Their names were Levi and Hannah Coles. Their daughter Jennie Coles Milligan my great grandmother had a picture of the big Rock and when she passed all her pictures were passed to other family members. I have a picture of the Big rock and of them and their log cabin if you would like it for this post, Please let me know.

Lynne said...

That would be wonderful. Thank You.

milligansganderhillfarm said...

Hi Lynne,how do I send it to you? You can email me at

milligansganderhillfarm said...

You can see the post I did about the Big Rock and a picture of the Big Rock by going to my farm blog at

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