The 1890’s in Iowa City.

Official census records indicate that, in 1890, Iowa City’s population had actually stagnated during the late 1880’s (see chart below), but then, started to grow again throughout the coming decade, reaching close to 8,000 at the turn of the century.


1895 – one of the early street paving project in Iowa City. The corner of Washington and Clinton across the street from University Square. Read more here.

Above are two views of Old Capitol taken from the west – note the dirt road and wooden sidewalk – today’s Iowa Avenue – and some of Iowa City’s oldest cabins built in the 1850’s. During the 1890’s, this area west of Old Capitol – known as the Rinella Neighborhood – was rebuilt – beginning with Iowa Field (below). Read more here.

Iowa Field – SUI President Charles A. Schaeffer, a proponent of college athletics, saw to it that Iowa have a dedicated space to play baseball, football, and other sports. This space, abutting the Iowa River and positioned between what is now Iowa Avenue and Burlington Street, was known as Iowa Field, opening in 1895. Click here to read more.
This 1895 picture shows North Hall (left), the new Science Hall (right) and the new Dental Building (center) along with the beautiful oak trees of University Square.
The SUI “Red Brick” Campus – Circa 1895.

Certainly, one of the reasons for Iowa City’s growth in the 1890’s was due to the expansion of the State University of Iowa. In 1890, the SUI campus was limited to the five buildings located on University Square – Old Capitol (Central Hall), South Hall (1861), North Hall (1865), Medical Building (1882), and Science Hall (1884), plus the Mechanics Academy (1842) – used for the SUI hospital. But during the 1890’s, six additional facilities (see pics below) would be added – bringing SUI into what is, today, called “The Red Brick” Campus. Click here to read more details.

Click here to read about all twelve buildings that made up The SUI Red Brick Campus of 1895.

Without a doubt, The World’s Columbian Exposition – The Chicago World’s Fair – in 1893 caused a lot of excitement around the country, and across Iowa. Celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America (1492), the fairgrounds were dedicated on October 21, 1892, but not actually opened to the public until May 1, 1893.

The Chicago World’s Fair ran from May though October of 1893.

The State of Iowa built its own exposition building (see pics above) at the Chicago World’s Fair, as did thirty-three other states. Wednesday and Thursday, September 20 & 21, 1893 were celebrated as Iowa Days at the fair.

(BH-114) The Iowa Columbian Commission issued a 438-page published report at the 1893 World’s Columbian Expedition in Chicago. Our hardcover volume is a very rare copy signed by S.H. Mallory, Commission Executive Committee.

(M-0135) Speaking of celebrating the State of Iowa – here’s a State of Iowa mini-button from the Whitehead & Hoag Button Manufacturing Company of Newark, New Jersey – the first and largest manufacturer of commercial pins/buttons in America. Our State of Iowa button was produced sometime after the company began producing commercial pins in 1896.

With the new Dental Building (in the center – above right) added in 1894 to University Square, things were starting to get a bit crowded with six large buildings and four smaller support structures on the central campus. (Read more here) In a serious attempt to address this uncontrolled growth, SUI President Charles A. Schaeffer (1887-1898) strongly suggested the Board of Regents adopt a long-range facility plan, and in October 1897, Schaeffer (below left) got the ball rolling by announcing a competition for the design of a new Liberal Arts Building.

The Board hired as contest judge – Henry Van Brundt of Kansas City (above right) – one of the architects of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Van Brundt chose a scheme in the grand style of the Chicago exhibition and recommended that the new building – The Hall of Liberal Arts – be built on University Square – immediately to the south east of Old Capitol – with construction beginning in 1898.

(P-0026) Hall of Liberal Arts – today’s Schaeffer Hall.
These 1893 Columbian postage stamps were part of the very first U.S. commemorative stamps celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World.
(C-0049) This postal cover from Chas. Lewis in Iowa City – postmarked February 17, 1893 – included the most popular stamp in the Columbian series – the two-center – issued for use at the Chicago World’s Fair.

Which now, brings us to one more Columbian World’s Exposition postal cover…

(C-0050) The return address on this cover shows that Charles C. Shrader, Esq. of Iowa City was a “Stamp Collector.” This unique cover was postmarked in New York City – November 29, 1895 and the postmarked again upon its arrival in Iowa City – December 1, 1895. Charles was the youngest son of Dr. J. C. Shrader Read more here.

