The 1870’s in Iowa City.

As we mentioned earlier, Iowa City’s population exploded between 1850 and 1860 – from 1,250 souls to 5,241! But with the Civil War slowing down the economy, and the westward expansion taking Iowa’s capital to Des Moines (1857), for most of the 60’s, growth in Johnson County slowed to a snail’s pace and by the time we arrive at 1870 – Iowa City’s population has only increased to 5,914.

1875 Map of Iowa City published by A.T. Andreas in his large atlas. Below – scenes from Clinton Street in downtown Iowa City. Click here for more early maps of Iowa City.

1870’s Postal Cover from St. James Hotel. Read more here.

(M-0142) Here’s a very rare CDV card from Isaac Wetherby’s Iowa City studio featuring a photo of Old Capitol on University Square. When comparing this photo with other Wetherby shots of Old Capitol – fyi: he took the first one in 1854 – we believe this one was taken in the mid-1870’s. A CDV – carte de visite – was a type of small photograph (2.5″ x 4″) used in similar ways as passport photos today and usually featured pictures of individuals. This classic shot of Old Capitol was probably placed on a CDV display card and used as a sales sample for those wanting to buy a larger version of the photograph.

As Iowa State University (SUI) entered into the 1870’s – the campus – called University Square – was pretty simple – Central Hall (Old Capitol) in the middle, South Hall (left) – built in 1861, and North Hall (right) – opened in 1866.

By the mid 1870’s, however, the University’s new medical school – which began classes in South Hall (above left) in 1871 – added a working hospital in 1873 – re-furbishing Mechanics Academy (below) for medical purposes. Read more here.

In 1876, a new iron bridge replaced the long out-of-service Folsom toll bridge on Iowa Avenue, and with it being the nation’s centennial year (1776-1876), this new bridge was called the Centennial Bridge. Read more about the bridges of Iowa City here.

(C-0233) A beautiful embossed cover and 4-page letter to Mrs. Prudence M. Thompson of Oasis, Iowa in Johnson County – postmarked in Iowa City on March 3 (circa 1870-1871). The Oasis Post Office operated from 1864 until 1871, when its name was changed to Graham; however the name changed back later in 1871, and the post office was operational until 1920. Today, Oasis is an unincorporated community within section 26 of Graham Township – Johnson County. As of 2005, Oasis had a total population of 20 – contains several homes, a cemetery, and a functioning grain elevator. It was once a stop on the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern (BCR&N) Railway, and the old line has now become the Hoover Nature Trail which runs from Oasis to West Branch.
(C-0040) Postmarked in Iowa City on Sept. 27 (circa 1870-1871) Matthew Cavanagh (1832-1927), Iowa City Attorney/Mayor – The Cavanagh/Zetek House. This cover comes from the law office of Matthew Cavanagh (1832 – 1927) and is postmarked in Iowa City on Sept. 27 (circa 1870-1871). Cavanagh was the son of James Cavanagh (1806-1880), native of Ohio who moved to Iowa City in 1840; a farmer who was also involved in local politics. James Cavanagh built this home at 704 Reno Street in 1870 and after his death (1880), his wife Amy lived there until 1902. The house was then sold to Joseph Zetek and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.  Matthew Cavanagh, James’ son, engaged in the practice of law and real estate, and was born May 12, 1832 in Cass County, Michigan. He was married September 1858 to Mary Fellows of Lee County, Illinois. Matthew and Mary both graduated from Cornell College and Matthew was admitted to practice law in Iowa in 1861. He was Sheriff of Johnson County, Township Trustee, a member of the City Council (1862), Mayor of Iowa City (1878-1879) and a member of the Iowa City School Board and its President. He died October 13, 1927 at the age of 95 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City.
109-1879-182 IC cover
(C-0042) Postmarked –  February 4, 1879 in Iowa City. Star Grocery – Willard J. Welch, Proprietor. Wholesale & Retail Grocery on Dubuque Street. The backside of our envelope obviously has a “shopping list” for groceries.

(P-0336) Here’s an interesting post card from the Treasurer of SUI – Iowa State University-as it was called then. It’s postmarked in Iowa City on February 5, 1879 and is a confirmation receipt for $3.00 to Isaac Blunt in Westerville, Iowa in Decatur County. Blunt was applying $3 toward the student account of B. Edwards.

1-UX1-1873 1centbrownliberty
(P-0008) 1873 1¢ Lady Liberty Postal Card postmarked in Iowa City on Sept. 18, 1873 
(C-0041) Postmarked in Iowa City on November 12, 1877
(JP-083) This rare postal cover and letter was mailed by Coralville, Iowa resident – Ruben K. Fyke – written on November 11, 1878 and postmarked on November 16, 1878 in Coralville. The letter is addressed to Fyke’s sister – Miss Irene (Irena) Fike – who lives back in the Fike home in Olivesburg in Richland County, Ohio. 18-year old Irene Fike (1860-1918) is the daughter of Joseph (1803-1881) & Margaret (1818-1892) Fike, and she eventually married Wesley Kirkwood (1856-1938) who, of course, is related (an Ohio cousin) to Iowa’s Civil War Governor – Samuel J. Kirkwood. Read more here.

October 21, 2022

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

A.T. Andreas map of Iowa City, Andreas Atlas Company, 1875

Oasis, Iowa, Wikipedia

Town of Westerville, Iowa, Iowa Ghost Towns,

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