IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. 1940 History

Who's Who in Iowa, 1940
Allamakee County History

The Iowa Press Association's Who's Who in Iowa, a Biographical Record of Iowa's Leaders in Business, Professional and Public Life; Pub. by Iowa Press Association, Des Moines, Iowa; 1940, pages 39-42.

~Transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall for Allamakee co. IAGenWeb


Allamakee County
by Jeanette Hegeman

Allamakee County, in the extreme northeastern corner of Iowa, has for its neighbors, Minnesota and the counties of Clayton and Winneshiek. the Mississippi River flows along the eastern border below the high bluffs that traverse the county from north to south. These wooded hills are from 300 to 400 feet high and their rugged beauty has caused this section of the state to be rightly named The Little Switzerland of Iowa.

The origin of the word Allamakee was a controversial one in the early days; but since Indian names are very common throughout the Middle West, it is more than likely that those pioneers were right who believed that there was an Indian chieftain for whom this county was named.

From the tops of the high bluffs along the Mississippi River, the land slopes upward until Waukon, eighteen miles inland, is approximately 660 feet above the river and 1212 feet above sea level. Prairies occupy the central and western parts of the county and make excellent farm lands; but to the north and south of these, there are immense hills along the Upper Iowa and Yellow Rivers respectively. Many streams flow into these two tributaries of the Mississippi and most of them have their sources in springs near the highest part of the county. Close to Waukon, the county seat, there are numerous springs of gushing, clear water that make ideal camping, hiking, and picnicking places, to say nothing of the clear water streams throughout the county where trout may be found.

Before the close of the Black Hawk War in 1832, what is now Allamakee county was the neutral hunting ground of the Sioux Indians on the north and the Sacs and Foxes on the south. But because the Winnebagoes across the Mississippi took no part in the conflict and were known to be friendly to the whites, this neutral ground was given to this tribe in exchange for Wisconsin land. They were also allowed large annuities from the Government, which supplied them too with agricultural implements and endeavored to teach them to till the soil.

This, however, was the last thing the Winnebagoes wished to do, and gradually, through varous treaties, they agreed to relinquish this part of the territory, save for hunting, and to move to the western part of the neutral ground, near the head-waters of the Cedar River. In 1847 this tribe sold to the United States all their rights to this neutral section and the following year were moved to reservations in Minnesota and Dakota. But they still longed for their old haunts and returned year after year to hunt and fish. Several times they were driven back to the reservations by U.S. Troops, but just as often some returned. Indeed, today there are at least two colonies of their descendants in Allamakee County - one a few miles north of Lansing and the other at Waukon Junction, south of Harpers Ferry.

The History of Allamakee County by E.M. Hancock contains the following extract from a paper by G.M. Dean, read at an old settlers' picnic in 1880:

"In 1834 the United States, through its military authorities at Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien, built on what is now Fairview township, a mission school and farm. At that time Col. Zachary Taylor commanded the post, and Jefferson Davis was on duty there as Lieutenant. General Street was Indian agent; all the agents at that time being army officers, and the Indians being under control of the Secretary of War. The mission was for the purpose of civilizing and Christianizing the Indians, and was opened in the spring of 1835 with the Rev. David Lowrey, a Presbyterian in faith, as school teacher, and Col. Thomas as farmer. But the effort to make good farmers, scholars, or Christians out of these wandering tribes proved abortive, and poor "Lo' remained as before, a child of nature, content to dress in breech-clout and leggins, to lie around the sloughs and streams, and to make the squaws provide for the family."

Probably the first white people in Allamakee County were the soldiers from Fort Crawford, who came in 1828 to build a saw mill on Yellow River to get out lumber for building purposes at the Fort. Next came the people at the mission, and then in 1837, Henry Johnson, who founded Johnsonsport at the mouth of Paint Creek. Next the southwest corner of the county was settled. Mr. and Mrs. Joel Post - after whom Postville is named - came in 1841 and built a half-way house on the military trail between Fort Atkinson in Iowa and Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wis. This inn became the stopping place for many who afterwards became famous in American history, such as Majors Sumner and Patterson and Captain Hamilton.

