In truth, no man (or woman) is an island – we all build our life’s work on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. So it is with the writing of historical accounts about people, places, and events from Iowa City, Johnson County, and eastern-Iowa. For nearly two hundred years, those of us who write about our distant past must pull from the work that’s already been done by others.
When it comes to researching the history of Johnson County, there are many wonderful resources that we’ve found invaluable to our work. Here on this post, I’d like to tip my hat to a few of those good folks who have gone before us, sharing twelve Johnson County historic gems, beginning with the earliest (1838) and then moving closer to today. So, here goes…
1838-1843 – The Journal of Cyrus Sanders. Fortunately, one of Johnson County’s earliest settlers, Cyrus Sanders, recorded his early adventures over a five-year period (1838-1843), in a journal – giving us a day-by-day account of one man’s trek from Ohio to Iowa. An amazing first-hand account for all Johnson County historians. Read more here.
1868 – Iowa City pioneer, F. M. Irish (1801-1875), was the first person to systematically write an eye-witness history of Johnson County. His article, History of Johnson County, was divided into four sections, first appearing in four consecutive volumes of the Annals of Iowa (1868).
1880 – Sketch of Johnson County – The Iowa City Board of Trade – this small 28-page booklet offers a great overview of early businesses and other biographical sketches.
1883 – History of Johnson County, Iowa containing a History of the County and the Townships, Cities and Villages from 1836 to 1882 – Together with Biographical Sketches is, by far, is the weightiest volume on Johnson County history with 966 pages of Johnson County history. The editor/publisher is not listed anywhere in the book, but the preface credits the writings of famed Iowa Citians such as Henry Felkner, John P. Irish (son of F.M. Irish), S.C. Trowbridge, T.S. Parvin, Samuel Kirkwood, Samuel Calvin, and many others.
There is a dirty little story behind the publication of this massive 1883 volume, and it involves the writings of one of Johnson County’s earliest residents – Cyrus Sanders. Click here to read the juicy details.
1893 – Iowa City – A Contribution to the Early History of Iowa – Benjamin F. Shambaugh (1871-1940) – This classic book by Shambaugh is the first of many books this SUI professor wrote over his 40 years of service. Click here to read more.
1893 – Portrait and Biographical Record of Johnson, Poweshiek and Iowa Counties, Iowa contains biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, also biographies of the presidents of the United States – 742 pages from 1893.
1898-1922 – A Collection of 25 Yearbooks from the Johnson County Old Setters’ Association – In 1866, a handful of Johnson County pioneers gathered for a picnic where they reminisced about the early days. That group grew over the years and continued meeting until 1925, and beginning in 1898, published an annual reunion booklet. Here are twenty-five of those classic pieces.
1912-13 – Leading Events in Johnson County, Iowa – Volume 1 & 2 – Clarence Ray (C.R.) Aurner (1902-1930) – a huge collection of writings in two volumes, the second of which is purely biographical sketches.
1939 – The Old Stone Capitol Remembers – Benjamin F. Shambaugh – Published in 1939, upon the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Iowa City, The Old Stone Capitol Remembers contains a huge collection of facts and figures, but more importantly, it includes many of the entertaining stories surrounding the history of Iowa City, Johnson County, The University of Iowa, and the Territory/State of Iowa. Click here to read more.
1973-1997 Irving Weber Writings (1900-1997) – In January 1973, when Weber was 72, The Iowa City Press Citizen began publishing his stories on local history on a weekly basis. Over the next 25 years, under the banner Irving Weber’s Iowa City, our community’s best-known historian published over 800 of his columns, half of which were then reprinted in eight volumes published by the Iowa City Lions Club. Click here to read more.
2003-2010 Bob Hibbs Writings (1941-2019) – Historian Bob Hibbs followed in the footsteps of Irving Weber, writing on a wide variety of Johnson County subjects and posting them on his “Saturday Postcards” website.
Marybeth Slonneger is long-time resident of Iowa City and author of five beautiful books focusing on Johnson County history: Remembrance Park – A Wildflower Park to Contemplate the Origins of Johnson County, Iowa (2022), Finials: A View of Downtown Iowa City (2015), Wetherby’s Gallery: Paintings, Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes of an Artist (2012), The Burg: A Writers’ Diner (2011), Small But Ours: Images and Stories from a Nineteenth Century Bohemian Neighborhood (1999). Click here to read more.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.