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The Big Rocks
a Fayette Iowa legend


and thee Big Rock
Big Rock, a Fayette Iowa institution!


....Big Rock is on the right, the time is 1898, the original trees on the hill were all cut down for fuel by this time, the first whites set up 'claims' in the area about 1849, and by the mid 1850's, the Big Rock area was being used for small farms, a mill, and being cut of for fuel (a little history is below in "Chats with Old Timers," excerpts).  
....The Springs are  under the light cliff area on the left-center of the picture,  with the spring stream along the bluff and joining the Volga River at the Big Rock.  The swimming hole is in front of Big Rock, the Volga River comes from the exact left of the picture, thus it runs straight into the Big Rock area before making a ninety degree turn to the right in the picture and on downstream to toward what was Albany, Iowa, 5 miles away.  
....The early route to the Big Rock  swimming hole, for swimming, fishing, playing, adventuring, was over the bluff above the Springs, or down the first deep wash through the bluff about a half mile downstream.  The mid 1850's water saw mill near Big Rocks did not last long.  The area would remain in the hands of several small farmers, who would come down to their homesteads from a trail and river ford about a half mile to the left of the picture.  
....Big Rock is one of 3-4 big limestone slabs that have broken away from the river bluff area, thus the early Fayette residents knew this area as the Big Rocks, and by the late 1800's, since the swimming hole was in front of just one of those rocks, the reference started to become Big Rock.
....The 'Upper Big Rocks', a totally forgotten name, in the early decades of settlement was the area at what we knew as Dean's rock during the early 1900's, and was upstream or to the east of the Springs about 1/3 mile.


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a Fayette Iowa institution!

The memories of "Big Rock" have become vague with the passing generations.
Not many have actually seen Big Rock or know where it is located.

There are still a few left who "adventured" at Big Rock.
Do you remember using the area to fish, camp, visit, picnic, swim?
Do you remember when Dean's farmstead was still lived in at the base of Big Rock hill?
Did you know that Dean's Rock was actually called, 'the Upper Big Rocks' in the early decades.
Have you ever drank from the spring, jumped from the Rock into the swimming hole, climbed down over the bluff trail?

Big Rock Page Notes: Nov 2001
....This page has extensive graphics and may "time-out" during downloading at dial-up connection speed.  If that happens, try hitting the "refresh" button.  Your computer should start downloading again at the point it left off, and therefore finish the page.
....There are really very few people left with actual experience on the farms around the area from Big Rock to Albany/Lima.  Very few left that roamed the Big Rock hills, or swam, fished, waded the Volga, or drank from the Springs.  If you have personal memories, write them up for posting with the page.
....At present this page is in draft form.  Major errors will be worked out in time, and new material added.  
....I am still working on the mystery location of the mill or mills in the Big Rocks area, so anything posted at this time is my best guess.

General areas going down the page.
Getting to the Big Rocks
The Springs
Some History of ownership, and the Mill
The Swinging Bridge
Big Rock, the Pleasures of Youth by Ralph Young

Getting to the Big Rocks

....On the Topo and Aerial maps of the Big Rocks Area, I have labeled the general location of some of the forgotten historic landmarks in the Fayette, Iowa area. The Village of Fayette is basically the same size on the maps that is was in the last couple of decades of the 1800's.  The railroad arrived in the mid 1870's, so the 'boom' time for Fayette was from about 1875 to 1910.  The population jumped to 1100-1400 people and maintained that level until recently, with the college adding several hundred more on a consistent basis.  The immediate Big Rocks area was popular with Fayette and UIU folks by the early 1860's and remained as a local recreational area until being basically shut down by the Conservation Commission to local traffic.  Now in the process of natural succession the Springs and Big Rocks are all but out of reach for local Tom and Huck's, college sweet hearts, and 'adventures'.

....Today many people think of Big Rock as the golf course at Fayette, Iowa.  However, the course takes its name from a "big rock" which still sits on the rivers edge below the bluff over the steep hill, right in back of the club house of the golf course.  The clubhouse sits on the site of a pre-1960 farmstead. Hogs, cattle, chickens roamed the exact location of the parking lot, the barn and house in the location of the clubhouse.  The bottom land holes were a field of row crops, the hill holes were pastured with cattle.  With 2002 additional nine holes on the road before the club house, sit on the site of another small farmstead (or two), which included a "popular" melon patch other the the famous Stepp's Melons. The original path over the top of the hill and down the cliff above the Springs at the Big Rocks would have cut across the 'new nine.'

