IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items

Early Settlers of the Upper Iowa River Valley
by Mary Agnes Ratcliffe Bellows (1846-1930)

The renovation and renoun of the "Old Stone House" in Post Twp, Postville, Iowa promps me to tell of another " Old Stone House" in the south part of Union City Twp. and of necessity to mention places and persons in the vicinity as this farm and house of nine rooms has been owned and occupied continuously by four families of relatives - at present by Mrs. Joseph Hartley. It was built in 1856 for a wayside inn -The Alberta House - by E. T. Albert of Wellsville, Ohio, who leased the Bates House at Lansing until Jan. 1857. It is thirteen miles from Lansing and six miles from the Minnesota State Line - also 1/2 mile from Chilson's Ford over the Upper Iowa River, later a ferry, and where the Ratcliffe bridge was built - the first over that river, 80 rods west of where Clear Creek empties into the river.

In April 1858 came Benjamin Ratcliffe and family from Wheeling, W. Va to the next farm west (Mdms Ratcliffe and Albert being sisters - Gilchrists) -naming it Mt. Hope Farm - and the high bluff between the dwellings was called Mt. Hope.

One Dr. Rodgers was located on this land in 1855 and he and his successor, A. H. Pickering who sold to Benj. Ratcliffe in 1858 - had planned to locate the town of Union City at this point and it was so called by this name for some time.

In 1851 Porter Bellows and family of Rockton, Ill., settled on a large farm (1/2or 2?) miles south of Chilson's Ford while Indian teepee poles were still standing near the mouth of Clear Creek and the Indian thicket where were wild fruits in plenty, and in 1855 built a grist mill on his farm at the mouth of French Creek at the foot of the lone Owl's Head Bluff, to which came settlers with grist from far Minnesota.

French Creek postoffice was established in 1859 and Esquire Bellows was appointed PM by President Buchanan - it continued in the family for 42 years.

Benjamin Ratcliffe was appointed PM at Clear Creek in 1861 by President Lincoln. The post office there was discontinued in 1885. Mail service was bi-and tri- weekly to and from Lansing-going to Dorchester and French Creek-later daily mail until PM resigned in 1903 and the office was closed. Rural routes were established in 1904.

The two neighborhoods, Clear Creek and French Creek, became a community center, especially when our young men began to enlist in '61 and '62. D. G. Albert in Ohio at the first call for troops, April 15th, 1861, early in '62 Levi and Joseph Green, John Sires (and later Daniel Sires), Phillip I. Pierce, Robt. and Jacob Wampler, John and George Williamson, Wm. Fitzgerald, Chas. and Thos. Beetem, Rush and Chas. Bellows, and later George P. Bellow and J. W. and Joseph Hartley.

In summer evenings came many to Alberta House and Mt. Hope to listen to martial music rendered by Esquire Nathan Denison and son-Andrew Jackson drummers-and Esquire Bellows a fine fifer, to discuss news from the front, and from our boys to the south and west-news all too meager sometimes.

Esquire Denison wore the uniform used in training days in Pennsylvania, a green coat with epaulets, white trousers and a high black hat with a tall, red feather.

In 1859 $1175.00 was expended in erecting a bridge across the Iowa River at what was called Chilson's Ford on the the county road. It was built by private subscription but $330 in pledges was uncollectable. The deficiency was made up in appropriations by the Board of Supervisors in 1863 on petition by S., V. Shaw.

The road from Lansing across and through the Mays Prairie settlement, down past James Rowe's wayside inn, passing French Creek P.O., the Alberta House, going north from Mt. Hope through the Portland, Maine settlement of Everett families, on to the Rhode Island settlement of Albee, Mc Nelly's and others - was called the Main Minnesota Road and was advertised at Mc Gregor, 20 miles below Lansing thus: "Eat, drink and be merry and tomorrow go to Minnesota and buy land." - for not only must grists come this way from far to French Creek Mill, but freight and immigrants, many from Norway and who landed at Lansing, travel this road but farm products, wheat and pork be taken there for shipment by boats or on the ice to points below.

A Presbyterian church of 11 members was organized in the Old Stone House - or Alberta House , Aug. 15th 1858 by Rev. Joseph Adams of Frankville and Chas. Fitch of Dubuque-Presbyterian ministers and Rev. Amasa H. Houghton-Congregational. E. T. Albert and Benjamin Ratcliffe were elected ruling elders - and the church named by vote " Mt. Hope Presbyterian Church." At stated times came Revs. Adams and Crawford from Frankville and Rev. James Frothingham from Caledonia, Minn - but Dr. A. H. Houghton still served as a supply pastor and was a consecrated and self-sacrificing man.

