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Saturday, Apr. 18, 2015

Gray Matters: Looking back to the beginning

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Marcus Historical Society-Reed center proved to be a real magnet for returning Marcusites during the Marcus Fair and all of the recent Class and Family Reunions.

This fascination has prompted me to go back to our beginnings and recall the story of Benjamin Radcliffe, one of our town's early "movers and shakers." He was born in England where his father was president of the Lincolnshire-Yorkshire Railroad. Benjamin's uncle, the railroad president's brother, was a prominent manufacturer in Liverpool.

He also served as mayor of that city. During his term of office he re-designed the waterfront docks to accommodate ocean-going vessels. For that service had been knighted by Queen Victoria.

In spite of the family's obvious successes, Benjamin's father, who was convinced that more opportunities would abound on this side of the Atlantic, brought his family to the New World, settling near Steven's Point, Wis.

There, Benjamin and several of his siblings prepared themselves for the teaching profession. Through Mr. Myron Hinkley, a Wisconsin friend who had moved to our part of the country, young Radcliffe found his way here where he taught in rural schools and then was hired to teach in the Marcus town school in the fall of 1879.

He continued in that position for two years, at the same time reading law with a local attorney. Somehow, he managed to sandwich in some necessary academic hours at Iowa State College and to pass the Iowa bar exam. He began practicing law here in 1882.

A year earlier he had married Anna Ward, daughter of pioneer George Ward who had brought his family to Amherst township by prairie schooner in 1871.

Benjamin was involved in every phase of our town's development from those earliest years. He purchased the Marcus News in 1883. After smoothing out some kinks in the operation, he sold it to his head printer, Frank Lewis.

He was soon elected mayor, and while holding that office, presided over the incorporation of Marcus. After that, he served as town clerk for many years. He was a founder of the Marcus-Amherst Cemetery Association, serving as its secretary until passing the duties on to his son. Radcliffe helped organize the Water Works Association, the Commercial Club and the Fair.

Benjamin built the lovely residence, now restored, in which the Kollbaum's live on S. Locust Street. There they raised their family of one daughter, Marie, and four sons, Lewis, Clarence, Maxwell and Lawrence. The latter spent his entire 97 years following in his father's footsteps. He continued the association with the Hartford Insurance Company, which had been established in 1882.

Lawrence served as secretary of the Cemetery Board for 56 years. He served on the school board, in the Commercial Club and as co-chair of the community's Golden Jubilee celebration. His wife, Marie Fry Radcliffe, was the daughter of Dr. Wm. N. Fry, pioneer physician, who selflessly served his community in both professional and civic capacities.

She, too, contributed to our cultural development in many ways. Lawrence and Marie were the parents of two sons, Benjamin and William "Bill," both now deceased. Bill's son, Robert, still lives in rural Marcus with his wife, Vicki, and daughter, Bree Ann.

Each of our Cherokee County towns has a unique story of its beginnings and the outstanding individuals who helped shape it. It is worthwhile to pause and think about these matters occasionally. Paraphrasing one wise observer, "It is only as we understand our past that we can be certain of the direction our future will take."