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Chapter 17

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Iowa As It Is in 1856

N. Howe Parker

Chicago and Philadelphia, 1856

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 19
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p150  Chapter XVIII

Description of Counties — continued

Keokuk County

Is the third county from the Mississippi River and the Missouri State-line; situated west of Washington, and north-west of Jefferson Counties. The land is of an excellent quality, well watered by the Checauque and its tributaries, which are skirted with a good supply of timber. Lancaster, the county-seat, has increased very rapidly during the past two years, as has the entire county.

The Muscatine and Oskaloosa Railroad, which is under contract, passes through the county, touching the county-seat. Sigourney, Waugh's Point, and Richland are each centres of large settlements of intelligent and industrious people; the latter place is settled principally by Friends, or Quakers.

Lee County

Is situated at the junction of the Mississippi and the Des Moines Rivers, and is the most southern county in the  p151 state; it is bounded on the south-east by the Mississippi, which separates it from Illinois; on the south-west by the Des Moines, separating it from Missouri; on the west by Van Buren; and on the north by Henry and Des Moines Counties. The county is well watered by the Des Moines and Mississippi and their tributaries. The principal towns are Keokuk, Montrose, Fort Madison, West Point, Franklin, Nashville, &c.

The bottom-lands of Lee are well adapted to the wants of the agriculturist, and its prairies are elevated, dry and rolling. The business of stock-raising has been entered into in Lee more extensively perhaps than in any other county.

The city of Keokuk, the largest place in the county, is situated at the foot of the Des Moines or Lower Rapids, at the extreme south-east corner of the state. By the usual routes of travel it is 230 miles from Chicago; 210 from St. Louis; 400 from the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi; 1000 from New York; and 1400 from New Orleans. Its position as a central commercial point is scarcely equalled by that of any other city west of Chicago, and endows it with business advantages and facilities of the highest importance. These advantages are three-fold, and may be treated of under the three following heads, viz. :—

First, those derived from the navigation of the Mississippi. The Lower Rapids, formed by a rocky stratum in the river, commencing about 200 yards above the city, and running northward a distance of 12 miles, with a fall of 24 feet, render Keokuk the head of navigation during a great portion of the year, until the work of improving the Rapids  p152 is completed. At present, in time of low water, steamers are obliged to unload their cargoes into "lighters," which are towed up the Rapids, above which the freight is again loaded into the boats; and thus this city is rendered a wholesome depôt, and place of transhipment.

The second point lies in the trade of the Des Moines Valley which Keokuk must inevitably command, situated but 2 miles above the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers. This valley, for a width of sixty miles on either side of the Des Moines River, in unsurpassed probably in the world for agricultural wealth. It also abounds in timber, coal, gypsum, and many other articles of trade, and these will be transmitted down the Des Moines to its mouth at Keokuk, thence re-shipped to other markets. Of the improvement of the Des Moines we speak at length in another Chapter.

The third source of business advantages which Keokuk can claim, lies in its railroads. The Keokuk and Fort Des Moines, the Keokuk, Mt. Pleasant and Muscatine, and the Eastern railroads will soon be built, and will afford this city numerous connections of the highest importance.

Keokuk is situated upon a bluff 150 feet above high-water mark in the Mississippi, is laid out one mile square, and contains a population of nearly 7000. Its streets are wide and regular, and are being graded and McAdamized with rapidity. Main Street, 100 feet in width, is McAdamized through the city for a distance of one mile. The city contains six brick-yards, two lumber-yards, one flouring and grist-mill, two foundries, one machine shop, five hotels, &c.  p153 Its public school is held in the largest and handsomest building, which, throughout the State, is devoted to the cause of education. The edifice, when fully completed, will have cost $13,500. This city also contains the Iowa Medical College, a State institution, and a Female Seminary, besides two other female institutes, and a number of private schools. Six church edifices, O. and N. S. Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian and Catholic. One weekly and two daily newspapers.

The bluff on which the city stands contains the finest of lime-stone, for building and other purposes, and commands a landscape view, of wild and picturesque beauty.

