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Chapter 19

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 21
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p174  Chapter XX

Description of Counties — concluded

Tama County

The county-seat of Tama was but one year old last November. In February, 1855, it contained 150 — the county upwards of 300. In 1850, the county contained but 8 inhabitants — 5 males and 3 females — something of an increase!

Two churches — a Methodist and a Baptist — are in contemplation, and will probably be built this season.

No newspaper — good opening for one — we read.

Public Schools in most flourishing condition.

Hydraulic privileges excellent in county, on the Iowa River — also, an abundance of water-power on Deer, Wolfe, Honey and Otter Creeks. We have 4 saw-mills — 2 water, 2 steam. One flouring-mill, with two runs of stones.

Excellent opening for Lumber, Flour, or Woollen Manufactories.

Tama County is of rich, alluvial soil. The prairie and timber lands are exceedingly well proportioned to each other. Both upland and river-bottom timber in abundance  p175 for all the wants of the county, for fencing, building, and fuel purposes. It is confidently asserted that there is an abundance of coal in the county, but no banks have as yet been opened.

The face of the county is greatly undulating, with a good proportion of river bottom, two to four miles in width — well watered. The soil yields wheat, hemp, oats, corn, rye, barley, beans, peas, potatoes, and tobacco, each in great abundance, and with but little care as to culture. Native fruits grow in great variety, such as the grape, crab-apple, plum, gooseberry, strawberry, and raspberry, each growing in abundance.1

The Mineral resources, although but partially developed, are known to be valuable and extensive. An abundance of the best lime-stone and stone-coal — the latter not so plenty as the former.

Every acre of Tama County is arable land, and it is therefore susceptible of as dense a population as any county in the State. To the Farmer, Stock-raiser, Mechanic, and Manufacturer, Tama holds out extra inducements. The locality is one of the most healthy, and the population is one of the most thriving and energetic in the State.

Van Buren County

The earliest settlements in this county were begun in 1834‑5. The proprietors were Messrs. James  p176 Hall, John Fairman, John Carns, M. Sigler, and E. Manning.

The population of Keosauqua is about 1000; of the county, by last census, 13,843.

There are two thriving churches, Congregationalist and Methodist, and several other religious societies.

There is one newspaper the "Democratic Union," published in Keosauqua. No other in the county.

One public school, having from 100 to 120 scholars in attendance. There are also one private school for young ladies, and two high schools, all well patronized and supported; in addition to which, the citizens of Keosauqua contemplate the building of a seminary during the present year.

There are three grist-mills in the town and vicinity (one water-power and two steam), and also two saw-mills. The water-power that is now about to be furnished, by the completion of the lock and dam at this place, will not be surpassed in the State.

A woollen manufactory, paper mill, and manufactories of shingles, plows, wagons, and agricultural implements, and also a good merchant flouring-mill, are very much needed. The inducements are readily seen and understood by practical men.

The character of the country may be described as being well divided between prairie and timber. There is a large supply of good timber along the Des Moines River, on both sides. The soil is rich, and produces all the crops congenial to the climate, in the greatest abundance.

 p177  The Des Moines improvement, when finished, will afford an uninterrupted navigation to St. Louis and New Orleans; and at present, even without the improvement, we have steamboat navigation from two to four months, during the spring and summer.

There are several towns on the river about one mile below, viz.: Iowaville, where are two mills and one distillery; Pittsburg, where there is now in progress a steam-mill; Bentonsport and Vernon, where there are now in successful operation two good flouring-mills, two saw-mills, two carding-machines, one woollen-factory, one lath-mill, and one paper-mill.

Bonaparte also contains a good flouring-mill, two saw-mills, and an extensive brick woollen-factory.

Farmington, below Bonaparte, is also a considerable town, and contains nearly 1000 inhabitants, two or three grist and saw-mills, one foundry, and one engine establishment. There are also several smaller towns in the county, off from the river, some of which are prominent, rapidly improving.

Wapello County

Was opened to settlement on the 1st of May, 1843, and organized in April, 1844. It is claimed by residents to be one of the best tracts of land in the State. The Des Moines River passes diagonally through the county. The water-power, as furnished by that river and Cedar Creek, is abundant, the banks of the streams also being rich in limestone of the best quality, and excellent sand, which,  p178 together with the extensive tracts of timber, render it one of the most desirable counties in the interior of the State. The population of Wapello was 8,466, since which time the county has settled more rapidly than at any previous period. The number of votes polled at the general election in 1854 was 1502.

Ottumwa, the county-seat, is situated at what are called the Appanoose Rapids, on the Des Moines River, distant twenty-five miles from Fairfield, and seven from Agency City (the old Sac and Fox Agency).