....In the 1930's the present road to Big Rock, which leads off the Lima road,  was built.  Before the 1930's, the road to Big Rock was across the Creamery Bridge at the east end of Water Street in Fayette.  This bridge was basically abandoned when the gravel road to Big Rock was put in from the Lima Road at the north end of the Main Street bridge.  By the early 1940's the Creamery Bridge wooden flooring was dangerously in disrepair. About 1948, the last vehicle to attempt fate crossed the bridge. 
....Before the Creamery Bridge, all movement toward Big Rock crossed Volga River fords at the east end of Water Street.  The road was packed dirt until the 1930's.  
....The original dirt road followed the same route from the end of Water Street up and over the hill pictures below.  Today,s number one green just off the upper right corner of the picture.  Originally two trails led from the top of the hill.  One immediately left and down hill to a ford across the Volga about 200 yards to the east of the Big Rocks.  The other trail ran straight over the hill in the center of the picture and down to the original farmstead in the area of today's number 2 green.
....This trail to the Big Rocks area, by the middle of the 1850's was also followed up over the hills to Albany about 4 miles away.  Albany by the late 1850's and into the 1870's was a major pioneer village, with major contributor's being the Earl's and Marvin's mills in the area.  The Albany Mill at the south end of the village was a major construction for the time and drew farmers from miles away, many following the Big Rock route. If you know what to look for, the remnants of the old trail system beyond Big Rock can still be found.

...Above, if one were to park at the top of the hill, crossed the fence to the north, the remnants of the old steep rocky road down to the river would be found, very dense with 35+ years of natural growth, but still visible below,  none-the-less, as one looks up the old road coming back from the Big Rocks.

The Old Road over the hill to Big Rock
....Once over the hill,  the flat bank area in the picture below, leads from the base of the hill to the Spring and Big Rocks area, and along the bluff.  The bank created a natural flat park-like area about 200yds by 25-40yrds. The area in the picture below was a popular fishing, picnicking, camping, roaming area, with the Big Rocks being off to the right of the picture. 
....Starting in the 1850's this area was literally clear cut for fuel and pastured by cattle. Small fields were prepared for wheat, then corn and oats, and hay.  The area was too hilly with thin woodland soil, so major cropping was limited to some of the small bottom and better hill top/side area, plus a few of sandy upland bank areas away from the Volga.  
....Natural succession of vegetation has been occurring since the Conservation Commission buy out of the areas in the 1960's.  Even though much of the area is reverting to natural forms it would take another 100 years or so the reach the state of habitat that the Native American's roamed for thousands of years. It should be noted however that when one visits the actual Big Rocks area and to the east, that today it does look more as it would have when the first whites took up the land in the early 1850's and started European practices.  It looks similar to the thousands of year the land was occupied by Native American cultures.

The Bank and Bluff area
....Standing on the bank edge, above or below, about at the point where one would come down the hill on the old original road, the Big Rocks are just around the clay bank area downstream of the picture.  There was a river ford or two in the center of the picture, used in early pioneer days to reach the flatter drift area across the river on the right of the picture.  There was a very early mill damn and mill about 1/2 mile downstream of this area. Tole's Mill (or Cole's Mill) was one of the first first generation sawmills on the Volga River.  The first mill being Robert Alexander's upstream from here, 4-5 miles at Westfield (the SE corner of today's Klock's Island Park) starting in 1849. Within a few years after 1850 a mill was in operation in the Big Rocks area, as indicated in some excerpts from "Chats with Old Timers," below.  The next mill downstream was at Albany, started about the same time.  Thus the Mill below the Big Rocks was midway between Alexander's and the Albany Mill in the 1850's.  After the Big Rocks mill (s?) were abandoned there was no other mill between Westfield and Albany.



....Below, in the 1898 picutre of Big Rock, one can see that starting in 1850 the hill above the river was basically clear cut of all large trees, the Rock itself was bare and remained that way until into the late 1960's when visiting traffic down the hill to the area declined and basically ceased.  The little stream coming out from along the bluff runs about 200 feet up to a spring which comes out of the base of the bluff.  One can see in 1898 that spring was producing a major about of water running into the Volga.   
....The Volga River starts in the tall and wet-grass prairie country to the west of Fayette and first enters hill country several miles to the west of Fayette just beyond Eagle's Point.   Once in the hills there were quite number of springs that fed into the river, thus the Volga becomes a clear spring fed river in its natural state, with smallmouth bass and rock bass (bream)  being the primary game fish, but would have harbored populations of natural trout.