Linn County

Is a large and comparatively populous tract. The towns in the county are, Marion (the county-seat), Mt. Vernon, Spring Grove P. O., Boulder P. O., Central Point, Cedar P. O., Oak P. O., Palo P. O., Lafayette, Cedar Rapids, Newark, St. Julien, Ivanhoe, and Hoosier Grove.

The present population of the county is 10,075.

Newspapers are published at Marion and Cedar Rapids.

The number of churches and schools in the county, or even of towns, other than Mt. Vernon, we are unable to state, but are informed that no county in the State, of the same population, has more of either, in better condition.

The "Iowa Conference Seminary," is located at Mount Vernon — has a brick edifice 40 by 72 feet, 3 stories high. It is in a very prosperous condition, under the superintendence of Rev. S. M. Fellows, A. M., assisted by three regular  p154 teachers, besides music teacher, and teacher of painting and embroidery. Number of students now in attendance about 150. Most of them young ladies and gentlemen from abroad. The situation is unsurpassed for beauty.

There is a good district school in the village, with a good school-house.

Mills are very much needed, and would do well. There is a large amount of timber in the neighbourhood, for sawing.

The surrounding country is one of the finest agricultural regions in the State. The farmers have already erected pretty good buildings, and every year improvements are going forward.

Linn County is considered one of the best, if not the best in the State; and the country around Mt. Vernon is acknowledged equal to any portion of the county.

The location of the Seminary at this place, in connection with the real excellence of the country, makes this one of the most desirable situations for a family residence that can be found in the West.

We are about 70 miles from Dubuque, 55 from Davenport; 45 from Muscatine; 20 from Iowa City; 12 from Marion (the county-seat); and 14 from Cedar Rapids.

Louisa County

This is a rich and fertile county, bordering on the Mississippi; bounded on the west by Washington and Henry Counties, on the north by Muscatine, and on the south by  p155  Des Moines Counties. The county is well watered by the Iowa River, which passes diagonally through it. J. B. Newhall, Esq., in his "Glimpses of Iowa," thus describes Louisa County:—

"Wapello Prairie, on the south side of the Iowa River, is unrivalled in picturesque beauty. It commences near the village of Florence, the site of the old Sac village, and, crossing a small rivulet skirted with woods, it breaks forth upon the eye of the traveller in picturesque grandeur, terminating in the north-west with the town of Wapello, the county-seat of Louisa.

"This county embraces a principal portion of the Keokuk Reserve, purchased by the Government in 1836. It is a remarkable fact, that almost the whole tribe of Sacs and Foxes were congregated here until after the first or Black Hawk purchase of 1832; notwithstanding they had almost a boundless region from which to select their villages and hunting-grounds.

"Wapello, the seat of justice, is handsomely located on the old site of 'Wapello's Village.' Wapello was a Fox chief, who resided there until the summer of 1836, as chief of his band. There are several small villages in Louisa, among which are Toolsboro', Columbus City, Harrison, Florence, Fredonia, &c. Toolsboro' — formerly Black Hawk, — is situated upon the north side of the Iowa, about three miles from the Mississippi, has an extensive country trade, and is somewhat celebrated for its ancient mounds and fortifications.

"Florence derives its principal notoriety from its having  p156 been the residence of Black Hawk until the Indian hostilities in 1832. Here repose the bones of his ancestors, where they have rested for centuries. It was here that he sounded the war-whoop, and rallied his countrymen to the last deadly conflict, in defence of the homes and the graves

" 'Where sleep their warriors; where rival chieftains lay,

And mighty tribes, swept from the face of day."

"But they were conquered, and this illustrious warrior was doomed to wander, a stranger in the land of his forefathers. His lodge was still standing at the time the country was surveyed."

Mahaska County

Of which Oskaloosa is the county-seat, is a thriving and populous county for its age. The first settlements in the county were made in 1842, on the public land, and in June, 1843, the county-seat was organized by commissioners appointed by the Legislature. The present population of Oskaloosa is nearly 3000.

The county is well supplied with churches and schools. Of the former are Methodist, Christian, Seceder, O. S. Presbyterian, and Cumberland Presbyterian.