Respecting the Rapids at this place, Mr. Newhall writes: "In August, 1845, a survey of the Appanoose Rapids at this place was made by David Armstrong, Esq., when it was ascertained that there passed at the Rapids, every minute, 42,000 cubic feet of water; a sufficient quantity to fill a lock 42 feet wide, and 150 feet long; being enough to run 28 pair of burrs, 4 feet in diameter, under a head of 6 feet water. There is a fall of 4 feet at these Rapids, in one mile; and Adam, 5 feet high, would give 6 feet 10 inches rise fall."

Several mills and other manufactories have already been erected at Ottumwa, which place will become one of the most flourishing cities in the interior of the State, when her water-power and other capabilities are fairly developed.

Agency City is situated some seven miles from the centre of the county, and in beauty of locality, and natural scenery, will compare favorably with any point in the interior. The late Indian Agency was here located by  p179 Gen. Street, who considered it a favorable situation in all respects.​a

Eddyvilleº is situated on the Des Moines River, in the extreme north-west corner of the county, upon the site of an old Indian trading-post. The society in Eddysvilleº is as good as in any place of its size in the State. Churches and schools are well supported, and the edifices and buildings are of a size and character that would do honor to places of greater pretensions.

Wayne County

Was organized in 1851, — the first settlements were made in 1848. Corydon, the county-seat, was located in 1852. This section is very sparsely settled, there being but about 500 voters in the county, and less than 100 citizens in Corydon.

Several churches are scattered over the county: Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and Campbellite denominations — two of them Methodist — making a total of five.

The county is well supplied with schools. No newspapers.

With an abundance of excellent water-power, Wayne County invites machinists, capitalists, and manufacturers. No machinery in the county. Timber is not so plenty as in some other counties, but the quality of the land is second to none. Considerable land unentered.

Winneshiek County

Is bounded on the north by Minnesota, on the east by Alamakee County, on the south by Fayette, and on the  p180 west by Chickasaw and Howard Counties. It was occupied by Winnebago Indians until the year 1848, when they were removed by Government. Previous to that time there were no settlers in the county. Fort Atkinson was built about the year 1843, for the protection of the settlements against the incursions of the Indians.

The Old Mission, as it is familiarly called, was formerly a missionary-station, under the patronage of Government. Both the Fort and Mission have been abandoned, and, although in the charge of keepers, are rapidly going to decay. The land about both, comprising 5½ square miles, is still reserved from sale, and is exceedingly fertile.

Among the first settlers may be mentioned Francis Rogers, David Reed, George Ream, William Day, and Wm. Painter. The first settlement was made soon after the removal of the Indians in 1848. The population of the county is estimated at about 5000.

The climate of Winneshiek County resembles that of New York City, although the winters are much shorter, and the autumns very long, mild, and beautiful. The spring generally opens about the 15th of March. The summer is never excessively warm, except where the wind is shut out by the bluffs or timber.

In soil, this county is not excelled. It is a rich black loam, and has a depth of from one to six feet. It has a very slight mixture of sand. Of course, the deepest soil is to be found upon the bottoms. The county is well timbered; about one-fourth of it is heavily timbered, one-third  p181 is prairie, and the balance is burr-oak openings, affording plenty of firewood and rails.

The county is well watered by the Upper Iowa, Turkey, and Canoe Rivers, and numerous smaller streams. The Upper Iowa is a beautiful stream, with rock and gravel bed, good banks, swift current, and pure water. The Turkey River, which runs through the west-west part of the county, is also a beautiful stream. The Canoe, which is a branch of the Iowa River, is a fine stream, somewhat smaller than the other two, but all of them afford abundance of mill-power.

Trout Creek is worthy of note. This stream, which is in size about one-third as large as the Upper Iowa, breaks forth in one large spring from the foot of a perpendicular bluff, about two and a half miles from its mouth. It abounds in speckled trout, and is a favorite resort for sportsmen. It rises about two and a half miles south from Decorah, and empties into the Upper Iowa River two miles south-east from that town, at the southernmost bend of the river.

In general, the surface of the country is gently rolling; near the large streams it is bluffy, but the high lands are easily accessible by means of the many ravines running in all directions. The prairies are small, well watered, and agreeably diversified with groves and thickets. Washington, Franklin, and Looking-Glass Prairies are noted for their excellent adaptation to farming purposes.

This county cannot be excelled for stock raising. Sheep  p182 do remarkably well; already there are many flocks of fine blooded ones in the county.

The prevailing rock is lime-stone, which, near the surface, is soft and shelly, but below it is hard and solid. It is always found in layers of a good thickness for building purposes.

Coal is said to have been found in the western part of the county.

There are a number of religious societies formed in the county, among which are Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Quakers, and Lutherans.