Fear of Indian raids kept settlers away until 1848, the year that the red men were moved to the reservations. Within a few months after that, seven families came to build homes near the Post inn; and so quickly did small groups come to settle in various parts of the county, that, by the end of 1849 the population was reported to be nearly 300. These were New Englanders, Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians; but there is the tradition that a French priest an dhis little flock of the faithful preceded all of these in what was later an Irish settlement, Wexford, in the extreme eastern part of the county. There are so many French names in that section today, that it is likely that the forefathers of these people came upriver from the already-old city of Prairie du Chien to establish their homes in the hills of Wexford. The parish records of these latter show that from 1717 to 1774, ancestors of these Iowans came west to become traders at "La Prairie." Some of those mentioned were: Gabriel Cota, Louis Du Charme, and Charles Gautier, besides the Verdons, La Pointes, Martelles, Revoirs, and Latronches - all well known names in Allamakee County at the present time.

Although the county was open to settlement in 1848, no land was put up for sale until the autumn of 1850, when the first buyer was George Watkins of Paint Creek Township. A year before that, postoffices were established at Postville, Lansing, and a settlement north of Waukon, the Eells place, which was on the road between Decorah and Lansing, and was a popular stopping place for travelers in those days. Three years after the advent of the postoffices, the first newspaper, "The Intelligencer," was published in Lansing; and that same year the first term of District Court was opened at Columbus, then the county seat, south of Lansing.

The earliest records of Allamakee County show that Patrick Keenan filed his declaration to become a citizen of the United States in July, 1849; and later in the same year, there took place the marriage of Elias J. Topliffe and Anna Reed. Undoubtedly other marriages had been performed in the county prior to this time but the first license on record was issued to this couple.

In the spring of 1853 the county seat was changed from Columbus to Waukon. There was no amicable agreement so far as the former town was concerned, but the matter was too involved to make any attempt to explain it in a comparatively short history of the county. The first court house in Waukon, aside from the log cabin where county business was carried on temporarily, cost $325 and was a small frame building on the east side of Allamakee Street. The new one, recently completed, stands close to that site and was built at the cost of approximately $210,000.

Lybrand, a place that does not now exist, was the first platted town in Allamakee County. Lansing was the second, having been surveyed and platted in 1851. Winfield - later Harpers Ferry - came into existence in 1852 and promised at one time to become a place of no little importance in the county, since large steamers were able to navigate the slough in the early days, even though the main channel was some distance away. The town plat of Waukon, the largest town in the county, was filed in December, 1853. A little later, Columbus, sometimes called Capoli or South Lansing, became a town with a booming land office, in truly western style. Hardin and Smithfield, now ghost towns, became thriving settlements about this time in the southwestern part of the county, not far from Yellow River.

Although Postville, as a village site, dated from 1841, it was not platted until 1853. Unlike many other colonies which came into being at this time, it continued to grow until today it is one of the three small cities of the county, Lansing and Waukon being the other two.

Some of the villages that were important in the early days are quite unknown to the present generation in this county. They perhaps have never heard the names Nezekaw, Cleveland, Milton, Chantrey, Alton, Buckland, and Manchester. The first one seems to have existed only on paper, but bade fair to be important as a fur trading center like Prairie du Chien. It was close to the mouth of Yellow River, not far north of the thriving city across the Mississippi; and one of Nezekaw's would-be founders was Hercules Dousman of the Astor Fur Co. at Prairie du Chien. The Iowa Indian village was to be a trading spot on this side of the Mississippi, but for some reason the plans fell through and no settlers came to establish homes there. Highway No. 13 passes directly over the site of this dream town.

The first settlements were made in Waterville and Rossville at about the same time in 1850. The latter had a steam saw-mill in the early days as one of its important features. Waterville, with a railroad company of its own - The Prairie du Chien & Mankato Railroad Company - gave promise of much growth; but with the collapse of this enterprise, the natural advantages of the village were lost sight of and it has continued to be a small community. Nevertheless, the consolidated school at Watervile is one about which all Iowa has heard time and time again; for it is from this community that the splendid basket ball teams come, the ones who are winners or runners-up in the state tournaments.

Milton, or Village Creek, as it was later called, was settled in 1854 and with its flouring mills and flourishing woolen mill, had every reason to expect steady growth. It lies in a picturesque valley back from the Mississippi River, about five miles south of Lansing. Perhaps the village would have grown had it not been for the several disastrous floods that visited it, when the small stream that flows through it became a raging torrent. Now, there are many deserted buildings in the place; and some of the dwellings close to the creek banks, are covered with silt up to the second stories.

