Courting Johnson County. In December 1837, Johnson County – Iowa District – Wisconsin Territory came into existence. Within a year, Iowa became a territory and the first county court house was built – the first of four over the last 180+ years. Follow the story with us, as we move from Napoleon to Iowa City, ending up today with a whole new Johnson namesake.
The Johnson County Business Meeting That Changed Iowa History. With the creation of Johnson County, John Gilbert went to work, calling for a “business meeting” where a diverse team of six men and one woman met to draft a strategic plan that would be presented to the Iowa Territorial legislature, requesting major funding for roads, bridges, and a post office! The plan worked and over the next year, big preparations were made to make Johnson County the home of Iowa’s new capital city.
The U.S. Post Office Comes to Johnson County. One of the most important aspects of life for early settlers in Iowa was the receiving and sending of letters. Postal records indicate that Iowa City established its first “officially recognized” post office in 1841. But other records show that Johnson County had postal service prior to that time (1839), even though that service was sketchy at best.
Iowa Territory 1838-1846. On July 4, 1838, the U.S. Congress established the Territory of Iowa. President Martin Van Buren appointed Robert Lucas governor of the territory, which at the time had 22 counties and a population of 23,242. Within months, thousands began flocking into this new land, and slowly, the open prairies became rich farmland and little villages became thriving communities.
Welcome to Iowa, Governor Lucas. On July 4, 1838, Iowa, which had been part of Wisconsin Territory since 1836, officially became a separate U.S. Territory, and President Martin Van Buren decided to look to Ohio, hand-picking his friend, the 57-year-old Robert Lucas, as Iowa’s first Territorial Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. On August 15th of 1838, the new Territorial Governor and his small traveling party arrived by steamboat in Burlington. Over the next three years, Lucas moved the capital to Iowa City, establishing Iowa as one of the most progressive territories in the West.
Laurel Summers – The Man Who Saved Iowa City. Many people don’t realize how very close we came to not ever having an Iowa City, Iowa. It was in January 1839 in Burlington where one man’s vote made all the difference. 13 yea – 12 nay. Here’s a tip of the old hat to Laurel Summers of Parkhurst, Iowa – Territorial Representative from Scott County – for voting in favor of making Iowa City the new capital city of Iowa!
Philip Clark – Johnson County’s Irish Settler. In 1836, two brave souls from Indiana met up with John Gilbert at Fort Armstrong on the Mississippi River. Within a year, Philip Clark and Eli Myers had moved their families to what would eventually become Johnson County, Iowa. Here’s the amazing story of one man’s transition from being an Irishman from Indiana into one of our area’s most famous farmers.
The Midnight Ride of Philip Clark. On May 1, 1839, three Territorial commissioners were to report to Johnson County, with the assignment of picking the location for the new Iowa capital city. By mid-day, only one man – Chauncey Swan- had arrived, leaving the good people of the county seat of Napoleon wondering if the whole project would be lost. Thankfully, a 35-year-old farmer named Philip Clark saved the day! He mounted his horse, made a 35-mile trip through the wilderness, fetching a second commissioner – John Ronalds. They arrived in the nick of time – saving the future hopes of Johnson County before the strike of midnight.
Iowa City’s Humble Beginnings. Iowa City was named the capital of the new Iowa Territory soon after the territory’s inception in 1838. After the U.S. Government bought land west of the Mississippi called the Black Hawk Purchase, a new government began to take shape, and that became the humble beginnings of the new City of Iowa, now called Iowa City.
Chauncey Swan – The Father of Iowa City. On May 4, 1839, a three-man committee stood atop a beautiful piece of Johnson County land overlooking the Iowa River. As Chauncey Swan drove a stake into the ground, Iowa City had its humble beginnings. Over the next ten years, this same faithful man will prove time and time again why he has long been designated the Father of Iowa City. Come read his Iowa story.
Surveying the Life of Cyrus Sanders – Iowa City Pioneer. In 1839, a 21-year-old Ohio native made his way west to Iowa. Back home, he’d learned the fine art of surveying as he worked for the Little Miami Railroad. So when he added that talent to farming, this young man made a successful transition from being a Buckeye to becoming a Hawkeye. Later in life, he became one of Johnson County’s most gifted historical writers.
Cyrus Sanders – My 1839 Iowa Adventure. Come on a one-year trek into unexplored Johnson County with a 21-year-old farmer/surveyor from Ohio who journaled his way through this amazing pioneer adventure. From Cincinnati to Burlington to Napoleon and Iowa City, follow Sanders’ path by reading directly from his personal diary.
