Zella and John Darst home on West Fremont Street, early 1900s.
Zella and John Darst home on West Fremont Street, early 1900s.
A few months ago there was a phone call - someone researching genealogy with several questions about the Darst family; they were going to be in the area and checking various sites.

They left behind a fascinating family history to be added to the historical society genealogy files, but it has provoked a couple of columns regarding Spring Valley residents and their stories as told by LuVerne Darst Paine.

LuVerne's grandfather, John W. Darst, of German descent, was raised in Ohio. He took up the teaching profession, but did not care for that; when his family moved west, he came as well, and about 1880 bought a 240-acre farm in Bennington Township between Grand Meadow and Spring Valley. Work on the farm was very hard; the men worked every minute of daylight in the fields and tended livestock by lantern light early and late before eating their meals.

Life was lightened by neighborhood parties and barn dances where John met Rose "Nettie" McKenzie. They were married and had four children: Sam, George, Ernest and Glen. Nettie died unexpectedly, leaving boys ages 11 to 5. Nettie's cousin Zella stepped in to help care for the boys. She was a widow whose husband, Ralph Hamlin, had died young. He was a banker and they had lived in a nice house in town. His son, Ralph, was a victim of tuberculosis and he did not live a long life, either.

John and Zella became friends and soon married. However, Zella was not prepared for the hard life of a farm wife, she was used to better things. John was demanding, and his sons, especially Sam and George, were expected to work along with their dad and the hired men; they got little schooling, quitting after only about four years of education. Sam and his dad had a falling out, and Sam left home, whereupon his father disinherited him.

Zella was not happy on the farm, and after her first husband's son died, she left John and moved to Spring Valley about 1905. She bought a large lot in the southwest part of town and had a lovely modern house built at 213 W. Fremont St., shown here.

The home had five bedrooms, a full basement with coal and wood-burning furnace, heat ducts to every room, laundry tubs and hot and cold running water. On the main floor were built-in kitchen cupboards, a sink with faucets, floors of highly polished oak, and a picture window above a seat in an alcove for bird watching. From the dining room, one could go through beveled glass doors onto a wrap-around porch or go up the beautiful open staircase. In the study were large bookcases with glass doors, a huge desk, and a fireplace; there was a living room, a sun porch, and one bedroom.

Upstairs were three bedrooms, a bathroom with a real bathtub and flush toilet, and Zella's bedroom. Her room was extra large with windows overlooking the gardens and a door to the sun porch.

John was very angry when Zella left him, and he followed the usual practice of posting an ad in the local paper that stated since she had left his bed and board, he was no longer responsible for any bills she might incur.

Eventually, though, they reconciled and John moved to town in 1910, renting out his farm on shares. He took great pride in the house in town, raised a large garden, even selling produce to the local grocers. He planted trees and flowers and kept everything "picture perfect." John also bought one of the first cars in town, a big black Buick, for which he had a garage built.

Sam married, had three children, and lived near Roseau. Ernest attended business school in Winona, married Ruby, and they came to Spring Valley. He and his dad opened a billiard parlor, which became known as the Corner Pool Hall (now Old Tyme Saloon). Because the city fathers had no regular meeting place, LuVerne said that most city business was conducted at the pool hall. When World War I came along, she says the pool hall was considered "unnecessary business" and was forced to close.

When their dad rented out the farm, sons Glen and George went west to look for work. Glen married, raised two boys, operated a turkey farm, raised filbert nuts, and became noted as the largest grower of iris bulbs in the country. In 1914, George came back at his father's request to run the farm. He married Lydia Alvira Carothers and they had three children, Claude, LuVerne Nella (the writer of the narrative), and Devona.

Unable to work the farm alone since able-bodied men were serving in the military, George and his family moved to Stewartville to be with the Carothers in-laws. The Darsts moved to Spring Valley about 1920, where George found work scrapping old cars in the junkyard. He soon was in demand as a hard worker with farming knowledge and earned $3.50 a day. The family relied on good friends and neighbors to make life tolerable during these hard times.

LuVerne remembered starting school at age 6 in 1923, and she and Claude attended the old school on the hill (Molstad). Dad took her to the Farmers Store (present community center) where she got new shoes and rubbers. One of her friends was Dorothy Scothorn, whose dad was the local veterinarian; Dr. Johnson was the family doctor; Mrs. Spencer was a friendly neighbor who taught some of the little girls how to sew.

LuVerne's grandmother, Nellie Carothers, was a faithful Christian lady and she took LuVerne along to the Ladies Aid Society meetings at the Methodist Church. Annie Spencer offered to sponsor the children for baptism, so their mother made the girls pretty dresses for the occasion, and the three children were enrolled in the Sunday school.

LuVerne had many other remembrances of life in Spring Valley, and these stories will be continued next week. Stay tuned.