IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items

Waukon, A Rapidly Growing Iowa City

The early history of a town is always interesting, but in this age of strenuous life, when men are striving, competing, and making history for a future generations, a greater interest is attached to accomplishments of present times. However, to begin, we will give a short reverie of the little city of Waukon in it’s early days.

George C. Shattuck was the man who formed the pioneer settlement in July, 1849. Mr. Shattuck, then a man nearing 70 years of age built his campfire on the site, but it was not until fall that he moved his family here and laid the foundation for the thriving town of today. From this time on immigration was very rapid and the surrounding country was quickly settled. In the winter of 1853 the legislature of Iowa appointed three commissioners to re-locate the county seat of Allamakee County, which was then located at Columbus.

At the time there were several splendid springs bubbling out of the prairie where Waukon now stands, and Mr. Shattuck offered to give forty acres of his land if the county seat would be located thereon. When the commissioners were convinced that no other site possessed so many natural advantages, they drove their stakes on the land thus donated. The house built by Mr. Shattuck and in which he died still stands in a corner of the farm which is owned by his brother’s widow, Ms. Luhman Shattuck.

The town was named from John Waukon, a Winnebago Chieftain.  Five men are still residing here who were here in the early village days, namely: W.C Earle, J.F. Pitt, O.F and M.C Feris and Leroy Bearce. Mrs. C.J.F. Newell, we believe, is the surviving pioneer mother of the town.

Town Growing Rapidly

Waukon increased rapidly in growth and business and soon gained the name that it bears today as the best business town for its size in northeastern Iowa. Until the court house was built in 1860, the courts were held in a log house which was put up on what is now the H.S. Cooper farm who miles southeast of town, and was moved up by a “bee,” the neighbors all taking a hand in the moving. In the fall of 1853 the post office was established with the founder town as postmaster. P.S. Narum is the present incumbent.

The first newspaper published was the Waukon Journal, established in 1857. In January, 1868, the first issue of the Waukon Standard came out, was published by R. L. Hayward & Co., who sold out to A.M. May of this city. For several years E.M. Hancock was associated with Mr. May in 1902, when he retired from active business, his son, R.B. May took charge of the standard and edited it until June, 1909, when he disposed of his interest to John H. Dewild, the present editor.

The Waukon Democrat was started in 1877 by Daniel O’Brien. In 1879 it passed into the hands of John W. Hincheon, who published it three years, and in June, 1882, sold out to T.C. Medary & Son. Upon the death of the senior editor, the son Edgar F. Medary, assumed charge of the paper and edited it until 1898, when it was purchased by Bock & Coffeen, who changed the name to the Waukon Republican. Later Mr. Bock bought out Mr. Coffeen’s interest and is still its editor.

In 1899, Wallace & Son of Postville moved the office fixtures of the Postville Graphic, which they had previously bought of Mr. E.F. Medary, to Waukon and started a democratic paper under the name of the Allamakee Democrat, but not making a success of the venture, disposed of it to Mr. Medary, who now published it unter the name of the Democrat.

One page of the Allamakee Journal is edited here by Mr. T.D. Dunlevy, but published by his brother in Lansing.

Several Bad Fires

After several fires which nearly destroyed the town, the city voted a system of waterworks. Two wells were drilled, each over 500 feet deep and 22 feet apart, and a stand pipe over 180 feet high was erected from which the water, which is the purest to be found anywhere, is forced through pipes all over the city.

About this same time Pioneer Fire Company No. 1 was organized by about thirty-five active businessmen who purchased apparatus and other necessary equipments. Old members, who have served the company faithfully and well, have dropped out and new members have been added until the company numbers but a few more than the original number. Sheriff Swebakken has been the efficient chief for several years, and the last report of the treasurer showed funds on hand to the amount of $1,455.

This is the age of electricity. For lighting, heating, power and numerous other purposes that wonderful force, the electric current, the constituency and elements of which no man has yet been able to analyze, is rapidly supplanting all others. During the winter of ’06 and ’07 Curtis & Howard, then operating plants in Decorah and Waukon, began the construction upon the Upper Iowa River near Decorah, of a large concrete dam which after many discouragements and much expensive experience was finally completed and fitted out with the latest improved hydraulic electric machinery at an outlay of $100,000 which now supplies Decorah, Postville and Waukon with lights and power, with transmission lines being extended to Lansing, opening this city to same.

