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Dowling community looks back at 100 years

Dowling Church was built in the 1920s on land owned by John Ramey. It was later moved south to Ash Creek in the 1950s. Services are no longer held at the church, but it stands as a sentinel for the community it served so well for so long. Photo by Ruby Gabriel

Dowling was founded in 1907 by Michael P. Dowling, owner of the general merchandise store, land attorney and notary, who filed on a homestead near there. He was also the first postmaster. Dowling was located over 10 miles north of Ash Creek.

Farming was the number one industry in the Dowling community. Businesses throughout the years in the village included Chester Farnsworth, barber; Louis Kloster, blacksmith; Theo Kloster, well driller; German Lutherans Church (held at the Dowling School 1929-1933), Rev. E.J. Fish, pastor; Sanford Monteville and Nedrow Ephraim, carpenters.

By 1908, the original population of 40 grew to 75 homesteaders near this old Stanley County settlement. In 1914, it was voted on and decided by the Scandinavian settlers that Old Stanley County should be divided into two new counties, Haakon and Jackson. Haakon County was named after Haakon VII, the King of Norway. However, it was April 29, 1935, before the Dowling post office became part of Haakon County.

The Dowling Baptist Church, the only remaining building, was organized July 19, 1922, by Rev. John W. Wynn, a cowboy preacher, who got things in motion. Wynn was riding by the Dowling schoolhouse on his horse, Roger Williams. He stopped to ask the teacher, Hazel Heines, permission to hold meetings in her schoolroom. Excited at the news, she quickly gave her permission.

Wynn then rode from house to house spreading the word to the surrounding communities that church services would be held at the Dowling schoolhouse. He often spent the night in the area. When it was time to prepare a meal, he would say, "Eggs are just fine with me." Most people had fresh eggs, but seldom had fresh meat. Many people relied on prairie chickens and cottontails for fresh meat in warm weather.

December 11, 1923, the Baptist Young People's Union was organized with 27 charter members. Sometimes as many as 60 members attended the meetings. With the congregation growing, it was decided to build a church building. It was built on the John Ramey place on the hill north of their home and across the road from the Dowling school. John Ramey donated the land for the church. Volunteer help and materials equal to $1,000 went into the project. Later, some trees were planted and it made a nice setting for the wedding of Ethel Park and John Bonato.

After the church was finished, a bell was given by a Catholic Church in Sturgis. John Ramey furnished horses to move the bell from Sturgis. This bell was raised into the belfry on June 3, 1927, on the day the church was dedicated. The sermon was conducted by Dr. John Barton before the noon barbecue. At two o'clock, Chauncey Yellow Robe, a Cheyenne Indian Chief, gave the address. At eight o'clock that evening, the young people held their meeting.

Record books indicate that 53 more people had been brought into the church by the end of 1927. Almost all of these people were baptized in the Cheyenne River.

According to records at the White Owl Church, Wynn had been busy there as well, and at Chalk Butte. He also held services at Pedro, Creighton and the Lincoln and McDonald schools.

According to Jim Ramey, John Ramey's son, these churches went together and bought Wynn a fancy saddle. One night, Wynn stayed overnight at Ramey's house and Jim, about 10, was told to unsaddle the horse and put it in the barn. Jim did just that, he threw the saddle over a 2x4 in the barn. It was unfortunate the milk calves on the other side chewed all of the strings off the fancy new saddle. None were left for tying supplies to the saddle. The next night Wynn stayed overnight at Durstin's and their son Fred was instructed to put all new strings on the saddle. Ramey tells of another time when Wynn was at their home, he sat on the stoop and cried. News had just arrived at the Ramey house that President Harding had died. Wynn explained that he was born and raised in Ohio and went to school with President Harding. After Wynn had completed his tasks of organizing the churches here, he moved on.

With people moving away for various reasons, few were left in the Dowling area. In 1947, the Dowling Church building was moved several miles south of its original location. It was moved to where it is currently located on Ash Creek, across the road from where the Old Ash Creek Store once stood. During the move, the floor buckled and was in need of repair. Anna Hanson hired a crew to fix the floor. She requested each board be put back in place one board at a time. October 12, 1952, the building was dedicated again. Nearly 100 souls attended the dedication.

The only funeral in the church was given by Pastor Arnold Kramer on November 22, 1963, for Nathan Peterson. This was the same day President John F. Kennedy was shot. The only wedding performed was that of Marlene Keyser and Dennis O'Dea on October 27, 1956, with Pastor Vern Eckerholm officiating.

As a youngster, I attended this church with my parents. It was a religious home of close friends. During the winter months, Bible Study was held in the homes of members on Wednesday nights. I enjoyed them and Potluck Sundays, which were held the final Sunday of each month. Services followed the potluck meal on those Sundays. Until the basement was built, Potluck Sunday was held in the nearby Ash Creek Hall.

The final year of Vacation Bible School was a camp held at the church. We teachers camped with the children in tents in the church yard. Mothers brought our meals. Evenings were campfires outside with Pastor Tom Howie playing his guitar and us singing. What a joyful noise! Wade Peterson taught several choruses in sign language.

Many of us attending the Dowling Church, throughout the years, were baptized in the school section dam near the church. I was one of a large group baptized by Tom Howie at the last baptismal service on July 29, 1979.

After pastors became harder to find in the later 1980s, services were no longer held at Dowling Community Church on a weekly basis. A once important asset of the community now sits silently on the prairie.