1840 – Sketches Of Iowa City – J. B. Newhall. In May 1840 – just as Iowa City was one year old – author and explorer John B. Newhall paid a visit to our fair community – writing up his delightful findings in The Burlington Hawkeye and Iowa Patriot. Calling Iowa City “magical,” Newhall went on to give Johnson County and Iowa City six full pages in his 1841 guidebook – Sketches of Iowa. And it was this volume that catapulted J.B. to national fame, making him one of Iowa’s earliest celebrities and a traveling spokesman on behalf of Iowa Territory.
1840 – The Road From Bloomington To Iowa City. When Napoleon was Johnson County’s only pioneer settlement, a roughly-cut trail made its way eastward through the Iowa prairie to Bloomington – on the Mississippi River. But now, in 1840, with Iowa City becoming the new Territorial capital, a new and improved road was needed to connect these two growing communities. Here’s a rare look at the early stages of development on one of Johnson County’s oldest roads.
Iowa City Stage Ready – 1840-1870. When Iowa City was established as Iowa’s new territorial capital, the priority was getting accessible transportation in and out of Johnson County. With the Iowa River too unpredictable for riverboats, stagecoaches were the wave of the future. Thus, between 1840 and 1870, the stagecoach business was a-rolling all over the Hawkeye State, with Iowa City being right in the center of the action.
1840’s-1890’s – Iowa City’s Classic Hotels. Over a fifty-year period, Iowa City went from three small hotel/taverns scattered around Capitol Square to a state-of-the-art, four-story icon – The St. James Hotel – located on the corner of Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue – directly across from Old Capitol. From whiskey-pouring taverns to bed-n-breakfast hostels, come take a look at the variety of accommodations available from the 1840’s to the turn-of-the-century in our favorite town.
H. D. Downey – Iowa City Esquire. Talk about your mover-and-shaker. This 21-year old Pennsylvania native came to Iowa City in 1840, and before he was done (dying at age 48), he became our first lawyer, first banker, a real estate mogul, state representative, and the man who helped steer the M&M Railroad to Iowa City in 1856.
Jesse Williams – Rescuing Iowa’s New Capitol – 1841. It’s 1841, and the construction of Iowa Territory’s new capitol is not going well. Funding is very limited, and the building’s architect walked out after nine days on the job. Iowa’s Territorial Agent – Jesse Williams – has been given the job of coming up with some creative fund-raising. Here’s his letter to a wealthy businessman in Dubuque that raise some big bucks! But, at what cost?
1841 – The Sudden Death Of A U.S. President. On April 4, 1841, our nation experienced something we’d never had happen before – a sitting President died in office. William Henry Harrison was inaugurated only 31 days earlier, and now, the whole nation was in mourning. In our collection is an interesting note from Iowa Territorial Governor Robert Lucas to New York’s Governor William Seward, written in response to this tragedy.
Steamboat’s A-Comin’ – Maybe? Before the railroad reached Iowa City in 1856, there was great hope that the Iowa River would support steamboat travel as a way to import and export goods. During the 1840’s and 50’s, a few came rolling into town, but sadly, by the 1860’s, this grand idea sank like a stone since the river just didn’t have the consistent depth needed to sustain this enterprise.
Let The City-Wide Celebration Begin: 1841. During the early summer of 1841, the residents of Iowa City had the thrill of their lives when Captain Dan and his steamboat Ripple came chugging up the Iowa River, delivering a group of explorers and tourists to Iowa’s new Territorial capital. On the evening on June 21, at the National Hotel, the city’s elite gathered for a grand dinner celebrating this whole new era in transportation – with the glimmering hope that steamboats would now give Iowans a reliable way of interacting with the rest of the civilized world. Read all the details and join the fun here.
Iowa Newspapers – The Early Years. Between 1836 and 1860, over 200 newspapers sprung up in this new land called Iowa. Yet by 1860, over half of those small-town weeklies had crashed and burned. Come read the stories of these earliest days of Iowa newspapers, from Dubuque to Burlington to Iowa City.
The Iowa City Newspaper Wars. In 1841, two young entrepreneurs came to town, going head-to-head as they published Iowa City’s first two newspapers. William Crum and his Iowa CityStandard vs. Thomas Hughes and his Iowa Capital Reporter. While neither man stayed with their newspapers long term, both greatly influenced the early history of our fair city.
Walter Butler – A True Servant’s Heart. In 1841, the new capitol building in Iowa City is far from completion, but the Iowa Territorial Legislature in Burlington states they’ll meet in Iowa City in December if there is free meeting space. To the rescue – Walter Butler – a good man with a generous heart, and some amazing carpentry and construction skills!
Oliver Weld – Keosauqua’s Young Representative. In December 1841, the Fourth Iowa Territorial Legislature met – for the first time – in Iowa City. The sessions were held – not in Iowa’s new capitol building – but in a 30′ x 60′ wood-framed meeting hall that was nicknamed – Butler’s Capitol. Here’s one young man’s story – a 25-year lawyer from Keosauqua – who had a memorable adventure getting himself to Iowa City for those meetings!
January 1842 – A Letter From The Fourth Assembly. Here’s another legislator’s perspective on the historic Fourth Iowa Territorial Legislative Sessions (1841-1842) – the first ever held in Iowa City. Louisa County’s Representative William L. Toole has a lot to tell his young friend, Laurel Summers, who served with him in the First Assembly held in Burlington back in 1838 – and, we get to read along!
Scott County’s Representative – James Grant. Yes, here’s one more Iowa pioneer who was there for that historic first legislative session held in Iowa City during the winter of 1841/42. Meet Judge James Grant – one of Scott County’s first lawyers who arrived from Chicago in 1838. Over the next 50 years, this colorful character became Iowa’s Speaker of the House, a successful politician, a wealthy railroad baron, a well-diversified land investor, and mayor of Davenport.