Dam Furnishes Power

Their power dam, located thirteen miles from Waukon on the Upper Iowa River, resting on a solid rock bottom, is an immense structure 114 feet long and 36 feet high, of reinforced concrete, across the channel, abutting against a 60 foot solid cliff of rock opposite, and provides for 1,400 horse power at low water.

The Waukon iron mines having been recently placed in operation necessitated the installation by the Upper Iowa Power company of an emergency power plant to insure constant hourly power under all conditions such as possible wire trouble or low water in the river at an additional outlay, for steam machinery at Waukon, of $20,000. The iron mines require a constant supply of 250 to 300 horse power.

Waukon is fortunate in possessing one of the best electrical supply establishments in the country. The Upper Iowa Power company has been growing with remarkable progress for several years past; its business is still expanding and its future bright with greater possibilities.

The largest project done in the way of improvements and the one thing that placed Waukon on the map was the building of the branch railroad from here to the main line at Waukon Junction in 1874. The incorporators considered several leading businessmen of the time, C.D Beeman and D.W. Adams, both deceased, being the principal instigators of the project. The first officers elected were D.W. Adams, President; C.D. Beeman, Vice President; Martin Stone, Treasurer; and G.W. Stoddard, W.C. Earle, James Halohan, H.C. Gratten, H.H. Stiwell and Fred Hager, Directors.

The first depot was in a room in the building owned by Squire Pennington, now the C.S. Stilwell block, and in here the agent, Mr. E.B. Gibbs, made up his own supplies for several months. The present depot was built in 1877 by A.J. Rodgers and John Taggart, who hauled the lumber from Lansing with which it was built. Mr. Gibbs remained in the position for 33 years and upon his resignation two years ago, Mr. Fred Intlekofer was chosen. In the spring of 1880 the road passed into the hands of the C.M. & St. P. Co., who are still its owners.

Business Institutions

Among the business institutions which have proven a success is the flouring mill, located north of the railroad track near the stockyards. Messrs. Fasse & Kracht, an experienced firm of millers who came here from Jasper county, Iowa, started the enterprise. The mill is what is known as a 3-brake system, and has a full equipment of rolls, plain sifters, aspirators and a line of wheat cleaning machinery. In addition to this there is a “three-high” Milford feed mill. A 11x20 engine, developing 60 horse power, furnishes the power. The mill was started in the spring of 1902, and is up-to-date in every aspect. A few years ago it was sold to H.F. Opfer, now deceased, who disposed of it to a stock company of 25 men, who are known as the Waukon Milling Company. The present officers are J.H. Simons, President; Conrad Kruger, Vice President; F.A. Ludeking, Secretary; O.J. Hager, Treasurer; and John Simons, E. Dillenberg, F.A. Ludeking, Fred Becker and Conrad Kruger, Directors.

Another late improvement is the cement walks of the town. For the last three years cement walks have taken place of almost all the old board and stone walk. With three large new churches which were built in the recent past the city has the best church buildings of any town of its size.

Churches of Town

The Cumberland Presbyterian church was organized in 1856 by Rev. J.C. Armstrong, a minister acting under the direction of the board of missions of that church. The first building was a frame structure and later the boards were removed from the outside and the building was veneered with brick, and it was also placed upon a higher foundation and a basement with furnace room, kitchen, and new dining rooms added. In 1902 a new edifice was erected of red granite brick with stone trimmings and is a modern structure in all its appointments. The present pastor, Rev. R.L. Van Nice has served his people for the last twenty years.

John Webb, an itinerant Methodist preacher, was the first to have regular work and teach Methodism in these parts. The Waukon Methodist church was founded under his pastorate. Services were first held in the old court house. In 1859 a small frame church was erected at a cost of $800, where the E.D. Purdy residence now stands. The M.E. Society worshiped in this first church for about ten years, when the growth of the town demanded a more central location and the little church was moved and placed upon the lot where the church now stands. But soon the increasing congregation required larger audience room and the present brick deicide was planned. The old church was sold to C.S. Stilwell, moved, and it his resent residence. The church was built in 1872 at a cost of a number of thousand dollars. It has been remodeled since that time and various improvements added. The present pastor, Rev. Robinson, is very able filling the position temporarily until a regular pastor is appointed next fall.

The First Baptist church is a beautiful structure of pressed brick and buff sandstone and is modern in every particular with dining hall and reading room and ladies parlor in the basement; auditorium, seating 400; study, library, prayer room and several individual robing rooms on the first floor, with organ, choir gallery, and waiting rooms on the second floor. The cost of the church was between thirteen and fourteen thousand dollars and was erected in 1904.

