The 1880’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 had only increased to 5,914. Ten years later – in 1880 – with a 20% increase in population, Iowa City had grown to 7,123.

Clinton Street in the 1880’s

Here’s an ad (above) from The Iowa City Daily RepublicanSeptember 22, 1881 – for the Rock Island Railroad – the primary way to travel in and out of Iowa City. Read more here.

The Iowa City Republican began in 1848 as the Iowa Republican – succeeding the Iowa Standard – then renamed the Iowa Weekly Republican in 1855, and the Iowa City Republican in 1862. In 1922, it became the Johnson County News before ceasing publication in 1923. Read more here.

Click here to read about The Iowa City Republican’s editor of the 1880’s – H.S. Fairall.

University Square – Circa 1882 – Oil Painting by Frank Bond.

The State University of Iowa was growing as well and during the 1880’s, and as the student population was growing, so was the number of buildings on the SUI campus.

In a promotional piece, the University’s original four buildings are pictured – the Mechanics Academy was called Mercy Hospital, Old Capitol was called Central Building (or Central Hall), and North Hall was called Library Hall since it become the second home of the University Library (1882-1901). Read more here.

Two new red-brick facilities were added to the SUI campus during the 1880’s. The Medical Building (above left) – built in 1882, and Science Hall (Calvin Hall) – built in 1884 (above right). Both were constructed on University Square, with the Medical Building located immediately south of South Hall, and Science Hall located immediately north of North Hall.


(C-0038) State University of Iowa cacheted envelope from mid-1880’s This cacheted envelope is postmarked in Iowa City in the late 1880’s. It’s a letter written on SUI stationary and includes a beautiful cachet etching of the University campus. Read more here.

(JP-023) Here’s a postal cover from SUI in 1884 with the Latin phrase – “coronam non sine pulvere” – which translates “no laurel (or crown) without effort.”

(JP-024) In the 1880’s and beyond, numerous private business colleges are thriving in Iowa City – including the SUI School of Short-Hand & Reporters’ Bureau. Read more here.

(C-0053) (C-0055) Here’s two amazing personal letters, written in 1880 from Charles B. Elliott – Librarian – to Oscar L. Watkins in Fultonham, Ohio. One letter is written on State University of Iowa Law Department letterhead and stationary and is mailed in a beautiful envelope that shows the school’s upcoming calendar for 1881. Read more here.

(C-0289) This clever postal cover and colorful 2-page letter – dated December 11, 1887 – came from a SUI student from Clinton, Iowa and seems to be written to his girl friend, also from Clinton – Marci Potter – who is most likely going to school at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

(C-0043) This 1884 postal cover is from Thomas B. Wales and features the Holstein Breeders Association of America logo. For a period of 13 years, 1881 to 1894, Iowa City was home to one of the leaders of the Holstein breeders of the United States. Wales was a dairy stock breeder who is associated with the history of the Holstein breed of cattle in the United States and moved to Iowa City in the 1880’s. Read more here.

(C-0283) This 1886 postal cover is addressed to Robert S. Wieneke, age 7, c/o Henry J. Wieneke. Frederick T. Lueth was listed as a “manufacturer’s agent” in the Kansas City area. Obviously little Robert Wieneke is already showing signs of being a retailer like his dad and older siblings! Read more here.

(JP-022) This rare postal cover (above) and letter (below) comes from the RCMPS office of John Sueppel, Secretary and is dated March 30, 1887. Sueppel was born in Germany in 1836 and came to Iowa City in 1856, married Catherine Rohret in 1859, and together, they had nine children with six surviving into adulthood. John was elected Iowa City City Treasurer in 1876, and became Johnson County Treasurer in 1887 – holding that office for four years. Read more about the Sueppel family here.

(C-0045) With Iowa City being the home to some of the largest breeders of Holstein cattle in the US, here’s an interesting postal cover (1888) from L. F. Ross featuring a beautiful cachet for his cattle breeding business – Red Polled Cattle – in Iowa City on the Mount Prospect Farm – located 1 mile southeast of Iowa City. Click here for more.

(C-0047) From an unknown Iowa City writer – February 27, 1888.
(C-0232) A sweet 4-page letter to Mary Jane Howell – niece and nephew in Flat Ridge, Ohio – Guernsey County – from her aunt in Iowa City – July 26, 1888.  Here are some highlights…
You said your husband joined the church and I hope you have too. We must choose and trust a better world than this – it helps us to bear our troubles and trials. We have something to hope for here-after. Corn looks well, oats and hay good. We have all of our hay but wheat not worth cutting. Miny and Charley was at our house a day or two ago. Says she has a fine garden and will have plenty of apples for fall and winter. Put up two quarts of raspberries and will have some blackberries to put up. I got two letters from Martin and Jenny’s – they are doing well in California. We talk of going. I think it would do me good to take such a visit and stay about two years and rest our bones. Will please forgive your uncle for not writing. He doesn’t right too well. Mary Jane, I am afraid you work too hard – a woman’s work never makes a man stick. Good bye – a kiss for all and two for the babies. Your Aunt. Write soon.
(C-0048) This cover is postmarked July 9, 1889 in Lester Prairie, MN and arrived in Iowa City on July 11, 1889 and is addressed to H.W. Boerner, Iowa City, Iowa. Read more about the Boerner family here.

(P-0251) We close this salute to the 1880’s in Iowa City with a delightful postcard from 1889postmarked in Chicago on May 15 and addressed to M. H. Bailey – living at 214 Davenport Street in Iowa City. Montgomery Ward is writing to say there will be a slight delay in their furniture order. Read more here.

(M-0006) Notice (above) that the State of Iowa Flag looked nothing like it does today. In the late 1880s, Allen & Ginter began to produce cigarette card sets as promotional items for its cigarette and cigar brands. Topics varied from birds and wild animals to American Indian chiefs or flags of the world. Click here to read more about the history of the Iowa State flag. (M-0146) Below – from the same era comes this colorful Iowa History card produced by the Arbuckle Brothers Coffee Company of New York City.

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

Source for multiple Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps – Library of Congress

University Square painting-1882, Frank Bond, Facing East and Facing West – Iowa’s Old Capitol Museum, Linzie Kull McCray & Thomas Langdon (2007) University of Iowa Press, p viii

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