A gift of $5.00 was brought by Charlotte Gilchrist Ratcliffe from the pastor's wife in Wheeling to be used in building a church in the new land-seven pounds of sterling from a relative in Scotland. A gift of $300 by Mr. Mc Clure of New York for his little daughter Emma Mc Clure through the Pres. Board of Erection was appreciated. Plans for the building of the church were disrupted and delayed by the Civil War. In a letter written by Benjamin Ratcliffe in Feb. 1870 to his sister in Wheeling, W. Va. he states, "We have determined to build our church, a frame building 26-41 feet. Nine hundred dollars have been subscribed, and we expect it to cost sixteen hundred dollars. We will build it after corn planting." The church was dedicated Feb. 21st 1871 by the Rev. J. Frothingham of Lansing and a new organ was provided in time for this occasion. The first Christmas program with Christmas tree and a wedding the same evening and all in one-was the evening of Dec. 25, 1871. The bride was Mary Agnes Ratcliffe-the writer-and the groom was George P. Bellows. Rev. D. A. Wallace was the regular supply pastor during that winter. A parsonage was erected on the church grounds in 1872-also a cemetery laid out adjoining the church.

A Sunday School had been organized at Alberta House in 1857 and the gift of 25 large leather covered Bibles and 50 Testaments brought by B. Ratcliffe in 1858 from D. K. List, a merchant in Wheeling having in mind the probable needs of the then far West, was much apporeciated and several pupils earned a Testament by perfect recital of 300 verses of scripture. Rev. A. H. Houghton of Lansing who had been sent west by a Congregational Missionary Society in Connecticut held preaching services here at Alberta House and in a vacant house in French Creek until a school house was built there in 1861-the building of the church being delayed by the Civil War.

The first Sunday School picnic was held July 4th 1858 on the Mt. Hope Farm, attended by the whole countryside. After a fine picnic dinner the exercises were: music-Declaration of Independence read by J. H. Albert, an address by Dr. Houghton who also read an original poem entitled " Liberty" written by a 12 year old girl. *

These picnics were annual affairs for some years with orators from Lansing and Waukon. The first musical instrument outside of towns-a melodian-was acquired by the writer in 1863 and used at special services at Clear Creek school house and other celebrations for some years. **

The eleven charter members of Mt. Hope Church congregation were E.T. Albert who came from Millsville Presbyterian Church in Ohio, Jane, Daniel and Elizabeth Albert, Mrs. Mary Roe (Rowe) Mrs. S. D. Allen, Benjamin and Charlotte Ratcliffe from First Presb. Church in Wheeling, John Sheckelton and wife, Mrs. Sophia Sheckelton, and a Mrs. Merritt (Luceria). Others united soon after as they came to the community and of those already there.


*Mary Agnes Ratcliffe
**Mary Agnes Ratcliffe received a teaching certificate at the age of 13 from the Allamakee Co. Supt of School Armstrong, and finished a 3 mos. term of school before her 14th birthday

Notes from contributor:
- Mary Agnes Ratcliffe Bellows was the daughter of Benjamin Ratcliffe. She likely wrote this history in the 1920's. She often contributed articles (signed M.A.R.B.) to the local newspaper(s) about the early farm ownerships, first schools, and life in general, but I don't know if this one was ever published in a newspaper.  Mary Agnes probably was mainly a local correspondent

- My mother, Cecil Hartley Pottratz, collected M.A.R.B.'sarticles over the years.  They are in my mother's handwriting, so she either copied them from someone's scrapbook (if they had been in the paper) or from an original from some relative. 

- My lineage:
Benjamin Ratcliffe & Charlotte Gilchrist

Sarah Ratcliffe & John Hartley

Benjamin Hartley & Carrie Bulman

Cecil Hartley & Leo Pottratz (his mother was Emma Gerling)

Neva Pottratz & Charles Auenson  

- Ben Hartley bought the Mt. Hope Farm after the death of his grandfather, so my mother was raised in the present house.  Donald and Marlene Hartley have made it into a beautiful home and Donald's brother Loren owns the hill that the Mt. Hope Church was built on.  Donald's son Todd who lives in Florida has built a log cabin on the knoll where Benjamin moved his original cabin and raised his family.  Todd spends time in the summers there with his family.

- contributed by Neva Auenson

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