In a far corner of Adel’s Oakdale Cemetery are three graves almost out of eyesight from the road that travels through the cemetery.
The city’s early founders intended for it to be that way, as it was a place referred to as “Potter’s Corner.” Three graves sit in the spot — a bank robber; an immigrant woman from Servia, Greece; and another whose stone is barely legible.
“This would have been clear out in the middle of nowhere,” says Kelly Daugherty, a long-time Adel resident who conducted a twilight tour of the cemetery for Adel’s sesquicentennial in 1997.
Orlando Poe Wilkin’s name is on one of the stones. He, it’s written, along with C.W. Crawford, entered Adel State Bank at 8:30 a.m. on March 6, 1895. Wilkin carried a shotgun and demanded money from teller S.M. Leach. Leach refused and headed to the vault with the bundles of money but was shot in the neck and shoulder. Another man wrestled with Wilkin and was shot in the neck. The robbers got away with $260 in silver.
Sheriff Joe Payne, who was in a nearby store, heard the shots. He opened fire on the robbers as they attempted to get away in their horse-drawn wagon. Adel citizens also grabbed their guns and began shooting at the robbers. Several citizens were shot in the melee as a group led by Payne took off after the men.
Wilkin and Crawford attempted to get away, but one of their horses was shot and they were forced to abandon their wagon. Crawford tried to hide in the timber but surrendered when he found himself surrounded. Wilkin took refuge in a barn but was forced out after it was set fire. He still refused to surrender, however, and was shot dead.
Wilkin’s body was returned to town and displayed upright in his coffin in front of the bank. Crawford served 13 years in prison. Wilkin was laid to rest in the back corner of the cemetery, where even today people have placed stuff animals, flowers and an angel on his grave.
Also buried in Potter’s Corner is Christy Martin, whose stone reads “born in Servia, 1896-1917.”
Adel’s founding fathers, distinguished residents among those buried in Oakdale
Steve Straight, a life-long Adel resident whose family has deep roots in the community, researched the history of the city’s cemetery and wrote the information for Daugherty’s cemetery walk.
Among those buried in Oakdale Cemetery, according to Straight’s research, include:
Benjamin Greene, one of the first settlers in Adel. He was a pioneer merchant who sold goods from a store on the city square. His house was on 10th Street and was designed to ward off attacks by American Indians. A city street was named for him.
S.M. Leach, who managed Adel State Bank in 1882. He, as mentioned earlier, was shot during the bank robbery but survived his wounds.
J.D. Payne, the sheriff who was on duty during the bank robbery. He was killed by a train while crossing railroad tracks in his vehicle and reading a newspaper.
John Humphreys, who rented the northern part of the cemetery for $12 a year for cattle pasture.
J.W. Russell, who came to Adel in 1872. Rumor has it he was so poor that he walked into town with only a pair of carpet slippers and a debt of $150. He studied and later operated a loan business and became president of Dallas County Savings Bank and vice-president of the first railway in Adel. He also served as mayor of Adel and became one of the richest men in town.
I.D. Marsh, who became sheriff of Dallas County through a hat drawing after the election was a tie. He was also a captain in the Civil War.
William B. Kinnick, who accumulated more than 1,200 acres of farmland in the area. His grandson, Nile Kinnick, played football for Adel High School and later the University of Iowa, where he won the Heisman trophy.
Joseph Slocum, whose grave boasts a large monument with the name “Slocum” at the bottom. He was an early farmer in the community.
I.U. Ikenberry, the only photographer in this area of the county. His photographs were vital to recording the early history of Adel.
George W. Clarke, a lawyer who later served four terms as a Dallas County representative before serving as lieutenant governor, and later governor, of Iowa. His law office was located above the bank in town that was robbed. He went downstairs during the commotion of the robbery. Wilkin whirled around with the shotgun, aimed it at Clarke’s chest and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. Wilkin reloaded the gun, but Clarke quickly headed back to his office.
Early cemetery contains grave of Adel’s namesake
On the western outskirts of Adel sit several concrete fence posts that most drivers probably fly right by.
But off the road and nestled into trees and brush reads a sign: “Rodenbaugh Cemetery aka Van Fossen or Old Adel Cemetery Est. 1856.” A short, bumpy drive leads back to a hidden cemetery.