The Baptist church was organized on Makee Ridge in 1854, and was composed of nine members. For many years after the church had been removed to Waukon the congregation worshiped in the brick structure which was built by the Congregationalists and sold to the Baptists, which stood on the present site. In 1904 the old structure was razed. Rev. Benfry, who came here from the east, is the pastor.

In 1855 Rev. Fr. Kinsella purchased 40 acres of land northwest of town and build a log church there­onž in which the people worshiped for many years. In 1868 the present St. Patrick’s church, a large structure was erected. The congregation are planning to build within the coming year one of the finest Catholic churches in this part of the state. Rev. Fr. Walsh, the resident pastor, is spending the summer at his old home in Ireland and his charge is being presided over by Rev. Fr. O’Donnell, a student from the seminary at St. Paul.

The Seventh Day Advent church is a small building in West Waukon where services are held regularly.

In the early days there were many Episcopalian families in town and vicinity and a church was organized in 1859 by Rev. Bentley, who had charge of the parish for many years, but within the last few years the church has been remodeled into dwelling houses. For about ten years, from 1868 A.M. May was pastor of this church, remaining in that capacity until services were discontinued.

The German Reformed Zion congregation was organized in 1885, by Rev. B.R. Huecker, about thirteen families constituting the first membership. The German Reformed church of Waukon was organized from the Presbyterian Zalmona membership and the German Reformed Ebenezer congregation. During the year 1885 a small brick church was erected. Rev J. Christ followed Rev. Hecker as pastor and later came Rev. Elliker, who had charge of the pastorate for ten years, and during his time the present beautiful edifice was erected. The auditorium and Sunday school room will seat 600 people and the cost was about $18,000.

There is also a Lutheran congregation here whose church was erected about twenty years ago.

Education and Clubs

Education has received the attention it deserves from the very earliest days of Waukon. A small log school house was the first building. In the fall of ’59 Prof. Laughran erected a brick building known as the Waukon seminary. Later the property was sold to the district which became known as the Independent School District of Waukon in 1862, and a graded school was started. The present modern building is valued at $35,000 and the apparatus contained therein at $960. There are thirteen teachers employed- one male and twelve females.

And this year a new teacher is to be added to the list, as a county high school is to be established in connection with the present high school. The newly elected superintendent is Prof. Pye, who comes from his former positions at Forest City and Guttenberg, Iowa. Besides the public school a parochial school is maintained by the Catholic church.

Waukon is known far and wide as a literary center. It has seven well organized clubs whose members devote a portion of their time to study. The Women’s Literary club was organized in February, 1884, through the efforts of Mrs. W.C. Earle, and is the second oldest club in Iowa.
The club now numbers eighteen working and five honorary members, fifteen having passed to the world beyond. The officers for the current year are: Mrs. F.J. Robbins, President; Mrs. J. Smith, Vice President; Mrs. W.C. Earle, Secretary, and Miss Townsend, Treasurer.

The Nineteenth Century club has been organized for about fifteen years and the officers are Mrs. John Lee, President; Mrs. Chas. Colsch, Vice President; Mrs. P.M. Heiser, Secretary, and Mrs. B.F. Dasher, Treasurer.

The New Century club was organized in 1900 and its officers are Mrs. Ellison Orr, President; Miss Pratt, Vice President; Miss Lewis, Secretary; Miss Spaulding, treasurer.

The Browning club was first started like the W.L.C. as a purely social club, but later took up the study of Browning and so obtained it’s name. The officers are Miss Grimm, President; Mrs. M.J. Bartheld, Vice President; Miss Hall, Secretary; Miss Gilchrist, Treasurer.

The Daughters of Norway is a club composed entirely of Norwegian ladies, and they number 33 members. They are taking up the study of music, literature and language of their own country. Miss Mary Westby is the President; Mrs. J.H. Johnson, Vice President; Mrs. B.O. Swebakken, Secretary, and Mrs. Olaf Hanson, Treasurer.

The officers in the youngest club, The Friends in Council are: President, Mrs. R.I. Steel; Vice President, Mrs. S. Jones; Secretary, Mrs. H. Ludeking; Treasurer, Mrs. B. Klinkle.

The Thursday club was organized about five years ago, and its officers consist of: President, Mrs. C.A. Beeman, Vice President, Miss Leah Jones; Secretary, Mrs. E.W. Goodykoontz; Treasurer, Mrs. C.J. Hale.

The Redpath-Vawter System of Cedar Rapids has put on a Chautauqua here for the past three years, and our people liberally patronize a lecture course during the winter.

