Humboldt County
Historical Association
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Humboldt, Iowa


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Dr. Daniel P. Russell and his Family
Program given to Humboldt County Historical Association
 October 6, 2003 by Pat Baker and Martha Schmidt

Dr. D. P. Russell came to Humboldt in 1864. At that time it was called Springvale. It was founded by the Rev. Stephen H. Taft who led a colony of settlers here in 1863. The 1860's were spent in laying out the town, building a mill on the river to grind their wheat, and putting a roof over their heads. Several families crowded together in the few houses.

The 1884 History of Humboldt and Kossuth Counties gives this account of him:  "Dr. D. P. Russell, who was the first physician to locate in Humboldt, came to this place in 1864 from Pennsylvania. He has remained here many years, but has partially suspended practice, spending much of his time in Minneapolis, where he now (1884) is. Dr. Russell, than whom there is no better known individual in the county, is of that restless, enterprising disposition, which is supposed to be inherent in the people of New England. Shrewd, sharp, and caring but little for any friend but himself, he must succeed in the affairs of life, which he has done.

"The doctor is of the eclectic school, and had considerable practice. In 1866 he (with A.M. Adams) instituted the pioneer drug store in Humboldt.  The doctor is chiefly known through this locality as having built many hotels, among which are one each in Humboldt, Dakota, Algona and Livermore, all of which he operated for a time."

Oliver DeGroote describes Dr. Russell in his 1963 History of the City of Humboldt: "The two earliest doctors in Springvale were Dr. Russell and Dr. W. H.. Locke.  There is no written record in the early history book of either one graduating from an accredited medical college. Requirement for a license to practice law, medicine or dentistry were not very strict in those days. In those days times were hard, money scarce and on sale at every village were dozens of patent medicines, all guaranteeing sure cure from a mere cut to rheumatism and stomach trouble. Then too the settler's wife was always ready to help out—often she was nurse and doctor and with much experience which came the hard way.

"In early days doctors drifted into the village, would stay for a few months, and drift on. One of our early doctors, after a few months of active practice, decided that the day and night calls on patients, often on horseback, and sometimes snatching an hour's sleep on a buffalo robe with his saddle for a pillow on the floor of a cabin, was a real hardship.  Collections were slow and the medical practice was not remunerative. Therefore, this doctor gave up active practice and became a speculator, land agent and builder.  His activities were not always honest as is evidenced in the following story:

"One day in 1865 a man arrived from Illinois and desired to inspect a quarter section of land he had purchased sight unseen. He hired the doctor to take him to the country so he could see the land he had bought.  The doctor sensed an opportunity. He hired a team and scanning a rough map of land sections, took him to a wooded river farm of doubtful value, pointed it out and said, "This is your land."  The stranger said, "Let's return to Springvale."  On their arrival back he asked the doctor, "What do I owe you?"
"Well,' replied the doctor, "I lost most of the day from business, and owe several dollars for the rig and team.”


"Never mind adding it up. I am going to give you the deed to this land for your trouble," said the stranger, "and I'll be on my way back to civilization."

"The doctor thereby gained the genuine farm, good prairie soil, which he later mortgaged. He told his friends that he had made quite a good day's wages, and now he was sure the life of a country doctor in these parts was not for him. He continued speculating in north Iowa and contracted to build several buildings and prospered."

Dr. Russell owned much of Block 31 in the town of Humboldt. Rev. Taft, probably impressed that there would be a doctor living here with money in his pockets, promised to sell him this choice piece of real estate when Russell first arrived here.

In 1864 he probably built the small stone "first hotel" for himself and his family who were coming as soon as he was settled. It was located in lot 9 and later it did become the first hotel (run by relations John and Belinda Hill). Later it was a laundry, garage and storage shed and was torn down in 1940.

In 1865 Dr. Russell started to build the Russell Block of business buildings on the NW corner of Sumner Avenue and Taft Street (lots 1& 2).(During the cold winter of 1865-66 the Bushrod Parsons family shared living in the basement with 2 other families - with only the floor as a roof over their heads.) The Russell Block was finished in 1866 and he opened up his drug store there. There were two double-front stores downstairs ( E. A. Wilder and a hardware store) and upstairs Russell Hall, with two offices in front of that.

About 1867 he built "Dr. Russell's house and hotel" on the north side of the block, cater-corner from the Fremont House Hotel. (See photo). In the 1870 census the Russell family of 5, 13 guests, a cook and table waiter lived there. It burned in 1871 and was quickly rebuilt. After it was rebuilt, John and Belinda Hill managed the hotel.

