Our Iowa Heritage Index: 1850-1859.

As you can see, our growing website Our Iowa Heritage covers a lot of time (pre-1800 to the present) and a lot of people. We’ve written about famous people and the not-so-famous ones as well. Yet, despite a person’s prominence (or lack of it), everybody has a story. And as you read our posts, you’ll hopefully discover that everyone’s story is a good one. So, in order to better find these good stories and details surrounding them, we’ve added this INDEX of HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS to help you along the way. Enjoy your journey.

Our Iowa Heritage: An Introduction. We might suggest you start here! Here’s how & why I got started collecting stamps, coins, and other Iowa memorabilia.

1850’s – Surveying This New Land Called Iowa. Soon after Iowa became a U.S. Territory in 1838, the Public Land Survey System was created for the purpose of surveying, platting, and mapping this newly-acquired land in the west. Surveyor’s maps were created and my Boller family purchased land in Washington Township in SW Johnson County, and by 1853, were turning untamed prairie land into a family farm.

1850’s – Meet Some New Iowa City Friends. As Iowa City stepped into the 1850’s, the Hawkeye State was growing like a weed. Sending and receiving letters was only way to stay in touch with family, friends, and business associates. Here, we share a few of our rare postal covers from this era in Iowa City history.

Jacob B. Boller & Catharine Smucker. In the summer of 1853, Jacob & Catharine Boller ventured westward from Ohio to Washington Township of Johnson County, Iowa. Here, they joined with other brave Mennonite pioneers, farming the land, starting new schools and churches, and raising a family of eight Boller children, one of which became my great grandfather.

The Boller Farms of Johnson County – 1853. As Iowa became a state in 1846, 40-acre parcels were being sold at low prices to adventurous young men and women back east who wanted to start a new life. The Boller family bought eight parcels (320 acres) of rich farmland in the southwest corner of Johnson County, Iowa, and by 1853 had begun a new adventure on land that is still being farmed by Bollers today.

Tracking Down Iowa City’s Boyd Wilkinson. Right before Christmas of 1852, a letter arrived in Gilman Folsom’s mail. It’s dated December 10, 1852, and it’s a personal, hand-written letter from a concerned man from Oregon, Illinois. “I have a matter that I wish attended to in your city”… needing legal help in tracking down one “very slippery fellow”… Boyd Wilkinson. Nearly six years later, this same ‘slippery fellow’ met a sad end in one of Iowa City’s most famous murder mysteries.

Louis Englert – Iowa City’s Bavarian Beer Man. In 1853, calling on his Bavarian heritage, Louis Englert opened The Englert City Brewery, Iowa City’s first brewery. Operating his new business out of a basement on Market Street, beer production was a whopping ten barrels per day, using a Brobdingnagian kettle of brass, all carefully brewed in Louis’ modestly-equipped kitchen. Come read more about this name you might recognize: Englert – a big family that made a big impression on our fair community of Iowa City.

Iowa City – Coast to Coast. In the spring of 1854, the Coast family rolled into Iowa City from Youngstown, Ohio, and soon Pappa Coast was buying and selling land with the best of them. His son, William P., was one of SUI’s first students, and by 1890 had financed a new building, opening a new clothing store on Clinton Street – right across from Old Capitol. When William P’s two sons joined in around the turn of the century, Coast & Sons Clothiers was born and over the next 35 years, the Coast family offered Iowa Citians one of the finest men’s clothing stores in the country.

George H. Yewell – Iowa City’s Pioneer Artist. Eleven-year-old George Yewell came to Iowa City with his widower mother to live with family, and over the next decade, George fell in love with his new hometown. At age 17, he began his journals of both words and art, sketching Iowa City scenes along the way, and by the 1850’s, this artist was well on his way to becoming recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, but this Hawkeye never lost his love for Iowa, leaving us with a valuable portfolio of Iowa City sketches – some of the earliest pictures we have of our beloved hometown.

Iowa City – Through The Eyes Of George Yewell. In 1854, George Yewell was commissioned to provide twelve original sketches of prominent sites in Iowa City. An area banking corporation took those sketches, combined them with the map work of J.H. Millar, and the result was a beautiful decorative map. Today, this map – Iowa City And Its Environs – provides us with one amazing look at our community as it was in the mid-1800’s.

Isaac A. Wetherby – One Artist with Many Dreams. An artist specializing in portraits, Isaac Wetherby was enthralled by the commercial possibilities of daguerreotyping. As one of the first Bostonian artists to experiment with this new form of art, Wetherby used his “dags” to serve his artwork, painting oil portraits from his photographs. After a successful stint in Louisville, Kentucky, Wetherby began dreaming of coming west, and by the mid-1850’s, Isaac had opened his photography studio in Iowa City – soon to become our city’s most prolific 19th-century photographer.