Ion, Volney, and Johnsonsport were thriving communities long ago. Today little remains of them except perhaps a church, school, and combination of store and filling station. Most of the people who live closeby are farming. So it is with most of Allamakee County's many small settlements. Myron, like these others in the south part of the county, was known for its mills, store, and blacksmith shop in the early days. However, it came into existence fully twenty years after the other settlements.

New Albin, a town on the Minnesota border, is the fourth largest in the county and much the youngest. It owes its beginning to the building of the Dubuque & Minnesota Railroad in 1872; and lying as it does, on high level ground, it might have become a fair-sized city had the main channel of the Mississippi been closer. As it is, it lies in the center of a rich farming community on the edge of a long slough of the river, and almost surrounded by high hills. Postville and New Albin have some things in common. Both are important as railroad towns and have wide level streets, where, in this day of automobiles, drivers are not harassed by lack of parking places, even when the towns are crowded. As to location, one is in the extreme south-west corner of the county and the other in the northeast.

Dorchester and Quandahl are two settlements made long ago and still continue to exist. The former was not platted until 1873, although it was a thriving village many years before that. It, too, is close to the Minnesota border and has two or three churches, a school, post office, and a few stores. Located on Waterloo Creek, it is surrounded by high hills, as are all settlements near the Upper Iowa River, or Oneota, as it is sometimes called.

In this vicinity too, was New Galena, the scene of one of Allamakee County's two magnificent "follies." Probably few people who drive over the New Galena bridge these days, know that a group of Easterners once thought they had found a fortune in that vicinity. It was in 1856 that a Mr. Tichenor found lead in Mineral Creek, close by, and went to New York City to interest capitalists in his mining venture. This seemed not difficult to do and before long arrangements were made for opening the mine. Necessary laborers and building materials were brought from the East; and among other things, a large store was erected and filled with a huge stock of goods bought in New York City. A company had been formed and at one time had as many as a hundred men employed. The site of the great city that was to be, was laid out in lots and streets, and some of the former brought very high prices. Two years later, Mr. Tichenor had used up all his fortune in trying to develop the mines, which produced lead in no paying quantities, and later found his way to mines out West. Others of the company returned to their homes in the East and settled with their creditors for whatever little coud be realized from the property. The store continued to exist for a time, but the ten or twelve houses that had been built in the settlement, were soon vacated and were either moved off or fell to pieces. Today nothing at all remains of the New Galena folly.

Mention has been made of Wexford and the French settlers in the eastern part of the county, seven miles south of Lansing. With the coming of Father Hare and a group of Irish immigrants in 1851, the place became a charming bit of Ireland, which it remains to this day. It was the dreadful potato famine in the old country that drove these people to seek food and shelter in the New World; and in October, 1850, the good priest and his fifty parishioners set sail for New Orleans, where they landed on Christmas Eve and started up the Mississippi. The stopped for some weeks at such cities as St. Louis and Dubuque, where some remained, and on March 25th, 1851, the rest reached Harpers Ferry, near which they cleared the land and built homesteads. What had formerly been known to the French as Priest Coulee, now became Wexford, in Ireland. Land was bought in the hills for $1.25 an acre, and it is said that Father Hare, before his return to Ireland several years later, sold his property to the Trappists at New Melleray, on condition a priest and some Brothers be sent there. Accordingly, a priest, Father Walsh, and five Lay brothers came - the latter to till the land for the community. This project, however, was not long-lived, and in 1858 the Brothers returned to New Melleray and the Abbot later sold the farm lands to surrounding settlers. This is the way the Trappists happened to come to Allamakee County, and not because of their wish to found a colony in the hills of Wexford.

The native stone church in this parish bears the date 1848, although the present building was not erected until a few years later. Before that, apparently several years before Father Hare's time, there was another edifice there. In front of the church, on the sloping hillsides, is the parish cemetery where some of the graves are very old. Across a ravine is the priest's commodious residence, with a foot bridge connecting its grounds with the church yard. The country is extremely wild and beautiful; and some day, when the proposed Canada-to-the-Gulf highway cuts through the hills of Wexford, this will undoubtedly become part of the most scenic section on the entire route.

In July, 1937, an astonishing thing happend in Wexford. Right out of the stratosphere dropped Dr. Jean Piccard with his cluster of "grape" balloons and landed in the trees on the Madden farm, from which he was taken to Lansing to broadcast the flight news to the world.

