The Superior Express -

By Kerma Crouse
Jewell County Record 

Omio, Omio, Where art thou

 

January 10, 2019

For those who don't know, Omio was a Jewell County town located in Vicksburg and Grant townships. It centered around what is today the intersection of Omio Road (270 Road) and M Road about 3 miles south of Formoso. Though the town flourished during the 1880s, it is now relegated to brief mentions in historical books and the memories of a few.

Omio was founded in May of 1877 as the town of Huron. Land records in the Jewell County Courthouse show the original townsite was purchased by two men named Godding, C. W. Green and James Fogel, all trustees of the "Huron Town Company." By 1878, the name had been changed to Omio.

Various reasons for the name are given, but the legend cited in Prairie Jewels (written by Erma Dillon and Jerri Shute) is "the Indians who were camped on the hill northwest would look to the south, making signs, with their hands and exclaiming 'Oh-mi-oh, Oh-mi-oh.' The homesteaders present felt sure it was a word of regret because they were leaving." Whatever the reason for the name, the fortunes of the town in the first few years were rosy with no reason for regrets or laments.

Located in the Marsh Creek Valley, there was "no other trading point within 14 to 16 miles." Yes, indeed the future looked bright. Soon the town had a "well known" veterinarian surgeon, two medical doctors and at one time or other, lawyers, notary publics, hardware stores, general stores, a drug store, a milliner, and one or more blacksmiths, a "tonsorial" artist (barber), a grocery store, a livery, an auctioneer, relators, harness shops, a feed store, a hotel and more. The population was around 250 people by 1884.

For several years, the community had a post office. The first postmaster was James Fogel, one of the Huron Town Company's trustees. The post office was discontinued on Aug. 14, 1889. Though reestablished, it was never actually used again and permanently discontinued on June 20, 1895.

The community also had newspapers. At various times the Jewell Journal, the Omio Mail and the Western Advocate all were published in the town of Omio.

One comment in an early newspaper cited a lack of schools and churches. The Prairie Jewels book discusses only one school, Omio – District 141. Its location was approximated in Vicksburg Township sections 3 and 4 and Grant Township sections 33 or 34. This is the location of the town of Omio. But it could not be determined where the exact location of the school was within the town. The school was organized in 1879 and disorganized on Jan. 4, 1910.

There were two churches, plus "God's own cathedral," for the town's worshippers. The Omio Baptist Church was organized by Martha and C. W. Green in 1877. C.W. Green was another of the trustees of the Huron Town Company. The Methodists organized in 1880. It is not known what became of these congregations.

In addition to the churches and school, for entertainment and culture there was the Omio Post Number 226 of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Omio Alliance met every other Saturday, the Omio Glee Club met on Tuesday and Friday evenings, and there was also the Omio Mutual Temperance Society - among others.

"Hooray for Omio, the Railroad and the coal mines" was not an idle comment in the May 17, 1884, issue of the Western Advocate. It conveyed the confidence and spirit of the community.

But the coal mines, located a couple of miles west of the town, eventually were a disappointment. Though the shaft was already down to 70 feet when the comment was made, the coal was not the type railroads wanted to burn. So, the early elation turned to disappointment and the hopes for the town began to fade.

The town still had hope for the Hardy, White Rock, Omio, and Beloit Railroad Company. But it too failed to live up to those hopes and expectations. No railroad tracks came to Omio and the death knell for the town was sounded.

The Rock Island railroad, instead, went three miles north and Formoso began to develop. The Formoso Town Company offered the incentive of discounted lots to businesses and home owners moving from Omio. There were those who took the offer. Wooden structures were put on skids and teams drug them to the new townsite.

O. J. Quy, an immigrant from England, owned Quy Hardware in Omio. An early settler, he was also one of the community's early businessmen. Quy Hardware, located at Main and Kansas, advertised the "largest stock of hardware ever in Omio."

The last building in the ghost town of Omio is this decaying structure which once housed the post office.

Quy considered the Formoso incentives and took his limestone building apart, block by block. After the numbered blocks were hauled to Formoso, the building was reconstructed at Main and Patterson. Quy was back in the hardware business. As his great-granddaughter, Susan Abel-Diehl, Mankato, said "He was quite a character."

Omio as a town doesn't exist anymore but it is not totally forgotten. The eastern most street in Formoso is named "Omio." Follow Omio Road (270 Road) three miles south, look to the east and see the one deteriorating limestone building that is left on the original site of Omio.

And there is O. J. Quy's 142-year-old building, which first stood in Omio. It still stands today in Formoso and is used by the city's water department as a maintenance department.

 

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