1846 – A Glimpse Of Iowa City – J. B. Newhall. The well-known author – John P. Newhall – who wrote the widely-acclaimed 1841 guidebook – Sketches of Iowa, has struck pay dirt once again with his new volume – A Glimpse of Iowa in 1846. In this book, Newhall gives his readers an overview of Iowa Territory just as it’s becoming the 29th State in the Union, and here, we share with you J.P.’s specific love of Johnson County and Iowa City.
April 1846 – The First Step Toward Statehood. On April 6, 1846, the voters of Iowa approved thirty-two Iowans from around the state, sending them off to Iowa City to write up a State Constitution. So far, beginning in 1840, there have been three false attempts at statehood, but now, if this Constitutional Convention can get their act together, both the people of Iowa and the United States Senate seem ready to make it all happen.
1846 – Iowa Elects A State Governor. Between 1838 and 1846, the Governor of Iowa Territory was appointed by the U.S. President. Now, as Iowa was preparing to become the 29th State in the Union, Iowans were anxious to elect their first governor. In September 1846, there were three candidates fighting for the position, and one month later, it all came down to a nail-biter, with the winner receiving 247 more votes than the closest competitor.
Ansel Briggs – The Stagecoach Driver Who Became Governor. In 1839, a 33-year-old businessman came to Iowa, started a small stagecoach operation, driving most of the coaches himself. By 1842, he was elected to represent Jackson County at the Iowa Territorial Legislative Assembly in Iowa City, and by 1846, when Iowa became the 29th state in the Union, the Democrats nominated him to become Iowa’s first state governor. Meet Ansel Briggs – Iowa’s only senior leader who began his career as a stagecoach driver!
1846 Iowa Statehood – A Field of Dreams. It’s December 28, 1846 – Iowa statehood is finally achieved. One historian writes: “The fertility of the soil in Iowa is unsurpassed—not merely by that of her kindred States — not merely in our Union – but throughout the world! And still the field is open – still the coffers of the earth are full, and he may help himself who will.” A Constitution is written and Iowa has now become the 29th State in that Union.
Johnson County’s Own – Washington Township. Just as Iowa was becoming a state, a small group of farming pioneers from the Casselman River Valley of Maryland & Pennsylvania headed west to Johnson County to start what would eventually become Iowa’s largest Amish-Mennonite community. Here’s the story of how Washington Township got started – and it includes my ggg grand aunt Susanna Miller!
Senator James B. Harlan – His Iowa City Years. Most everyone knows about Iowa’s famous 19th-century statesman from Mt. Pleasant – James B. Harlan – friend of Abraham Lincoln. Yet many don’t realize that it was his Iowa City years – 1846-1853 – that actually got his illustrious career off the ground. Come meet James Harlan – the young Iowa City educator, lawyer, politician, and deputy surveyor.
February 25, 1847 – SUI Begins With A Bang. Was it just a coincidence? Or was it a heavenly sign of holy confirmation? We report. You decide. On February 25, 1847, the Iowa Legislature, meeting in Iowa City, proclaimed that our state, only 59 days old at the time, would develop a university of higher learning, a place where doctors, lawyers, and other professionals would be trained for service to our state. Within a few hours of that proclamation, the heavens opened and the Marion Meteorite passed over Iowa City before striking the ground with a mighty boom. Let it be. S.U.I. Amen.
SUI – The Early Days 1847-1860. On February 25, 1847 the State Legislature, meeting in the Old Stone Capitol in Iowa City, approved the recommendation that the State of Iowa sponsor a new University. While the idea might have sounded very lofty, making the dream into a reality was quite another story. Here’s some of the details behind those first 13 years when the State University of Iowa barely survived!
A Letter From The 1st State Legislative Session – Iowa City. In January 1848, just as the First Iowa State Legislative Assembly is coming to a close, Representative Wright Williams – from Louisa County – writes an informative letter to his brother-in-law back in Indiana. His two-page letter offers us an interesting insight into all the messy politics – both locally & nationally – that’s going on at the time. Sounds strangely familiar to today! Come enjoy the read!
