Time Machine: The last days of Quandahl

Remnants of village were auctioned in 1966

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On a beautiful fall day in 1966, more than a thousand people gathered in a rural valley. Some were there to enjoy the day, some to satisfy curiosity and some to take part in an unusual event: Everything in the village of Quandahl was about to be auctioned.

Quandahl in northwest Allamakee County was nestled in a valley carved out by Bear Creek. The village, populated mainly by Norwegian immigrant families, was once called the Switzerland of Iowa by state geologist Dr. Samuel Calvin.

Nels J. and Julia Quandahl arrived in the early 1870s in the small community in Waterloo township. Nels bought the country store, and under his management, it became one of the best businesses in the area. When Nels became postmaster, the community was named Quandahl.

In 1884, J.D. Johnson built a creamery into the bluff above Quandahl. A cold water spring flowed through the creamery’s attic into a supply tank, through pipes that led to an engine boiler and a cream cooler and out into Bear Creek. Johnson built a bridge across the creek to accommodate hand carts to transport the creamery’s butter.

Every year, more than 75,000 pounds of butter was shipped to Spring Grove, Minn.

Quandahl’s son, Jacob, joined him in the mercantile store and took it over when Quandahl died in 1910. The store and village continued to prosper. Jacob Quandahl also became treasurer and a major stockholder in the Arctic Spring Creamery that became a farmers’ cooperative in 1903.

In addition to the creamery, the town boasted a grocery store, blacksmith shop, bank, water-powered woolen mill, post office, shoe maker, dry-goods store and hardware store.

Quandahl Savings Bank opened on April 1, 1919, even though the new bank building wasn’t completed until that summer. It had a capital of $10,000. Jacob Quandahl served as the bank’s vice president as well as a director.

Like many small towns, Quandahl’s prosperity waned. The bank closed in the early 1930s, and automobiles made it easier to get to larger towns, so local businesses declined. The children in town grew up and moved away.

In 1945, the town was encouraged by the news that it would soon be the home of Mansfield Industries, an optical factory.

Jacob Quandahl’s daughter, Norma, was engaged to be married to Theodore Franklin of Brooklyn, N.Y. Franklin had purchased the old Quandahl homestead, farm and store building. He planned to set up a lens factory in the store building and began to remodel it for the factory. He built an air strip on the top of the bluff overlooking the village in order to distribute his products by plane and truck.

The factory was forced to use a generator, however, since electricity had not yet arrived in the valley, and shipping was still difficult, so Franklin moved it to Spring Grove, Minn., in 1948.

The creamery was razed in the early 1960s, and its location became a popular trout fishing spot.

By 1966, nothing was left of the town but six houses, standing in a line along Main Street.

The owners met early in the year to discuss how to sell their properties. They decided to auction the town. Houses for sale belonged to Osmund Quandahl, Joe Sollien, Gustave Sacquitine, Mrs. Sander Quandahl (who owned two) and Louis Powell.

“We hated to see the place empty, and every owner wanted to sell, so we decided on this way of doing it. We think a person interested in having a weekend place for fishing and hunting may want to buy these places,” said Osmund “Ozzie” Quandahl, 39, of Waukon.

On Oct. 2, 1966, the town went on the auction block. Ozzie Quandahl, who was town founder Nels Quandahl’ great-grandson, served as the auctioneer.

The auction was well attended. The crowds listened to the auctioneer, savored refreshments served by the ladies of the Waterloo Ridge Lutheran Church, and enjoyed the colorful fall scenery. Few were there to bid on the properties.

The house that was known as the Bank House, because it stood next to the foundation of the bank, was owned by Mrs. Sander Quandahl. It sold for $2,100 to Harold Ness of Decorah. Mrs. Quandahl’s second house came with 60 acres and sold for $4,980 to R. Gavlex of Dorchester.

Louis Powell’s house was sold to Ingvold Thorstenson of Waukon for $3,100. Ozzie’s “Shoemaker” house sold for $750 to Elmer, Bessie and Jack Peterson of Cedar Falls. They planned to remodel it and use it as a summer home.

The unimproved Gus Sacquitine house and a dilapidated blacksmith shop were sold to Ray Suebakken of Decorah for $900.

A young engaged couple, William Sezr and Ruth Schuer, both of Des Moines, bought Joe Sollien’s home for $3,500. It was modern and had oil heat. The couple planned to move in after their wedding.

The total for the sale of the small village was $15,330.

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