....The Big Rocks area was visited in early days either by foot or horse.  Many people carefully came down a steep trail along the bluff near the springs, located at the lighter bluff area on the left side of the picture below.  Others came through a valley downstream or the right of the picture about half a mile.  In the late 1800's/early 1900's there was a Swinging Bridge (walking)  across the Volga at the point of the first valley downstream.  A picture of that bridge is near the bottom of this page. 
....Cole's, Holmes' and later Dean's farm at the end of would have been to the left of the picture below. There was a trail/road down to his farm and one that forded the Volga leading over to at least one farmstead on the flatter bottom area to the left in this picture.  Horses and later cars could come down this road or park at the top of the hill, which today (2000)  would have been by the number one green of the golf course.   The entire Big Rocks area was pastured and/or cropped, thus almost all of the natural vegetation was eliminated and supplanted with domesticated plants and weeds until the natural succession that started in the 1960's when the area was purchased by the Iowa Conservation Commission.  If you knew the area in the pre-1960's times, you can see it revert back toward the per-white landscape, except for the lack of water from an extremely diminished water table from tiling and plowing the entire wet prairie grass watershed to the west that is the start of the Volga River drainage.  

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....In the early 1960's  Iowa Conservation Commission acquired a large number of acres for the Volga River Project with the intent of producing a major impoundment or "lake" along the  Volga River Basin with an earthen dam in the area of what was Albany and Lima, about five miles downstream from Big Rock.   The lake was to stretch upstream and past the Big Rock area, however after geological resources predicted the basin would not retain water for an impoundment, the Commission abandoned the project and placed a dam across a small creek running out of "Frog Hollow" and into the Volga near Albany .  Thus for about 35 years the acres acquired for the original project have been in a state of succession back toward their natural state.  These acres have been logged, cleared, pastured and farmed from the 1850's for one hundred years as small hill farms.  

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Big Rock viewed from the Spring to the south of the Rock
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....From early in the pioneer history of Fayette, Big Rock was a favorite "swimming hole" for the local people, especially the boys of Fayette.  The depth of water at the Rock has varied over the decades but from the mid 1800's well into the 1900's there was a 8-10 foot "hole" out in front of the rock.  With the slow loss of the water table due to increasingly intensive agricultural practices which caused rapid runoff of water from the land and a constant lowering of the water table, the incoming water into the Volga has been reduced and inconsistent.  Constantly increased plowing of more and more land and the loss of basically all of the nature lands and watershed caused drastically increased movement of topsoil into the Volga increasing siltation of the bottom and an overall loss of depth in many of the main "holes" along the River.

....At one time the Volga was deep and swift enough to run behind or to the left of Big Rock.  The water depth by the 1940's and 1950's had decreased to about 5-6 feet in front of the Rock.  In 1999, the water depth is usually no more than 3-4 feet deep.
The area around the Rock was part of a small farming operation until the Volga Lake Project of the 1960's.  At that time the Conservation Commission took over control of the area and cattle were no longer on the land.  Succession of natural plants started again with pioneer species coming in first. Big Rock up to the 1960's was basically devoid of any major vegetation because of the constant visits by swimmers, fisherman and local town's people who just liked to visit and sit on the rock.


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....In the picture above taken from down river, one can see how overgrown Big Rock has become.  In the 1950's the Rock was bare and the Volga was deep enough to cover up the undercut at the bottom of the Rock. The bank at the left-center of the pic, which is now tree lined was relatively clear and pasture-like from about 1855 through the early 1960's, as this area was part of a small farm in the Big Rock valley and therefore pastured by cattle.   The Fayette citizens would ride their horses, and then cars down a relatively steep hill road covered with big limestone rock, to the "flats" on the left, where they would picnic, swim, fish and socialize.  This was a favorite site for the "Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns" of Fayette, and Becky's.

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....In the 1950's the water line of the river was generally up on the Rock side, perhaps 12-18 inches higher than today (2000).   And as noted from the 1898 picture, the water was well up on the side of the Big Rock at that time,  perhaps 3-4 feet higher.   Vivid proof of 100 years of excessive exploitation by an ever increasing human population.  The US population is now 6-7 times as large as in 1898 and nearly 3 times as large as in the late 1950's and will be doubling to over half a billion by 2030 if the present trend can continue.