In the summer of 1850, there came to Paint Creek Township a large number of Wisconsin Norwegians, who settled on the prairie near the creek. The Government had put the land into the market at $1.25 an acre and these industrous farmers bought the farmlands that have been handed down through generations. The names in that part of Allamakee County are now much the same as they were nearly a hundred years ago. And so it is with Hanover Township in the northeast part of the county. It was settled two years later than Paint Creek, partially by Scandinavians, many of whose descendants are still on those farms.

Among the old churches in Allamakee county is Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Lansing. It was built in 1855 under the direction of Father Welch of Wexford who, like all other priests in this new country, had to serve several parishes. The first resident pastor did not come until 1867; and it was in 1880 that the present priest arrived in Lansing. This is Monsignor G.L. Haxmeier, whose sixtieth anniversary as pastor of Immaculate Conception was celebrated by the people of Lansing on June 5th, 1940.

Another old church was the Methodist Episcopal, built in 1857 at Lansing; but the first religious service held in the town was conducted in the Haney home in the winter of 1848-49. Thereafter, for many years, a circuit rider with nine appointments in northeast Iowa, served the people of his faith in this vicinity.

Mount Hope Presbyterian Church on English Bench was organized in 1858, but the present ediface was not erected until twelve years later. This small white church is tucked away in a picturesque spot among the high hills that border the Upper Iowa River.

In Post township the first religious services were held in June, 1848, by the Methodists, with Henry Noble as class leader. The meetings were held in private homes until 1858, when a schoolhouse was built. A few years later a parsonage was erected and Postville became head of the circuit which included classes at several other villages, not however, Waukon which was on the Lansing circuit.

A year later (Waukon Methodists were holding services in 1852-53) the first Baptist Church in the county was organized by nine pioneers living on Makee Ridge, two miles north of the city. Their memory is fittingly honored by a beautiful window in the present church in Waukon.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church, erected in 1913-14, is the largest church in Waukon. Father E.J. McDonald, is the pastor at the present time, having served the parish since 1936. Under his able direction the new parocial school was built in 1939; and at the same time the Sisters' residence was completely remodelled and modernized.

The first records of the Waukon Presbyterian Church are incomplete, but it was organized by Rev. Armstrong who was sent out by the Board of Missions in 1856 to a place where "on an Indian path, at some springs in the prairie, had grown ho a little village called Waukon." The present edifice was erected and dedicated in 1903 and is a far cry from the modest oak building which was constructed in the autumn of 1858.

The German Reformed and Norwegian Lutheran Churches are much later additions to the county seat, the former having been organized in 1885 and the latter in 1890. About the time the Presbyterians built their church, the German Reformed congregaton decided their building was too small to accommodate their growing numbers and in January, 1905, the dedication of their new church took place. Several years ago the Norwegian Lutherans too, found it necessary to enlarge their place of worship and consequently changed it to suit their growing needs.

But much older was the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregaton of Waterloo Ridge in the northwestern part of the county. It became an incorporated body in 1869 and shortly thereafter a native stone church was constructed. Later this was replaced with a handsome edifice which was dedicated in 1913.

Many and varied are the religious beliefs of the people of Allamakee County; yet all of the churches are of the Christian faith, among them eleven that are Catholic. There are few Jews in the county, not enough to warrant the building of a place of worship.

Mention has been made of the New Galena fiasco; but far greater was the one whose crumbling ruins may be seen by the motorist on highway No. 9 just north of Waukon. Millions of dollars were invested in the iron mines here, where the ore deposit covered approximately 240 acres. A Pennsylvanian who had come to Iowa in 1865, Mr. Charles Barnard, was the discoverer of this rich deposit and although a nursery man, never ceased trying to interest his townsmen in the development of the mines.

At last in 1898, a year after Mr. Barnard's death, the Waukon Iron Company was organized and incorporated. Officers of the company were practically all local business men and the capital stock amounted to $500,000. Buildings were erected, but transportation of the ore three miles to the railroad became a problem from the very beginning. In 1907 the Missouri Iron Company of St. Louis bought the entire stock and the new officers, headed by Edward F. Goltra, were from that city. At Waukon Junction on the Mississippi, a plant was built to experiment in cleaning the ore, as it was thought, in constructing the plant on the river slough, that water could be used as the cleaning agent. This did not work out and the company proceeded to build a thoroughly modern plant at the mines and to build a railroad from there to the shipping point in Waukon, the latter costing in the neighborhood of $100,000. For a brief time in 1913 the plant was operated, but depression in the iron industry caused it to close. During the World War it was again in operation, employing a large number of men, but suddenly closed, never to be reopened. At least $2,000,000 had been invested in what must be called this county's greatest folly.

