Johnson County’s Own – The Wandering Doc Comes Home To Solon.

On this post, allow me to introduce to you to the Wandering Doctor – Otto Heinsius, his wife Sophia, and their final settling place – Solon, Iowa – located in Big Grove Township of Johnson County.

First, allow me to tell you a bit about Solon, Iowa…

Back in 1839, when Iowa City was first established as Iowa’s new territorial capital, one of the most important aspects for creating this new community was to have a way to get there! So, Governor Robert Lucas ordered a Military Road to be built from Iowa’s northern-most city – Dubuque – stretching through Johnson County to Keosauqua – ending near the Iowa/Missouri Border (see maps above). Read more here.

So, as this new Military Road was built – which would eventually evolve into The National Road, and is, now, called Highway 1 – small communities sprang up along the way. In 1840, the little town of Solon was one of those new villages in Johnson County, and it quickly became an important stop for stagecoaches running between Dubuque and Iowa City. Read more here.

The history behind Solon’s name is debated — some say the city was named for Solon M. Langworthy – a veteran and early settler of Iowa. Others say it was named for settlers who came from Solon, Ohio. But the most accepted story seems to point to the town’s founders – John West, H. H. Kerr, and P. B. Anders, who platted the city – naming it in the memory of one of Anders’ sons.
Stone Academy in Solon is a one-room schoolhouse believed to have been built in 1842, located about two miles north of Solon’s town center along the west side of The National Road – Iowa Highway 1 – which linked Dubuque to Iowa City. It was formerly known as the Big Grove Township School #1, and is one of the oldest surviving school buildings in Iowa.

So, very briefly, here’s a timeline (below) of the early days of Solon…

Which now brings us to the Otto Heinsius family, and that wandering doctor from Prussia…

Otto Heinsius was born in Crossen in Western Prussia on February 1, 1818. Crossen, Prussia (Brandenburg, Germany) was a small town on the east bank of the Oder River and is now the present day city of Krosno Odrzańskie in western Poland. According to a biographer…

…when Otto reached young manhood, he studied for his chosen profession (medicine) and graduated from the Berlin Medical University with honors. He had read much about the Great New World with a government founded by the people and for the people and this aroused his interest. He was an adventurous young man and decided to go to America to see what the New World had to offer. He arrived in the Port of New York aboard an immigrant ship in 1845. He served as the ship’s doctor on the trip.

Apparently, while in New York City, Otto met, through friends, the Roth family – a mother, three daughters and three brothers – who immigrated from Worms, Hesse, Darmstad (Germany) aboard the ship Francois I in August, 1838. In 1847, Otto Heinsius wed one of those daughters – Sophia Roth – born April 18, 1828 – forming a marriage union that remained for the next 35 years.

Soon after his marriage to Sophia (1847), Otto decided to hit the road, so the young couple gathered up their worldly goods and boarded a train for Albany, New York, where Heinsius became the city physician. And, it’s here where their first four children – Charles (1847), Ferdinand (1849), Julius (1851) and Clara (1853) were born. About one year later (1854), Otto’s quest for adventure caused him to pack up his family of six, board a train, and head west to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Here their daughter, Agnes (1855) was born.

Just a point of interest here – with the constant need for good doctors in the New Frontier, the Heinsius family was able to move without suffering many of the hardships that would have made this way of life impossible for others. There was always plenty of work waiting for Dr. Heinsius anywhere he decided to settle.

So, after two years in Pennsylvania, the family moved once more – this time to Tuscarawas, Ohio. And it was here, in Ohio, where Otto & Sophia’s three sons – Eugene (1857), Robert (1859), and Theodore (1861) were added to the growing family. And, if you’re keeping count, that’s eight kids so far!

By 1863, the railroads had extended across the Mississippi River into Iowa (read more here) and Dr. Heinsius, realizing the great need for good doctors here in the expanding West, uprooted his family for the fourth time – settling in Iowa City. And it was here that Otto & Sophia’s last two children – Emil (1863) and Emma (1865) – were born. Yup – that’s ten!

A faithful Mason, it looks like Dr. Heinsius kept his membership with his old Masonic Lodge back in Ohio going into 1864. Records indicate that Otto joined the Iowa City Lodge when he arrived in Iowa City (1863), and remained actively involved with the Masons here in Iowa until his death in 1894. Below is Otto’s short note to his Masonic brothers back in Ohio, clearing up his membership dues for 1864…

(JP-050) This rare postal cover and letter – written by Dr. Otto Heinsius on May 3, 1864 – was mailed from Iowa City on May 4, 1864 and sent to the Tuscarawas Lodge #59 of the Free & Accepted Masons, Canal Dover in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.
Iowa City – May 3, 1864. To the W.M. Wardens & Brothers of Tuscarawas Lodge No. 59 of (F)ree & (A)ccepted Masons. Brothers – Enclosed please find balance of dues of fifty cents. A dismiss from your Lodge please find at your earliest convenience. Forwarding there, Otto Heinsuis

Below is a copy of the 1870 U.S. Census which shows Otto and his family settled in Iowa City – for seven years now! Wow – might our wandering doctor have finally found a permanent home?