The Big Rocks Springs

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View from Big Rock up into the Spring

....All of the numerous spring outlets are still present from the under the limestone outcrop just out of site, just as the were in the 1950's, but the output of water is perhaps one-third the amount of that time-frame.


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....Above, the view down river with Big Rock on left. Along the river in pioneer times would be numerous of small farms.  The next settlement below this point would be at the town of Albany about 5 miles away.  Albany no longer exists, but was still present with a school, post office, small store, and numerous citizens into the 1950's.   The town was totally eliminated by the Volga Project purchase in the 1960's.   From this point in the picture, the downhill gradient of the river is fairly steep with the water being relatively swift in the rapids area but slowing down and spreading out in the pools.   There are very few deep "holes" left on the Volga as it runs its course down to the Turkey River beyond Volga City.  In its natural state the river ran swift, clear, cool and would have been a major smallmouth bass fishery with perhaps some native populations of brook trout.  
....The river never was deep enough to be a navigation source for either Native Americans or early settlers, however it would have been a source of water, some food and recreation, and would support numerous mills during pioneer days.  Westfield and Fayette developed partially where they did because of access to the Volga.  Since it was such a good source of clean water, many small  Native Americans settlements would have been along the river.  The upland till area across the river from the Big Rocks and also in the golf course areas harbored major Native American camps or settlements.

Big Rocks History

Clips regarding the History of the  Big Rocks  area,
from "Chats with Oldtimers of Fayette, Iowa,"

by O.W. Stevenson in the Fayette Leader during the late 1930's, and edited by bz.

....The first reference to Big Rock was recorded on the back of an upstairs closet door at the old James E. Robertson house in the edge of Robertson's Woods, apparently by the girls in the family, who evidently kept for several years, a record of important social events for them, beginning in 1868. Entries for Big Rock were: Oct. 8, 1868, "All went to The Big Rocks", Aug. 13, 1868, "Leap year picnic at The Big Rocks", July 4, 1870, "Old Maids' Picnic at the Rocks'".

....Deed records show in 1854 Robert Alexander and (son-in-law) Samuel H. Robertson acquired title to the land around Big Rock. In June, 1857, they deeded it to L. Cadmus and Julia Ann Toles. Cadmus conveyed his interest to Toles in March, 1858. In April, 1858, Toles deeded some land close by to Clemrent (Clement?) C. Cole and the deed recited: "The said Toles reserves the right of dreening (damming) the Volga." In Sept., 1858, Toles deeded to A.E. Chambers a small lot (which includes Big Rock and the spring) and the description ended thus: ",thence on the bank of the Volga as it now is since the dam make below (downriver) east to the place of beginning, containing 3 acres, more or less". In 1861, this tract was included in land deeded by A.E. Chambers, I.M. Chambers, M.A. Spatcher and Thomas Spatcher to Ransom N. Soper. The land was sold at tax sale in 1869 (for $2.10 tax unpaid) to P. T. Crowell who secured his tax deed in 1872. In 1938 it was part of the Fred Holmes estate farm (which would have come through his wife's family the Coleman's, bz/1999).

....In an abstract to the Holmes farm, O. W. Stevenson (lawyer for Holmes)  had made a note, that in the early 1930's, R. W. Hunt had said, "Toles had an old mill on the  'Coleman place'." The mill dam evidently was built before September, 1858 (probably in 1857, bz).

....?Was the old saw mill Toles' Mill, or Cole's Mill?  (Almost certainly Toles' Mill, bz/2000)
....?How long was it used for sawmill purposes? (R.W. Hunt who mentioned Toles' Mill to O.W. Stevenson was born in 1865.  If he personally remembered the mill then it had to still be in place when he was young and roaming from Fayette to the Big Rocks.  Thus the mill and Toles may have still been in place as late as 1875, unless Reuben Wrench Hunt had just heard stories about Toles' Mill.  Many of the smaller first generation sawmills did not last more then 5-10 years in the area for a number of reasons, including the flooding factor on the smaller dams, the coming of stream sawmills, the the general economics of getting timber after hills in close proximity to the mills were stripped.)

