For a period of 10 years – 1881 to 1891 – Iowa City was home to the nation’s top Holstein cattle breeder. Thomas Beale Wales III (1839–1922) was considered one of the top dairy-stock breeders in the United States and the inventor of the first recording system for tracking animal pedigree.
Captain Thomas B. Wales – a Boston native and veteran of the Civil War – first visited Iowa City in the fall of 1880, and he must have liked what he saw. Iowa, of course, was an agricultural state with an abundance of rich farm land priced at much lower prices than he ever could purchase back in Massachusetts. Secondly, Iowa City was a vibrant farm community with well-established north & south/east & west rail transportation – a must for transporting large animals and other farming commodities in and out of his growing cattle operation.
While Wales brought many head of cattle to Johnson County, he was not the first to raise cattle here. Johnson County resident LeGrand Byington – investor in the M&M (Rock Island) Railroad – is credited with the first herd of purebred cattle in Iowa and Carey R. Smith was first to raise Holsteins in Johnson County. But the local press thought so much of Captain Wales and his contemporaries in stock breeding, The Iowa City Republican wrote…
Iowa City is the center of the largest and best fine stock district in the world.
By late December, 1881, the first of numerous ads and articles appeared in regional trade publications describing Wales’ Iowa City new farm, Brookbank. In 1882, Wales brought in forty-five head of Holsteins from Massachusetts by rail, and soon, articles began to appear in Iowa City newspapers extolling the virtues of Holstein cattle for beef, milk, and butter. By winter of 1882–1883, Wales was selling a significant number of stock across Iowa while always retaining at least fifty-five head of cattle at Brookbank.
Brookbank Farm was located beyond the eastern edge of Iowa City (see map above). The name was appropriate as Wales selected an area of 220 acres that straddled the south fork of Ralston Creek. The property stretched east from Muscatine Road to the point the road turns east and then extended another half mile. The north boundary of the farm was the road that ran along the alignment of current-day Court Street. Wales farmhouse reportedly was a block long and half a block deep, with a large barn, all located at what is today Garden and Friendship Streets – just blocks from our present Boller home on Catskill Court!
As we said earlier, there is little doubt that Wales chose his location for Brookbank because of the existing railroad lines needed for selling and transporting large animals. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Northern Railway spur into Iowa City – known as The Plug – crossed the north portion of Brookbank Farm (see map above) – giving Wales north & south service, while the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific line offered service to the east & west. For example, records show that three BCR&N stock cars were used in 1883 to bring in fifty-three head of cattle to Wales property.
1631: The first Holsteins were imported to America. These bloodlines were lost due to crossbreeding.
1850’s: A breeder from Massachusetts, Winthrop Chenery, made his first purchase of Holstein cattle from the captain of a Dutch sailing vessel. He was so impressed with the breed, that he imported seven more Holstein animals.
1870’s: There was enough interest among breeders in the United States to form organizations for recording pedigrees and maintaining an official herdbook. The first herd book was published in 1872 by the Association of Breeders of Thoroughbred Holstein Cattle and contained the pedigrees of 128 Holstein animals.
1885: The Association of Breeders of Thoroughbred Holstein Cattle and the Dutch Friesian Association of America merged to form the Holstein-Friesian Association of America.
1885-1894: The first Holstein-Friesian Association office was in Iowa City, Iowa, the home of the first Secretary, Thomas B. Wales.
In another interesting cover set from Thomas Wales, Secretary, this beautiful etched cover is addressed to a potential customer in New Jersey. Postmarked in Iowa City in August 1886, the enclosed sale flyer has a treasure-trove of items for sale through the Association.
(C-0045) With Iowa City being the home to some of the largest breeders of Holstein cattle in the nation, above is an interesting postal cover to C. H. Wooddell from L. F. Ross of Iowa City, featuring a beautiful cachet for his business: Breeder of Red Polled Cattle.
(C-0046) Below is an interesting business letter dated March 4, 1891 to Mr. Jasper M. Clark from L. F. Ross – Importer and Breeder of Red Polled Cattle.
The name of Ross’s breeding farm in Iowa City was Mount Prospect Farm. By 1904, Ross had apparently sold his farm to A.R. Ohl and Sons. Above (left) is a flyer found in a 1904 publication advertising Mount Prospect Farm located one mile southeast of Iowa City.
Here’s a tip of the old hat to Thomas Beale Wales III, the Bostonian who lived among us from 1881 – 1891 – making Iowa City, during that time, “the center of the largest and best fine stock district in the world.”
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.