In May 1840 – just as Iowa City was one year old – author and explorer John B. Newhall paid a visit to our fair community – writing up his delightful findings in The Burlington Hawkeye and Iowa Patriot. Calling Iowa City “magical,” Newhall went on to give Johnson County and Iowa City six full pages in his 1841 guidebook – Sketches of Iowa. And it was this volume that catapulted J.B. to national fame, making him one of Iowa’s earliest celebrities and a traveling spokesman on behalf of Iowa Territory.
The success of his book, coupled with his own unbounded enthusiasm, opened the door for Newhall to lecture across America, speaking on the subject of “The Past, Present, and Future Resources of Iowa.” On June 21, 1841 – Newhall was invited to be the chief orator at The National Hotel as Iowa City celebrated The Ripple – the city’s first steamboat arrival. Read more here.
Over the next three years, Newhall traveled extensively – even to Europe – becoming a spokesman for Iowa Territory and the new American West. Upon his return to Burlington from his successful tour of Europe, J.B. was invited, in 1845, to serve as the personal secretary of Iowa Territorial Governor James Clarke. In that position, Newhall, once again, began traveling around the Territory, gathering more facts and figures. By year’s end, he had enough material to assemble his third Iowa guidebook – A Glimpse of Iowa In 1846.
Released just months before Iowa became the 29th State in the Union, Newhall’s new book found a sweet spot with both Iowans and those back East who were thinking about moving westward.
So, here on this post, we’d like to share some of the details found inside this classic 1846 guidebook. Let’s start with the Preface…
There were actually two printings of Newhall’s guidebook. The first volume (below left) had some printing & editing issues, leaving out a number of cities, etc. The second run (below right) corrected those issues and added some additional resources. Below (middle) is the index for the second edition…
Like Newhall’s first book – Sketches of Iowa – there were some pretty big hitters who offered their recommendations of J.B.’s writings. In “Glimpses,” we not only have former Governor Robert Lucas and famed American artist George Catlin, but we also find numerous references from newspapers from back East and even from Europe!
Now, let’s take a look at what Newhall said about Johnson County in 1846…
While J.B.’s guidebook offered its readers an abundance of detail, he did miss a fact or two. In truth, Johnson County actually began on December 21, 1837, when the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature – meeting in Burlington for its winter session – approved the formation of fourteen counties in Iowa District. Read more here.
Now, for Iowa’s capital – Iowa City…
According to Newhall, in 1846, Iowa City had seven general stores, four grocery stores. two “coffee houses” – which were small restaurant-style businesses, seven churches, eight doctors, and twelve lawyers. As for schools, Newhall listed Iowa City University – a private school which was planned but never developed, Iowa City College – which, from 1846-1847, was under the direction of James Harlan, the Female Academy, which again, was planned in 1846, but never really got off the ground, and a small private school. Click here to read more about the early private schools of Iowa City.
Iowa City had two weekly papers in 1846 – The Iowa Capital Reporter, edited by A. H. Palmer, and The Iowa City Standard, edited by Foster & Morris. The Watchman – with editor Charles F. Risk – is listed here as well, but it was a short-lived Christian publication with a very small circulation. Read more here about Iowa City’s earliest newspapers.
In conclusion, J.B. Newhall, who has just returned from his speaking engagement in Europe, decides to end his report by comparing Iowa City with St. Omir in France! Ooh lah lah!
Here’s a big salute to John B. Newhall. Without his two guidebooks and his corresponding promotional tours, who knows how the Hawkeye State might have developed in the 1840’s and 50’s. Thanks, J.B., for being one of Iowa’s best traveling salesmen!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.