The house on the hill

Eleven children later, she finally got to live in a genteel home, even though it would be a short stay there. The Victorian house was probably an earthly reward for being uprooted 13 times in 21 years. And Laura Goff was “in a family way” almost every time they moved.

Milton Sheridan “Sherd” Goff, her husband, was a hard worker, but he was also a gambler and a horse-trader. His dreams never quite materialized.

Known as Guthrie County’s Popcorn King, Goff was involved in many endeavors: livestock, land, threshing, hardware, raising and shipping popcorn.

The 1920s slump in farm prices was a blow to Goff. He not only lost his own land holdings but that of his son-in-law, Clabe Wilson who was married to his oldest daughter, Leora. Clabe and Leora and three small children moved into the village of Stuart, where after the night marshal was killed, Clabe replaced him.

Sherd Goff had enough money to buy the Victorian house, already furnished with antiques–a dark oak dining table and buffet with hard-to-dust carvings, a brocade sofa with wicker sides, a bedroom set with a four-poster bed.

The two younger Goff children finished high school in Guthrie Center when they lived in Laura’s dream home. The old high school, torn down awhile back, was nearby. The youngest and seventh son, Clarence Goff, was valedictorian of the Guthrie Center Class of 1923.

Leora (Goff) Wilson had a set of twins in 1921. The two older boys stayed home, but three-year-old Doris was packed off to Guthrie (on the Liza Jane train) with her grandmother to stay awhile. Even in her nineties, Doris still remembered awaking to her grandmother’s low voice, the smell of coffee boiling, playing in the turreted stairway, and gazing up at the lovely stained glass.

Her aunts Georgia and Ruby Goff, her mother’s two younger sisters, doted on Doris, making her dresses for her out of some of their own.


Georgia Goff, who suffered from “spells” ever since she fell down the stairs when she was about 11, had studied piano in Des Moines and gave piano lessons in Guthrie. Georgia had to give up those lessons, and a beau, when the spells worsened. Probably felled by a brain tumor, she died in 1922. Her funeral was held in the parlor of Goff’s lovely Victorian home.

The house was full of mourners because 28-year-old Georgia had taught piano to the children of so many families. She was the first of the family buried in Union Cemetery.

During the months in the Victorian home, Goffs also lost a daughter-in-law to measles. The memories began to include too many sad ones. Whatever the reason, Sherd and Laura Goff moved to a smaller house in Guthrie Center.

While Goffs lived in the Victorian house, at 8th and Division Streets, there were two oak mission-style library tables in the parlor. Doris played under them, lying across the shelf underneath. One of those tables moved from house to house with Goffs and Wilson, then back to Guthrie Center to 515 North 4th Street for four decades.

It now holds a painted lamp in the front window of a great granddaughter in West Des Moines, who still has heart tugs for Guthrie Center, Iowa.

Gofftable2 (2)

Published in The Des Moines Register, September 18, 1997.


  1. I didn’t realize that Clabe had once held land that his father-in-law lost. It adds a new dimension to the Wilson family’s desire for their own plot of land to farm.

    • Clabe never owned any land until the acreage at Perry at the end of the war. I believe that Clabe and the Goffs (Sherd and sons) lost their land because of his father-in-law’s overextending during WWI.

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