More than 150 years ago, Alexander Bondurant headed west from Illinois to seek his fortune and start a new life on the prairie in Polk County, Iowa. Today, the City of Bondurant is a thriving community, boasting a long and rich history.
Bondurant Living researched documents at the Bondurant Community Library, online articles at the Bondurant Chamber of Commerce and City of Bondurant’s websites, and interviewed residents who shared their memories from “way back when.”
A pioneering spirit
When it comes to the history of Bondurant, it’s best to start at the very beginning with Alexander Conley (A.C.) Bondurant, the town’s namesake. A.C. entered the world on Sept. 1, 1829, in Sangamon County, Illinois, where his parents, Joseph and Martha (Tharp) Bondurant, farmed and raised 11 children.
As a young adult, A.C. worked the family farm. At 28, he struck out on his own for Iowa. According to reports, he hopped a stagecoach to Iowa City and rode the last leg to Polk County on horseback. He reached his destination in 1857, just 11 short years after Iowa became the 29th state in the nation.
A.C. laid claim to approximately 320 acres of land in the southwest corner of Franklin Township. (Some accounts state that he originally purchased 166 acres for $1.25 per acre.) He farmed the land and raised livestock. On Oct. 27, 1861, Margaret Marilla Brooks became A.C.’s bride, and together they raised eight children.
A.C. granted a right-of-way on his land to the Chicago Great Western Railway, and the railroad built a station on the property and surveyed the land. The new town was laid out and fittingly named Bondurant. The plat was filed for record on April 24, 1884. Bondurant became incorporated in 1897, 40 years after A.C. had arrived.
According to census reports, the population in 1870 was 89 but grew to 308 people by 1889. To stimulate growth, A.C. offered a free town lot to anyone willing to start a business in Bondurant. With the property’s close proximity to the railroad and Des Moines, A.C. had numerous takers. New businesses quickly dotted the landscape, serving area farmers and townspeople.
A.C., along with Thomas Hudson and L.T. Kennedy, opened one of the town’s first businesses, a general store, on the corner of First and Main. Over the years, this multifunctional two-story building also featured a post office on the main floor and a church, school, social center and funeral home on the second story.
Like A.C., many of the early business owners went by their initials. There was H.P. Brown, the first grain buyer; J.H. Smith, who ran the broom factory; and A.M. Austin, the tile factory owner. A.C.’s son-in-law, J.V. Lingenfelter, offered legal services; and B.F. Rothrok and S.J. Oldfied opened the Farmers Savings Bank. Other early businesses included the Farmers Co-operative Creamery, a hardware store, two hotels, a livery stable, a blacksmith, a second general store, a lumberyard, a drug store, a barbershop and a restaurant.
A.C. Bondurant passed away on Sept. 17, 1899, at the age of 70. At the time of his death, he’d become one of the county’s wealthiest men and largest landowners, with nearly 3,000 acres to his credit. Nearly 1,000 people attended his memorial service. He’s buried in the Bondurant Cemetery.
A fitting tribute
“Everybody liked my grandpa,” says Hubert (Herb) Butler, who moved to Bondurant from California in 1946 at the age of 7. “It’s funny, but I never had a name when I was little. Everyone just called me Oscar’s grandson.”
Herb’s grandparents were Oscar and Jennie Runyan. Oscar and his son, Ray, owned the Bondurant Hardware store for 25 years, which was housed in the same building as Bondurant’s first general store.
Several of Herb’s relatives owned and operated businesses in Bondurant over the years, including his parents, Lyllus and H.M. Butler. On Aug. 14, 1946, they opened Butler’s Service Center, which included a café and gas station, on the corner of Highway 65 and Second Street. Business flourished. In 1948, a grocery store was added to the operation.
Butler’s Service Center became a popular meeting spot for the locals, and a few noteworthy celebrities stopped by, too.
“The June Taylor Dancers from the “The Jackie Gleason Show” stopped here to get some groceries once when they passed through town,” Herb says. “The next thing we know, they are out there dancing in the ditch. At that time, Bondurant had a telephone operator. She could push one button and tell everyone what was going on in town. I tell you, we had cars parked all around.”
MarLavonne, Herb’s wife, states, “Gordon Gammack, a reporter with The Des Moines Register, came to the café many times to interview Bondurant residents for his Question of the Week program.”
In 1959, Herb left Bondurant to serve his country until 1961. About that time, his parents decided to build a new, larger grocery store. When Herb returned from service, he ran Butler’s Phillips 66. To attract more customers, he added a couple of pool tables and a pinball machine. Herb’s grandpa, Oscar Runyan, set up a gun shop inside the station after retiring from the hardware store, better known as Oscar’s Fix-it Shop.
Eventually the Butlers closed their business, leaving Bondurant without a grocery store for a number of years. In 2014, Brick Street Market, which includes a café, opened its doors.
“The name of their café is Butler’s,” says MarLavonne. “They have pictures on the wall that honor our family, pictures of the old Butler’s Café. Sometimes, they use our old slogan in their ads, too — ‘Butler’s is large enough to serve you and small enough to know you.’ ”
You gotta have hart
Perched on a hill just a few miles west of Bondurant is the Hart family farm. Charles Hart bought the property, approximately 200 acres, in the 1890s. Six generations of Harts have called it home. Today, Charles’ great-grandson, Joe Hutton, and Joe’s wife, Paula, reside on the property. Their son and his family also live on the land, just north of the original house.
“My grandfather, Ray Hart, was born here in 1907, “states Joe. “My grandpa bought the place from his dad. I used to follow my grandpa around like a puppy. I’ve been running around here for 65 years.”
Joe fondly remembers being a young boy and tagging along with his grandpa on Saturdays to buy hog feed at the big Bondurant elevator. Next, they’d stop at Butler’s Café to shoot the breeze with the locals. Sometimes they’d stop at Shorty Smith’s Allis Chalmers dealership, but Joe’s favorite childhood memory of Bondurant is the Lion’s Club Fair.
“It was like a mini fair before the county fair,” states Joe. “The highlight was the greased pig contest. I tried to enter it once. I had my good clothes on, so grandma wouldn’t let me, but I sure wanted to.”
“I grew up in Elkhart, and the Bondurant Lion’s Club Fair was a really big deal, Paula adds. “I remember we showed our livestock there.”
In 1977, Joe and Paula moved to the Hart farm and rented the property for 10 years before purchasing 40 acres in 1987. Most of the outer buildings no longer exist, but the couple added an attached garage in 2005 and a cozy sunroom in 2008 to the original house.
“The house always had running water and a bathroom, even when Joe’s mom, who is 85, was little,” states Paula. “I’m 65, and we still used an outhouse when I was young.”
“Hardly anyone had that back then,” says Joe. “My grandpa wasn’t extravagant, but he had a furnace, electric and indoor plumbing before Mom was born. I guess when my grandpa was little, the house caught on fire, and they lived in the milk house for a while.”
“Yep, there is quite a history with this old place,” states Paula.
Without a doubt, Bondurant has changed considerably over the past 157 years. Businesses and homeowners have come and gone, replaced with new commercial opportunities and housing developments. Today, Bondurant is one of the fastest growing suburbs in central Iowa, with an estimated population of 4,500.
“I’m excited to see where Bondurant is going in the future,” Mayor Keith Ryan says. “It’s grown so much over the last couple of years. It’s really exploded since early 2000, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.”