Clarence was once a thriving community

By DERRICK BABBS
For the Ford County Record


Clarence, located about six miles east of Paxton, was once a thriving community and the grain center of Button Township.

In the early 1870s, the Lake Erie & Western Railroad built a railroad through Ford County and through what would later become the town of Clarence, and there was prolonged and heated discussion about the name to be given to the railroad station erected there.

Among the prominent early settlers in the town were the Fredericks and the Kirkpatricks. The Fredericks insisted that the station be named Frederick; the Kirkpatricks argued that it should be named Kirk’s Station. Every Saturday night, when men of the community assembled for their weekly meetings in one of the stores in Clarence, the argument continued — sometimes becoming heated and insistent.

Finally, one Saturday night, after about two months of arguments, they were debating the subject again, in a loud and heated fashion, when the door opened and Clarence Smith walked in. Immediately, a participant shouted in a loud voice: “Your answer just walked in the door. Let’s call it Clarence.” And without any formality, that name was promptly accepted.

Smith was a popular young man in the community. He lived with his parents on a farm southeast of the town. He was handsome and of good physical build, and his comments on any subject were received with appreciation.

The plat of the village known as Button, in Button Township, was filed and recorded under the name of “Clarence” on Nov. 4, 1878. It was surveyed and laid out by Robert F. Whitman on land originally owned by William T. Morrison and Samuel I. Hutchinson.

By 1900, it had a bank and two grain elevators. There were also a number of stores, including Kirkpatrick’s Hardware, Healy’s Dry Goods and Nelson’s Grocery & Variety, which had a couple of billiards tables in the rear to provide amusement for customers. A second grocery store and the local post office also occupied a building. Sherman Frederick served as the town’s postmaster.

In 1900, Clarence had a bustling business district and had a population of more than 300.

A grain dealer in town — S. Frederick & Co. — would eventually build an up-to-date elevator on the south side of the LE&W Railroad tracks. It had a capacity of 100,000 bushels. The grain dealer also had an extensive coal business with farmers and townspeople.

At one point, the community was noted as one of the greatest grain shipping points on the railroad.
Carson Grain also had a large elevator just east of the railroad depot. It had a capacity of 35,000 bushels. Carson also had a large coal business.

Meanwhile, J.C. Kirkpatrick dealt in hardware and farm implements. He had formed a partnership with his son-in-law, James W. Healey, in the grocery and general merchandise business.

S.H. Patton and B.F. Kirkley handled dry goods, groceries ad men’s clothing. A.J. Swanson was the town’s blacksmith, while G.A. Borders was in charge of the railroad depot. Dr. D.E. Hester was the practicing physician in the town.

Clarence resident W.A. Hutchinson was the Ford County coroner. He was renominated by the GOP for a second term.

Clarence also boasted a fine hotel and a school with two teachers. There were two churches in town — the Presbyterian and Swedish Lutheran churches.

In 1911, Sherman Frederick’s elevator was destroyed by fire. The elevator was erected more than 20 years earlier by his father, David Frederick. The elevator was estimated to be worth $20,000.

In October 1917, a devastating fire destroyed every business building on Main Road, except one store. The loss was estimated at $30,000. The buildings burned were the Bank of Clarence, the Frederick & Patton grain office, Kirkpatrick’s Hardware & Warehouse, the Carlson store which also housed the post office, Moore’s Barber Shop and Healy’s Grocery Store.

In April 1930, a group of bank robbers had plans to rob the bank, but the locals heard about the plans and prepared for an ambush. The sheriff set up a machine gun position across from the bank, and the robbers never reached the bank and were arrested.

In 1934, J. Kemp Carson became manager of Frederick Grain Co., which later became the Carson Grain Co. The grain company was later sold to Ludlow Cooperative Elevator Co., which ended up tearing down the grain elevator in Clarence in 2012.

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