Banks Prosperous

The Waukon State Bank is the oldest bank in Waukon, having been first established in 1871 as a private bank by L.W. Hersey. In 1892 it was incorporated as a state bank with a capital of $40,000 and at the present time its surplus and undivided profits amount to over $22,000, with deposits of $350,000. The officers are L.A. Howe, President; M.W. Eaton, Vice President; S.W. Ludeking, Cashier; C.M. Stone, Assistant Cashier. Over forty years of safe conservative and successful banking have made this institution one of the foremost in the county.

Among the financial institutions of Allamakee county and northeastern Iowa the First National Bank of Waukon stands bar at the head of the list. The bank was organized in 1893. Capitalized at $50,000 the bank has accumulated a surplus fund of $60,000, in addition to paying dividends in amounts second to none in this part of the state. The deposits are $650,000. The success of this bank is largely due to O.J. Hager, its President, and A.T. Nierling, its Cashier, who have been with the institution since its organization.

The Citizens’ State Bank was organized in 1892 with a capital of $25,000 by men of well known integrity and financial standing and although the ruthless hand of time has removed all except one of its first officers and directors. It has stood as a tower of strength through its 19 years of existence, performing the usual functions of banking, whether in panic or plethora. A year ago, in order to keep pace with its ever increasing business, the capital was increased to $50,000, and with a surplus almost equal in amount gives depositors the assurance of security that is due them. The officers are W.C. Earle, President; D.J. Murphy, Vice President; W.H. Niehaus, Cashier; C.H. Earle, Assistant Cashier.


Among the leading firms are Hale & Sons, whose business was established in 1896 by Adams & Hale, who put up the first brick store building in the Village. As the business grew the store was enlarged until now this firm is possessed of a modern city store, containing dry goods, groceries, millinery and ladies’ furnishing departments.

Captain John Hale, after the civil war, entered into business here with Doe & Burton. After their death Mr. Hale went in with A.H. Hersey, and the firm became Hale, Townsend & Jenkins, the later two now being deceased. Mr. Townsend retired in 1878, and for over a quarter of a century the firm of Hale & Jenkins continued in business. Upon the death of Mr. Jenkins in 1905, the two sons of Mr. Hale, Charles and William, who had been brought up in the business entered into partnership with their father. It will thus be seen that Mr. Hale, the founder of the business, has continued in its management for 41 years without changing its location.

Lee Bros. are a newer firm, having only been here about ten years. They bought the J.M. Murray store and after a number of changes now have a fine large department store.

R. J. Alexander, the leading clothier, has been in business 33 years. This firm was first known as the Chicago Clothing House and established by Armstrong & Alexander. A few years ago the former sold his share of the business to his partner, who is still in charge.

Meierkord & Bieber are a new firm who have only been in business about a year, but who carry a good and full line of clothing.

For over twenty years the leading Milliner of the town has been Miss Cummings. There are two other millinery firms.

The oldest well established drug store is W.T. Gilchrist, formerly Nesmith & Gilchrist. The others are Grimm Bros., John Opfer and A.E. Pratt.

J.M. Collins is the oldest grocery establishment, having been first started in 1889. There are also six other firms who carry a full line.

C.D. Beeman, the originator of the Beeman Mercantile establishment, followed the pursuits of a farmer for over twenty years and in 1874 embarked in the mercantile business in Waukon, in the old Barnard block and it was known as the grange store. In 1879 he build the large department store in West Waukon and continued in business until 1897, when he retired and turned the business over to his three sons, C.A. Beeman, groceries; I.E. Beeman, hardware; and F.L. Beeman, dry goods and furniture, who still continue the business. The upper floor of this building is occupied by a business college conducted by Prof. Smith.

The leading hardware firms are T.B. Stock & Co., and Klees & Klinkle, who have made a splendid success of their business.

Waukon possesses two large and up-to-date furniture stores, owned by H. Martin & Sons and F.H. Molumby. They also make a specialty of the undertaking business.

There are two large elevators here owned by Nagel & Minert and Eaton and Jones, also a number of flourishing jewelry and china stores.

There are eight lawyers of whom Dayton & Dayton is the oldest firm. Henry Dayton, the senior member, was born in Saratoga, N.Y., in 1836; he came to Iowa in 1859, but soon went to Arkansas, where he remained until July 1861, when he returned to Iowa and in 1862 settled at Lansing, following surveying until 1871. He then removed to Waukon and since has followed law practice. Mr. Dayton has been county surveyor and for two terms was a member of the legislature.  

