Iowa City’s Civil War Postmaster – J.R. Hartsock.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Iowa City was entering into her third decade and the growth of our city – from 1850 to 1860 – was quite amazing. 1,250 souls in 1850 – expanding to 5,214 by 1860!

As we discuss elsewhere, the people of Iowa gave their all in supporting Lincoln’s great call for breaking the bonds of slavery, and over the four years of the war (1861-1865), there were countless fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who sent their well-wishes to the young men who were bravely fighting the war against the Confederate States.

Click here to view a selection of colorful postal covers from the Civil War era.

Certainly, one of the busiest spots in Iowa City throughout the war years was the United States Post Office – with one of the most important jobs in the city belonging to James R. Hartsock – the new Postmaster.

Iowa City’s first permanent Post Office (1839-1840’s) was located in the block located just north of Capitol Square – in the general store owned by Charles S. Foster (see map above). In the mid-1840’s, the Post Office moved into a larger building located on the southeast corner of Iowa Avenue and Clinton Street – sharing the space with several other businesses. It’s here, the U.S. Post Office was located until 1904see pictures below.
In some of the earliest photographs of Iowa City, Isaac Wetherby shows us Clinton Street – across from Capitol Square – as it appeared around the time of the Civil War. We’ve marked the location of the U.S. Post Office in both pictures – above & below.
1860’s Clinton Street looking north w/ fenced University Square on the left.

Appointed by President Abraham Lincoln on April 30, 1861 and re-appointed on April 11, 1865, James R. Hartsock seemed to be the right man for the job. As we discuss elsewhere, one of Hartsock’s first big assignments was overseeing the sudden transition from pre-Civil War postage stamps to a new series – issued in August 1861 – designed to reduce the possibility of the Confederates States using the older postage stamps for raising cash for their war effort.

James Rush Hartsock was born in Washington County in western Pennsylvania on May 15, 1818. Like so many other Easterners, Hartsock headed west to Iowa – arriving in Iowa’s capital city of Burlington on May 5, 1838. Read more here about Burlington.

In Burlington, Hartsock became a school teacher in November 1838. Iowa historian T.S. Parvin tells us the story…

Another account of Hartsock’s teaching years in Burlington states that…

Among his pupils were George W. And Jones W. Jones, who years after became prominent public officials of the State.

But wait! Sadly, while these entertaining stories surrounding Hartsock’s time in Burlington are true – the fact is – as proven by Parvin (below) in the same 1884 Annals of Iowa article – our Iowa City Postmaster was overly generous when he called himself the “First Teacher of the First School in Iowa” in his 1882 autobiography! Whoops!

In December 1842, Hartsock moved north to Johnson County, settling on a land claim in Sharon Township (see map above). We are assuming that farming was his primary occupation upon his arrival here.

By the mid-to-late 1850’s, Hartsock had joined with local photographer, John (J.T.) Calkin in marketing both artwork and photography out of Calkin’s studio – located above Robinson’s General Store on Clinton Street. Click here to read about Calkin’s main competitor – Isaac A. Wetherby.

(JP-013) Here’s two rare CDV cards – circa 1865 – that come from the studios of Iowa City photographers Isaac Wetherby and John (J.T.) Calkin, and include U.S. Revenue stamps issued during the 1860’s to help raise funds for the Civil War.

Besides his work with Calkin, another biographical piece states that Hartsock had his hand in politics as well…

In 1846, (Hartsock) was a subordinate officer of the Senate of which Stephen Hempstead (who afterwards became Governor of the State) was President. He was a delegate to the Democratic State Convention which nominated Ansel Briggs for Governor. Mr. Hartsock became a warm friend of Samuel J. Kirkwood, and when the anti- slavery agitation disrupted the Democratic party, these two young Democrats helped to organize the Republican Party. In 1858, Mr. Hartsock was chosen Sergeant-at-Arms of the State Senate at the first session of the Legislature held in, the then, new Capitol at Des Moines.

