Burr Oak, Iowa

Burr Oak in Winneshiek County, Iowa, is a small village on Highway 52 about three or four miles south of the Minnesota state line. This is in the far northeastern corner of Iowa, and it is a very rural area. I grew up on a farm just south of Burr Oak. The population is only about 120. There are more than ten times that many people in the cemetery, where all four of my grandparents and several other ancestors, relatives, and neighbors are buried. (My uncle in Florida used to say, "I now know more dead people in Burr Oak than live ones.") Today Burr Oak is known as one of the places where Laura Ingalls Wilder ("The Little House on the Prairie") once lived, and the former home has been turned into a museum.

Burr Oak Mercantile This is the Burr Oak Mercantile, which used to be the "general store" when I was a boy, just like what you see in TV Westerns.  I used to get Dolly Madison ice cream here; it came in a little cup with a flat wooden spoon, and was very good. Currently it serves as a combination convenience store, restaurant, and souvenir shop (2005).
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Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum This is the building that put Burr Oak, Iowa, on the map. Laura Ingalls Wilder ("The Little House on the Prairie") lived here as a girl for a short time. This was the old "Masters Hotel", which for many years was an old run-down building in downtown Burr Oak. In the 1970's it was refurbished and turned into a museum.
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Burr Oak barber shop This deserted brick building was many years ago a combination post office and barber shop where Ted Emmons used to cut my hair for 50 cents. It was originally the Burr Oak Savings Bank, incorporated on May 5, 1910. On April 22, 1931 there was a hold-up at this bank, and two young bandits made off with the loot after locking some people in the vault. (They were later caught and served time). The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum has now purchased the building and is doing some restoration.
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Burr Oak ladies in front of barber shop Here are some local Burr Oak ladies posing in front of the same barber shop in 1941. The lady on the far right is my grandmother Lottie (Olson) Price who lived in Burr Oak for nearly 90 years. The others are Bessie Johnson, Bessie Wilbur, Olive Wicks, Maggie Winch, Maude Jacobson, Lucile Mason, Nettie Logsdon, and Alberta Nolte.
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Burr Oak Methodist Church This is the Burr Oak Methodist Church, located on a hill in the west side of Burr Oak, up the street from the Mercantile.  Organized in 1855, the first building was built in 1859.  The present building was constructed in 1894.   I went to church and Sunday School here as a boy.
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Burr Oak cemetery The Burr Oak cemetery lies on a hill in the south part of town. It has been in use since about 1854. Now here's a morbid thought - in about forty years' time you may find me buried right under that oak tree.
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Peter Olson house in 1916 The Peter Olson home, 1916. Located at the north end of Burr Oak, it was built near a bend in Silver Creek which meanders through the town. Peter Olson, an immigrant blacksmith from Norway, was my great-grandfather.
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Peter Olson house about 1940 This is what the Peter Olson house looked like around 1940.  There weren't many changes, and the house looked basically the same in the 1950's and 1960's when I was a boy and my Price grandparents lived there. There was no indoor plumbing. Drinking water was obtained from an outdoor pump, brought into the kitchen in a pail, and was drunk by everyone from the same ladle. An outhouse stood in the back yard.
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Claude, Olive, and Grandma Price September, 1967. From left to right: Claude Wicks, Olive (Olson) Wicks (Lottie's younger sister), Lottie (Olson) Price. Claude and Olive lived in this house next door to my Price grandparents in the northern end of Burr Oak for many years.  Claude was a strong checkers player, and participated in many state tournaments.
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Olson/Price house in 1995 After my grandmother died in 1986, the property was sold. This picture was taken in 1995, and it shows the old Olson/Price home in the process of being torn down.  Today there is no trace of it ever having been there.
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Aerial view of Burr Oak Here's a bird's eye view of Burr Oak. North is to the left. That's highway 52 on the bottom running from north to south. The Mercantile is the large building on the corner at the main intersection right from center, and the museum is the next building to the left. The Price/Olson home (no longer visible) was on the north end of town on the left, and the cemetery is the dark rectangle on the far right.
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Read about the famous Burr Oak bank robbery of 1931.

Also read about the Storm of June 20, 1908.

For many other Burr Oak and Decorah links, go to my favorite links page.

Local historians may want to read The Diaries of Lottie Price for people, places, and events in the Burr Oak area from 1914-1986.

Last updated on October 15, 2006.

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All images copyright 1999 by Bill Price

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