Dr. Russell was one of the town's leading citizens: He was placed on a committee to draft the constitution and bylaws of Humboldt College on June 22, 1866. They met at Russell Hall. Dr. Russell was a Mason. He became a member of Eastern Star Lodge No. 195, A. F. & A.M. At the first meeting on July 24, 1866 he was elected treasurer. Russell was chosen one of the trustees of the Humboldt Cemetery Association in March, 1869. In the 1869 General Business Directory, he was listed as "D. P. Russell Builder." He was not a doctor any longer. (Dr. Welch was here by then and he was a real M.D.) He was elected City Councilman in the first election of the city of Springvale August 16, 1869.

By 1870 the early settlers of Humboldt had built a stone school and three stone store buildings in addition to a few wood frame buildings. Much of the stone was dug from the mill race and 50 workmen were employed. The 1870's were busy years with settlers flocking to the area.

 In 1872 Dr. Russell built the Dakota House Hotel on Mill Street in Dakota City. Dr. Russell ran it for himself for a while, when he rented it to several parties in succession, but who all retired after a short time. Dr. Russell again became its landlord.

About this time Dr. Russell built a fine hotel in Algona. See the picture in the 1875 Andreas' Atlas. It was located opposite the courthouse. In 1875 the Russell family was living in Algona.

In the 1870's if anything could go wrong, it probably did.  They had trouble getting a railroad to come through here.  But the grasshoppers did—three times—and ate their crops. In 1874 the bank failed nationwide and our farmers lost land and merchants had to repay loans. The future of Humboldt looked pretty bleak.

Russell felt the long arm of the law in 1875. From the Upper Des Moines Newspaper: "Hold to Bail - Last week a writ was issued, ordering Sheriff Pinkerton to appear before the District Court then in session at Emmetsburg, and show cause why he held D. P. Russell a prisoner. Russell had been placed under arrest upon a charge of having made threats of violence against one A.M. Horton. Russell had been placed in custody of the Sheriff because of his refusal to enter bail for good behavior and to keep the peace. The case was tried before Judge Zaver and Russell held to bail in the sum of five thousand dollars, a reduction of one half from the amount required by the justice."

Back in Humboldt, the Russell House Hotel (Block 31, lot 9) was being managed by Henry Cadett, great grandfather of Jeannette Tigges. They called it Springvale House after the Russell family moved away. G. W. Farlow bought the property in 1875 and called it Humboldt House.

Dr. Russell lost a lawsuit in 1875. We do not know what the suit was about, but David and Laura White of Oneida County, NY, recovered a judgment of $6,280 against D. P. Russell in the U.S. Circuit Court, Des Moines, Iowa on May 12, 1875. The money was given to the Humboldt Congregational Church who established the David White Trust Fund for Educational Scholarships. (Bernice Smith and Dr. Jim Coddington, among others, were able to use these scholarships to attend Grinnell College.)

From the Humboldt Kosmos 1/18/1876:
"The Hotel at Dakota caught fire Friday evening and came every near being entirely destroyed but owing to the prompt arrival of the neighbors and cool and systematic work, it was saved.  The fire originated in a pile of building paper in the attic and as it was some distance (about 10 feet) from any chimney, and there was no stove in the room, which was unoccupied, it is difficult to conceive how the fire could originate. Spontaneous combustion or lightening probably. The whole inside of the roof and the rafters were ablaze when discovered and a little delay would have resulted in the destruction of the house."

Also from the Kosmos:
4/12/1876: "Dr. Russell returned from a second trip to the Black Hills."

4/20/1876: "Dr Russell - intended is a town that is to be somewhere towards Black Hills country."

Then tragedy on a large scale: The Russell Block (Block 31, lots 1-2) and adjoining stone buildings burned down in 1877. "A FIRE FIEND IN HUMBOLDT $18,000 worth of property goes up in smoke. "At one o'clock on the morning of the 10th of February, 1877 the alarm of fire was given by Dr. Welch who, returning from a professional visit to the residence of J. W. Foster, discovered fire issuing from the front of the Russell Block.  B. H. Harkness was promptly at the scene and saved some stock of the Dry Goods and Grocery stock of B. H. Harkness and Wilder & Taylor. The Kosmos office above and below Ward's Hardware were in flame.  No water of any consequence was to be had, so there was nothing to do but save what was saved.  The upper part of the Russell Block in front of the Hall was occupied by Parley Finch, as a law office.


