George Wells was born on May 14, 1821, to Ralph and Julia Roberts Wells in Connecticut. At the age of 27, he left his parents' home to live on his own. He then married Sarah Underwood from Worcester County, Massachusetts, on November 27, 1848. Five years later they had a son, Frank. In 1861, at the age of eight, young Frank died. By this time George and Sarah had already begun to establish themselves as the oldest and most extensive farmers in Grundy County.
George and Sarah actually arrived in the area that was later to bear their name in the early months of 1860. Along with partner Martin Armour of Chicago, Wells sought land favorable for raising livestock and purchased 1,500 acres of virgin prairie from a real estate company for $2.50 an acre. After a short stay in Iowa, Armour returned to Chicago and there helped found Armour and Company, one of the nation's major meat-packing industries at that time. Wells stayed in the area with the assistance of foreman Robert Hamilton to concentrate on the management of a highly successful livestock business.
The first recorded assessment of Wells' inventory in 1863 showed that he had 1,200 sheep, three horses, and two mules. In later years, the emphasis on sheep was changed to cattle. Because cattle need more attention than sheep, Wells then hired 30 farmhands from New England states and Ireland.
Meanwhile, enterprising Eastfriesens who had first migrated from Germany to Western Illinois grew tired of the area. They then moved farther west and settled in the now Wellsburg area. The Homestead Act of 1862 and the sale of some of Wells' land lured many of these pioneers over. Unlike many of their Eastern American predecessors, the Eastfriesens came here poor, and endured countless hardships. They built and lived in dimly lit homes that were insulated with dirt and manure in the winter months. Some of the animals that they hunted for food were: duck, geese, rabbits, prairie chickens, turkeys, quail, and deer.
Nature, especially winter, caused the most serious threat to the settlers' lives. The settlers recall all kinds of horrible snow storms that took place, including the snow storms of January 1864, February 1866, and February 1875. It was recorded also that a snow storm during the 1860's lasted for seven days. When the storm was done, there were drifts 18-20 feet high and the level of snow was 3 feet deep.
Means of communication were poor for the settlers; means of transportation were even worse. Doctors had to travel long distances over primitive dirt roads, and sometimes could not be obtained at all. Farmers in the early 1860's had to haul their livestock and grain thirty miles to Cedar Falls, the nearest market. When in the autumn of 1865 Ackley began to be served by the railroads, area farmers switched markets to save time and energy. Yet another switch of markets occurred in 1867, when Steamboat Rock was hooked up to the railroads.
The next addition to the area is was that the Burlington and Cedar Rapids Railroad built their line diagonally through George Wells' land, finally giving area farmers and stock-raisers easy access to the markets. Sometime during the following year, 1880, George Wells gave one square mile of his land to be established as the town of "Wells." Painted on the side of the local train depot, this name lasted for several years before the "burg" was added, perhaps as a formality. With the donation of land, Wells made known his desire that his town's main street run east and west. But this wish was not fulfilled: while Wells was away on a business trip, certain residents of the town, which at the time was a mere cluster of 10 houses, decided that their main street should run north and south, dead at both ends. So despite the intentions of its founder, Wellsburg was on its way to future growth through the designation of a business district.
Sarah Wells died November 9, 1895, aged 68 years. George followed her on August 2, 1906. Together with their son, they were buried in Elmwood Cemetery near Grundy Center, fifteen miles from that which they, more than anyone else, created.
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