Clayton Gospel Hall, IA

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Clayton area history

Clayton, Iowa is in the same county as Garnavillo, where Garnavillo Gospel Hall has served for many years, as the second assembly planted by Oliver Garfield Smith. It is located in Clayton County, Iowa in northeastern Iowa directly on the Mississippi River, and is only accessible via a very steep road. The population was 43 in the 2010 Census, down from 55 in the 2000 Census, though many others have summer homes there due to its proximity on the Mississippi River. The town was founded in 1849. In 1880, it had its peak population of 383, though shrinking to 170 by 1920, and has continued to shrink.

Oliver Smith's transition from farming

One day as he prepared to fill a silo on his farm, he thought it rather strange that none of his neighbors were present to help. Usually a number of them would gather and lend him a hand at this. Inquiring around, he soon discovered the reason for their absence. Someone, in response to Oliver's "funny religion", had climbed the silo and printed the word "Quarantined" on its side. Other neighbors, fearing that a contagious disease had plagued the farm yard, stayed away. "You don't have to worry about that," Oliver told them. "What we have over here isn't very catchy."

Generally Oliver had several hired men working either full or part time for him. He had great joy in seeing thirteen of these men saved, among them John Dahlgaard, Glen Hollipeter and William Dunbar. In time, he left some of these men in charge of the farm while he held gospel meetings in various places.

As he became more occupied with gospel work, he found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the business of farming. Hours he had spent working on the pedigree records of his cattle were now spent with his Bible. In a farming accident in 1916, his right hand was severely injured in a corn sheller leaving him temporarily disabled. Sam Keller, who had noted spiritual gift in Oliver, said to him one day as he visited, "The next time it might be your neck. God can find anybody to plant corn, but He cannot find many to preach Christ."

Oliver Smith's evangelism

Refreshed and encouraged by the a weekend of conferences in Chicago and meeting Caleb J. Baker, Oliver journeyed homeward with an increasing desire to do something for God. Weighing heavily upon his mind was an invitation from Mrs. John Dehn, Flora Katherine Haltmeyer Dehn (1870-1947), to come over to Clayton, Iowa and try a few meetings there. Mrs. Dehn had been saved in meetings at Manchester in 1909. While visiting the Hermans in Waterloo, Oliver decided to reroute his trip and visit the small Mississippi River town.

He soon located an old schoolhouse in 1916 and made arrangements for gospel meetings. The series proved to be short lived, however, when after two meetings news reached Oliver that his daughters had contracted scarlet fever. He packed his things and left.But Oliver did not forget the little river community, and a year later in December 1917 he returned. John Dahlgaard helped him the first week, and it proved to be a time of real blessing. Five souls professed, including a railroad worker and a telephone operator named Susie Ricker. It also included a "poor fisherman who also has proved that he was made rich through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was a great encouragement to us to see God's willingness and power to save through the Name of His dear Son."

The railroad worker was Ed Ostoff, a section boss on a crew that maintained the tracks. He had been a foul mouthed drinking man in his unsaved days. One day after his conversion something went wrong and without thinking, an oath came from his lips. Immediately he fell to his knees in full view of the others, and asked God to forgive him. "Uncle Ed", as he was later called, went on to become a faithful testimony and witness for God in the area. Oliver recounted later that Ed went from a drinking railroad man to one who was "living to the praise and honor of God."  Ed's wife Frances also responded for Christ in this meeting.  

The meetings continued into the frigid month of January, 1918. Oliver made repeated trips over the steep, icy hills, often taking his entire family with him. As the interest grew, so did anxiety within the community.

Rumors surfaced that a group from town was planning to tar and feather Oliver. "We kids were just hysterical after the meeting," said his daughter LaVelle. "It didn't bother Dad at all. He wasn't a bit concerned." The threat proved to be idle, and the meetings carried on."  At least twenty made professions of faith that year, including :


Clayton is also where Matilda Mary Brandt Kramer (1879-1968) first heard the Gospel, saved at Garnavillo in 1919.    

Clayton Gospel Hall

"God continued to bless the effort. Seven months later a happy group of young believers gathered together around the Lord's table to break bread. At its height, there were several in fellowship at Clayton but the numbers eventually declined. In 1951 the lamp went out. The few remaining believers then gathered with the Christians at Garnavillo."

Edward Osthoff

The correspondent in all three editions was Edward Osthoff, Box 27.  In 1930, Edward was working as a section foreman for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.  His son, Edwin, was employed the same year as a foreman in the steam railroad industry.  He and his wife Louisa Franz had two children, Edwin and Lorraine, before Louisa's premature death in 1909.  In 1910, Edward remarried Frances Broessel, having one more daughter Vivian Helen Osthoff, who came to Christ later in 1970 in Garnavillo.   See bios of Edward, Frances and Vivian for more detail.

Garnavillo connection

Susie Ricker, one of the sisters in the meeting at Clayton, developed a deep concern for Mrs. Fred Kramer, a woman she worked for in Garnavillo. She mentioned this concern to Oliver, who without hesitation, went to visit the Kramers. They showed a keen interest in the gospel, so Oliver arranged for meetings which began in June of 1919. "I didn't know a soul except the Kramers," he said.

Making use of an old church building, Oliver preached to growing numbers every night. Traveling the narrow dirt roads over hilly terrain to get to the meetings proved to be quite a chore. His Model T was often bogged down in mud or grounded by a flat tire. He would hike to neighboring farms in search of help. These experiences were turned into wonderful opportunities, as he spoke with farmers about their souls. See more at Garnavillo Gospel Hall, IA.

Letters of Interest

A series entitled Pioneer Work in Iowa by W.R. Simpson , in September 1946, credits Oliver Smith for the start of the Clayton assembly, from the time of his conversion in 1913 at Waterloo. The Clayton assembly is on a list of “good-sized assemblies” as a fruit of Oliver’s, along with Manchester, Garnavillo, Stout, Hitesville, Aredale and Cylinder.

Post-Clayton Gospel Hall

In 1956, there was a “School of Missions” series teacher named Frances Osthoff that was honored at St. Luke’s Methodist in Dubuque. Not certain this is the same one.

Possible alumni

In 1930, Edward and Frances Osthoff had a boarder, an unmarried schoolteacher named Emma L. Jacobs, who may have been in fellowship with the Clayton Assembly.  In 1940, Emma was lodging with Mary Crefeld (1872-1945), still in Clayton, IA.

Sources

  • 1927 Assembly Address Book, Faithful Words Publishing, St. Louis, MO
  • 1936 Assembly Address Book, Light and Liberty Publishing, Fort Dodge, IA
  • 1943 Assembly Address Book, Walterick Publishers, Fort Dodge, IA
  • Letters of Interest, 1946 September
  • Oliver Smith's testimony concerning Clayton was originally written in 1929 entitled "Pioneering in Iowa", in a scrapbook entitled "With The Lord", compiled by Pauline Van Mill.
  • "A Man Called Oliver" by Leonard DeBuhr