Since Sandy & I will soon be returning to Iowa City, making it our home again after 30 years, I thought I’d celebrate by sharing a wonderful piece of July 4th history from the city that I’ve come to love.
For those who don’t know the story, Iowa became a U.S. Territory in 1838, with statehood coming in 1846. Burlington, a bustling Mississippi River community located to the far south, had served as a temporary capitol in the past, but as Iowa, now a U.S. territory, expanded in population, its citizens insisted upon a more-centralized location for its capitol city.
On January 21, 1839, Territorial Governor Robert Lucas issued the following decree:
An Act to locate the Seat of Government of the Territory of Iowa … so soon as the place shall be selected, and the consent of the United States obtained, the commissioners shall proceed to lay out a town to be called “Iowa City”.
By early May, those commissioners, Chauncey Swan, John Ronalds and Robert Ralston, were surveying Johnson County along the Iowa River in search of the perfect location. Their search ended on a rolling hillside just about 2 miles north of the little community of Napoleon – founded July 4, 1838 – overlooking the Iowa River. On May 4, 1839, a small ceremony was held with a dedication stake being driven into the ground. Iowa historian, Benjamin F. Shambaugh gives us this overview…
Two months after surveyors planted the dedication stake into the ground — on July 4, 1839 — the first map of Iowa City was signed and approved. To celebrate Independence Day 1839, Chauncey Swan, the surveyors and crew held a small picnic near the future capitol building site. Once again, here’s Shambaugh’s report…
One year later – on July 4, 1840 – the new capitol’s cornerstone was laid, with Robert Lucas, the first governor of the Territory, officiating. I love the details…so here, once again – from Shambaugh’s book – is the full story!
Happy July 4th, 2020. Here’s to Independence! Here’s to Iowa City! Happy 181st Birthday, dear friend. We will be there soon. And may there not be a drunken man (or woman) to be seen on that day!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.