Johnson County’s Own – Washington Township.

This rare 1869 map of Washington Township – Johnson County is part of Our Iowa Heritage collection.

If you’ve visited the Our Boller Family section of our website, you know that Washington Township of Johnson County, Iowa (see maps above & below) has played an important role in Our Boller Story. So here, we’d like to share with you the rich heritage of this township, located in the far southwestern corner of Johnson County.

Click here to read more about the Boller farms of Washington Township.

Like all sections of Johnson County, Washington Township was first inhabited by Native American people – with the most recent being the Meskwaki Tribe. When white settlers began coming into Johnson County in larger numbers, the Meskwaki people were forced westward, and were eventually relocated to east-central Kansas (1845). Read more here.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story, because in 1857, a small number of determined Native Iowans from the Sauk & Fox tribes returned to buy back 80 acres of Iowa land in nearby Tama County, establishing, what is today known as, The Meskwaki Nation. In his 1979 book – The Deer Creek Story – Dr. Glen R. Miller of Goshen, Indiana, references his father’s interaction with members of the Meskwaki tribe as he was growing up in Washington Township. As you’ll see later in this post, the Miller-side of my Boller family shared their Iowa land with the tribe when first arriving in Iowa in the 1840’s. Above is a photo from the 1966 Miller Family Reunion in Washington Township which brought a Meskwaki tribal celebration to the gathering. Read more here.

So, in order to tell you about the earliest white settlers of Washington Township, we must, first, travel about 750 miles eastward until we get to…

It’s here – Casselman Valley – near the intersection of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where those who first settled Washington Township in Johnson County first lived.

*Garrett County was last county to be formed in Maryland (1872) – created from a far west portion of Allegany County. This fact will be important when reading about the Miller family below, and when exploring the story of S.D. Guengerich.

In the Casselman River Valley (above left) – which is all a part of the Monogahela River Basin (above right) – the Casselman River flows north between Negro and Meadow Mountain in Garrett County, Maryland*, with two starting points that join together about three miles south of Grantsville. The river then flows north, past Springs, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where it moves northwest toward Rockwood before it turns south, joining the Youghiogheny River – which flows north to Pittsburgh and empties into the Ohio River – the “roadway” to the West in the mid-1800’s.

As we said, it’s here – in the Casselman Valley – where the Amish-Mennonite families who first settled in Washington Township of Johnson County lived before heading westward in the 1840’s. And now, this is where this story gets personal…

The Miller’s Amish-Mennonite farmland in the Casselman River Valley.

So, as you’ll see in a moment, my ggg grand aunt, Susanna Miller, along with her husband Daniel Guengerich, were the very first pioneers to settle in Washington Township (1846), and my ggg grandparents, Benedict B. Miller and his wife, Barbara Gingerich, followed about four years later – around 1850! And guess what? They all originally came from the Casselman Valley!

Let me explain…

Jacob & Anna Miller owned two farms in the Casselman Valley – one in Maryland (Mt. Nebo) and the other in Pennsylvania (Springs). Keep in mind that these two farms are just a few miles from each other.

As it turns out, my ggggg grandparents on the Miller side of my family tree – Jacob Miller (born 1754 – 1835, and the first known Amish bishop to live in the Casselman Valley), and his wife, Anna Stutzman (born 1755 – 1814) received their land warrant near Springs, Pennsylvania in Somerset County on April 26, 1793. Records also indicate that Bishop Miller was the first Amish Mennonite farmer to own land in Allegany (Garrett) County as well, when he bought 300 acres on Mt. Nebo near Grantsville, Maryland in 1805. This farm was called Miller’s Delight! By 1810, Jacob and Anna Miller had moved westward to Shanesville, Ohio, but not before selling 150 acres of his Pennsylvania farmland to his son Benedict (see below).

Benedict & Catherine Miller took ownership of the Miller Springs farm in Pennsylvania.

Next up, my gggg grandparents on the Miller side of my family tree – Benedict Miller (born 1781) and his wife, Catherine Beachy (born 1778 and married on July 17, 1803 – 1834) – took over the Springs family farm in the Casselman Valley. Benedict became an ordained minister in 1809 and served as bishop from 1813 until his death on June 11, 1837. Which now brings us to where our Iowa story begins, since six of Benedict & Catherine Miller’s children ended up coming to Washington Township in Johnson County between 1846 and 1857.

The Miller farm in Springs was the home of my ggg aunt – Susanna Miller.

