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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Fay Family Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1837-1956
Creator: Fay Family
Extent: .50 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0045
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Correspondence and papers relating to the Fay diamond case. Other papers include an indenture agreement dated 1837, several land warrants and deeds dating from the 1850's. A collection of about 300 postcards from various points in Iowa and the U.S.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Folders 5 (photo of George Burrier) and 11 (Mrs. Oldaker).

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.


Preferred Citation: Fay Family Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Horace Amsden Fay was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire, in 1827. As an adult, he engaged in the retail crockery trade. He married Calista Darrah in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1857 and a few months later the newlyweds relocated to Clinton, Iowa. Shortly thereafter, they moved to DeWitt, Iowa, the county seat of Clinton County. In the early eighteen seventies, Horace joined C.E. Shattuck in business at the Clinton Chair Factory. In 1877, he assumed charge of the DeWitt business of the Clinton County Advertiser. He spent the remainder of his life in DeWitt, dying there on March 12, 1905.

Horace Fay had two sons, Clarence Fay, and Louis E. Fay. Louis, born September 21, 1861, started as an office boy in the DeWitt business of the Clinton County Advertiser in 1877, the same year his father was engaged by the paper.

In 1882, Louis E. Fay bought the newspaper, where, according to a contemporary account in the Muscatine Semi-Weekly News Tribune, time, talent and energy zealously employed, served to develop it from a small weekly to one of the leading democratic daily papers of the state. At some point, Louis was apparently joined by his brother Clarence in ownership of the newspaper. Clarence also owned a jewelry store in Clinton.

At 4:30 on the morning of November 2, 1902, Clarence and his wife were roused from bed at gunpoint. A burglar stole thirty-one diamonds, worth $1300, from them. Louis used his own time and money to track down the burglars. A break came in the case in April 1904, when George Burrier, who was in jail for another robbery, confessed to being involved in the Fay burglary, and named the chief burglar in the case. Louis Fay's work on this case put five criminals behind bars and implicated Tom Denison, a wealthy policy king and gambler who had great power in Omaha politics. His work also helped to solve the Shercliffe diamond burglary in which $15,000 worth of diamonds had been stolen in 1892. One and a half years after they were stolen, the Fay diamonds were returned to Louis Fay in a meeting on a bridge between Omaha and Council Bluffs.

These papers cover several generations of the Fay family and contain several different threads.

Included are legal documents, deeds, land grants, stock certificates, insurance policies, and contracts in several names, Fay and Darrah among them. There are two books, one a printed book of poetry, the other a book of handwritten poetry written to Calista [Darrah]. There are two folders of materials from the Fay Diamond Incident, including statements from people involved, some exhibits from one of the trials, and letters from George Burrier and his mother.

There is also a folder on "Granny" Oldaker who, at 106, was the oldest living Iowan in 1946. There is a file containing a postcard of the old stone farmhouse in Clinton, which is called "the old Fay farm." This was a stop on the underground railroad, and there are four pictures of the cellar of the woodshed, which apparently served as a hiding place for escaped slaves.

Also included is a collection of 250 -- 300 colored postcards of various tourist sites.

Finally, there is a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of travel stories. There is no byline, but they are possibly from the Clinton County Advertiser and may have been written by one of the Fay brothers. In the middle of this scrapbook there are clippings pertaining to the Fay Diamond Incident.
For more information on Horace Amdsen Fay and his descendents, see

Browse by Series:
Series 1: GENERAL

  • Series 1: GENERAL
  • Box 1:
  • Book of verses composed for Calista
  • Booklet, "Among the Birds," Dana Estes & Co. - 1900
  • Business Papers. Lands, attorney, and county recorder notes; miscellaneous (17 items) - 1837-1922
  • Land deeds and insurance policy (13 items) - 1859-1911
  • Fay Diamond Incident: Fay Fay's correspondence and photograph of George Burrier, including correspondence from Leslie M. Shaw (28 items) - 1899-1916
  • Fay Diamond Incident: Statements made to Fay, etc.; threats on John Conner's life (20 items) - 1903
  • Louis E. Fay; stock certificates (5 items) - 1905-1928
  • Fay papers (1 item)
  • Greeting cards, Easter and Valentine's Day (3 items) - 1900-1902
  • Land grants, U.S. Government; signed by Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce (4 items) - 1852-1854
  • Mrs. Elizabeth Oldaker and photograph (17 items) - 1943-1947
  • Postcards (3 bundles)
  • Underground railroad and photographs; Old Fay Farm (6 items) - 1955-1956

This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.