The "Times" and the "Herald," are both published in Oskaloosa.

Two public and two private schools at the county-seat, in good condition.

Of manufactories, two steam saw-mills, and one steam flouring-mill, a carding and spinning-machine, with smaller  p157 establishments, comprise the assortment. Manufactories of any kind will do well here.

The county is unsurpassed for fertility of soil, abundance and quality of water, &c. The county-seat is reported to be the largest inland town in the State, and with the splendid country that surrounds it, and the railroad connections that are hastening to link that place with the rest of mankind, the prospects are that it will soon be a large and important business point.

Marion County

Was settled in October, 1845, by Wilson Stanley, L. G. Terry, L. W. Babbitt, Dr. R. Mathews, E. & T. Jenkins, J. D. Bedell, and E. G. Stanfield. The present population of the county is 11,065 — of Knoxville, the county-seat, 600.

In the county-seat are one Methodist, and one Congregational, edifices. The different denominations are Methodist, Lutheran, Congregational, Presbyterian, Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Associate Reformed, and United Brethren.

The number of public schools is stated to be sixty-six. Two high schools — one in Knoxville, another in Pella — all in a prosperous condition. A college is being erected in Pella by the Missionary Baptists.

Several steam saw and flouring-mills in operation, but threefold more needed. Also manufactories of all kinds wanted.

Soil good for farming purposes, timber plenty, water abundant and excellent. Prairie unsurpassed by any in the Union. Climate good. Winters admirably adapted for  p158 stock, owing to their dryness and evenness. Stone-coal, of excellent quality, abounds in veins eight feet thick. Splendid lime and sandstone, for building purposes, abundant.

The towns in the county are, Knoxville, Pella, Divide, Bennington, Paran City, Wheeling P. O., Rousseau, Pleasantville, Red Rock, Amsterdam, Pt. English, English P. O., Bellefontaine, Attica P. O., Red Cedar P. O., Newtown, Newburn, Marysville P. O., and Hamilton P. O.

A newspaper is now published at Pella, and another is about to be established in Knoxville.

Monroe County

Was organized in 1843, and the county-seat "laid off" in 1844. Present population of the county 4200 — of Albia, the county-seat, 400.

The Methodists have a good frame meeting-house. The Presbyterians are just building a good brick edifice, which will be finished this summer. The society of Christians will build next season.

Here are one steam mill, one plough manufactory, a carding machine, and a full supply of stores and of professional men.

The only newspaper in the county is the "Albia Free Press."

One public and one private school in Albia, each in a flourishing condition.

Steam flouring-mills, saw-mills, coopering establishments, cabinet-ware manufactories, and any number of industrious  p159 mechanics are greatly needed here. At present the cooperage for pork, lard, and flour, is obtained from a great distance, at decided disadvantage.

This county is as well watered as any portion of the State. The principal streams which have their rise in, or pass through the county, are Cedar Creek, Whippoorwill Creek, White's Creek, and Coal Creek; the three latter, with numerous smaller streams, emptying into Cedar Creek, render it of proper size and power for mill-sites, and there are now five mills erected on this stream, doing business more than half the year. Bluff's, Gray's, Miller's, Avery's, and Soap Creeks, are each, streams of some size, and skirted with timber averaging nearly a mile in width.

Throughout the county the soil is very good; the prairies are small, high, and fertile. An abundance of timber, coal, and limestone may be found in most parts of the county. The best land is entered, but claims to some of the very best can be bought at from five to ten dollars per acre. The county is increasing in numbers very rapidly, and offers great inducements to manufacturers, mechanics, farmers, and citizens of all classes.

Mills County

Glenwood, the county-seat, was first settled by the Mormons, in 1847, and this was about the first settlement in the county; but that population has long since been almost entirely supplanted by people from Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Missouri.

The present population of the town is about seven hundred — that of the county about five thousand.

 p160  There are three churches in the place, viz.: Methodist, Congregationalist, and Presbyterian (Old School); in the county, ten churches, same denominations.

Two newspapers published in the county: the "Glenwood Times," and the "St. Mary's Gazette."