While grain and livestock form the basis of much of Allamakee County's wealth, mention must be made of its largest privately owned industry - The Lansing Button Factory, owned by Mr. L.T. Hufschmidt and employing approximately a hundred men and women. It was away back in 1899 that his grandfather, Captain J.M. Turner, started this industry which has had such steady growth. At that time the best shell beds in the Mississippi River extended from just above Lansing to a mile below Prairie du Chien, Wis. During those early years as many as fourteen hundred tons of the clam shells were used annually; and an important by-product was the poultry food made from the crushed shells after the buttons were sawed out. Now the business has expanded to such an extent that all types of buttons and buckles are made, the markets for which extend thoughout the Americas.

All of Allamakee County's newspapers are old but most of them have changed hands though the years. However, that is not true of the Allamakee Journal, which has been in the hands of the Dunlevy family since 1880.

The other five (sic) newspapers of Allamakee County are: The Waukon Republican and Standard, published by Mrs. Evelyn Tousley, whose husband, Albert S. Tousley, died this past spring from injuries suffered in an automobile accident; The Democrat, published at Waukon by Mr. J.K. Griebel; and the Postville Herald, published by Mr. William J. Klingbeil. Other names long prominent in the annals of this county's press are those of T.C. and Edward Medary, A.M. and Bruce May, George and James T. Metcalf, H.H. Houghton, W.N. Burdick and Bert E. Tuttle.

When the Civil War broke out eight hundred men from Allamakee County answered the call of the Union. Strangely, that was approximately the same number that, fifty-six years later, left for service in the World War. In April, 1898, President McKinley ordered Iowa military companies to Jacksonville, Florida, whence they were sent for duty in Cuba in the Spanish American War. Among these was Company I of Waukon, comprised of about fifty-five offiecers and men. The last of this county's Civl War veterans passed away within the past few years; and the roster of those living who fought Spain in 1898 is comparatively small. There were many out the eight hundred called in the World War, who died either in France or in training camps, but the American Legion still has a large membership, fortunately, to carry on it good work in this county.

Among the very old groups in this section of Iowa is the Allamakee County Agricultural Society, organized with eighteen members in 1853. It was first named the Allamakee County Agricultural and Mechanical Society, but in 1868 adopted the former title. That same year it purchased seventeen acres just north of Waukon which were later sold to the city, use of the grounds for fairs and other exhibitions being reserved. Thus it was almost ninety years ago that our first county fair was held, and each year in early September, it still hold forth.

"The Road of a Thousand Curves," as the West Union-Lansing highway has been called, enters Allamakee County near Postville. After winding in and out among the hills of Yellow River, it emerges on the prairie south of Waukon. In this city it joins No. 9 and for much of the distance to Lansing, the motorist travels upon a fidge which ends at Church, six miles from the Mississippi. There the descent begins and presently one finds himself in a valley with giant bluffs on either side of the pavement and low-lying fields. This ride of approximately sixty miles is considered one of the most beautiful in Iowa, if not in the Middle West.

Waukon is the largest of Allamakee County's small cities, the last census showing it to have only a few less than three thousand people. It is an important shipping point for grain and livestock, as are all the other towns on the railroads. Waukon has many good stores and the whole business section is such that the newcomer to the city invariably has the impression that he has arrived in a much more populous community. The school system includes a junior college - the only one in the county - and the high school is so large that more than a hundred students are graduates each May. From rural sections a great number of these boys and girls come for their commercial, normal, or college entrance course; and every year sees many of these students enter the college for two years of advanced school work.

It has not been possible to mention many names in this comparatively short history of Allamakee County. Hundreds that are very important in the annals of northeast Iowa have had to be omitted. Not only did the pioneers do their part in developing this part of the country, but their children and grandchildren have remained in most cases to carry on. Then there is that host of newcomers to the county they now call home. They, like the others, have done their share toward making Allamakee one of Iowa's most important regions.

Note: I could not have written this history if I did not have for reference that excellent work, "The History of Allamakee County" by E.M. Hancock, published in 1913. The Author.

Return to the 1940 'Who's Who' index