....?When Toles , in 1858, reserved "the right of dreening the Volgy", was he thinking of building a tunnel where years later Waterbury started one, and diverting the course of the river away from where "The Big Rocks" were?  (The Waterbury brothers apparently started blasting some type of passage or 'tunnel' through the hillside to the west of the Big Rocks, or town side, with the intent of bringing more water directly into the mill pond below the Big Rocks. I have not been able to deduct the location of this 'tunnel', nor know much about its history at this time, bz/1999)

....?Was the ford at "Big Rock" ever called Spatcher"s ford? ('Later to be referred to as Orr's Ford') (an Orr family had a fairly large farm for that time, just to the SW of Albany and long the Volga River, thus this area was called Orr's Bluff.  In the early days there were often trail road through the timber, over the hills and flats, and across river fords.  One direct route to Orr's farm/bluff from the village of Fayette was down the Big Rocks trail, fording the river at the Big Rocks bottom going up the slopping hill to the east of Cole's and on toward Albany and Orr's, bz/1999)

....Was Cole's Mill, not Toles Mill? Several, including R.W. Hunt, whom I (O.W. Stevenson, 1939) have formerly quoted on the point, assure me now that the saw-mill established near Big Rock in a very early date was Cole's Mill and not Tole's mill. Some ruins of the old buttments for the dam may still be seen on the west side of the river northwest of Big Rock.  (This passage is in direct conflict with what the O.W. Stevenson recorded in the Coleman deed mentioned above.  At one point he state R.W. Hunt says it is Toles' Mill and now reverses it to Coles' Mill, bz/2001).

....Cole had a dam in the river near what was the "Coleman" house, in the first decades of the 1900's, and in what was called "Parker's Camp" during the 1920's-30's. The mill was gone by the 1870's and there may have been some trace of the old logs and buttment where the Cole dam was located, probably on the west side of the river not far (downriver)  from where there was a suspension bridge constructed and still  present in perhaps the 1920's.

....Cole's Mill: Frank Francisco writes, I have a memory of Cole's Mill years ago. I had to go there for the cows. The house was vacant and the land was not farmed. Then Jule Dennis got married, fixed up the house and lived in it for a long time. Jule married a girl by the name of Lillie Wing. They lived there quite a while before the Waterbury's started to tunnel through the hill to get more power for the mill.

....From 'Chats'.....Fannie Coleman Holmes writes, that the old house on Cole's farm (in which the Coleman family lived and was owned by Grant Dean in the 1930's was built for the purpose of workmen at the mill. Its front was to the northeast (toward the Volga) and it was called Cole's Inn. I never heard of the man being drowned in the mill stream but later a child's body was found there by fishermen. On the hillside, east of the old Cole house was a famous Indian camp. Many flints, arrows and tomahawks have been found there, even after my father owned the land. (This is the area just across the river and up the hill sloping hill rising from the river bottoms.  There were however Indian camps on most of the slopes rising to the high ground in this valley.)

Summary of land ownership in the immediate Big Rocks area---
1855....Robert Alexander and son-in-law Samuel H. Robertson acquire ownership.
1857....Sold L. Cadmus and Julia Ann Toles, and Toles ended up with the land.
1858 April....Toles deeded some land close by to Clement C. Cole and the deed recited: "The said Toles reserves the right of dreening (damming) the Volga." (Since Toles reserve the right to dam the Volga, it can be assumed that the mill damn and sawmill built in the Big Rocks area belonged to Toles and not Coles.)
1858 Sept....Toles deeded to A.E. Chambers a small lot (which includes Big Rock and the spring) and the description ended thus: ",thence on the bank of the Volga as it now is since the dam make below (downriver) east to the place of beginning, containing 3 acres, more or less". (This would indicate that in 1858 there was a mill dam downriver from the Big Rocks that was creating a pool of water all the way up to and beyond the area.  Since Toles acquired the land in 1857 from Alexander and Robetson, the mill dam and Toles' Mill would have been built in 1857.) 
1861......Soper acquired the Spring and 3 acres around Big Rocks from Chambers and Spatcher.
1869......Crowell acquired the Spring and area by tax claim
1875+....I am guessing Coleman acquired the farmstead at the base of the Big Rock road.  His daughter Fannie Coleman apparently married Fred Holmes and they acquired the farm from her father. 
1900+/-..Jule Dennis marries, fixes up the abandoned Coles farmstead at the mill spot and farms there until Parker acquire it??
1920/30's..Coles' (Dennis) farmstead is now apparently owned by a Fayette doctor and called Parker's Camp.
1930+....Grant Dean lived in the farmstead at the base of the Big Rock road. When did he acquire it.  The large limestone boulder out in the Volga just to the north of the Dean house was know as Dean's Rock at least by the early 1900's as my grandfather Walter Rueben Hunt born in 1887, and who farmed from the Lima Road to nearly the Big Rock area, referred to as just that, Dean's Rock.  From about 1860 until this area became "Dean's Rock" it was known as "the Upper Big Rocks."
1938......Spring area part of the Fred Holmes estate.