There are a large Union School and two District Schools in the town, and about twenty common schools in the county, all in a flourishing condition, and supplied with good teachers. There is still a great demand for teachers.

They have one flouring and two saw-mills — the two latter driven by steam. There are fifteen mills in the county, one carding-machine, and a shingle mill. All of the above-named are over-stocked with business, and there is abundance of room for others. Cabin-makers, weavers, cloth-fullers, tanners, house-builders, and every class of mechanics, are much needed.

Mills County is composed of the most fertile prairie, interspersed with magnificent groves of timber, with here and there an hundred little streams spread out and interlaced over the face of the whole country, like the veins and arteries in a mighty living giant. The river bottom here is about eight miles wide, as level as a floor, yet dry and subject to no dangers from overflows. Cattle live in these bottoms all winter without feeding. No county in the State possesses a more munificent supply of water and timber than Mills. Owing to its geographical position, immediately opposite the mouth of the great Platte River, it may safely be said that the county, in interest and importance, is  p161 inferior to none in the State. It has not its equal in any State for perfect adaptation to agricultural purposes. It possesses a most salubrious climate. There is plenty of lime and sand-stone in all parts of the county, perfectly adapted to building purposes. There has also been some stone-coal discovered recently.

There are four other towns in the county beside Glenwood, viz.: St. Mary's, Bethlehem, Platteville, and Lafayette — all flourishing villages.

There is still considerable good land unentered in the county.

Muscatine County

Is situated next below Scott County, on the Mississippi River, and contains an area of 432 square miles. The name of this county was derived from a tribe of Indians known as the Muscoutins. The county-town was originally called Bloomington, which name it still holds on a few old-fogy maps and tables of distances. In 1845 the name was changed to that of the county — Muscatine. In 1853 it was incorporated as a city, since which time it has been called the "City of Muscatine." The present population of Muscatine City is about 4600; of the county, including the city, 12,100.

The city contains nine churches, with a total number of nearly one thousand members; two steam flouring-mills, two steam saw-mills, one stave and three shingle machines (all driven by steam); seven hotels, two public school-houses, (one erected in 1850, at a cost of $4000); the other more  p162 recently, costing $5000). Upwards of 300 children are in daily attendance at these schools.

Situated on a bend or arm of the river, Muscatine is favorably located to command the trade of a large section of country. From the following statistics for the year 1854, some idea may be gained of the amount of business done in that city:

Produce received in Muscatine in 1854

Wheat bushels, 393,570
Rye " 3,176
Corn " 121,902
Oats " 28,242
Barley " 2,850
Beans " 3,550
Potatoes " 11,317
Timothy Seed " 160
Flaxseed " 716
Beeswax pounds, 1,050
Dry hides " 57,380
Wool " 2,228
Hogs, cut 13,000
The average weight of hogs was 220 pounds.

Manufactured in Muscatine in 1854

Flour, barrels 29,515
Cooperage — Pork barrels 9,800
Flour barrels 56,300
Whiskey barrels 550
Staves ready for setting up, and shipped 1,000,000
Bedsteads (from the log) 2,900
Plastering laths 1,433,100
Broom handles 50,000
Window sash, No. of lights 100,000
Pine lumber, feet 2,261,900
Shingles 1,126,500

The city of Muscatine is located upon uncommonly broken ground, and a majority of the lots, either for business or residences, require grading; the citizens, however, are of that class, who, appreciating the superiority of their situation in other respects, have by art made smooth Nature's  p163 rough places, and tasteful and stately residences now grace bluffs, which, but a few months ago, were almost inaccessible.

[image ALT: An engraving of a curious geological formation consisting of three almost perfectly spherical balls of stone on squat pillar-like bases; at the foot of these outcrops, several men in 19c dress provide scale: they are about four-fifths as tall as the stone globes. It is a depiction of 'concretions in carboniferous sandstone' in Muscatine County, Iowa.]

Concretions in Carboniferous Sandstone, Muscatine.

Two newspapers are published in Muscatine: a Whig, weekly and tri-weekly; and a Democratic, weekly.

The inhabitants have the character of being second to none in the State in point of intelligence and industry.

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Page updated: 8 Sep 11