Certainly, because of this solid support of Lincoln in the 1860 election, Hartsock was chosen as the new appointee for Iowa City Postmaster (April 1861), replacing Edward W. Lucas. Yet, because of the political nature of the position, the job had its ups and downs over the next decade. One of Hartsock’s biographers explains…

Apparently, after Lincoln’s assassination (1865), President Andrew (Andy) Johnson adopted policies that Hartsock couldn’t agree with – thus the political hammer came down in 1866/1867 – only to have it all reversed in 1869 when President U.S. Grant took over. Ah yes – the ups and downs of politics!

For more than thirty-five years, Hartsock was a prominent Republican and was widely-known throughout the State. He was a candidate for mayor of Iowa City on the Republican ticket in 1868, and remarkably, even with the city being largely Democratic, J.R. lost to his opponent, the Hon. George W. McCleary, by only one vote! An active member of both the State Historical Society and the Masons, Hartsock compiled a history of the work and progress of Masonry in Iowa from 1840 to 1881, entitled Forty Years of Masonry in lowa.

Based on Hartsock’s obituaries found in 1) The Iowa Citizen, March 16, 1894, p 3, and 2) History of Johnson County, Iowa containing a History of the County and the Townships, Cities and Villages from 1836 to 1882 – Together with Biographical Sketches, 1883, p 838, I believe Hartsock’ birth was – May 15, 1818 – and his death – March 11, 1894 – age 75.

In 1867, a devastating fire destroyed eight buildings on South Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue, including the building on the corner that housed the U.S. Post Office. When Hartstock returned to his assignment as Postmaster (1869-1872), he held down the fort in a temporary location while helping to coordinate the construction of a new four-story brick building to replace the old facility. The new building opened in 1872, just as Hartsock was stepping out of his postmaster role. Over time, Iowa Citians came to know this new facility on the corner of Clinton & Iowa as The Saint James Hotel (see pic below), but in truth, The Saint James was simply an occupant in what was called the James Hartsock Building.

In 1883, Peter Dey purchased the Hartsock Building – renaming it the Dey Building. In 1916, The St. James was destroyed in a massive fire, but a new Dey Building soon replaced it and remains on the corner of Iowa Avenue and Clinton Street to this daythe home of Iowa Book & Supply.

On February 10, 1863, J.R. Hartsock married Jessie Henry (1839-1907) – a pioneer of Johnson County who came here with her parents as a two-year old in 1841. Together, they had three children – George L., Josephine, and James Oliver.

James Rush Hartsock died in Des Moines, at the age of 75, on Sunday, March 11, 1894, and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. Jessie Hartsock passed in 1907 while living with family in Colorado and is buried there. Godspeed!


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

List of Postmasters, Iowa City, Johnson County, Iowa, OurFamTree.org

Appointments to U.S. Postmaster – Johnson County, Iowa 1939-1842, Ancestry.com

Postal Service In Iowa City Inaugurated 135 Years Ago, Irving Weber, The Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 14, 1974, p 1D

James R. Hartsock, The Annals of Iowa 1, 1894, p 423

James R. Hartsock, History of Johnson County, Iowa containing a History of the County and the Townships, Cities and Villages from 1836 to 1882 – Together with Biographical Sketches, 1883, pp 202-203, 316, 838

James R. Hartsock, 1866 Names of Postmasters Removed, U.S. House Documents, 1867, p 48

Early Schools in Iowa, T.S. Parvin, Annals of Iowa, Volume III, January 1884, pp 7-8, 15-16

J.T. Calkin – J.R. Hartsock – Photographers -1857, The Iowa State Press, March 2, 1904, p 2

Origins of Iowa Masonry, Harrison John Thornton, Palimpsest, Volume XXV, Number 6, June 1944, p 11-12

Brief History of Iowa City No. 4, Iowa City Masonic Lodge No. 4

J.R. Hartsock, Board of Curators of Historical Society, 1875, p 10

Dey Building – 8 S. Clinton Street, Survey and Evaluation Update, Iowa City Central Business District, Sec E page 42

Mrs. James Hartsock, Old Settlers of Johnson County, The Iowa Citizen, February 24, 1909, p 7

Mrs Jessie Henry Hartsock, Find-A-Grave

James Hartsock Dead, The Iowa Citizen, March 16, 1894, p 3

James Rush Hartsock, Find-A-Grave


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