Let The City-Wide Celebration Begin: 1839. On July 4, 1839, the earliest settlers of Johnson County took time out to celebrate Independence Day – joining with the surveying team that had come here to chart out Iowa’s new capital city. In the process, this small group of pioneering party-goers gave us Iowa City’s first city-wide public celebration. Read all the details and join the fun here.
Robert R. Hutchinson – Iowa City’s Jack Of All Trades. On July 17, 1839 – just 13 days after the cornerstone of the new capitol was dedicated, a 24-year-old wood worker from New Hampshire moved into town. Over the next 48 years, Robert Hutchinson literally had his hands in nearly every important event in our city’s first fifty years. From helping build the first log cabin to providing foundational stone for many of the early buildings – from helping build the first Presbyterian church to serving as town marshal, Hutchinson was there, serving Iowa Citians like few others.
Lyman Dillon – Plowing the Straight & Narrow. When Iowa became a U.S. Territory in 1838, transportation options were very primitive. Governor Lucas asked the U.S. Senate to fund a Military Road running the length of the Territory from Dubuque to the Missouri border. After surveying the land, Lyman Dillon, a farmer from Cascade, was hired to take his team of five oxen and plow up a furrow from Dubuque to Iowa City (86 miles). Get the straight story here!
On the Road to Iowa City. In 1839, there were three primary routes leading in and out of Johnson County: the Iowa River, the Sauk & Fox trail, today called Sand Road, and a narrow pathway to Bloomington (Muscatine) where you could catch a ride on the mother of all highways, The Mighty Mississippi. Within five years, all roads in the Territory led to Iowa City, the new capital city of Iowa.
1839 – The Twenty-Four Streets Of Iowa City. Did you ever wonder how downtown Iowa City arrived at some of the street names we have? Sure, Washington and Jefferson are pretty straight forward, but what about Ronalds, Brown, Bloomington, and Dodge? Join us as we take a deeper look at the stories behind the 24 original streets of Iowa City.
1839-1842 – Iowa City’s First Hotels. Since Iowa City started from scratch in the summer of 1839, there were no accommodations for newcomers. But, thanks to a few enterprising pioneers, over the next four years, there were four hotel/taverns established around town – offering visitors a place to lay their head, a hot meal, and, of course, a few sips of fine whiskey to make the adventure a bit more tolerable.
Iowa City’s Extant Classics – The Survivors. Have you ever wondered how many buildings from Iowa City’s earliest years (1839-1854) have survived until today? There’s Old Capitol, of course, but here, we take a deeper look at 15 extant (surviving) classics. Iowa City beauties that still stand at the beginning of the 21st century, and hopefully, they will be with us forever!
Iowa City’s Good Doctor – Henry Murray. While there were a handful of other pioneers who preceded him in assisting those with minor medical issues, it was the good Irishman – Dr. Henry Murray – arriving here in the spring of 1839 – who became Johnson County’s first resident physician. Yet, not only was Murray an early pioneer, he and his family invested in our city through the turn-of-the-century, with the good doctor faithfully practicing his profession for nearly 40 years!
Sylvanus Johnson – Mr. Red Brick. In 1839, a brick-maker from Connecticut was assigned by Territorial Governor Robert Lucas to recruit Iowa militiamen for the border squirmish that was brewing on the Iowa/Missouri border. Iowa City was abuzz at the time, but no sooner did Sylvanus get there, the “Honey War” was over, leaving him with no money and no job. Johnson did what he does best – make bricks. In the process, he ended up becoming one of the founding pioneers of Iowa’s new territorial capital.
Clinton Street – Iowa City’s Center of Commerce. In 1839, a surveyor’s map marked out a city plan that included streets, parks, churches, homes, schools, government buildings, and a place where business would prosper. From the very beginning, Clinton Street was planned as Iowa City’s hub for commerce. Now, all these years later, it’s still the place where business thrives.
Ahoy, Frederick Irish – The Iowa City Sea Captain. In 1838, a whaling captain from New York City rode a horse to Iowa, eventually settling in Iowa City. F.M. Irish became an early mover and shaker of the city, serving as one of Iowa City’s first historians, writing a lengthy, first-hand account in 1868.