As we mentioned earlier, my ggg grand aunt – Susanna Miller (born on October 5, 1812 on the Mt. Nebo farm – Miller’s Delight – near Grantsville, Maryland) & her husband – Daniel P. Guengerich (born 1813 in Germany) – were the first to settle in Johnson County (1846). Susanna’s parents – Benedict & Catherine Miller – as they grew older, sold the Springs farm to their son – Joel B. Miller – and in 1833, Daniel Guengerich – who had just arrived, with his step-father, from Germany – got a job with Joel, working as a carpenter. And that’s how Daniel & Susanna met – marrying in 1835.

Now, over a period of about eleven years (1846-1857), six Miller children made their way to Washington Township…

Miller #1 – Susanna Miller & her husband, Daniel P. Guengerich, in the spring of 1846. Keep reading to see their Johnson County story (below).

Miller #2 – Peter B. Miller & his wife, Catherine Yoder came later in 1846.

Miller #3 – My ggg grandparents – Benedict B. Miller (1815-1883) & his wife, Barbara Gingerich (1816-1901) – (read more here) arrived around 1851, traveling with…

Miller #4 – Benedict’s sister, Salome Miller & her husband, John Kempf.

Miller #5 – Elizabeth Miller & her husband, Isaac Eash, arrived here in 1851, and…

Miller #6 – Jacob B. Miller & his wife, Anna Schoenbeck came in 1857.

So now, speaking of settling in Washington Township, let me give you a bit more of the back story…

Mennonite records show that an Amish/Mennonite exploration group from the Casselman Valley set out in the summer of 1840 to find suitable lands in the west, believing the area surrounding Iowa City to be an excellent choice. And, according to historian Barthinius L. Wick (see article below), this 1840 group loved what they found, returned to Pennsylvania, but decided, in 1841, to settle in Indiana instead.

While the first group from Casselman Valley decided not to venture as far west as Iowa, the word did get out amongst the Amish-Mennonite communities of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and now Ohio, that Iowa was definitely a wonderful place to consider. Land was cheap, and, based on the first-hand reports, the area around Iowa City was everything a farmer would need to be successful. Which brings us back, now, to…

In the early 1840’s, river boats were traveling up and down the Iowa River to Iowa City, making this area perfect for farmers who needed to transport goods.

Daniel P. Guengerich – By 1838, Daniel and Susanna had purchased 22 acres of farmland in Fairfield County in Ohio, and in 1845, with his half-brother, Joseph J. Swartzendruber, Daniel made his way to Johnson County to check out the positive reports he had heard about Iowa. Along the banks of Deer Creek in Washington Township, the explorers found fertile soil giving life to magnificent hickory groves and clear running streams. Believing that this would be the best location for their families, the two pioneers walked to Dubuque, where they officially entered their land claims with the U.S. Government – and then returned back home for the winter. Once again, historian Barthinius L. Wick tells us more…

The next spring (1846), Daniel & Susanna (Miller) Guengerich and family, William Wertz and family, and Joseph J. Swartzendruber came west – first, by boat down the Ohio River, north on the Mississippi River to Bloomington (Muscatine), and then by wagon over to Johnson County. Once here, William Wertz homesteaded eighty acres, while Daniel staked out one-hundred-and-twenty acres near Deer Creek. Susanna’s brother – Peter B. Miller and family – arrived later that summer and became part of the new settlement. Joseph Swartzendruber, on the other hand, became discouraged and returned to Maryland in the late summer, where he married and set up farming there. Ten years later, Joseph and his family did return to Iowa, taking up residence on his original homestead.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1846 – the year of Iowa statehood – these Amish-Mennonite families cleared and tilled the soil, building log cabins and household furniture from the surrounding woodlands. In 1847, Daniel “staked and deeded,” as it was called, another eighty acres east of where he lived – land on which the present-day Iowa Mennonite School is located. In a diary, Daniel wrote this detail about his first year in Iowa…

We sold out and moved our little family to lowa Territory and settled on a piece of land in Washington (Twnsp). There was much to be done. We enclosed 10 acres in fence and plowed up 8 acres of prairie sodbut, the best was still missing.