"The Kosmos force was on the ground quite early and succeeded in saving nearly all their type, file, books etc. but lost their press, imposing stone, rack and etc. Mr. Ward's stock of Hardware was mostly removed, and his loss consequently light.  Losses as far as known at this date are D. P. Russell, the Russell Block, about $6,000, well-insured; B. H. Harkness stock between $3,000, and $4,000, insurance $4,000; Wilder & Taylor, about $5,000, insurance $1,000; J. F. Ward's light loss and no insurance; J.B. Simmons his building, no insurance. The Kosmos lost about $500, no insurance; Parley Finch lost about $1,500, no insurance we believe.

"The origin of the fire is an unsolved mystery. Incendiarism has been suggested. St this time we cannot see what object could have been had in view to cause the burning of our principal business block.

"The destruction of the Russell Block and adjacent buildings removed the bulk of business from the north to the south side of the avenue."

3/7/1877: Dr. Russell returned last week. He heard of fire first time Wednesday February 28th at Ft. Dodge."

A month later Dr. Russell and his son, Herman, went to Colorado. It was over a year later - Feb. 27, 1878 - when the Kosmos reported that "Dr. Russell and associates have begun to clear the debris from the Russell Block."

Dr. Russell and his family were operating and living in the Dakota House. The fire damage there had been repaired. In late 1878 Russell found a buyer for his Dakota hotel—a Mr. Burgit.

In October, 1878 Dr. Russell moved to Algona to take possession of the Russell House at that place.

In 1879 news came that Humboldt was getting its railroad. With cheers, the Minneapolis and St. Louis RR arrived in November of 1879. Suddenly, night turned into day. Humboldt became a boom town. Workers streamed into town.  They needed lumber yards for building their new houses, general stores, clothing stores, barbers, lawyers, doctors, restaurants, bakeries, banks, hotels and more. The railroad brought the materials to supply these businesses. The little bud of a town blossomed into full flower.

In 1879, two years after the Russell Block fire, the Russell Block was rebuilt in wood with a brick façade.  It was two stories high with stores on the main floor. Mrs. Russell operated a store with ladies ready-to-wear in one of the shops there. Other businesses included Mr. Swan's dry goods and Lincoln's grocery.

From the memoir of C. W. Garfield in the 1963 City of Humboldt history: "In 1879 when he came to Humboldt, grandfather (G. B. White) had a cash capital of $5,000. There were five children at home. He had arranged before coming to rent a store room on the north side of main street of Dr. D. P. Russell, but when he came he found the Doctor's fire record was such that he could not insure his stock of general merchandise, so he was obliged to lease a building on the south side of the street which was known as the old post office building."

Meanwhile, the Humboldt House Hotel  (Block 31, lots 9 & 10) was sold to Charles Wright and his son in 1879.  They tore down the old structure and built a new Wright House Hotel on the same lot. This hotel was large and in three parts, all two stories high.  Under Wright House management it was a very popular place and the dining room was cleared out whenever the young folks wanted to use it for dances.

The town of Livermore was the next boom town on the railroad line. The St. James Hotel in Livermore was built in the spring of 1880 by Dr. D.P. Russell of Humboldt who ran it for several months. Mrs. Russell's store-goods as well as the family's household effects were moved to Livermore. In the 1880 census the Russell family, a cook and 11 guests were listed. "Doc" was listed as hotel keeper. Luella, age 13 was away at school, while Herman (age 18), and Murray (age 16) helped with the hotel. He sold the hotel to John Zentz six months later.

Back in Humboldt, newspaperman Fred Taft noted in May, 1881: "Dr. Russell is digging away as if he meant to build an opera house."  Later: "Doc Russell promises a Fourth of July ball in his new hall. There will be ample room as the dimensions are 20'x 95'.  The Russell Block is starting a big spread on the west.  The new part was raised Friday and consists of 2 rooms, the first 14   and the corner 20 feet wide and both 90 feet deep.  For size this block will take the cake. Russell is indomitable in the building line and given a certain time and land enough he will cover more ground than the best of them.  The block will be brick veneered when they get through enlarging upon it."

12/21/1881: "Dance at Russell Hall."

Russell Hall was a popular place for holding church suppers. From the Humboldt Congregational Ladies Circle's secretary's minutes Dec. 7, 1881: "We had a supper at Russell's Hall. Oysters. After much excitement we were ready to receive our guests at 6½ o'clock. At eleven, every hungry man and woman was satisfied and the collection box resounded to the tune of #56.26." (Their next social event was held at the newly opened Harkness Hall across Taft Street to the east.)

On Christmas Eve, 1882, a fire in Livermore burned much of the businesses on one side of the street. It was set. In 1883, the Russell Hotel in Algona burned down. In 1884, Doc Russell was living in Minneapolis. His family was living in the Russell building in Humboldt.