Families buried there include the Van Fossens, Bilderbachs, Chances, Kinnicks, Longmires, Perkins, Briers, Hempsteads, Metzes and others. Each family has its own row of gravestones, many of which have been broken through the years from age or vandalism. Some have been adhered back together, others have pieces missing, while still more lie on the ground, pieced together but never returned upright.
Many of the dates and names on the limestone markers have weathered away through the years, but according to “Dallas County Iowa Cemeteries,” which was edited by the Dallas County Genealogical Society, the earliest grave is 1856, and the most recent is 1910.
Nestled among the graves is that of Adelaide Hempstead for whom Adel is said to have received its name in 1849. It had previously been called “Penoach.”
The city was named after her because “she was the prettiest little girl in Adel,” Straight says.
Other accounts say that the city was named for “a very pretty child with a prettier mother.”
At any case, the Hempstead family is among the 80 to 100 graves in Van Fossen Cemetery. The cemetery is said to be part of the Van Fossen family farm and was the second cemetery for the community. There was another cemetery located a mile south of Adel, but its name and history could not be uncovered for the sake of this article.
The Rodenbough/Van Fossen Cemetery was abandoned after a few years in favor of a new “city” cemetery called Oakdale.
Several small country cemeteries contain remains of early settlers, city founders
In addition to the Van Fossen Cemetery, Adel had other smaller country cemeteries located on the outskirts of the community. They include the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery, located east of the city and north of Iowa Highway 6; Kinnick Cemetery, located northeast of Adel; Merical Cemetery, located farther east and north; and Miller Cemetery, located east on Highway 6.
Many of these cemeteries are today located on private property.
The Old Fellows Cemetery is sometimes referred to as “The Little Cemetery on the Hill,” according to a history of cemeteries in the county.
Barak Michner donated three acres for the cemetery in 1867 with the condition he could be buried there. He died in 1878.
Others buried there include Charles Rodenbaugh, who built the Adel brick courthouse; seven Civil War veterans; Dr. J.B. Brenton, Adel’s first medical doctor; and Mary Frush, who died at age 26 along with five of her children from scrofula, (also called King’s Evil) a very contagious and deadly type of tuberculosis.
Little is known about Kinnick Cemetery except for the fact that the Kinnick family was one of the first to settle in the Adel area. Some online records indicate that there are only three visible graves at the cemetery. Straight, the longtime resident who has researched cemetery history, says there are five graves, one of which is surrounded by a small iron fence. None of the graves in the online record has the Kinnick name. Several Kinnicks are buried at Oakdale and Van Fossen.
Merical Cemetery, also known as the Paul B. Keller Farm Cemetery, is about 2.5 miles northeast of Adel. The cemetery has been fenced in and was located behind the family’s barn at the time the Dallas County cemeteries’ history was written. The burials at that cemetery, between 15 and 20, date back to the 1860s.
Buried in that cemetery are Benjamin M. and Magdalen (Smith) Merical, who were originally from Indiana but traveled to Iowa by wagon. The trip took five weeks. Upon his arrival, Merical secured 275 acres in Adel township, according to a 1907 history of Dallas County.
The Miller Cemetery is east of Adel and south of Highway 6. It is also referred to as the Orton Cemetery because it allegedly contains the graves of the man who started the Orton Bros. Circus in Ortonville, Iowa. However, cemetery records show only one Orton — Sarah Elizabeth Orton — is buried at the cemetery. Brothers Miles and R.Z. Orton started the circus company.
Samuel Miller, the first settler in Adel Township, is buried in the cemetery, as is Eli Smithson, the first sheriff of Dallas County.
According to cemetery records, the cemetery also has a couple of stones with potentially interesting or risqué relationship stories: a husband and wife are buried separately across the cemetery from one another; and in another case, a stone has only a first name and the woman is referred to as “consort of Mr. Eric Hall.” Consort generally means “belonging to” or “companion.”
This potentially means “she could have been working her passage over or her freedom,” according to cemetery records.
These cemeteries provide a visual reminder of Adel’s rich history. Much can be learned by visiting the grounds and studying the aged markers.