Landmarks that we know for certain----
....The Big Rock Springs, the Big Rocks, thee Big Rock, location of the Swinging Bridge, relative location of the mill downstream from Big Rock, relative location of the farmstead downstream from the Big Rocks, location of the farmstead at the base of the present (2000) Big Rock hill.

Z's Mill Speculations as of Nov 2001....
....In "Chat's with Old Timers," there is reference to the Mill in the Big Rocks area.  The historical information is very indefinite at this time.  On an 1869 map of Fayette County, the oldest valid map, there is a mill marked about 1/3 mile downstream of what would be the Big Rocks.  That would be in the area of the first major deep valley out of the hills to the west.  Across from that draw was an active farmstead in the 1940's. In 1869, a Cole's owned the land in the area of the Big Rocks and to the north.  At one time there were timbers in the stream bed, just as one would expect for a basic pioneer mill dam.  Just downriver of this area was a secondary channel, as often utilized by mills for runoff.  
....In the early 1950's, there still was a farmstead on the east bank in at the location of Cole's Mill/Dennis farm/Parker Camp, with house, red barn and smaller out buildings.  The sandy small field to the east and up the drift area was planted to hay, oats, corn, and pastured.  They reached the farmstead by crossing the original river ford just to the east of Dean's place and just at the base of the old overgrown road (pic above).  I visited both Big Rock area farmstead's often while hunting, fishing, roaming, but do not remember who lived there in the late 1940's.  After they were abandoned we used to "investigate" the place.
....To date my best guess is that the mill dam was just upstream from the major valley below the Big Rocks with the sawmill sitting on the east side (side away from the bluff) of the river. The mill pond would have run from that point upstream a bit above the Big Rocks.
....My best guess at present is that it was Coles' Mill, bz/2001.

The Upper Big Rocks

The Upper Big Rock, later called Dean's Rock

....In the early decades of settlement from the 1860's to into the early 1900's the area on the Volga to the north of the farmstead at the base of the Big Rock trailroad was called the Upper Big Rocks.  Later in the early to mid 1900's it was called Dean's Rock for the big limestone slab lying out in the Volga, taking on the name of Dean's Rock for the family of Grant Dean who was the last to farm the area.
....Dean's Rock is at the corner in the above picture.  It is much larger and sitting out farther in the river than appears in the picture.  The limestone boulder is nearly twice the size of thee Big Rock.  In the mid 1900's, kids and fisherman would reach the rock by carefully walking a 12-16 foot log someone would eventually place from a shore boulder to Dean's Rock.  The swimming/fishing hole around the rock was 6-10 feet deep at that time with the rock edges elevated high enough that a swimmer would have to use the log to return to the rock surface.
....Dean's Rock was not used nearly as much as the Big Rock, perhaps because it was closer to the farmstead and was father away from the Springs and the Village trail down to the area and actually more difficult to access and to utilize.

Swinging Bridge near the Big Rocks

....Looking downriver or north from the Suspension Bridge, about 1910.  This area about 1/4 miles below the Big Rocks would have been part of the mill pond of the original 'Big Rocks' Sawmill, with the dam just out of sight in this picture near the first big valley or "gully" coming out of the hills.  Although the bridge was long gone the area looked, in the 1940-50's, just about it did in 1909. The rock on the hill side of the bridge was one of our favorite fishing and sitting spots.  We needed no bridge, for wading the river in new leather shoes was never too difficult.

