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The Music Will Play On

By Janet Barker Knedler
This is the history of the Diagonal Methodist Church and the pump organ that was donated back to the church by Guelda Stamper Barker and family.

On July 4, 1856 the first Talley’s arrived on the prairie in Ringgold County, Iowa, with no home, just the furnishings they brought with them. They came from Delaware, Ohio and Indiana. In 1856 they decided to move west, as everyone had western fever in those days. Land was cheap and there was plenty of prairie land for farming.

In May 1856 Adam Talley and wife Sarah, started the trek west. Several children also were along and said good-bye with all their worldly goods with them on wagon trains, drawn by oxen. It took 40 days, arriving in Ringgold County July 4th, 1856. Just bare land to greet them, they cut enough timber to build a log cabin 18 x 20 feet with an earth floor. They later obtained boards from a sawmill for a floor, but it was very splintery.

They obtained some cows, that roamed the spacious farm, and that’s how cow bells were used to find them. There were no tools for planting, so they split the prairie sod with an ax, dropped in a few grains of corn and hoped for the best. Nature did her job and they had a corn crop.

In the fall of 1856 another family arrived, that of Benjamin Keller, Sr. and settled nearby. The mother, Eleanor Brothers Keller, passed away 10 days after arriving as the trip was too much for her. Before leaving Indiana, Sarah Talley had obtained from their minister, the church letters of the family. The minister warned her that there would likely be no church in the new country where she could present the letters. He asked her to promise to hold services in her own home and she lost no time in making good on her promise.

Arriving on July 4, 1856, in November of the same year, the first service was held in the log cabin of the Talley’s. The Talley’s, Stahl’s and Keller’s made up the congregation. Young Isaac Talley read the lines of hymns and pitched the tune and everybody sang. Sometimes there were two services a day. When a circuit riding preacher was in the neighborhood, he conducted the service, and when they were held in the log cabin, Benjamin Keller, Sr, conducted them. This group was known as the Talley Class, later the Bethel Class. After the death of Benjamin Sr, Frank Talley became leader.

In 1860 there were three weddings in this little group. Isaac Talley married Nancy Keller; Frank Talley married, Sara Keller; and Benjamin Keller Jr, married Sarah Ellen Talley. It was a joke in the family that when they ran out of Keller’s and Talley’s, they had to branch out. Then in 1861 came the war and Isaac and Benjamin Jr. volunteered and served two years in the 3rd Iowa cavalry.
William Everly, who had married Elizabeth Keller before they left Ohio, also volunteered but did not return. These marriages meant new log cabins to be built. These new families also lost one or more children so it was necessary to start a cemetery. A tract of land from Isaac Talley’s farm was started and named the Bethel Cemetery. Many relatives are buried there.

When Isaac and Benjamin returned from the war, plans were made to build an actual church. The location was near to the entrance of the cemetery.
It was built entirely of native lumber. Floor boards 8 inches wide and were planed by hand. Window casings and the siding were of black walnut and also the pews, all planed by hand. Shingles were split by hand and corded up between two trees along the Platte River.

A heavy rain caused the Platte River to flood and the shingles were about to be swept away. Isaac Talley swam out to the trees to secure the shingles with a rope. He had planned to rest on a stump on his way back, but found that the stump had been taken over by a rattlesnake. He did not dispute the rattler’s right of possession, so swam with the current and came to land 1/2 mile from where he had left his clothes.

This church built in 1868 was used until around 1882, when the Burlington railroad extended it’s line across the state and the village of Goshen sprang up.
The Talley Class then decided to sell their church for a school house and build a church in the town of Goshen. The school house was across the road from the Bethel Cemetery and Edgar Price was the teacher. He later became a minister and married Cora Talley. The new church in Goshen was much larger and grander than the old one. There was an 8×12 entrance, a tower and a brand new bell, which is still in use on the present church in Diagonal. It was just one large room, no Sunday school or class rooms.

About 1890, the Chicago Great Western railroad built a line running diagonally across the state from northeast to southwest, which was called the diagonal line. It crossed the Burlington railroad about a mile east of the town of Goshen.
Most of the towns people of Goshen moved their residences down to where the two railroads crossed, and started the town of Diagonal, named for the diagonal road. Since most of the town had moved away, the church people decided to go along. They took off the tower, sawed the building in two, and moved it in two sections to a lot in Diagonal, and rebuilt it. This church was used until 1911, when a new brick church was built and this building was still in use until a few years ago when a new one was built, with the bell still in use. In the church are stained glass windows honoring the 13 charter members, who were:
Adam Grubb Talley and Sarah Aldred Talley
Benjamin Keller, Sr.
Michael Stahl and wife Mary Talley Stahl
Benjamin Keller, Jr. and wife Sarah Ellen Talley Keller
Isaac Talley and wife Nancy Keller Talley
Benjamin Franklin Talley and wife Sarah Catherine Keller
Mrs. G. J. Keller
Miss Mary Keller

This pump organ now in the Diagonal Church, we believe, started in the Grant Center Church, near Diagonal and was played during church services by Mildred (Mrs. Grant) Stamper. She was the great grandchild of Benjamin Keller, Sr.
It was then moved to the Diagonal Church where she continued as the organist for many years. Her husband, Grant, took care of the church with the cleaning, etc., and one day the church told him to take the organ and throw it away as they were getting a newer version.

Well, loving music, Grant and Mildred couldn’t see throwing away something as beautiful as this organ, so they moved it to their garage. It stayed there for many years in the dust of the garage, until they both passed away and the family had a sale of furnishings. Us kids used to go to the garage and play it when we stayed with our grandparents. Thought it was pretty cool.

Grant and Mildred’s daughter, Guelda Stamper Barker, saved the organ and her brother Don, took it apart and kept it in his upstairs at his house. Guelda eventually found someone to restore the pump organ and it turned out to be beautiful underneath all of the dust. The original seat is also restored. Guelda kept it at her house and I would play it when I would visit and it sounds beautiful. Can’t imagine playing it for most of the hour of church services, since you have to pump the pedals to make any sound. Grandma must have had strong legs back then.

Since it is large and heavy, mom had it moved to her basement for a few years, but thought she should see if anyone in the family might want it. Since none of us have room for it, she decided to see if the Diagonal Church might want it. They didn’t even know it existed and were surprised.

I wrote Cheryl Whittington, President of the Board and told her the story and she asked the Board and they were happy to have it back home. The problem was getting it back up the stairs from the basement. I texted the football coach in Mount Ayr, Ryan Victor, and asked if he could have 6 strong guys come over to Guelda’s house over Memorial Weekend. It worked beautifully!

Thank you: Trevin Victor, Jackson Ruggles, Tate Dugan, Tucker Knox, Kash Wasteney, Aidan Murphy and Coach Ryan Victor. The coach likes the team to do service for the community and we were very happy to donate to their team for helping.

The Whittington’s met us at Guelda’s house and helped, then we drove to Diagonal where they had helpers: Doug, Darla and Erin Sobotka, Austin Miller and JP, Amy and Cheryl Whittington to carry it to it’s new home. The organ is back home and our family knows it will be taken care of by the Diagonal Church and maybe played a few times too. Stop by to see it sometime, it is beautiful!
There has not been a day from 1856 to the present when the organization that began in the Talley log cabin has not been functioning as a church. It would be impossible to evaluate the far reaching influence of this chuch that had it’s beginning in Talley’s log cabin on the Iowa prairie. Ancestors, Josephine Stahl went east to India as a missionary and Lydia Wilkinson went west to China as a missionary, thus extending the influence of that little congregation around the world.

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