Athelstan Lives On!
Athelstan, Iowa joined the long list of small rural towns declining into oblivion. Thanks to Doris’s mother, Nellie, local town women and Doris’ friends, they left a memory of their friendships and connections, stitched in calico. Doris may have never pieced the thirty squares together into a quilt, but she treasured them enough to keep them together for the rest of her life. Athelstan may not longer be a town, but these calico connections remain, a cotton and muslin monument to lives touching each other.
Sitting on the Iowa/Missouri border, Athelstan lies west of the Platte River, a tributary of the Missouri River. Fish in the Platte River include Alligator Gar, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Freshwater Drum and Small mouth buffalo. Fishing in rural areas such as this, especially during the 1930’s was enjoyment for many, but more importantly, a food source for feeding families in the economic aftermath of the depression. Grace Balch, 11 years old when she made her quilt square (and probably her brother John’s square also), met her future husband Cleo Ott Houchin, while fishing on the Platte River by Athelstan.
This small now-non-existent town has a split personality. Straddling the Iowa/Missouri border, Athelstan at one point lay claim to both states.
One reference article states that “At the time the railway was built there existed a “gallon” store on the Missouri side, two drug stores ….” It sounds as if 1887 Athelstan already existed on both sides of the border.
While all reference I’ve found refers to Athelstan, Iowa, I’ve discovered two references for Athelstan, Missouri.
A genealogy for Miles Sherman Gillidett references Rebecca Halleck Gillidett Small (Dr. Frederick Small being her second husband). It says: “Mrs. Rebecca Small, who died at Athelstan, Missouri, March 22, 1889, and is buried there.” Checking the cemetery list for AthelstanCemetery, clearly located in Iowa, to the northeast portion of town, along the Platte River, shows that Rebecca Small is buried there.
An obituary for John Alvin Swett, on December 8, 1966, states “Those from out of town attending the last rites of John Alvin Swett were …. Henry Young of Athelstan, Missouri.”
Athelstan was originally Iona City. I found one reference about Iona, stating, “Iona was on the Iowa State line, east of Athelstan. (–Map of Mo., 1884.) It is no longer listed.” Another reference located is an 1894 street map for Athelstan, which states “originally Iona City”.
It’s not important to the story of these quilt squares. It’s just an interesting sidebar for me. My mom’s name is Iona, and to have a town with that name so closely connect to the town where these quilt squares originated from piques my interest.
Regardless of the questions of when Athelstan began, and how much of the city was on each side of either Iowa or Missouri, Athelstan existed, even if it didn’t stand the test of time.