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
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 enduredcountless 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.