There are a number of saw-mills, and, although on a small scale, they do a good business. The Decorah saw-mill has one saw which cuts 3000 feet of lumber in twenty-four hours.

There are also a number of grist-mils in the county, doing a thriving business. Decorah grist-mill has two run of stones, which grind 680 bushels of wheat in twenty-four hours.

Dunning's grist-mill, near Decorah, is situated under a large spring, with fifty feet fall of water.

An extensive plow factory has recently been erected in Decorah.

The manufactories most needed at present are: woollen factories, chair factories, sash and door factories, grist-mills, lath-mills, iron foundries, and factories for the manufacture of agricultural implements. The inducements for their erection are the abundance of water-power and materials, and the great demand for their products.

 p183  Farmers are much needed — the inducements for them being plenty of vacant land and excellent markets.

Mechanics are very much needed, especially carpenters, masons, millwrights, coopers, saddlers, watchmakers, tinners, cabin-makers, and painters. The inducements for them are plenty of work and good pay.

Decorah, the county-seat of Winneshiek County, is a thriving village, 2½ miles east from the geographical centre of the county. It is pleasantly situated on the Upper Iowa River, twenty-nine miles from the Mississippi, and fourteen miles from the southern boundary of Minnesota. The great thoroughfare between Iowa and Minnesota, and the Dubuque and St. Paul mail-route, pass through this place. Stages run regularly to St. Paul, Brownsville, Lansing, Dubuque, and the intermediate points.

Decorah was first settled in the spring of 1849, by Wm. Day, who was followed in June by Wm. Painter. These men for some time were obliged to grind their flour in a coffee-mill, and bolt it through a sieve. They lived comparatively alone until the year 1851, when the first saw-mill and store were commenced. The same year a survey was made of a few lots, and the place was called Decorah, after a celebrated Winnebago chief, whose grave is still to be seen at the foot of the beautiful eminence upon which the public buildings of the county are about to be erected. The town was re-surveyed, enlarged, and recorded in 1853, since which it has rapidly improved, and now contains about 350 inhabitants. It commands an extensive trade with  p184 Winnesheik,º Howard, and Mitchell Counties, and also with a large portion of Minnesota. The business of the place for the past year is estimated at $80,000.

A substantial bridge across the Upper Iowa River, at this place, affords an excellent crossing at all seasons of the year.

Decorah is on the direct air-line, and on the contemplated and most feasible route for the St. Paul and Dubuque Railroad.

An excellent school is constantly maintained. Regular services are held every Sabbath by the Methodist and Congregationalist denominations.

The village is well supplied with water by numerous beautiful springs within its limits. A newspaper is needed, and would be well patronized. Excellent inducements to a woollen factory are held out at this place.

Frankville, situated on the east line of the county, twelve miles south-east from Decorah, and directly on the Dubuque and St. Paul stage-road, is a pleasant and thriving village. It commands a good trade with the surrounding country, and is destined to become a place of considerable size. It was settled in 1851 by Francis Teabout, a liberal-minded man, under whose untiring energies it is rapidly improving. The place is regularly and tastefully built, and contains one hotel, two stores, a blacksmith shop, physician's office, a number of dwellings, and a church erected by the proprietor, and donated, with extensive grounds, to the Presbyterian Society.

 p185  Moneek is situated three miles south from Frankville, and fifteen miles south-east from Decorah. It is located on the north branch of Yellow River, in the midst of a heavy body of timber. It contains a saw-mill, hotel, several stores, &c. It was laid out in 1852, and was at that time the largest place in the county. The inhabitants are principally Canadians.

Calmar, eight miles south-west from Decorah, is a Norwegian village of four or five houses and one store. It was laid out in 1854, and already makes a business appearance. It is situated on the old military road to Fort Atkinson.

Freeport, two miles east from Decorah, on the Upper Iowa River, contains a grist-mill, saw-mill, grocery, and several dwellings of rather primitive architecture. It was settled in 1850 by Daniel K. Kendall, and was recorded in 1854. It contains a population of about fifty, principally Pennsylvania Dutch. Owing to several large sloughs, it has rather an unhealthy situation.

Clifton and Bluffton, in the north-west part of the county, are just commenced. They have excellent water-power, and good grist and saw-mills.

The Author's Note:

1 All that is said of the productions of the soil of Tama, will apply to most counties of the State. — Ed.

Thayer's Note:

a A very good historical sketch of the Agency by an early‑19c participant, some of it moving, some of it hilarious, and including not only a sympathetic view of our native Americans but also much material about Gen. Street as well as a portrait of him, is available onsite: Maj. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Beach's "Indian Agency in Wapello County".

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Page updated: 6 Mar 13