Over the coming months, Daniel had the opportunity to buy a claim in Washington County for thirty dollars, and yet another eighty acres located one and one half miles just north of, what is today, Kalona. It’s this land that Daniel was obviously calling “the best” in his diary, because he built his first permanent home there. And it’s this new log cabin – measuring 14 by 16 feet with hewed logs so the family would have a nicer finished wall – that became the Guengerich’s permanent home beginning in 1849. Church records show that it was this home that housed Johnson County’s first Amish-Mennonite worship service. In an 1959 article in The Palimpsest, we find these details…

These three families – the Guerengrich’s, the Wertz’s, and the Peter Miller’s – lived here alone until 1851 when more families from back east finally arrived. Again, in Daniel’s diary, we find these words…

We still have no church, not until 1851 when more families arrived, among whom were my dear mother and step-father Jacob Swartzendruber. He then was chosen Bishop, and so with the blessings of God, the church grew.

One biographer states it this way…

In this one room cabin, the first Amish Mennonite meeting or public worship was held in the fall of 1849, consisting of three families: Daniel P. Guengerich and wife, Wm Wertz and wife, and Peter B. Miller and wife, together with their children. This was the humble beginning of what is now the largest Amish Mennonite settlement west of the Mississippi River.

The 1850 Iowa Census – Division 20 (below) shows Daniel Guengerich – age 37, his wife, Susanna – age 38, Samuel – age 14, Barbara – age 10, Jacob – age 7, and John – age 4 months. Daughter Christena – born in 1845, died in 1846.

Records show that the Guengerich’s – Daniel and my ggg grand aunt, Susanna, had seven children (five surviving) – all of which grew up in Johnson County. By the mid-1850’s, more families from the Casselman Valley, and from other locations throughout Ohio, settled near Deer Creek, and soon, the little village of Amish (see map below) came into existence. Read more about that story here.

In 1889, Susanna and Daniel Guengerich went to Reno County, Kansas to visit their daughter Barbara, who was married to David Kauffman. While there, my ggg grand aunt – Susanna (Miller) Guengerich became ill and died, at age 76, on June 25, 1889. Sadly, Daniel P. Guengerich died three months later on September 23, 1889. Both Daniel and Susanna are buried in the Lower Deer Creek Cemetery near Kalona, Iowa.

Above is the second generation of Millers here in Washington Township – my gg grandparents on the Miller side of my family – Jacob Benedict Miller (born in Holmes County, Ohio in 1839 – 1913) and his wife, Catherine Shetler Miller (born in Butler County, Ohio in 1841 – 1923). Jacob was the son of Benedict B. Miller – who, as we mentioned earlier, came to Iowa around 1851, joining with Daniel & Susanna (Miller) Guengerich – the founding couple of Washington Township. Read more here.

Here’s Jacob B. & Catherine Miller with six of their sixteen children, which included my great grandmother Barbara Miller. Read more here.

And yes, in 1853, my gg grandparents on the Boller side of my family – Jacob & Catharine Boller (above) arrived from Butler County, Ohio, joining with this growing Amish-Mennonite community that was thriving along the banks of Deer Creek in Washington Township of Johnson County. And it was their son, my great grandfather, Daniel J. Boller who married Barbara Miller – the daughter of Jacob B. & Catherine Miller. And, that story continues here.

So, there you have it – the beginnings of Washington Township, the story of Casselman Valley back east, and how the Miller side of my Boller family played a small part in this larger Johnson County saga!

Click here to read more about Susanna & Daniel Guengerich’s son – Samuel D. – who played a huge role as an educator in the Amish-Mennonite community.

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

Grantsville, MD,

Grantsville, Maryland, Wikipedia

Casselman Historians – Website of the Casselman River Area – Amish & Mennonite Historians

From the Casselman Valley to Iowa Territory – 1846 – 1870, Jim Yoder, September 20, 2014

The Amish Mennonites – A Sketch Of Their Origin, And Of Their Settlement In Iowa,
With Their Creed
, Barthinius L. Wick, State Historical Society, Iowa City, 1894, pp 33-41

The Johnson County Community, Marvin Gingerich, Palimpsest, 1959, pp 201-214

Our History, Lower Deer Creek Mennonite Church,

Anna H Stutzman Miller, Find-A-Grave

Jacob Bishop “Yokkel” Miller, Find-A-Grave

Catherine Beachy Miller, Find-A-Grave

Benedict Miller, Find-A-Grave

Barbara Gingerich Miller, Find-A-Grave

Benedict B. Miller Jr., Find-A-Grave

Catherine Shetler Miller, Find-A-Grave

Jacob B. Miller, Find-A-Grave

Daniel & Susanna Guengerich, 1850 U.S. Census,

Susanna Miller Guengerich, Find-A-Grave

Daniel P Guengerich, Find-A-Grave

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