Dr. John Clinton (J.C.) Shrader (above left) was one of the founding doctors of the University of Iowa School of Medicine in 1870 – specializing in medicine for women and children. J.C.’s oldest son – William Edwin (W.E.) Shrader (above right) opened Shrader Drug Company in Iowa City in 1879. Read more here.

(P-0212) 1897 – Come to the Johnson County Fair – August 23-26 This unique advertising card was distributed to children in Iowa City to encourage them to bring parents, teachers, and “all your friends” to the 1897 Johnson County Fair, especially on Children’s Day – Tuesday, August 24 – free admission for “scholars” under 15 years old! Interestingly enough, our card comes from the Johnson County Fair President – Dr. J.C. Shrader.

Try to follow the numerous postmarks on this postal cover (below) from the new Dental Building on University Square

266-267-1898 CR IC Davnpt
(C-0051) The postal cover is postmarked in Cedar Rapids on March 21, 1898 (Postmark 1). Received in Iowa City on March 22 (Postmark 2) in Iowa City (backside), but marked ‘unclaimed.’ The letter was sent back to The Dental Department at SUI. One month later, the Dental Department re-mailed the letter using a second stamp – postmarked in Iowa City on April 25 at both 8:30 am (Postmark 3) and 9 pm (Postmark 4). After 24 hours of hunting for Dr. C. R. Baker, the post office finally forwards the letter to him in Davenport, postmarking it on April 26 at 9 pm (Postmark 5). The letter finally arrives in Davenport on April 26 at midnight (Postmark 6-backside)! Whew!
(C-0120) 1892 – W. Bailey of The State University of Iowa (SUI) Quill. The SUI Quill was an early predecessor of the Daily Iowan student newspaper. Read more here.

(C-0052) An interesting business letter, dated January 22, 1898, from P. J. Regan, Proprietor of Iowa City Nurseries – established in 1849 – “The Oldest and Most Reliable in the State” to Frank O. Harrington of York Center, Iowa, stating an additional “fifty Ben Davis and fifty Willow Twig” (apple trees) will be added to his original order. York Center is in SW Iowa, in Pottawattamie County (Council Bluffs area).

(P-0239) This colorful “business card” from the 1890’s featured the Charter Oak Stoves and Ranges sold exclusively in Iowa City at Maresh & Holubar. Charter Oak Stove Company, of St. Louis, Missouri, came into business in 1885. Giles F. Filly, founder of the company, designed and invented wood stoves impressing the owners of the Excelsior Manufacturing Company, who saw great opportunities for expansion. The manufacturing company and equipment was turned over to Giles F. Filly, while the Fisher family (owners of Excelsior), relocated as a hardware business in Quincy, Illinois. Stoves, made in St. Louis, were then shipped to the Fisher’s up the Mississippi River, and from there Excelsior distributed the products throughout the country. Almost all households owned two wood stoves, one for cooking and one for heating, so the wood stove sales were thriving even in the smallest of towns. It was not uncommon in these times to see a boat going down the river with smoke coming from a wood stove to heat the occupants in the winter months. The Charter Oak Stove Company had many productive years until it finally closed its doors in 1949.

Click here to read about the earliest days of The Iowa City Public Library…

Here’s to Iowa City, Iowa of the 1890’s…

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

Brick paving project in Iowa City – 1895 photo by Laurence Welsh courtesy of Paul Welsh, Saturday Postcard 233: Iowa City Paves Over the Mud, Bob Hibbs, February 28, 2004 

Iowa at the World’s Columbian Exposition – Chicago 1893, Iowa Columbian Commission

Iowa State building, World Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, Library of Congress

World’s Columbian Exposition, Wikipedia

1893 World’s Fair Timeline,

Henry Van Brundt, Wikipedia

Dr. John Clinton Shrader, Find-A-Grave

William Edwin Shrader, Find-A-Grave

Charles C. Shrader, Find-A-Grave

Photos from: Finials – A View of Downtown Iowa City, Marybeth Slonneger, pp 97-98

Antique Wood Burning Stoves,

Whitehead & Hoag Company History,

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