Iowa City – Through The Eyes Of Isaac Wetherby. In July 1854, Isaac Wetherby arrived in Iowa City, opening a photography shop in a small second-floor office on Clinton Street. Throughout that first fall in Iowa City, when he wasn’t pre-occupied with customers, Isaac would venture about Clinton Street, experimenting with “non-professional” outdoor pictures – photos which, at the time, had little market value. But today, these outdoor shots have become Wetherby’s best known photographs, and the most history-laden pictures of early Iowa City.

Celebrating The Iowa State Fair. Iowans have always had a special way of celebrating life. In 1854, the good people of The Hawkeye State held their first State Fair in Fairfield. And only in 1898, WW II, and 2020 did the Fair not happen, continuing now for nearly 175 years. Heck, even Rodgers & Hammerstein celebrated our Iowa State Fair with a musical.

The Wide Awake Abolitionist & Keeper Of The Fair. Did you know that in the late 1850’s, Republicans were the “awakened” party, with thousands of young voters joining “Wide-Awake” chapters in nearly every county of every Northern “Free” state? It’s this awakened generation that played a huge part in electing a relatively-unknown senator from Illinois, named Abraham Lincoln, to be the 16th President of the U.S. Here in Iowa, brave abolitionists like Dr. J.M. Shaffer of Fairfield helped set the pace for such radical change, and by the way – Dr. Shaffer was also the key leader that helped pull together Iowa’s very first State Fair!

1855-1860 – Everything’s ‘Normal’ in Iowa City.  In February 1847 the State Legislature approved the recommendation that the State of Iowa sponsor a new University. Yet, nothing much happened in Iowa City until 1855 – and even then, only the Normal School was finding any success at all. From 1855 to 1860, it was the SUI Normal Department that literally kept this fledgling university alive. Come find out what ‘normal’ was at SUI.

Josias & Christiana Ritter – Iowa City Church Planters. In 1856, the good people of German Lutheran heritage in Iowa City decided they wanted a church community to call their own. They summoned a German man from Strümpfelbach to help them and over the next two years the church that became Zion Lutheran in Iowa City had its humble beginnings. Our 1857 Letter: Marie Strübel in Germany to Nannie (Christiana) Ritter in Iowa City.

Johann F. Doescher – Breaking Down Walls That Divide. This story is the second in the triad – Ritter, Wehrs, and Doescher: three German-born pastors who all came to Iowa City for a short time, establishing in one decade (1856-1866) the solid foundation of Zion’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church, which later became Zion Lutheran in Iowa City. Maybe the most inspiring story belongs to Johann Doescher, a young man with a true heart to care for souls, regardless of one’s ethnic or racial background.

Heinrich Wehrs – Iowa City’s Frontier Pastor. After Pastors Josias Ritter and Johann Doescher got the German Lutheran church in Iowa City established (1856-1862), others came to build on what God started. Fellow German pastor, Henirich Wehrs, came to town in 1862, becoming a circuit-rider, traveling a 200-mile ministry circle near Iowa City before settling in as pastor of Zion Lutheran from 1863-1866.

1856 – Go West, Young Doctor, Go West. When Iowa became the 29th State in the Union, it was the place young entrepreneurs back East dreamed of. Here is the fascinating story of one of those dreamers, a doctor from Massachusetts, who ended up coming to Lyons, Iowa, in 1856 and serving as a surgeon during the Civil War.

Iowa City – Here Comes The Railroad! On January 1, 1856, Iowa City changed forever. The long-awaited railroad finally arrived. Now everything, including the way we send and receive communication with others, suddenly took a huge step forward. Come read the full story – all aboard!

The Rock Island Iowa City Depot. In preparation for the coming of the railroad, the good people of Iowa City built a small depot at the south end of Johnson Street. While there are no known pictures of this depot, it faithfully served Iowa Citians until 1898, when it was replaced by the Rock Island depot that still stands today.

1857 – A Capitol Moving Day. From day one of statehood in 1846, there were those who wanted to see Iowa’s capital moved westward. Finally, in 1857, a deal was cut. The capitol would go to Des Moines while the university was exclusively secured for Iowa City. As one newspaper writer quipped, “Des Moines can have the politicians, we’ll take the professors!” Come read this “moving” story.

Samuel J. Kirkwood – Iowa’s Civil War Governor. After the Lincoln-Douglass debates changed American politics, gubernatorial candidates Samuel Kirkwood and Augustus Dodge crisscrossed Iowa debating the pros and cons of slavery. In October of 1859, Iowans chose rightly, sending Kirkwood to Des Moines, opening the door for a humble miller from Coralville to become Iowa’s famous Civil War Governor.


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