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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Notes on the Wisconsin Territory

Albert Miller Lea

first published in 1836
and reprinted by
The State Historical Society of Iowa

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p34  Chapter III

Remarks upon Towns, Landings, and Roads

In this embryo State, those interested are anxiously looking out for places where are to be the future cities to do the trade and manufacturing of the country. I propose making a few remarks upon places that have attracted most attention.

Warsaw, situated in Hancock County, Illinois, on the east bank of the Mississippi, immediately opposite the mouth of the Des Moines, is destined to do all the forwarding trade of that river. There is no place on the Des Moines itself, within less than 14 miles of the mouth, where a town can be built. On the west side of the Mississippi, below the mouth, the ground is too low and subject to be flooded: and above the mouth, on the same side, it is three or four miles before you can reach suitable ground for building. As the current of the river is very strong, this distance would effectually prevent the ascent of flat boats to that point; whereas, they might easily cross the river to the opposite town. Warsaw will be a place of considerable business, derived from its own back country, and being so conveniently situated for the trade of the Des Moines, the two together must make it an important town.

It is situated in part under, and in part upon the bluff, which is abrupt and about 200 feet high. The convenient space for building near the water is quite limited; but there is ample room for the town to spread upon the hill, and the ascent from the river is easy. Few buildings are yet erected; but the public attention has been recently much directed to the place, and it is beginning to grow  p35 rapidly. Water lots sold there, in the autumn of 1835, at the rate of ten dollars per foot; but the building lots on the hill are yet sold at very low rates. The proprietors are men of character and respectability, and give indisputable titles to lots.

Keokuk is situated on the west bank of the Mississippi, near the foot of the Lower Rapids, and derives its chief importance from that obstruction. Boats stop here to change their freight; and sometimes they store their cargoes to await a rise in the water. When the Half-Breed lands were surveyed, a mile square was laid off here for a town-site, and it is understood that this is to be held in common by all the claimants to these lands. It was expected that large storages would be made at this place for all the trade of that part of the Mississippi lying above these rapids; but as the means of obviating the difficulties caused by them are improved, the less will this trade contribute to the growth of this town. It has a small back country along the Mississippi opposite the rapids, and on the Des Moines and Sugar creek. No fee-simple titles to lots can yet be procured, as the town site is subject to the same difficulties as the Half-Breed tract generally.

Fort Des Moines. There is a good landing here, a fine site for a town, and some good farming lands around. Being situated just at the head of the rapids, it is the most convenient place for the larger boats to change their freight to and from the smaller boats that take it over the rapids. It is said to have been the site of an old French village; and there are some remains of such a settlement. This spot is at present occupied by a detachment of the United States Dragoons; but it is probable that the post will soon be abandoned; and then it will be subject to occupation, as are other Half-Breed lands.

Madison. This is the site of old Fort Madison, which was abandoned by its garrison and burnt during the last war with Britain. Nature seems to have designed this  p36 place for the trade of an extensive back country. It has an excellent landing, the only good one from Fort Des Moines to Burlington; and the locality is well adapted to an extensive city. By casting the eye on the map, it will be perceived that all that fine country between the Des Moines and Chacaqua rivers must do its import and export business at this point. This place was laid out in lots in November, 1835; the lots were immediately sold out, and building is now rapidly progressing.

Burlington. This place has a good landing, and a tolerable site for building. There is a fine quarry of sandstone within the town. The first settlement was made here in 1833, and the town was laid out in 1834. It contained about 400 inhabitants at the close of 1835, and lots of 60 feet front in the best situations, were then selling as high as fifteen hundred dollars. The country back of this town of yesterday, has the appearance of an old settled region. Here are farms containing as much as 350 acres under cultivation, in places where a plough had never been a year before. As there is no other convenient site for a town on the Mississippi, between the Chacaqua and Iowa rivers, an inspection of the map will show a large and fertile region that must necessarily do all its trading at Burlington. It is at present the seat of justice of Des Moines County.

There are several sites for towns spoken of about the mouth of the Iowa; but none of these places can have any importance; as I deem it certain that there can be no town of magnitude near the Mississippi, unless it be on the Mississippi, except in very peculiar cases, such as that of Galena in the Lead Mines.

