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rout 66
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old sheldon photo

"Railroads brought Sheldon here, brought its name, brought its people, brought its necessities of life and brought the memories, many of which are still embedded in the lives and minds of its people."

Sheldon, the largest town in O’Brien County, started when the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad reached the town site on July 3, 1872. The railroad surveyors had laid out the town the previous summer and on July 3, 1872; the construction trains laying rails reached the Sheldon town site. When the town was laid out by the land department of the S.C. & P.R.R. it was named Sheldon after Israel Sheldon.
Sheldon was less than a year old when difficult times fell upon the settlers and early townspeople. Many people left the area because of discouragement or poverty as the result of grasshoppers. Grasshoppers were unheard of, unwritten about or at least not a menace in this area. They came however on June 5, 1873. Coming as a dark cloud, they became an omen of disaster and destruction. The wheat was green and they devoured everything in sight. The crops were eaten beyond hope of recovery. Early in 1874 those eggs deposited the season before hatched and the soil was alive with tiny insects. Many settlers hesitated to sow while others left the country disheartened and disgusted. Those who remained toiled on while the insects ravaged their crops. The grasshopper peril lasted seven years and the only weapon they used against the grasshoppers was the prairie fire.
Prairie Fires were much feared by the lonesome homesteader. All his possessions were in constant danger and he soon learned to protect his home and buildings. Experience taught the settlers to prepare fire breaks. Fire breaks which were about 10 feet wide were prepared around each haystack. In early days prairie grass grew right into the main section of Sheldon. When the fire bell sounded all townspeople became involved in the battle against the prairie fires some with pails, mops and wet gunny sacks. Some would get the available horse from the livery to help plow strips around the town. Containing fires was an effort of all citizens as the town did not have a fire department.
A fire department was finally organized in 1884. By May 1884 Sheldon Fire Company No. 1 was composed of three companies: Hook and Ladder and two Hose Companies. The first motorized fire truck was purchased by the City council in 1915. The motorized truck was a 60 horsepower Buick. Before the purchase of the truck the Sheldon Fire Company had two hose carts and a ladder cart pulled by the firemen or horses. One of the two hose carts from the first fire company is now in the Sheldon Prairie Museum. The second motorized pumper was purchased in 1918 and it is now displayed at the Sheldon Prairie Museum. Sheldon’s first industry burned to the ground in 1920’s. It was the Prairie Queen Mill.
The Prairie Queen Mill was built by John and Harry Iselin in 1879. By March of 1880 the Prairie Queen Mill was operating and the mill employees lived in 18 company cottages south of the Milwaukee Railroad tracks. This section of Sheldon was called Iselinville. Sheldon men who found themselves in Europe during the First World War realized that the world had indeed become small when they saw Prairie Queen and Big Four flour in those European countries. The Prairie Queen Mill closed in the 1920’s because the machinery wore out, the millers wore out and the flour was too good to compete on a cost basis with that milled by the big mills.
Sheldon is primarily an agricultural community today, but it still retains much of the beauty and rural flavor of its historical past.