....Looking upriver or to the south from the Suspension Bridge.  The Big Rocks are about 1/4 mile away around the bend on the left of the picture.  The mill and dam in the area was about 1/4 mile downriver of the right, lower corner of the picture.  By 1909, the time of this postcard picture the mill and dam were gone, but there was a farmstead in the same area, which is often the case with the early first generation sawmills.  A swinging bridge of this type would have been built from twisted and woven hemp rope.  Hemp for rope was not grown locally, but the railroad came to the area in 1874 and after that all commodities of the time were readily available for those that could afford them.  The swinging bridge was at the point of the valley nearest to the direct path to the village of Fayette. It is quite likely that the bridge was put in while the mill pond had water in this area 4-8 times higher than in the picture.  Much of the movement in pioneer days was by foot.  People walked everywhere, and often bare-footed when the weather was warm, especially the men and boys. Horses were expensive to own, and many families did not keep riding horses, but only a team of draft horses or oxen.  This bridge is upstream about 300 yards from the old farmstead in the area, which would have been to the bottom of the picture.

Looking down the hill road leading to the original Coleman's, later Dean's farmstead; today to the Commission's parking lot.

....In the picture above, the farmstead that would be Dean's farm in the early 1900's into the 1930's, was located at the base of the hill in the above picture.  This is the old road down to that farm, still used as the Conservation Commission's Access entry to the  Big Rock area parking at the base.  This is the top of today's (2000) Big Rock County Club hill starting near green one, with green two in the open area in the center of the picture. Golf course green number two sits in the area of Dean's corn crib and a couple of smaller outbuildings used for hogs, chickens, storage.  The barn was in the same area but toward the river.  The house would have been at the base of the hill on the left side.  The house was occupied and the farmstead in operation until about 1950+.  The buildings were abandoned and rapidly went into disrepair, but were a favorite "adventure" place to explore. All remainders of the buildings were removed in the early 1960's with the coming of the golf course and the 'Volga Lake Project.'   

....Below you are looking to the west toward the Big Rocks area next to the hill cliff, from Dean's pasture area adjacent, down the hill, and next to the Volga.  Today this is a parking lot for the Commission.

Looking westward from today parking lot to the cliff/hill location of the Big Rocks and Springs.

....Looking downstream from the Big Rocks.  About 500 yards away would be the the location of Tole's (Cole's) Sawmill built in probably 1857.

Big Rock by Ralph Young, "the Pleasures of Youth There"

....Former Fayette, Iowa resident, living in Marion, Iowa, where he was publisher of the Marion Sentinel, letter to Richard Westerfield, West Union, Iowa. (The article was supplied by Dr. Jan Bennington Van Buren, FHS’1958, from her mother’s keep-sakes.)  

....NOTE (bz2001):  Ralph Young refers to the area as Big Rock, so obviously by the late 1800's or early 1900's the place had taken on the name of the single most popular large rock laying out in the Volga River's edge.  But originally the area was called, "the Big Rocks," and as indicated by the Robinson's girls' diary, the area was a popular 'retreat' for all ages of both sexes.  Young girls  rarely ventured the two miles to the Big Rocks' swimming hole, while typically the boys would be "roaming" afar, thus the preservation of the thought in an older Ralph Young that it was a "Big Rock Boys' Club." 

Ralph wrote….The biggest Invasion of Privacy in the history of Fayette County took place just about 40 years ago now. It was marked by the allowing of women to swim at Big Rock, thus ending an era of nude enjoyment that had existed for years.
….Our family had left Fayette the fall of 1916, following the graduation of my sister, Ruth and brother, Ken (note, the only Young listed on the Fayette High School graduation list is Ken, in 1910, bz2001).
….At that time the main summer enjoyment among the boys of all ages was going to Big Rock for a swim.

….It was an ideal place and still could be were it kept to the ‘bachelor club’ class.
….Obviously there had to be a big rock to secure the title for the title for this playground. Across the Volga River, was a nice sand (gravel) bar.
….Hundreds of Fayette boys have learned to swim at Big Rock. The process was very simple.
….My older brother, Ken, taught me. He showed me how to paddle my hands and kick my feet. The next step was to toss me off Big Rock into water over my head. Under conditions like that, I came to the surface, sputtering and spiting, but swimming. It was all that simple.