New Boston, situated on the Illinois shore, opposite to the mouth of the Iowa, will do the forwarding business of that river, as Warsaw will that of the Des Moines, and for similar reasons. This place has a good landing and a fine harbour; but its site is excessively sandy, and the stagnant water in the vicinity renders it unhealthy.

 p37  Kasey's. A gentleman of this name intends laying out a town at the head of the Muscatine Slue. The place possesses the advantages of an excellent landing, and of a fine back country; but the bluff, probably 200 feet high, approaches the river very abruptly, allowing little room for building below it, and rendering difficult the ascent to the level ground above. The contiguity of the swamps of the Muscatine Island and of Sturgeon Bay, will have a tendency to create much disease at this point. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, it must be a place of considerable trade; as it is the first place above Burlington, where a town can be built on the west bank of the Mississippi, thus leaving an interval between these two places of forty miles on the river.

Iowa. This is the name of a town to be laid out at the mouth of Pine river, about 330 miles above Saint Louis. From its situation at the apex of a great bend in the Mississippi, it is central to a large district of country; and the near approach of the Iowa river just back of it, brings all the settlements along a great part of that stream, within a short distance of this place. It possesses the most convenient landing from Burlington to the head of the Upper Rapids; and no place could be better adapted to the erection of buildings. The harbour of Pine river runs through the town, affording good landings on both sides; and boats may land any where on the Mississippi shore, for a mile and a half above the mouth of the Pine. This will be the point of deposit for the trade of the country included between the Iowa, Wabesapinica, and Mississippi; and for the disembarkation of emigrants going to that region. But a simple inspection of the map is sufficient to show its general advantages of position. Its local conveniences are, its landing, its harbour, its fine sloping grounds, its good water, its water-power, its timber, and its building-stone.

As soon as the Legislative Council of Wisconsin shall be assembled, the District will be re-divided into counties; and Madison and Iowa will probably made county  p38 towns. Should the seat of Government of the future State of Iowa be located on the Mississippi, it would probably be fixed at Iowa, owing to the central position and commercial advantages of that place; and if it be located in the interior, it must be near the Iowa river, as the weight of population will be there; and then the town of Iowa will be the nearest port on the Mississippi to the Capital of the State. There are some of the most beautiful sites for private residences between this and Rock Island, that can be desired; Nature here has made her finest display of gay and cheerful beauty.

Throckmorton's Landing. About six miles above Iowa is the next landing; and it is said to be a very convenient one. This point is stated by the surveyor of the boundary line of the purchase, to be just forty miles from the angle of that line on the Iowa river. It is a handsome place, and belongs to a worthy man, who knows how to prize its value.

Clark's Ferry. This is the most convenient place to cross the Mississippi, that I have seen any where between the Balize and Prairie du Chien. Nature seems to have designed it for a great crossing place, by arranging good banks just opposite to an opening in the islands, and at a point where a good ferry would naturally be much wanted. All persons coming from the direction of the Illinois river to the great Mining Region of the Iowa District, or passing toward the Capital of the future State of Iowa, would naturally cross the Mississippi at this ferry. Were the landing good on the west side, there would certainly be a large town there, instead of the site at the mouth of Pine river.

Davenport. This is a town just laid out on a Reserve belonging to Antoine Leclair; and as has he has the fee-simple title to his Reserve, the titles to lots sold here are subject to no difficulty whatever. It is nearly opposite to the lower end of Rock-Island, about 350 miles by water,  p39 above Saint Louis, and is situated on high ground, with a beautiful range of sloping hills running in the rear of it. The town of Stephenson, the mouth of Rock river, the picturesque works on Rock-Island, and Leclair's house and plantation, are all within full view of this point. Its situation is certainly delightful, so far as beauty and health are concerned; but there is doubt as to the convenience of landing. Its position, near the foot of the Rapids, where navigation is much obstructed, will cause it to be resorted to as a place of shipment, both for persons and freight. Water-power, building stone, and bituminous coal are convenient, and abundance of excellent timber is to be found on the hills and creeks of the vicinity.

The town has been laid out on a liberal scale, with a view to its becoming a large city. Three public squares have been reserved from sale, one of which, it is supposed by the proprietors, will be occupied by the public buildings of the future State of Iowa; for they confidently predict that the seat of Government of this forth-coming commonwealth will be no other than the city of Davenport itself. Nous verrons.

Parkhurst. Of this place, not yet laid out, it is sufficient to say that the site is beautiful, the landing good, building material convenient, and the back country fine. There is nothing wanting to make it a town but the people and the houses, and these will soon be there. Its position at the head of the Rapids will throw a little more trade and storage there, than it would otherwise have. A good deal of the trade of the Wabesapinica will find a port at Parkhurst; and many persons, emigrating from Illinois and the Lakes, will pass by this route.