When Old Capitol Was The New Capitol: 1841-1857. Today, we’re so used to using the term, Old Capitol, we forget that, at one time, this beautiful iconic building that’s become the symbol of one great university was once the new capitol building of the new State of Iowa. Join us for a look back to the days when Old Cap was the New Cap sitting on Capitol Square.
Gilman Folsom – Crossing The Iowa River. In Iowa City’s earliest days, crossing over the Iowa River was no easy task. Several flatbed ferry boats came into service in the 1840’s, but thanks to Gilman Folsom, a lawyer from New Hampshire, the first toll bridge was constructed, connecting both sides of the river on the National Road – which today is the Iowa Avenue Bridge.
Letters To Gilman Folsom – Iowa City Pioneer. In 1841, a 23-year old adventurer, left his familiar surroundings of New Hampshire to become a lawyer in the new territory of Iowa. He settled in Iowa City, married, and left a legacy that “bridges” even to today. But his first few years here were not the easiest and certainly, his family back home worried about him immensely.
Walter Terrell & His Waterworks. In 1843, an entrepreneur named Terrell came to Iowa City and built a dam and grist mill on the Iowa River, just north of Iowa City. Over the next 40 years, the Terrell Mill provided area farmers with an invaluable service while making him and his family quite wealthy.
Rev. W.W. Woods – Bringing The Gospel To Iowa City. Just as it is today, dissension and division caused a church divide in the Presbyterian Church of Iowa, and by 1842, there were two Presbyterian churches in Iowa City – one that had a traditional reformed theology, and the other – a more modern, less formal belief system. With the financial support of the American Home Missionary Society, Rev. William W. Woods came here to pastor the New School Stone Church, becoming part of the new Des Moines Presbytery – a network of churches that expanded steadily with Iowa’s westward expansion.
1843 – A Letter To The Major Of Monongahela Valley. On February 8, 1843, a business man named Niles Higinbotham sat down at his desk in Iowa City and wrote a response letter to a good friend back East who was considering a move to Iowa Territory. In this three-page letter, we have a treasure trove of facts and figures, giving us a descriptive picture of Iowa – three years before becoming the 29th State in the Union.
Iowa City – April 1843 – The Letter Back Home. In April 1843, Edward Eastman wrote a one-page letter to his uncle – Moses Eastman – the postmaster back in Salisbury, New Hampshire. In his short letter, he talks about the long, hard Iowa winter that refuses to quit, the Great Comet of 1843, and gives his uncle all the traveling details for those back home who are seriously considering taking the Oregon Trail westward into the great unknown.
1844 – The Drive to Statehood. In 1844, there was a concentrated effort in Iowa to attain U.S. Statehood. Those efforts included a Territorial census and a proposed re-alignment of state boundaries. Political controversy abounded and fortunately, this premature drive for statehood failed, lest we be left with an Iowa map no one would recognize today.
1844 – The Great Lee County Road Debate. As Iowa was growing, the need for good roads became a high priority for the Territorial Legislature in Iowa City. Here’s just one example of the uproar surrounding the question of where Iowa would build a road, as the good citizens of Lee County bombard their representative in Iowa City with a remonstrance – a legal document insisting on where they want – and don’t want – a new road! Can anyone say – Iowa Stubborn?
Dear Iowa City – Build Us A Road! While Lee County residents turned down the opportunity for a new Territorial road, the good citizens of Van Buren, Davis, and Appanoose Counties felt just the opposite. In December 1845, forty-one pioneers from Davis County in District 2 sent off a signed petition to Iowa City, asking the Iowa Territorial Legislature to approve funding for their first Territorial Road.
The Bells of Iowa City. In 1845, a small bell was hung in the belfry of a Presbyterian church on Burlington Street, becoming the first permanent bell in our fair city. In 1855, SUI purchased that same 125-pound bell, placing it in the Mechanics Academy to call students to class. Over the next 150 years, other bells, including three different ones in Old Capitol, have made history, but when it’s all said and done, The Little SUI Bell That Just Keeps Ringing has the most interesting story of all.
A.H. Palmer – Iowa City’s Old Growler. In 1845, Abraham H. Palmer took over The Iowa Capitol Reporter – Iowa City’s Democrat newspaper. And over the next five years, as its editor, A.H. made a lot of people pretty angry – not only with his hard-hitting editorials, but even his good friends called him a grumbling, Old Growler. Come check out some of the amazing stories surrounding A.H. and his Iowa City adventures.
Iowa City’s Old Growler – Part Two. The letter-writing saga continues between A.H. Palmer – known around Iowa City as the grumbling, Old Growler – and William Carter – a friend and business partner back in Defiance, Ohio. This time, Palmer’s cantankerous language is directed toward some other poor souls who are up to some “rascality” back in the Buckeye State.
Curtis Bates – The Christmas Day Letter From Iowa City. In the 1840’s, a young lawyer/politician from Ohio came to Iowa City to start up a new law office – one of twenty that opened in this decade! During his ten years in Johnson County (1841-1851), Curtis Bates made quite the impression before moving off to become the owner/editor of Polk County’s first newspaper – The Iowa Star. On Christmas Day, 1848, Bates sent off a letter to his attorney back home in Ohio. Come, check out his writings!
Judge Williams & Legal Troubles in Bloomington. On February 10, 1845, the Clerk of the District Court, Johnson County, Iowa Territory – working on behalf of Judge Joseph Williams – wrote to the Sheriff of Bloomington, Iowa (Muscatine) asking for his help in a land dispute. Written from his desk in the Old Stone Capitol, this stamp-less letter provides a wonderful look at life in the Territory of Iowa.
Click here to go to the next section of our INDEX…