About 1885, Herman Russell married Laura May England. A daughter, Leta Lenore, was born Dec. 18, 1886. She lived to be 101.

Mr. and Mrs. C. P. Clark purchased the Wright House in 1881. They operated it until June 23, 1887 when it was destroyed by fire.

From the 1963 History of the City of Humboldt: "The old Wright House was a very hospitable place. It burned down later, and a prominent citizen of the town is reputed to have set the fire."

After the Clark House burned, it was not rebuilt.  Hotel space was badly needed. In 1887, Herman Russell, son of Dr. D.P. Russell, remodeled the space used for stores and family living in the Russell Block into a hotel. It was two stories high. The opera house remained the same.

Herman and Laura Russell's son, Harry H. Russell, was born January 20, 1889. Laura Russell became ill with puerperal fever and died when the baby was 5 days old. The family was grief-stricken. Funeral services were conducted by Rev. Douglass of the Congregational Church. Herman's mother, Lisette, and his sister, Luella, helped care for the children and run the hotel and opera house.

Seven years later, in May 18896, Herman Russell married Nettie Lane, daughter of Hiram and Olive Jones Lane, pioneers in Corinth township. They were feted in a grand send-off at the train station. Two children were born to Nettie and Herman Russell, Muriel in May 1897 and Cecil Clark Russell on November 2, 1900.

Herman and Nettie Russell successfully operated the Russell Hotel for many years. The Russell House Hotel had two stories in 1900, and a third floor was added later. The Opera House was a significant part of this structure.

Mida Doan recalled in the 1963 history: "(In the 1880's) a neat row of brick buildings built by a so-called "Doc" Russell supplied space for small shops and a retail grocery store owned by a Mr. Lincoln. Above these shops resided the Lincoln and Russell families.

The Russell family consisted of two boys and a girl: Herman, Murray and Luella. The Lincoln family shortly moved to Ft. Dodge and "Doc" Russell also sought his fortunes elsewhere, but the Russell children remained. Murray and Luella married and moved away thus only Herman or "Hermie" as he was familiarly called remained to operate this building, which was converted unto a hotel when the Clark House burned down.

"Here he and his gracious wife Nettie Lane Russell operated with marked success for many years. He utilized the two west fronts for an opera house, which attracted considerable fine talent for many years. He made the eats removable, and when not used for dramatic purposes, the fine floor proved excellent for dancing.  Some of the men organized a club for this purpose, called the E. T. O. Club, and met monthly.  An orchestra was hired from Marshalltown to furnish the music. Some of the men appeared in formal dress of tails- and - ties.  There were a few bare shoulders among the women. But most of us just donned our "Sunday best" and had a good time along with the others."

Thanks to Doc Russell, the town of Ottosen was created. Russell owned a railway siding in Wacousta township midway between Bode and West Bend. In August 1895, Mr. C. Ottosen commenced buying grain at Russell's siding on the BCR&N Railway in Wacousta twp. finding it a good business point, he requested the division superintendent to furnish a telegraph operator. Mr. Ottosen then put up a store building for the purpose of carrying on a general merchandise business.  He then petitioned for a post office. The name Ottosen was given to the post office without the consent of Mr. Ottosen.  By 1901 Ottosen was well-equipped with stores, banks, grain elevators and accommodations for stock shipping.

Murray Russell and his family were living at the Russell Siding near Ottosen in 1895. He married Lucille Davis. Their daughter Remona was born in 1885, and son Bruce in 1896.

Finally, an obituary. From the Humboldt Co Independent, 6/8/1899: "RUSSELL: At Mercy Hospital in New Orleans La., on Friday, June 2, 1899. Result of paralysis caused by over-heating while fighting fire at Saucier, Miss. A few days previous, Daniel Pettingill Russell formerly awell-known resident of Humboldt.  He was born in Cortland County New York February 10th 1835 and was consequently in his 65th year. The body arrived in Humboldt Tuesday morning this week and was buried Union Cemetery Tuesday afternoon, attended by resident members of his family and his daughter from Emmetsburg. The funeral service was rendered by Eastern Star Lodge No. 195 A. F. and S. M. of which he was formerly a member."

In the 1920's, motion pictures were shown in the three-story Russell Opera House. Herman and Nettie Russell moved to California in 1926.  The Hotel burned down in 1928. The lot remained vacant until the modern Hotel Humboldt was built there by the Emery family in 1939.  Beginning about 1958, J. K.. and Lola Logan managed it. It was torn down when the First National Bank of Humboldt was built on that corner in the 1981. It is now (2003) called the U.S. Bank.