The U.S. Census from 1870 shows Dr. Otto Heinsius – age 52, his wife, Sophia – age 42, Charles – age 22, Ferdinand – age 20, Julius – age 18, Agnes – age 15, Eugene – age 13, Robert – age 11, Theodore – age 8, Emil – age 6, and Emma – age 4. Daughter Clara sadly died in 1854, at age 1.

But, apparently in 1871, the wandering bug hit Otto once more, and in this ad (below) found in the April 27, 1872 edition of The Iowa City Daily Press, we see that the Heinsius home on the corner of Linn & Fairchild in Iowa City is for sale or rent. Records indicate that sometime during this season (1871-72), Otto decided that the boom town of Solon – located just 12 miles north of Iowa City – was calling his name!

It seems that the little village of Solon was in great need for both a doctor and a druggist, so, the wandering Heinsius family relocated once more – to Solon – probably late in 1871. And with this move, Otto – our wandering doctor – finally found his permanent home.

Welcome to Solon, Iowa

As we showed you in the Solon timeline, when the BCR&N came through town, it opened up the community to a large gathering of eastern Europeans – many from Prussia, which was Otto’s homeland. This Czech-Slovak newspaper in Iowa City – The Slovan Amerikasky – was already serving this growing segment of people, and as you can see from the ad below, Dr. Otto Heinsius was definitely well-suited to become a primary care-giver for this group of immigrants.

Records indicate that once Otto & Sophia settled in Solon, the Heinsius’ led very busy and useful lives. In this 1880 article (below) on Solon – A Growing Town – from The Iowa City Republican – we find both of Otto’s businesses listed – Heinsius Drug Store and, of course, his medical practice.

Below is the Heinsuis’ family in Solon – as shown in the 1880 U.S. Census. As we mentioned earlier, in the Solon time line, Ferdinand, Otto & Sophia’s son, became the town’s first marshal in 1877, and other records indicate that their oldest son, Charles, ran the Heinsius Drug Store.

In this 1880 U.S. Census, we find Otto – age 62, Sophia – age 51, Charles – age 32, Agnes – age 19*, Robert – age 18*, Fedor (Theodore) – age 16*, and Emil – age 13*. *When compared to the 1870 census, these ages w/* are off by about 3 years, and sadly, the Heinsius’ youngest child – Emma – died in 1873.

Sadly, in 1882, at the age of 55, Sophia Roth Heinsius became ill and died on August 29th. According to a biographer…

After the death of his wife, Dr. Heinsius continued to be actively engaged in his practice until just a few months preceding his death. He suffered from a gradual decay of bodily vigor. For the last 3 years of his life, his health had been threateningly poor. The many long years spent in a profession in which there was much trying exertion and exposure to the many maladies of the times had taken its toll. His well-knit vigorous frame became weakened and weary from the many days and trials he endured as a physician. He was confined to his room for the last 7 weeks of his life and slowly but surely faded away. On the day that he died (January 22, 1894), he lay in his bed and inquired of his daughter, Agnes, what time it was. Being answered, he smiled that “old time” smile they would not soon forget and said half drowsily, “Good Night!” even though it was 11 o’clock in the morning. He faded into sleep and died.

Both Otto and Sophia Heinsius are buried in Oakland Cemetery in Solon. These two loving people were separated by death for 12 years, but by Otto’s death they were once again united in the quiet stillness of the grave.

Dr. Heinsius was a man whose impulses were always noble, who forgot about himself in his thoughtfulness and regard for others and who loved and cherished his family. He made no special religious profession, but was a tolerant, charitable man who respected his neighbor’s conscience as well as his own. The family always carried a good name and a position in society and was respected by all that were fortunate enough to make their acquaintance. This is a heritage more valuable than wealth, lands, and power.

Godspeed, Dr. Otto & Sophia – Godspeed.

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

Aerial Photo of Solon, Iowa, America-From-The-Sky

Stone Academy (Solon, Iowa), Wikipedia

Big Grove Township, 1870, University of Iowa Library

Solon, Iowa, Wikipedia

Early Settlers of Solon, Iowa, Marilou West Ficklin,

Post Office in Solon, Iowa, ca. 1910, Iowa Dept of Cultural Affairs

Solon celebrates 175 years with 3-day bash, Holly Hines, Iowa City Press Citizen, September 18, 2015

Crossen, Prussia (Krosno Odrzańskie), Wikipedia

Our Lodge History, Tuscarawas, Ohio Lodge #59

Otto Heinsius, 1870 U.S. Census,

Dr. Otto Heinsius, Slovan Amerikansky, February 22, 1872, p 7

Slovan Amerikánský (Iowa City, Iowa) 1869-1873, U.S. Library of Congress

For Sale, Daily Press, April 27, 1872, p 4

A Growing Town, Iowa City Republican, May 25, 1880, p 3

Otto Heinsius, 1880 U.S. Census,

Solon, Stacy Swadish, Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 22, 1990, p 13

Sophia Roth Heinsius, Find-A-Grave

Dr Otto Heinsius, Find-A-Grave

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