W.P. Coon

W.P. Coon (born 1867) was an early farmer who owned an 80-acre tract of land on either side of the Skunk River.  He was the youngest of five children of J.J. and Mary Coon.  His father, J.J. Coon, came to Story County in 1856, built the first saw mill in the county, and constructed a dam for T.R. Hughes on the Skunk River.  He owned 198 acres northeast of Gilbert and eventually 100 acres to the east in section 23.

Not far from Ada Hayden Heritage Park he caught 56 prairie chickens in a trap one morning.  In 1877 he caught a 4 ½ foot long pike in a dip net in the Skunk River near his home.  The fish weighed in at 22 pounds.  This was the largest ever caught in this area.

The 80-acre parcel was sandy river-bottom land, good for growing melons.  It was intersected by U.S. Highway 69, leaving a small sliver of land between the road and the Skunk River.  Because of its location, the farm was known as Riverside.  W.P. tapped the sap of maple trees growing there.   In order to access an additional 40-acre tract owned on the east side of the river, W.P. constructed a swinging footbridge with cables and planks.

Youngsters would occasionally use this for a shortcut.  One time W.P was tending his sap buckets and spotted two boys near the bridge.  Assuming they were about to raid his maple sap, he yelled “Get the h--- off my land!” and started after them.  One of the boys had already crossed the bridge, but the other was just starting.  The unlucky one became quite scared and broke into a run, frantically leaping over missing planks, all the while trying to maintain his balance on the swaying structure.  Fortunately, both boys escaped the clutches of old man Coon.  The panicked sprinter is none other than the esteemed historian and founder of Ames Historical Society, Farwell Brown.  His cousin, Merle Brown, was the other boy.