The Boller Farms of Johnson County, Iowa – 1853.

Prior to the railroad coming into Iowa (1856), there were only two ways to get to Iowa: 1) Steamboats that traveled south on the Ohio River, then north on the Mississippi, 2) Wagons or carts drawn by horse or oxen using overland trails cut through the prairie grass of Indiana and Illinois.

In 1845, Mennonite half-brothers from Ohio and Maryland – Daniel P. Guengerich and Joseph J. Swartzendruber – traveled to Iowa City and then trekked southwest into Washington Township of Johnson County, Iowa. Along the banks of Deer Creek, they found fertile soil giving life to magnificent hickory groves and clear running streams. The next year, the Guengerich and Swartzendruber families, joined by a third family, came west, first by boat on the Ohio River, north on the Mississippi River to Bloomington (Muscatine), and then by wagon to Iowa City. A week later they arrived at the place they had discovered the previous year. Throughout the spring and summer of 1846, the year of Iowa statehood, these Mennonite families cleared and tilled the soil, building log cabins and household furniture from the surrounding woodlands.

(M-0037) This is the Iowa the Boller family came to in 1852-1853. An original surveyor’s map of Iowa as filed in Dubuque on October 21, 1852 by George B. Sargent, Surveyor General. Click here for more.

Two of the men walked to Dubuque (nearly a 250-mile round-trip) where they officially entered their land claims with the U.S. Government. By 1851, other families from Ohio and elsewhere had settled near Deer Creek and the first Amish-Mennonite church was established with twenty-seven charter members. In 1852, one of our Boller family members, Frederick Boller of Wayne County Ohio, became one of these early Johnson County Mennonite settlers as well.

* In family records, Catharine (Catherine) Smucker’s name is found with both an “a” and an “e”…but her tombstone uses an “a”…so we went with that spelling in this report.

Certainly, my gg grandparents, Jacob and Catharine Boller, and their young family, living back in Butler County, Ohio, were hearing the good reports from this growing Mennonite community in Iowa. Our family records indicate that sometime during the early summer of 1853, following the April birth of their second child, the Bollers picked up their belongings and joined Frederick, settling on the southernmost of three plots of farmland located in the southeastern corner of Washington Township of Johnson County, Iowa.

Washington Township – Johnson County, IA. Look carefully at the bottom right corner of this very rare Washington Township map from 1869 – you’ll see the eight parcels of land (320 acres) owned by the Boller family – purchased prior to 1852.

As Iowa was becoming the 29th state of the Union (1846), surveyed land was being sold in 40-acre parcels. Johnson County, for example, had been surveyed into 20 townships, with each township being divided into sections. Washington Township, in the far southwestern corner of the county, had 36 sections, with each section containing sixteen 40-acre parcels.

Click here to read more about early surviving of Iowa land.

Sometime before 1852, the Boller family, living in Ohio, bought a total of 320 acres – assigning John Boller – 40 acres – the SW 1/4 of the SW Quadrant of Section 25; Jacob Boller – 200 acres – the SE 1/4 of the NE Quadrant and the E 1/2 of the SE Quadrant of Section 35, and the SW 1/4 of the NW Quadrant and the NW 1/4 of the SW Quadrant of Section 36; and Frederick Boller – 80 acres – the N 1/2 of the NW Quadrant of Section 36.

So, as the harvest season of 1853 came to a close, the extended Boller family hunkered down on 320 acres of mostly untamed farmland located in the southwestern corner of Johnson County. Joined with their fellow pioneers of Deer Creek, this new Amish-Mennonite community was truly becoming a close-knit family:

Frederick Boller, born in Germany in 1815, coming to Wayne County, Ohio sometime prior to 1850, and then moving to his 80 acres in Iowa in 1852. More info here.

George F. Boller – my gg grandfather born in Wayne County, Ohio in 1825, Catharine (Smucker) Boller – my gg grandmother born in France in 1825, and, in 1853, two children – John J. Boller – born in Butler County, Ohio in 1851, and young Joseph Boller – born in the spring of 1853, prior to the move to Iowa. Sadly in December of 1854, Joseph would die, leaving the Bollers with only one child in these earliest days in Johnson County. Between 1855 and 1866, six more Boller children will be born here, including my great grandfather, Daniel J. Boller. More on him later.

(P-0259) This is a log cabin built in 1853 in Oelwein, Iowa. Could the first Boller homesteads in Johnson County have looked like this? Click here to read more about the earliest days of Johnson County.

We’ll discuss this more in a future segment, but for now, know that most of these 320 acres homesteaded by the Bollers stayed in the family for nearly fifty years. The only exception was the 40 acres assigned to John Boller in Section 25. While purchased under his name, Jacob’s older brother never moved to Iowa, settling, instead, in McLean County, Illinois.


DYK-February 28, 2022

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

(BH-108) Glen Miller’s book has a treasure-trove of information about the Mennonites in Johnson County, Iowa. Glen’s father, Lew Miller (1873-1949), was a younger brother of my great grandmother, Barbara Miller Boller, and his book includes a handful of stories and pictures from Our Boller Family.

Townships in Johnson County, Iowa, Wikipedia


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