Drought of 1894
Mills county, Iowa
In 1894, Mills County – and much of the central United States – was going through one of the most intense droughts in the state’s history. Crop production was at the forefront of many farmers’ minds. The Mills County Tribune’s front page constantly focused on weather forecasts. The year prior had been a dry year. As the summer of 1894 went on, farmers – and the general public – began to worry about how severe the drought would get.
By August, it was clear that there was irreversible damage done to crops around the United States. The outlook for Iowa’s crops was not good. “Reports show great damage to corn by drought and hot winds; with favorable future conditions this state may possibly harvest half crop, but every day’s continuance of drought lowers prospect for that amount; small grain yields better than expected.”
Mills County, situated on the border between Iowa and Nebraska, was suffering the worst aspects of each states’ drought. The outlook for Nebraska was no better than Iowa’s. “Week exceedingly hot and dry; southern portion conditions varies from 10 to 90 percent ruined with an average of about one half ruined; in sections many fields are being put out for fodder.”
Two of Mills County’s towns were eradicated after facing intensifying pressure from the 1894 drought. At its height, Peaceville had three industries, nearly thirty houses, and a school with around sixty students. The Malvern Nursery was one of the few businesses in the unincorporated town. Started in the 1880s, the nursery was owned by Mr. Bonham and Mr.
Hammond. In 1890, Bonham passed away leaving Hammond to care for the business on his own. After two years of intense drought, Bonham was forced to cut his losses and sell his nursery to the Harloust Brothers of Carson. The nursery’s closure marked the end of Peaceville’s most prosperous history.
Hillsdale suffered a similar fate as Peaceville. The primary business in the town was farming, as well as a stockyard. The drought of 1894 damaged the local economy beyond repair. Much of that year’s crops had died. The stockyard was frequently brought to a halt as the area’s wells dried up. Water had to be hauled in from the surrounding areas to keep the stockyard operational. Much like the Malvern Nursery’s closure, the damaging economic impact of the drought marked the end of Hillsdale’s prosperity. By 1913, the town’s government had dissolved.
Sources: Allen Wortman, “Ghosts of Mills County: Hillsdale and Peaceville,” 1975; “Thomas Brading,” Mills County Obituaries, 1934; Paul Waite, “Drought in Iowa: the Pattern, Frequency, and Intensity,” Iowa Geological Survey, 1979; “The Same Story: A General Drought Prevails All Over the North and West,” Mills County Tribune, August 1894.