1848 – Iowa City’s Hum-Dinger of A Bell Story. In the late summer of 1848, all hell broke loose in Iowa City as the recently-dismissed Rev. Michael Hummer climbed into the belfry of the Presbyterian Church, trying to “recover” the bell he believed to be his. While his efforts failed, it left one great story for bell-lovers, Iowa City historians and church-goers alike.
1848 – Dear Governor Briggs – From Iowa State Prison. In November 1848, the Iowa State Prison Warden filed his annual report to Governor Briggs in Iowa City. While the crime rate across Iowa was amazingly low, it’s a good thing because the State Prison in Ft. Madison – while only nine years old – was in complete disrepair! Come read the details.
An Evening At The Movies – St. Louis – 1849. Between 1846 and 1850, concert houses and opera halls across the country debuted “moving panoramas,” a creative precursor to motion pictures which featured a massive moving canvas as tall as 12-feet high and up to a half-mile long, depicting artistic vistas of the Mississippi River Valley. Henry Lewis, a self-taught artist and entrepreneur, developed one of the most impressive panoramas, debuting it in St. Louis in 1849 before taking it throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe over the next five years. Lewis’ thirteen scenes of Iowa provide iconic views of the Hawkeye State soon after Statehood.
Dear Iowa City – Show Me the Money. Jonas Wescoatt served as Clerk of the District Court in Monroe County, Iowa. In 1849, he wrote to Josiah H. Bonney, Iowa Secretary of State in Iowa City, asking for an $18.59 reimbursement for county expenses. Wescoatt and his brothers went on to become key settlers of both Lucas and Monroe Counties in southern Iowa, but in 1853, while still a county judge, he headed west, hoping to cash in on Gold Fever by bringing a herd of Iowa cattle to California. Read more about these two Iowa pioneers.
Iowa’s Secretary Of State & Official Stone Finder. In the last post, we introduced you to Iowa’s Secretary of State – Josiah H. Bonney. Serving our state from Iowa City for two years (1848-1850), J.H. not only kept the government running, but he also had the job of mailing out books, while also scouring the state – searching for the best stone that would represent Iowa in the towering Washington Monument going up in Washington D.C.
1849 – Iowa Dollars To Doughnuts. Would you believe that between 1846 – when Iowa became the 29th State in the Union – and the mid-1850’s, our state constitution actually barred privatized banking? So, with no local banks and few federal guidelines, every Iowa community made up its own rules, causing chaos for most Iowans when it came to buying and selling. One such example is found in a December 1849 letter from the Keokuk County Treasurer – sent to the State Treasurer’s Office in Iowa City – asking for clarification on which bank notes and coins would be accepted for taxes due!
Old Capitol’s Stairway To Heaven. While Iowa’s new capitol building opened for business in 1842, it took another seven years before the second floor was fully accessible. In 1849, a beautiful reverse-spiral staircase was finally completed and with it the most iconic building in Iowa gained not just a flight of stairs but an architectural classic that still amazes visitors today.
1849 – H.H. Winchester – Iowa Travel Guide. Sometimes, it’s the common man who can best describe something of great beauty. H.H. Winchester made his first trip to Iowa in 1838, bought land, returned home to Vermont, and moved here with his family. Immediately following that 3,000 mile – 3 month trip, he wrote a descriptive letter that spoke of his love of this beautiful land. Ten years later – in 1849 – he sent a 4-page letter back to the Green Mountain State, telling his friends, once more, of the wonderful life he and his family had found in the Hawkeye State.
1849 – Iowans Want The Transcontinental Railroad! In the late 1840’s, a very determined dreamer/businessman from New York – Asa Whitney – began traveling the country, drumming up public support for his grand idea of a transcontinental railroad that reached to the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Congress had turned him down in 1845, and again in 1848, but now Whitney had a book and a speaking tour – getting more Americans behind him – including the voices of many Iowa citizens who saw our state as the centerpiece of such an endeavor.