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Woodford Lumber & Home
210 North 4th Street
Clear Lake,IA 50428
Phone: 641-357-2134
Fax: 641-357-7193
Copyright © 2007
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Our History
Folksy history of Clear Lake's first business.
No one actually called me “C.R.” back in the day.  But in this day, I've been told that C.R. would be a lot catchier.  So be it…

And then they want me to impart wisdom, something like “C.R.  Says.”  Well, I don’t know about how wise it might be, but I’ve seen a lot of changes in my day and maybe there is something to be learned from all that.  So here’s some of my story…

My name is C.R. Woodford and my father grew up in a farming family in upper New York State.  When he set out on his own, he took up the lumber trade and also raised livestock. After the Civil War was over, my father George and mother Olive Woodford were among the many who heard the call to “head west young man (and young woman).”  My uncle Truman Woodford had already started a lumberyard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and opened one in 1869 in a place called Clear Lake, Iowa.  I heard the lake was beautiful and the settlers there were hard working.  I was 18 and ready for adventure in this frontier west of the Mississippi.  The year was 1879.

The railroad had arrived in Clear Lake by this time and it fueled the growth of this settlement.  Before the railroad, horse-drawn wagons were used to bring all lumber and supplies from Cedar Falls.  There was a local lumber mill, a shingle factory and other lumber companies.  My mother’s uncle Winslow Tompkins managed the Clear Lake yard and other yards throughout North Iowa at the time.  He was a big, genial man who had some great stories.  As a young adult, he decided to head west – on foot - for job opportunities in Leavenworth, Kansas.  He walked that distance in 10 ½ days.  He was a gold miner, an ox team driver and fought in several Civil War battles.  He was even a prisoner of war.  I had a lot of respect for great-Uncle Win; his father died when Win was 11 and Win supported his mother and siblings all of his life.

Interesting characters like my great-uncle and many others were drawn to Clear Lake, with its natural beauty.  And there were many things to do. With the creation of the Methodist Campgrounds Meeting Association and the Chautauqua speaker circuit, thousands of visitors came from throughout the Midwest to hear nationally known speakers like William Jennings Bryan, Booker T. Washington, evangelist Billy Sunday and prohibitionist Carrie Nation.  The speakers would travel by rail from town to town.   It was very exciting to hear them in person.   It stimulated conversations for Clear Lakers for months to come.  There were grand hotels on the lake and on Clear Lake’s one island.  A new steamer, the Island Queen, would transport people over to the island. So many people were visiting or moving from the east coast that Clear Lake was dubbed  “the Saratoga of the West”named after the popular resort in Saratoga, New York.   Those were exciting days.

We thought it was important for our growing community on the prairie to have the same modern conveniences as those in larger cities on the east coast.  Clear Lakers started using the first telephones just two years after Alexander Graham Bell patented them.  What a timesaver that was for businessmen to be able to communicate with each other just using wires!   I helped incorporate the Clear Lake Telephone Exchange in 1895 and also bring electric lights to town.  

Of course, a huge new chapter in my life was when I married my beau Agnes Frost on May 29, 1889.  Her father was George Frost, a Clear Lake pioneer and entrepreneur.  My father George Woodford died at an early age, 56, on March 2, 1890, so that quickly meant another new chapter for me for managing Woodford Lumber and the other North Iowa lumberyards.  Agnes and I were saddened by the death of our young son, but then blessed by the birth of our daughter Esther in 1899.  What a joy she was!  Growing up, she loved to be outside on the lake or picnicking at the island, as did I.  And speaking of the island, I’m glad that Esther and her husband donated the island to the state and the people of Iowa in 1971.  That will help ensure that generations to come will be creating wonderful memories on Clear Lake’s only island.

Of course, all attention was focused on the war to end all wars beginning in 1914.  We prayed for the safety of our young men who enlisted in the cause, including L. Earl Ashland, son of Norwegian immigrants who settled on a farm near here.  After safely returning and starting a grocery business, he later asked for our daughter’s hand in marriage.

The business is now in the hands of the fifth generation.

There have been five generations of the Woodford, Ashland, Connell, Lovell family involved in ownership and management of the business:
Truman Woodford, a brother of the great-great-grandfather of the present owners, founded and started the business in 1869.  A large and genial man, he was well known around Cerro Gordo, Hancock and  Winnebago Counties, lived in Milwaukee, where he did most of the buying but made frequent trips here to look after this lumber yard and the one which he started a year later in Garner, Iowa.

George G. Woodford, brother of Truman and great-great-grandfather of the present owners, in 1879,  purchased an interest in the business, and came from New York with his wife and 18 year old son, Charles R. Woodford, grandfather of the present owner to live here.  Both George G. and Charles R. Woodford began at once to work at the yard and each continued to do so until the end of his life.

Charles R. Woodford, great-grandfather of the present owners managed the business from 1890 until his death in 1937. From time to time other lumber yards were acquired.  At one time  the Woodford-Wheeler chain involved  some 12 lumber yards in North Central Iowa. Clear Lake, Ventura, Garner, Britt, Chapin, Goodell, Charles City, Pomeroy, Thornton, Meservey, and Fonda were some of the communities involved.

Esther Woodford Ashland and her husband, L. Earl Ashland, grandmother and grandfather of the present owners,  took over the ownership and direction of the business in 1937, continuing until her death 47 years later in 1984.

James F. Connell, husband Marcia Ashland Connell and father of the current owners, came to Clear Lake from Iowa City in 1950 to assume management of the business. He served as General Manager of the business for 50 years until 2000 and passed away in 2002. There were 9 lumber yards in the Woodford-Wheeler chain at one point in his tenure.

Marcia Ashland Connell, mother of the current owners, also assumed an active management role during this time. She became owner after her mothers death in 1984. Marcia passed away in 2008. It is now owned by Marcia Ashland Connell's daughters Janet Connell Lovell, Susan Connell-Magee and Sarah Connell Ohlrogge. Susan Connell-Magee passed away in 2003.

General management responsibilities are now being carried out by Jan Lovell, Tom Lovell and Darle Hoshaw.

The Woodford, Ashland, Connell and Lovell families, the owners, have taken a leadership role in the Clear Lake community through the years. Some of those contributions include: helping bring telephones to Clear Lake in 1876 just two years after Alexander Graham Bell patented the phone; donating Woodford Island, Clear lake's only island, to the state of Iowa; protecting over a mile of undeveloped shoreline and allowing public use of the Woodford Ashland Lone Tree Point Nature Area; restoring almost 200 acres of prairie and allowing a public bike trail through it and co-chairing the Clear Lake Public Library capital campaign for the facility addition and renovation.

Yes, there have been lots of changes in the community and the lumber business in these years.  There are different customer needs (it’s been quite a while since anyone asked us for coal!), good economic times and bad ones. We leaned on each other in those tough times and that’s still a good practice for today.

But the thing that doesn’t change is that we’re still working hard for the customer.  We treat our customers like we would like to be treated – kind of the golden rule of business.  We’ll work with you honestly and fairly.  We provide quality materials and we stand behind them.

And you’ve probably heard that we’ve hooked up with a company whose founder was my contemporary – Benjamin Moore.  It’s a great partnership – they’re innovative and forward-thinking.  They care so much about the customer that they invented the first no VOC (no unhealthy off-gassing) paint.  I like that a lot.  Good for people and good for the town and the planet. Things just keeps getting better.

Well, I’ll be showing up at various places off and on, offering my “pearls of wisdom.”  Speaking of pearls, Clear Lake was a jewel in the late 1800s and it’s a jewel today.  It’s great to be part of it all.