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The IAGenWeb Project

History of Benton County, Iowa
The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, 1910; Luther B. Hill, Ed.

Pages 604-605

JOSEPH J. GONGWER, one of Fremont township's worthy citizens, has for many years been identified with Benton county, Iowa, he having come here when a young man of twenty-one.

Mr. Gongwer is a native of Ohio. He was born in Columbiana county February 10, 1847, a son of John and Catherine (Johnson) Gongwer, both natives of the "Buckeye State," the former born in Columbiana county in 1819, the latter in Stark county, January 6, 1826. In 1854, John Gongwer came west to Iowa and entered land, one hundred and sixty acres in section 25 and three hundred and twenty acres in section 36 of Fremont township, Benton county, and one hundred and sixty acres in Linn county, and after acquiring title to his land returned to Ohio, where his death occurred in 1859. His widow has been a resident of Iowa since 1875, and now makes her home in Cedar Rapids. To them were born eight children, of whom six are living, as follows: Joseph J., the subject of this sketch; Simon B., of Cedar Rapids; Mrs. Ellen Reeves, of Cedar Rapids; Clark and Isaac, of West Branch, Iowa, and Elmira, wife of Jacob Beam, of Kansas. The two deceased were Mrs. Lavina Sickmen and Mrs. Rosa Dole, both who died in Linn county, Iowa.

His father a farmer, Joseph J. passed his boyhood days on the farm and received his early training in the district school, later attending Mt. Union College at Mt. Union, Ohio. On reaching his majority in 1868, he left the old home in Ohio and came west to take possession of land in Benton county, Iowa, given him by his father, and which was then in its primitive state. Here he erected a small frame house, in which he "batched" for two years, all the while working hard to make a home. Then he married, and with his good wife to share with him the pleasures and hardships incident to life on the frontier, he carried on the work of improvement and cultivation, tree-planting and building. One winter they burned corn for fuel, and at a time when corn was worth fifteen cents a bushel. Mr. Gongwer taught school in Clinton township, Linn county, Iowa, during the first four winters after his arrival here, and before her marriage Mrs. Gongwer, was for a year a teacher in Fremont township. In 1891, thinking to escape the hard work of the farm, he rented it and bought ten acres set to fruit, at the edge of Marion, to which he moved, expecting there to have enough work to keep him comfortably busy and at the same time have leisure in which to enjoy life. For twelve years he lived there and, according to his statement, worked just as hard as if he had been on the farm. Then he moved to Cedar Rapids, and lived three years in quiet retirement. The farm, however, had its attractions, and in 1902 a longing to return to it compelled him to build a cottage there. In his pretty country home he and his wife expect to spend their last days.

Mrs. Gongwer's maiden name was Martha Smyth. She was born near Evansville, Indiana, March 22, 1852, daughter of John and Sarah (Mitchell) Smyth; and she became the wife of Mr. Gongwer on May 10, 1870. Her parents were Scotch-Irish. They came from Ireland to this country in 1851 and settled in Indiana, where her father died the following year. In 1865 the rest of the family came to Iowa and established their home in Fremont township, Benton county. The mother died in Marion, Iowa, in 1891, at the age of seventy-seven years. Of her six children three are living: William H. and John of Chariton, Iowa, and Martha, Those deceased were Mrs. Anna Jane Short, who died in Blue Rapids, Kansas, in 1893. Jeremiah died and was buried at sea when the family was enroute to the United States. Thomas M. Smyth died in Flint, Michigan. He served as lieutenant in the Fifty-first Indiana Volunteer Infantry during the Civil war. To Mr. and Mrs. Gongwer were given two children, Ira J. and Archie W. The latter died at the age of sixteen years, and the former conducts the operations of the home farm, he having had charge since 1902.

Politically Mr. Gongwer has always affiliated with the Republican party. He and his wife are members of the Methodist Episcopal church.

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