Posted by: Josh Hinkle | January 20, 2009

Won’t You Take Me to Hinkletown?

A woman reading my last blog post about Buxton, Iowa, left a comment about her family’s connection to the historic town. The old coal mining community fizzled out in the 1920s, so I was very surprised to hear from someone who grew up in those surroundings. I was also slightly jealous. Believe me, I’ve tried to make my own connection with an Iowa ghost town over the years.

My mom really gets into these types of things, too. As kids on vacation, she forced my brother and me to visit every battleground, cemetery and strangely-themed museum on the roadside. These ventures were always sporadic and never pre-planned. While I do actually appreciate those random outings now and yet blame her for the creepy black-and-white snapshots of tombstones hanging in my apartment, we weren’t exactly thrilled to be spending our trip learning about the man who invented the watermelon thumper and where he’s buried.

Perhaps out of surname vanity, pure boredom, or a blend of both, I decided to Google my last name “Hinkle” and the word “town” one day a few years ago. The first link that popped up was indeed about a place called Hinkletown, Iowa. I immediately e-mailed the link to my managing editor at work. I think things like graveyards are fascinating. Of course I would pitch this as a story idea. His reply and obvious denial was, “Is this anything like Funky Town?”

Hinkletown in upper left corner. Map provided by Iowa County Genealogy Society, North English, Iowa

Hinkletown in upper left corner. Map provided by English Valleys History Center.

Living in the Cedar Rapids area for about a year at that point, I had yet to entice my mom to visit. “The drive from Oklahoma is too far.” “It’s too cold there.” “I barely have time to finish knitting this Fourth of July scarf for the dog, Josh.” My boss might not have bitten, but I knew this find would have my mom in the car in no time.

A few days later, my parents and I were making the 60-mile, hour-long trek to North English. I knew that was the closest city still in existance to the place where we were sure to embrace our Hinkle heritage. We stopped at a local gas station and asked the clerk for directions. Naturally, my dad being a Hinkle, didn’t listen. It runs in the family from my know-it-all grandfather right down to my bull-headed brother.

After an hour or so, we were admittedly lost. My mom wasn’t pleased. And it was beginning to feel like oimg_2119ne of our old vacations. Something we’d passed at least a half dozen times finally started to catch my eye down the road we’d been ignoring because of its bareness. I suggested we make a left and investigate. The Hinkletown sign was all we could find that suggested any community ever sat there before. The property beyond that point warned trespassers to stay away.

From A Genealogical and Biographical History of Keokuk County Iowa, Chicago and New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903

Portrait of Harmon Henkle: From a Genealogical and Biographical History of Keokuk County Iowa, Chicago and New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903

We were a bit disappointed. A sign! I don’t know what we really expected. Hinkletown hit its peak in the 1870s. It wasn’t even founded by a Hinkle. That’s right. His name was Harmon Henkle. Hinkle with an “e”.

Since then, I have checked up on Hinkletown from time to time. I have no real connection, but it still interests me. Last fall, the actual decsendants of the families who once lived there gathered for a reunion. Apparently beyond that “No Trespassing” warning, there was actually the remnants of what once stood – the ruins of general stores, a sawmill, a blacksmith shop, and a school.

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Mom and Dad visit Iowa.

Finding out that this history was so important to someone made me feel better. It’s a ghost town with some life still left in it. It was something that certainly brought me back to my roots. The days of long lost family vacations, the ones that make you roll your eyes at first but smile later.

To find more information, visit Hinkletown.com, the Hinkletown Community History Project, or Ghost Towns of Iowa. Plus, watch for the historical documentary “Rediscovering Hinkletown,” scheduled for release in 2009.

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Responses

  1. I don’t think it was an immediate denial…as it was an immediate opportunity to provide a wisecrack. Not that I’m prone to those…

  2. Hello Ma and Pa Hinkle!

  3. You have the coolest job in the world. I’m enjoying these “behind the scenes” views on what goes into a story.

  4. Hi, Josh!

    I am so sorry that your journey to Hinkletown proved disappointing. If you’d care to arrange that again, I would suggest you visit the English Valleys History Center in North English on some Saturday morning. With a little advance planning, I will gladly introduce you to the world’s foremost authority on all things related to Hinkletown, and we’ll even give you a tour. His name is Dave Jackson, and he is quite interesting.

    In fact, if we time it right, we’ll even buy you lunch at the EV Malt Shop where they have the best ice cream around.

    Best wishes,

    Scott Romine

    P. S. Of course, it would be even more fun if you could bring your parents along.

  5. Hello again, Josh.

    I heard from a very good source, my wife, that you mentioned your quest for Hinkletown on your Sunday morning show and you said you just might take us up on our offer of a tour sometime.

    Well, what excellent news! When you’re in the mood to come to North English to resume your quest, write me a note.

    This sounds like fun!

    Scott

  6. Hi there, Just for your info –There is a Hinkletown in Pennsylvania, and yes it was founded by a George Hinkle. I am also a Hinkle. We are from Philadelphia!!!!

  7. That is so interesting to hear. When I make it to Pennsylvania, I will check it out. Thanks for the comment!


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