From Ireland to Iowa

My Grandfather, 1913

I have been interested in my family history for a while now. It is something that seems to go on forever, once you start tracing all the branches. I have been able to trace my grandfather’s lineage from Northern Ireland to a small town in southern Iowa. James Alexander Liggett was born in Londonderry, North Ireland and came to America in the Colonial Days with three of his sons: Alexander, James and William, my ancestor.

Alexander Liggett moved from Windsor Township, Pennsylvania to Rockbridge County, Virginia and records show that he did more real estate business than all the other Liggetts combined. There is a plantation in Rockbridge County, Virginia now, which contains the land previously owned by Alexander Liggett. I will need to do some more research on that as it would be interesting to find the place if possible.

James Alexander Liggett was too old to have served in the Revolutionary War and I don’t know if the sons participated, but William went to Ohio after the Revolutionary War.

In 1807, William and his son, John, went from Rockbridge, Virginia to the wilds of Ross County, Ohio. Perhaps because of the wild country and devastating plague of red squirrels which destroyed the crops the first year, John and his wife, Mary, moved after one year to Warren County, Ohio. After his wife died, he moved to Xenia to live with his daughters Nancy and Mary. There he became a Ruling Elder in the church. People seemed to move around a lot in those days even though it is difficult to imagine how they got around. Moving a family by covered wagon could not have been easy.

John’s son Henry married Jane Brown of Glasgow, Scotland. They settled in the green woods of Union County, Ohio and dug out a farm. They remained there 20 years. In 1858 they moved to Livingston County, Illinois where Mrs. Liggett lost her husband and son in 1861. In 1862 the family moved to Monmouth, Illinois where they lived twelve years. In 1880 Mrs. Liggett moved to Crawford county, Kansas, and finally settled in Mt. Ayr, Iowa.

Thomas Liggett
Thomas Liggett

Their son Thomas was my great grandfather. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in Co. C 36th Illinois Inf., and his first battle was the Battle of Pea Ridge.  He was lucky until the battle of Chickamauga when he was shot in the cheek. The ball came out the back of the neck. He survived his injury and married Catherine Arthurs in 1869 and had six children. They moved to Mt Ayr, Iowa in 1875 and went into the grocery business.

Thomas’ son Harry was my grandfather and Harry’s brother Arthur was my great uncle. My mother was born in Mt Ayr, Iowa in 1920. She reminisces about growing up in a small town:

My mother.
My mother.

Our town, Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa, was built around a square with a three story brick courthouse in the very center, a cannon set on one corner of the courtyard, a soldier’s monument (WW I) on another corner and when I was growing up, a bandstand on the north side center.

Each Saturday night during the summer the American Legion Band gave an hour’s concert of mostly Sousa marches and other, not too difficult, compositions. Forrest Stewart always was the leader. I played flute and piccolo (Stars and Stripes Forever was a real favorite and challenge!) and the rest of the band was made up of people of all ages from the town and country.

It was a lot of fun to be with this varied group and we actually got paid a pittance by the town for this bit of culture. We always had a great time and were so pleased when we occasionally rendered something flawlessly, or at least, acceptably. I think my sister, Jean, played clarinet with us as she grew older.

All around the square were all sorts of stores and offices — a movie house, the Carnegie Library, the Christian Church on one corner, and, in the early days even a milliner’s shop full of beautiful hats. We had two or three doctors, several lawyers, one, of course, was County Attorney, a realty company, a bank, a sandwich shop that made anything from hamburgers to pork tenderloins to brain sandwiches, all delicious.

We also had a hotel of sorts, a fire station with truck, a telephone office with operators who place every call for you, and who, therefore always knew all the latest gossip.  Also, there was a gas station, a pool hall which was a “den of iniquity” and off limits to most of the younger set.  I was even scared to walk by it!  There was a post office built during the great depression and decorated by Works Progress Administration mural artists.

Because Harry and Arthur were friendly people and did a big grocery business all over the county, we were taught to be especially friendly and polite to everyone, whether we knew them or not. I think that may explain some of the quirks in Jean’s and my personalities – both “conformist” and “non-conformist” attitudes and cynical. Liquor was frowned upon by most people in Mount Ayr but our Dad who loved a glass of beer now and then (he always put a shake of salt in it) drank it only during his two weeks’ annual vacation away from home.

During the great depression in the 1930’s, Harry and Arthur, who allowed groceries to be charged by the month, literally fed many families over the county free. For several years after good times returned Dad would get a check in the mail for payment for groceries received during that terrible time.

People were basically honest, they just had no money at all during those years. The only bank in our town closed and because of high mortgages many, many farmers lost their homes and land. That was disaster enough, but we had a great drought period during that time also.

I don’t remember our family suffering, at least we always had enough to eat.  We wore second hand and made over clothing and purchased as little as possible but everyone else was doing the same.  We saw so many families who were in such dire straits.

Everyday, Dad would come home feeling so sorry about yet another farm foreclosure that we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We had a comfortable home, a Model A Ford and no debts that could be foreclosed on. And, apparently the grocery business made ends meet in spite of so many unpaid charge accounts.

One interesting aside is my father’s family also left Ireland for America around the same time. They ended up in a small town in Iowa not far from Mt Ayr.

One thought on “From Ireland to Iowa

  • July 25, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    A lot has changed in Mt. Ayr! The people are extremely friendly so don’t be afraid to stop by and see for yourself what has (and hasn’t) evolved.

    P.s. Thank you for writing this article, I never knew and always wondered what Mount Ayr was like before.

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