The eclipse Lumber Company, with headquarters at Clinton, Iowa operates 25 line yards and one of them is located here in Waukon. T.W. Miller has charge of the yard. The stockholders all belong to one family with the exception of the secretary, F.J. Ward, who was a former Waukon young man. G.W. Dulaney, who resides at Hannibal, Mo., is the President of the company, and G.W. Dulaney, Jr., Vice President and Treasurer.

Another lumber yard under the charge of George Chase is owned by the Central Lumber Company of Dubuque. This company owns about 60 retail yards in different parts of the country. The yard here was the former C.O. Howard yard and was owned and operated by him for many years before his death.

The two exclusive shoe firms are Anderson & Straate and the Waukon Shoe Company. The latter business is managed by Henry Carter, who has been connected with the boot and shoe business here since 1878.

Waukon has one hotel that deserved more than passing mention, as it is spoken of by its patrons as one of the best commercial hotels in northern Iowa. For its homelike atmosphere and bountiful table makes The Grand Hotel liked by all. There are two other hotels here that look to the wants of the traveler and a number of restaurants. Among the latter should be mentioned Max Willinger, who is Waukon’s pioneer restaurant and bakery Proprietor.

The implement business is well taken care of by three firms, J.H. Hager, Thos. Kaveny and Chas. Dravis. This year has been an exceptionally busy one with them all. With the automobile fever came the erection of a large brick garage by Werham and Markley, who handle a number of different machines and do all kinds of repairing.

Waukon has every reason to be proud of her military company which was first mustered in by Capt. Bascom of Lansing, and was known as Company F, Fourth Regiment, Iowa National Guards. The officers were D.W. Reed, Captain; J.W. Pratt, First Lieutenant. In July of that year the company was transferred to the Ninth Regiment, becoming Company E, and Captain Reed was elected Major of the Regiment.  Late in July, 1879, the company was retransferred to Fourth Regiment and became Company I, where it has since remained.

Company I was called on during the Spanish-American war and responded, and at that time they were transferred to the Fifty-Third Regiment. The company has been under the instruction of a thorough drill master in the person of Capt. Colsch. Special attention has been given to target practice which has developed marksmen of state and national reputation, among them Lieutenants Carlson and King.

Iron Ore Found

In 1860, Charles Barnard, an expert miner from Virginia came to Allamakee county and discovered the vast deposits of iron ore that lies near Waukon. He endeavored to organize a company but was unsuccessful on account of a lack of local capital. Twenty years later, in 1880, a man came from Chicago and endeavored to organize a company, but that also failed. It was not until 1899 that the first serious effort was made to develop the country around Iron Hill, which is 1360 feet above sea level and 720 feed above the Mississippi, thirteen miles away in an air line. This first iron mining organization was formulated by D.J. Murphy, a leading attorney; W.C. Earle, and W.E Beddow of Waukon; and Rev. Fr. Norton of Lycurgus, now a resident of Webster City; and a number of stockholders, all of whom were residents of Allamakee County.

The company was known as the Waukon Iron Company. A modern washing plant was installed and put into operation, and the ore beds were worked by the open pit method. Experience soon taught the promoters that better transportation facilities were necessary to make the investment profitable, but the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul company refused to consider the construction of a branch road from the Waukon branch to the mines, a distance of about three miles.

About two years ago the Waukon Iron Company disposed of its interests to the Missouri Iron Company, who were composed of St. Louis Capitalists. They sent R. W. Erwin out to assume full charge of the development of the mines.

This organization is headed by F.C. Coltra, a St. Louis millionaire, as President, and owned by St. Louis capital. When this company first took possession they began the erection of a reduction plant at Waukon Junction, but when the plant was completed and before the machinery was installed it was torn down and removed out to the mines. The new reduction plant involved an outlay of over $100,000.  A track was also laid from the mines to the depot at Waukon. Much expensive machinery has been added and arrangements are about perfected for the removal of ore from the mines.

According to Prof. Calvin, the state geologist, the main body of ore covered an area of 240 acres. This body has a depth of from thirty to seventy feet and in some places 100 feet.

Three new buildings are in process of erection on Main Street, the business houses are all occupied and dwelling houses are hard to obtain. We have many beautiful residences. Waukon is noted for its hospitality, its bright men and women, and its hustlers in the business line.

~source: La Crosse Tribune, July 28, 1911
~transcribed by Aubrie Lenz-Monroe for Allamakee co. IAGenWeb


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