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.
Johnson County Ebenezers – 1837 to today.
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…
Let’s start at the beginnings of what we now call . . . Johnson County, Iowa (1837).
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.
Johnson County Ebenezer #1 – Remembering The Early Pioneers (1837).
Johnson County Ebenezer #2 – Remembering Chauncey Swan & Iowa City’s Beginnings (1839).
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…
Johnson County Ebenezer #3 – Remembering the Location of Iowa City (May 4, 1839).
In telling you about this next Ebenezer, allow me to share the words of Iowa historian Benjamin Shambaugh…
Johnson County Ebenezer #4 – Remembering the boundaries of the “original” Iowa City (May 4, 1839).
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 limestone monument at the southeastern corner of the city.
Johnson County Ebenezer #5 – Remembering Cordelia Swan – Iowa City’s First Pioneer Settler’s Death (September 19, 1839).
Johnson County Ebenezer #6 – Remembering the Construction of the Old Stone Capitol (1840-1841).
There are four different “remembrances” located within Old Capitol…
Johnson County Ebenezer #7 – Remembering Camp Pope & Our Civil War Veterans (1862).
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.
Johnson County Ebenezer #8 – Remembering Mr. Iowa City – Irving Weber (1900-1997).
Johnson County Ebenezer #9 – Remembering Nile Kinnick (1918-43).
Johnson County Ebenezer #10 – Remembering Pulitzer Prize Winner – James Alan McPherson (1943-2016).
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.
Johnson County Ebenezer #11 – Our Iowa Heritage – remembering Johnson County and eastern Iowa-related people, places, and events – one story at a time.
Johnson County Ebenezer #12 – Johnson County Remembrance Park – 1838, Today, and into the Future.
Allow me to close this post by introducing you to a new Ebenezer that a handful of Johnson County folks are attempting to develop. 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.