Throughout history, whenever a special event occurs, we human beings will tend to find a way to commemorate that event, by many times, placing a physical object at the exact location where that special event occurred.
In biblical times, God’s people, who generally had a miserable track-record when it came to remembering big God-events, used what one biblical author (Samuel) calls an Ebenezer – a stone of remembrance that would help jog their memories – pointing to a special time or event in their past when God interacted with them, working on their behalf. So, it is today.
Throughout America, in both secular and sacred settings, you will find countless “Ebenezer” remembrance stones scattered across the land, though in our generation, we use more advanced “stones” such as plaques, statues, gravestones, monuments, or even at times, large buildings to commemorate, or remember, special people, places, or events from our past.
On December 21, 1837, Johnson County officially came into existence, by an act of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, meeting in Burlington, Iowa. At that point in time, there were only a handful of “claim cabins” (see pic above) made of timber and scattered on a few acres of untamed prairie land adjacent to the Iowa River.
The one building of any significance was John Gilbert’s log-cabin trading post. From 1837 to 1839, this trading house served as the main gathering place for early settlers, even becoming Johnson County’s first post office in 1839.
Over the last 175+ years, the good people of Johnson County, Iowa have established many such Ebenezers – remembrance “stones” that have been placed here and there with the hope that when you and I see them, we will stop and remember the person, event, or story that lies behind the monument we’re looking at. Allow me now to give you twelve such examples…
In Iowa City’s City Park, there are two log-cabin replicas, the second of which is built in remembrance of John Gilbert’s 1837 Trading Post (left above). These two cabins were built in 1889 and 1913, respectively, by the Johnson County Old Settlers Association and are great reminders of Johnson County’s earliest days. Click here for more.
As long as we are at City Park, here’s a stone – see pic above – with an attached bronze tablet that was placed in the park by the Pilgrim Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1939.
The stone commemorates the 100th anniversary of one of Chauncey Swan’s most memorable decisions. Swan was a Dubuque statesmen chosen by the Iowa Territorial Legislature in 1839 to lead a three-man commission assigned to secure land where Iowa’s new territorial capital city – Iowa City – would be built. In May, 1839, Swan and handful of others canoed up the Iowa River, about two miles north of John Gilbert’s trading post, and chose a beautiful piece of land overlooking the Iowa River – which now brings us to our next Ebenezer…
In telling you about this next Ebenezer, allow me to share the words of Iowa historian Benjamin Shambaugh…
As best we know, this “post or slab” that Swan and Ronalds drove into the ground on May 4, 1839 has been lost – possibly even removed when construction of the capitol building began later that same year. Historian Bertha Shambaugh sketched what she imagined it might have looked like (above).
Click here to read more about the original layout of Iowa City and its street names.
Almost immediately after Chauncey Swan chose the location for Iowa City, the difficult work of surveying and platting of the new city began. Iowa City, in 1839, was laid out within one-square-mile, with Capitol Square, of course, being the focal point, sitting atop a grassy hill overlooking the Iowa River. After the surveying was completed and the map drawn up (see below), the good people of Iowa City placed a marker at the very southeastern corner of the city – today’s 331 Summit Street. In 1935, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a limestone monument at this same spot and it still stands today – serving as a reminder of the “original” one square mile of land called Iowa City. Read more here.
On September 19, 1839, Chauncey & Dolly Swan’s five-year-old daughter Cordelia, died, becoming the first white settler to die in Iowa City, and the first burial in, what is today, Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. The burial site had been largely forgotten until the Pilgrim Chapter of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) placed a marker at the site in 1935. Since then, an even larger memorial has been placed on the gravesite, honoring Cordelia and her pre-mature death in 1839. Read more here.
There are five different “remembrances” located within Old Capitol…
Old Capitol Remembrance #6a – located on the east side of the building.
Old Capitol Remembrance #6c – located on the west side of the building.
Old Capitol Remembrance #6e – In 1976, after a complete restoration of Old Capitol, the National Park Service designated the building as a National Historic Landmark. The marker is mounted on the east stairway (see pic above).
Camp Pope, established in August 1862 on land next to Ralston Creek, north of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad, bordered on the west by present day Summit Street, on the east by Oakland Avenue and on the north by Seymour Avenue. The southern boundary of the camp extended beyond the tracks, to Governor Kirkwood’s house on Wyoming Road (today Kirkwood Avenue) and that that portion of the camp was used as a parade ground. It may be that the land for the camp was owned and donated for that purpose by Samuel Kirkwood.
A mass rally was held in Iowa City on August 9, 1862, to encourage enlistment. Local enthusiasm, plus the threat of a draft, ultimately brought out more than twice Iowa’s quota for this particular call for volunteers. The regiments that mustered at Camp Pope – the 22nd, 28th, and 40th Infantry Volunteers – were formed in response to Abraham Lincoln’s call for 300,000 volunteers in July of 1862. In 1926, a plaque commemorating the camp was attached to a large boulder and placed in the front yard of Longfellow School at what would have been the northern edge of Camp Pope. Click here to read more about Iowa and the Civil War.
Isaac A. Wetherby (1819-1904). 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. In 2021, Iowa City honored Wetherby by naming a 24-acre park on the city’s south side – 2400 Taylor Drive – in his honor. Click here to read more.
James Alan McPherson (1943–2016) was an American essayist and short-story writer. He was the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and was included among the first group of artists who received a MacArthur Fellowship. At the time of his death, McPherson was a professor emeritus of fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In March 2021, The Iowa City City Council approved the renaming of Creekside Park to James Alan McPherson Park, located at 1856 7th Avenue Court. Click here to read more.
Allow me to close this post by introducing you to Remembrance Park – a new Ebenezer that a handful of Johnson County folks are developing. In 1837, as we mentioned earlier, Johnson County was nothing more than a few log cabins and a central meeting place – John Gilbert’s Trading Post. In January of 1838, Johnson County residents had their very first “business” meeting and it was not only historical because of its timing, but more importantly, it’s worth remembering because of the beautiful diversity that was present for that first gathering. Click here to read the full story and the vision for Johnson County Remembrance Park.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
What does the term Ebenezer mean in the Bible?, GotQuestions.org
City Park Log Cabins Recently Listed In The National Register Of Historic Places, Community Corner, August 7, 2013
Iowa City – A Contribution to the Early History of Iowa, Benjamin F. Shambaugh, State Historical Society of Iowa, 1893, pp 22-23
Historic Markers, Iowa City – Pilgrim Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)
Bertha Shambaugh sketch, Clarence Ray (C.R.) Aurner, Leading Events in Johnson County, Iowa – Volume 1, p 125
1839 marker, South Summit Street District, NPGallery
Old Stone Capitol Marker #1, HMdb.org
Old Stone Capitol Marker #2, HMdb.org
Iowa City Summit Street Marker 1839, A Guide to the Hawkeye State, Workers of the Writers Program of the WPA in the State of Iowa, 1938
Some Historic Markers in Iowa, Susie Webb Wright, State Historical Society of Iowa, 1943
Johnson County, Iowa Parks, Genealogy Trails
Where Was Camp Pope?, CampPope Bookshop
Camp Pope Plaque, Johnson County, Iowa Civil War Monuments
Nile Kinnick, Art on Campus, University of Iowa Facility Management
Wetherby Park, City of Iowa City
Ribbon-cutting to be held in Iowa City celebrating the renaming of Creekside Park, IowaNewsNow, CBS2News, July 30, 2021
Remembrance Park Dedication, Johnson County Remembrance Park
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