Bellevue. This place has a good landing, where boats approach close to shore for one and a half miles above the mouth of the Tetes des Morts. There is no room for building near the water's edge, in consequence of the proximity of the bluff to the river; but an easy ascent may be effected from the landing to the heights, where there  p40 is no want of space for a town of any magnitude. The prairie runs back from the river about one mile; and in rear of that again there is open woods for several miles. Fine white limestone, approaching marble, is found abundantly in this bluff; and a saw-mill at hand affords lumber convenient for building. There is a good ferry already established; and the mineral and agricultural resources of the contiguous region are attracting many emigrants. The town was laid out in 1835, and immediately after several houses were erected, and lots sold at prices varying from one to two dollars per foot. It must soon be a place of much trade.

Catfish. This is a little place laid out in 1832, on a piece of flat ground, containing fifteen acres, and hemmed in on all sides by a precipitous rocky bluff, the Mississippi, and the creek of the same name. It possesses great advantages in the richness of the contiguous mines, has a good landing, a mill near at hand, and is withal a very busy little place. It takes its name from the quantities of catfish that are found in the sluggish water at the mouth of the creek.

Riprow. Here are mines along the sloping hill side; where, as you sweep along the Mississippi on the noisy steamer, you may see the hardy miners, as they tear the lead from the bowels of the earth. Here, too, are some of the finest smelting establishments in the world. The landing is good, and fuel and building materials are convenient. Several stores are already established about the furnaces, though no grounds have yet been laid off for sale as town lots.

Du Buque. This is the centre of the Mining Region of the Iowa District. The operations in these mines were commenced in the year 1832, when the country was still in the possession of the Indians; and in 1833, after the acquisition of the District by the United States, the town was laid out, and permanently settled. It contained in the  p41 autumn of 1835, about twenty-five dry good stores, numerous groceries, four taverns, a court-house, a jail, and three churches. One of these, the Catholic, is a beautiful little building. Ten steam-boats, which run between this and Saint Louis, are partly owned here; and there is also here a steam-ferry-boat. The site of the town is very handsome, and building materials and fuel are convenient. The surrounding country is as fertile in grain and grass as productive in mineral.

In the autumn of 1835, the population was about 1,200, and was rapidly increasing. The people of this town are exceedingly active and enterprising, carrying on an extensive trade in the products of their mines, and in supplying the miners with the necessaries and comforts of life. Every thing here is in a flourishing condition, for all labour is well paid.

As the lands yet belong to the United States, and no regulations have been made in relation to the working of the mines, they are subject to the occupation of any one who may think to take possession. New deposits are discovered daily, and there are doubtless others yet to be found as rich as any already explored. The miners here pay no tribute, as they do at the mines about Galena; nor will they be called on to do so, until the country shall be surveyed and brought into market; and in the meantime, the settler may make money enough to pay for many quarter sections of land.

The Art of Mining is said to be more skilfully practised at these mines than in any other part of the world. Here are capital, western enterprise, foreign experience, and Yankee ingenuity combined; and they have brought to their assistance the powers of both water and steam. The smelting establishments have recently been much improved, and are now conducted with scientific accuracy, yielding seventy or eighty per cent of lead from the native sulphuret.

Peru. On the south side of the Little Mequoquetois, a  p42 strip of low ground, about a mile wide and covered with timber, separates the high ground from the Mississippi; but boats readily run up the stream to the heights, where is beautifully situated, on rolling ground, the town of Peru, so named from the richness of the mines by which it is surrounded. It has beauty of situation, richness of surrounding soil, great mineral wealth in its vicinity, convenience of wood, stone and lumber, and every thing that could be desired for a town in this climate, except that it is not exactly on the Mississippi. Nevertheless, Peru must be a place of much trade in the products of the contiguous mines.

There are many smaller towns, and sites for towns in expectation, not mentioned in these notes. Some of these places deserve a particular description; but it is not in the power of the author to give it, for want of sufficient information.

Roads. The natural surface of the ground is the only road yet to be found in Iowa District; and such is the nature of the soil, that in dry weather we need no other. The country being so very open and free from mountains, artificial roads are little required. A few trees taken out of the way, where the routes much travelled traverse the narrow woods, and a few bridges thrown over the deeper creeks, is all the work necessary to give good roads in any direction.

A post-route has been established from Saint Louis to Du Buque, passing by the west side of the Mississippi; and it is quite probable, that by the first of September next, post coaches, drawn by four horses, will be running regularly through that route.

It may appear to some unacquainted with the character of our western people, and not apprized of the rapid growth of this country, that some of my descriptions and predictions are fanciful; but if there be error in them, it is rather that the truth is not fully expressed than that it is transcended.

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