Did You Know? May 4, 1839.

Iowa City’s Humble Beginnings – May 4, 1839.
Did You Know – the audio version

In January of 1839, Territorial Governor Robert Lucas issued the following decree:

An Act to locate the Seat of Government of the Territory of Iowa … so soon as the place shall be selected, and the consent of the United States obtained, the commissioners shall proceed to lay out a town to be called “Iowa City.”

On May 1, two of those commissioners (Chauncey Swan and John Ronalds) met in John Gilbert’s trading house in Napoleon to “officially” begin the search. The next day, the search began, ending two days later on a rolling hillside overlooking the Iowa River, just about two miles north of Napoleon. One writer states that the commissioners described the wooded site as “shaped like an amphitheater.”

On May 4, 1839, a small ceremony was held in that “amphitheater” with a surveyor’s stake being driven into the ground.


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