1850’s – Meet Some New Iowa City Friends.

Read more about this huge influx of new settlers in the 1850’s here.

Here is the U.S. Land Office on S. Clinton Street. In the 1850’s, H.D. Downey was appointed to oversee this busy office. Read more here.

As Iowa City stepped into the 1850’s, the Hawkeye State was growing like a weed. The editor of the Keokuk Whig addresses this amazing growth…

STILL THEY COME! By railways and steamers, the flood of immigration continues pouring into the great West. The lake-shore roads are crowded to their utmost capacity; single trains of fourteen or fifteen cars, all full of men, women, and a large sprinkling of children, are almost daily arriving at Chicago. The Ohio River steamers are crowded in the same way. On Friday last, two steamers brought into St. Louis some 600 passengers; most of whom, being destined for the northwest, have already passed through this place. And still they come, from Pennsylvania, from Ohio, Indiana, and other States, until, by the size of this exodus, that of the Israelites becomes an insignificant item, and the greater migrations of later times are scarcely to be mentioned. Whether the older States are suffering by this rapid depletion, or how long they can endure it, is their own look-out. Certain it is that Iowa in particular, and the other Western and Northwestern States generally are rapidly filling up with a hardy, industrious and wealth-producing population. Let them come! Here is room, and to spare! Here is a theatre for human operations on the grandest scale! Here is the place for the young man, just starting out in life, for the old man, seeking to provide for his children, for all sorts of men, in search of fortune, fame, or wealth; for anyone, also, who has an eye and a soul for Nature in her grandest forms of lavish profusion and splendid magnificence.

While Iowa City came into existence in 1839, the city itself was not officially incorporated until January 24, 1853. Click on the links to see Iowa City sketches by George Yewell and photographs by Isaac Wetherby from the 1850’s.

Here are just a few letters to and from folks in Iowa City during the 1850’s…

(C-0237) Stamp-less Cover/Letter postmarked and dated December 10, 1852 addressed Iowa City attorney – Gilman Folsom. Read more here.
(C-0250) Circa 1852 – This rare stamp-less postal cover is postmarked on September 14 in Volcano, California and is addressed to G.D. Woodin in Iowa City. There is so much history in this one cover. First, it comes from Volcano, CA, which at the time (1849-1857) was located in the center of Gold Rush Country. Many Iowa City residents headed west in the early 1850’s in response to “Gold Fever” that swept the nation. Obviously the writer of our letter was one of those gold-seekers with Iowa City connections. The second piece of history here surrounds G.W. Woodin, Esq. – a prominent Iowa Citian who became very pro-active in the anti-slavery movement that preceded the Civil War. Read more here.
(C-0026) Circa 1855 – A letter to H.W. Reynolds – postmarked December 8 in Iowa City.
(C-0027) Circa 1855 – A stamp-less letter to Dr. Dwight Carlos Dewey, postmarked in Iowa City on September 29. Dewey was born December 17, 1824 in Turin, New York. In 1849, he went to medical school in Buffalo, New York, where he attended lectures by Austin Flint and Corydon La Ford, two of the most renowned doctors of their time. In 1855, Dwight Dewey moved his practice from New York Mills, New York, to Keokuk, Iowa, and later to Iowa City. He accepted a post as assistant physician at the newly established Iowa Mental Hospital in Mt. Pleasant in March 1861, and stayed until 1865, when he moved to Washington, D.C. He practiced there for a brief time before returning to Turin, New York. Dewey married Mary Hart on October 20, 1868. He died in Turin, New York, in 1875. Read more about “stamp-less” mail and how postage rates were determined.

(C-0028) Circa 1856 This decorative letter addressed to William F. Johnston, Esq. in Iowa Cityhand-postmarked in Blue Earth City Township in Faribault County, Minnesota. Born in Mt. Pleasant, PA in 1833, William F. Johnston learned the trade of carpentering from his father and pursued that business for several years. He then took up merchandising and for two years was employed as a salesman in his native town. In 1856, accompanied by two companions, he started Westward to Portage City, Wisconsin. After a few months, however, they left Portage, with one going to Minnesota (the author of our letter?), and the other two to Iowa. At Iowa City, Johnston was offered a clerkship in a store, but concluded that advancement in that position would not be very rapid so returned to his trade, working for $2 per day, his tools being furnished him by the contractors. In the fall he again began clerking, continuing that business until 1858, when he came to Toledo (Tama County) where he became a very highly respected member of the community.

(JP-031) James H. & Jas. Otis Gower lived in Iowa City and their brother Charles W. lived in Greenville, Maine. These men were big-time land investors – “selecting, purchasing, and selling lands in Iowa.” Above is a rare postal cover and circular that Gowers Land Agency sent around the Midwest in 1855. Read more about their partnership with the Banking House of Cook, Sargent & Downey here.

(JP-029) Here are two rare postal covers from 1857 – both coming from the final months of the financial boom of the 1850’s. Cook, Sargent & Downey Bank and the Iowa City firm owned by James H. & Jas. Otis Gower were heavily involved with land transactions around the State of Iowa, and both had offices in the new Banking House on Banking Corner. Read more here.

(C-0036) Postmarked in Iowa City on August 3, 1857 This postal cover from The Clark House in Iowa City is addressed to Samuel McFarland, Esq. in Mt. Pleasant (Henry County), Iowa. Read more here.

(C-0240) 1857 Stamp-less Cover from Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, Germany and written in Kurrentschrift/German. The letter is addressed to Rev. Josias Ritter, Iowa City, Johnson Co, Iowa, N Amerika and is dated December 20th 1857. Read more here.

(C-0245) Postmarked in Iowa City on September 19, 1858, this is a letter from Ellie Stephens, a new SUI student, attending the Normal School, being trained as a teacher. Read more here.

(C-0037)This rare stamp-less cover has been stamped PAID, sent from the Normal School – State University of Iowa in Iowa Cityand is addressed to Alonzo Brown, Esq. Supt. of Common Schools in Garnavillo – Clayton County, Iowa.Our cover includes the attached document dated February 8, 1859 – a recruitment letter for the Spring and Fall Sessions (1859) in Iowa City. Read more here.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

List of Incorporated Cities-Iowa, Iowa.gov

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