Iowa City’s Rose Hill – Irish’s Woods. Iowa City pioneer, F.M. Irish added 30 acres to his original log cabin property. By 1849, he had built Rose Hill, a home that stayed in the Irish family until 1964. At that time, the city purchased 17.5 acres of Irish’s Woods, making it into the first section of today’s Hickory Hill Park. Come take a walk through “The Woods” with us.
John F. Rague – Creator Of A Classic. In 1839, a $46,000 contract was let to the architect who designed the state capitol building in Springfield, Illinois. A friend of Lincoln’s, John F. Rague took the offer, designed our capitol, but left nine days after the cornerstone was laid. Come read the full story of this creative craftsman who ended up becoming Dubuque’s most renowned architect.
The Old Capitol Gem That Got Away. On occasion, a great treasure will appear on-line and, as it is in life, sometimes you win – and sometimes you lose. Allow me to cry in my beer and tell you about a rare letter concerning the construction of the Old Stone Capitol in Iowa City that slipped through my fingers. Alas, come share my sorrow.
Parvin & Aldrich – Making & Collecting Iowa History. Coming to Iowa from Ohio, serving as Governor Lucas’ private secretary, T.S. Parvin goes on to become one of Iowa’s most influential leaders during its first six decades. By the mid-1800’s, Iowa became the home of Charles Aldrich, and together, these two men made history and became impressive collectors of all things Iowa. Theodore S. Parvin and Charles Aldrich – two friends who left their unique mark in Iowa history.
N.R. Parvin – Like Father, Like Son. Following in the footsteps of his famous father, Newton R. Parvin first learns a trade – the woodworking business in Iowa City – before joining his dad as Deputy Grand Secretary of Iowa’s Masonic Grand Lodge. Moving to Cedar Rapids in the 1880’s, N.R. Parvin goes on to finish an 80-year Parvin-family run – overseeing one of the largest Masonic Libraries & Museums in the world.
Welcome To Salubria, Iowa! In 1839, a 65-year-old preacher named Abner Kneeland escaped the religious persecution he suffered in Massachusetts, settling in Van Buren County, where he founded a religion-free community called Salubria. A pantheist, Kneeland was jailed in Boston for heresy, but here in Iowa, he and his followers were able to live in religious freedoms never offered them back east.
Ralph + Wilson + Mason = The Road To Freedom. Did you know that Chief Justice Charles T. Mason, along with his fellow judges Joseph Williams and Thomas S. Wilson, ruled, in the Case of Ralph vs. Montgomery – 1839, that under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, slavery in Iowa Territory was “forever prohibited?” This impressive anti-slavery decision on July 4, 1839 not only freed Ralph Montgomery of Dubuque, but it set a precedent for all future decisions in our state’s court system.
T. S. Wilson – Dubuque’s Good Neighbor. In 1836, Thomas S. Wilson flipped a silver dollar and wound up settling in Dubuque, Iowa (vs. Mineral Point, Wisconsin). Over the next fifty-eight years, Judge Wilson became a very good neighbor to his fellow citizens, defending them in several monumental court cases that are remembered even to today. All Iowans need to celebrate the winning of that Iowa/Wisconsin coin toss!
Recommending John W. Finley – Dubuque’s Good Doctor. Coming to Dubuque in 1836, Doc Finley – Iowa’s frontier doctor – became the city’s first general surgeon, and the second permanent physician in Iowa Territory, often traveling by horseback over fifty miles to help outlying settlements. Leaving a forty-year legacy in medicine and education in The Key City, today’s Unity Point Finley Hospital is named for the good doctor from Charlotte, North Carolina.
1839 – The Iowa & Missouri Honey War. Did you know that in the fall of 1839, the Territory of Iowa and the State of Missouri came ever so close to a civil war – arguing over where the border line was between these two sovereign entities? Governor Lucas of Iowa and Governor Boggs of Missouri were two stubborn men, so when push came to shove, both sent militia regiments to the border after someone cut down an Iowa farmer’s trees filled with golden beehive honey. Quite the sticky situation, don’t you think?
The Iowa Colonel Who Helped Stop The Honey War. When Governor Robert Lucas came to Iowa Territory in 1838, one of his priorities was to build a strong militia. One of his recruits was Lee County’s favorite son – William Patterson. Elected as a representative to the First & Second Territorial Legislature in Burlington, Patterson became a Colonel in Iowa’s 1st Regiment, 1st Brigade, and 1st Division, and in the fall of 1839, helped keep Iowa’s Honey War with Missouri a bloodless one!