….The only trouble with Big Rock was that it was several miles from town (actually a little under 2 miles from Fayette). That was in the days before the two car families (the article must be from the early 1950’s). In fact, it was before many families had any cars.
….I remember that we used to get a tremendous thrill out of watching a Stanley Steamer owned by a man in West Union. He used to drive to Fayette and send his car hissing around town.
….Not many of our family friends had cars, but there was one, Slim Davis, whose real name was Paul but few people knew it. (Remember Paul and Lois, who ran Davis’ Drug Store in the 1930-1960’s,bz.) Slim had, in my childhood memory, two claims to fame. He worked with his father in a drug store and in keeping with the times used to make ice cream. On certain occasions he would let us lick out the five gallon container.
….The other was that his family owned a Cadillac, a touring car. I remember that it was one of the first with a push button horn, instead of a Klaxon. Slim was a close friend and classmate of my brother Ken (FHS 1910). One of the big thrills was to be invited to drive out to Big Rock in Slim’s Cadillac. At that, we still had to walk about a half mile. We climbed a rolling hill that ended abruptly at a high cliff overlooking Big Rock.
….There was an almost vertical wall of rock that had to be descended, but this was accomplished without too many falls. We risked our necks but it was better than walking another half mile (around the hill end).

….One time my brother, Donald, slipped and fell about half way down the cliff. Ken feared his life and yelled, "Donald, Donald, are you hurt?" when it turned out there were only a few scratches, Ken said, "You awkward cow."
….Big Rock was not only a place to learn to swim but to dive. There was graduated levels, with the braver ones going from the top. This was rather precarious as the diver had to cover a lot of rock before he hit the water.
….Many a pleasant hour was spent at Big Rock on the hot, humid days that can descend on Fayette County in July and August.
….A short ways up stream from Big Rock was a serious of springs and on the hotter days the more daring boys would lay in the cold water that gurgled from underneath the towering rocks. The water was cold and delicious.
….As I mentioned we moved from Fayette in 1916 and I returned for a visit two years alter, staying with Bob Fox, whose father ran the funeral home and furniture store.
….One of the bits of entertainment planned for me was going out to Big Rock to Swim, which I approved heartily. Then Bob asked me if I had a bathing suit.
….I naturally inquired why, as there hadn’t been any boys swimming suits for sale in the history of Fayette, so I felt.
…."Women are swimming at Big Rock now," he explained!! (The ‘terrible’ change occurred about 1917).
….And that was how I became acquainted with the greatest Invasion of Privacy in the history of Fayette County.
.…I couldn’t realize the reason for this at the time. At the age of ten a young boy is only interested in his own sex. Girls? Bah!
….Mrs. Fox dug up a bathing suit, a sexy little number that extended from shoulders to knees. It was a bitter blow after all those years of naked sport to have to attire one’s self in cotton bunting.
….As I look aback I imagine it was the desires of the male students at Upper Iowa who brought about the change. And I imagine that if the college authorities thought boys and girls would swim together, it was better to do it under proper circumstances.
….It wasn’t that the girls were out of line from a modesty standpoint. They wore enough fabric to start a store. There would be enough cloth below the knee to make a present day Bikini. But back 40 years ago it was all very daring and I am sure that some of the more dignified residents of Fayette were sure that the younger generation was going to hell in a basket with all this mixed sex swimming.
….and I would bet a hundred to one that the young swimmers who defied all past tradition of the stern life of Fayette, are the ones who now write editors about juvenile delinquency.
….I don’t know if people swim at Big Rock any more or not, or if the Fayette taxpayers have coughed up enough money to have a public swimming pool.

….About seven years ago the five Young brothers had a reunion during the summer and covered a good bit of northeast Iowa.
….One of the places we visited was Big Rock. Where the river once looked as wide as the Mississippi, where Big rock seemed to loom 50 feet into the air, where the sand bar appeared as an ocean beach, things were now different.
….Our perspective had changed, but the memories lingered. We didn’t disrobe and go swimming. But we walked out on Big Rock, walked up the river (spring stream) and took a satisfying drink at the springs and drove away, leaving a precious place in the memory of years ago.
….Those years ago we walked back from Big Rock and where we had been satisfyingly cool, the walk home was marked with a trail of sweat. But at that age who cared, when, at the end of the trip, there was a sandwich of home made bread and home made apple butter.
….I wish I knew the name of the photographer who took a picture once of the boys, sans bathing suits at Big Rock. The boys felt real devilish at the time and there probably are some copies stored in safety deposit boxes in Fayette. The picture, in detail, showed the changes in adolescence.

….Maybe some day, there will be a reunion of Big Rock graduates, and it would certainly produce some of the finest displays of pot bellies on record. Cordially yours, Ralph Young (1950+).


....Disregarding the passage of man's sense of time, the springs join the river and flow past the big rocks that have broken from the limestone bluffs that have been  enjoyed by well over 100 generations of Native Americans and perhaps 6 generations of the European gene pool.  For now the Big Rocks remain forgotten.


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