Backward, Turn Backward, O Time, in your Flight . . . -E. A. Allen
When we look at Belle Plaine today it is hard to believe that if we had stood on any of the nearby hills 100 years ago we would have seen prairie grass as high as our shoulders. It is equally hard to believe that the beautiful trees which grace our streets and parks were planted. The only natural wooded areas were along the rivers and creeks. Deer were plentiful; wildfowl were everywhere; the streams were a fisherman's paradise. The railroad had just barely succeeded in laying track this far.
Tiny settlements like the Belle Plaine of that day sprang up; some thrived; some withered. Some have left no trace of their existence except an occasional brick or stone turned up in the field when plowed by the farmer who cultivates the soil where once stood houses, businesses, churches. The settlements which survived bear the marks of rapid growth. Some of these towns survived fire and flood; some lived through disappointment and discouragement. Those which had the will to live and grow stand today as a monument to the hope, prayers, and determination of the hardy pioneers.
We hope to tell the story of the early years of this area in the pages that follow. Countless men, women, and children had a part in the early struggle for survival. We could not hope to give a complete record of all who contributed to the community life which we enjoy today. We can only draw upon the sources extant. Telling the history of the early years is a monumental task, a task which could and probably should involve months of preparation. We shall try to give the reader some conception of the joys and sorrows, the achievements and disappointments, and the dreams and realities which were and are part of our heritage. We approached the task with great hopes and very little experience in such matters and finished it with the sure knowledge that our capabilities are too limited and time in too short. Still, our research was fascinating. The acquaintances made were rewarding; the arguments indulged in were a spur to further work, and best of all, the co-operation and interest of the whole community were an inspiration to all of us.
We offer the finished product humbly, and with the hope that it will please many, if not all.
Early Days of Guinnville and the Beginning of Belle Plaine
George Washington (Kern) Ealy was a man who lived through some of the most interesting early years of our state and city. Many people liked to listen to what he had to say about those early years and most people who came to hear him left reluctantly. Here was a man who had seen and done things the rest of us dream of seeing or doing.
How fortunate the young people of today would be if they could hear first hand this man recreate the thrills of those early days as he remembered them. For Kern Ealy was a man with a fantastic memory and a gift for storytelling which enabled him to enchant the listeners, young and old.
Kern's remembrances are the basis of this article and were set down by William Lahn Kern's son-in-law, who knew that. The time would come when the teller would be gone and the tales would be but memories to those who had heard them. We have not changed the wording, except for clarification, and have re-arranged the material to a slight degree for continuity. The tale is Kern's and is set down by his son-in-law so that all of us might have the joy that comes with sharing a good tale, well told. This is the way Bill Lahn told it:
"I plan to tell in the following the early history of Belle Plaine as my father-in-law, George Washington (Kern) Ealy, remembers it. He was born June 12, 1861, in Bald Knob, Missouri, and came to Belle Plaine in the summer of 1865 and has been in the vicinity ever since. I became his son-in-law in 1917, and in the years since then he has told me stories about the early days. I didn't realize until last year what a remarkable memory he has. About a year ago I found a History of Benton County in the Belle Plaine Library, compiled in 1878, and on pages 443-53 I read a number of incidents about which Kern had told me years ago. One in particular stands out. Kern told me that he and John Donovan were herding cattle west of Salt Creek, north of the tracks. There were no fences then. Boys had to herd the cattle to keep them out of the cornfields, and all the cattle in the neighborhood were herded together. The people who lived on the Ham Edwards place (DOW owned by E. A. Tappan) at the northeast edge of town sent their boy down to get their cattle out of the herd. He was on horseback and drove the cattle across the creek. When he crossed the creek the horse stumbled, and threw him off, and he drowned. The 1878 History of Benton County relates that Franklin Schild drowned in Salt Creek about Sept. 23, 1869. When I read this I asked Kern if he remembered the name of the boy who drowned and he said he couldn't. Then I asked if he remembered what year it was and he said he couldn't say for sure but he did remember that it was the first year he had a pony of his own and when he got off he couldn't get on again unless he found something to stand on such as a stump or a log so he couldn't have been very old. He was eight years old in 1869.
Another account in the 1878 history about which he had told me was the time he and his dad brought a load of hogs to town and sold them to a stock buyer at the yards which were then on the south side of the track about a block west of the Seventh Avenue crossing. Before they left the stockyards the buyer dropped dead. Kern couldn't remember the buyer's name or the exact date but he said it was cold weather. The 1878 history tells that E. B. Severn, a well-known citizen of Belle Plaine, died suddenly at the railway station on November 17, 1871, while superintending the loading of some stock on a car. Kern was then 10 years old.
Nearly all the tales in this 1878 history had been told to me over the years by Kern. When he couldn't remember the exact date he would tell about other events which happened before or after so that I could usually figure out the year. I asked Kern how he had acquired such a remarkable memory and Kern said he didn't think it was remarkable. He had heard so many stories told and retold as a youngster that it would have been more remarkable if he hadn't remembered them. He had more opportunity than most boys to hear stories.
When Kern was about 12 a co-operative store called the Grange was organized by a group of 100 farmers. Kern's dad either managed the store or worked in it until it burned in the fire of 1894. Kern enjoyed being around the store helping his dad. All the farmers in the vicinity met there and sat around talking and arguing. Near the stove there was one chair reserved for Hyrcanus Guinn. Whenever Hyrcanus appeared the occupant of the chair moved. Every evening Kern's dad entertained the family with the stories he had heard during the day. Kern's dad was what we would call the credit manager for the store and it was his business to find out everything he could about anyone. He knew where everybody came from, he knew what they did; he knew their reputation. During the winter, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, there was usually a group around the stove in the store. A lot of the conversations were about politics. Hyrcanus Guinn always held some county or township office and was well versed in politics, both state and national.
At about the same time that Kern was picking up tales at the Grange store his brother, Bill, was a bartender in the basement of the building on the southeast corner of Main and Eighth Avenue. If the owner was gone Bill would let Kern come in and stay with him. Kern said he picked up countless tales there.
Hyrcanus Guinn was one of the outstanding men of the community at that time and Kern knew all about his early experiences. Guinn was born in Green County, Tennessee, in 1820 and died in 1890. Greenville was the county seat of Greene County. Guano's father was interested in politics and held several offices in Greene County, and he had a special friend named Andrew Johnson. When Hyrcanus was a young man he entered politics and took an active part in Andrew Johnson's support of Van Buren for president in 1840. In 1842 Andrew Johnson was elected to the Congress of the United States from his district. When he returned from Washington in 1843 he told such glowing tales of the new Territory of Iowa that Hyrcanus decided to go and look it over.
He came by horseback through Kentucky, southern Indiana, Illinois, and crossed the Mississippi River at Burlington. From Burlington to Iowa City the road was as good as any he had traveled, but from Iowa City west it was little more than a trail along the south side of the Iowa River. Where South Amana stood in later years there was a trading post run by a man named Patterson who traded with the Indians. This was the only building he saw west of Iowa City. Hyrcanus followed the river trail until he came to the hills southwest of Belle Plaine. He didn't favor the hilly country so he crossed the river where the land looked better. He came back east a few miles and when he saw the ridge east of here with plentiful trees and the prairie grass between the ridge and the river as tall as his horse he chose that place for a new home. He marked a tree on the south side of the river so that he could find the same place on his return.
Guinn returned to Tennessee, worked and saved his money, and in September of 1846 he married Miss Melissa A. Dunwoody. These two, with John Guinn, a doctor by profession, bought oxen and two wagons and started for Iowa in the early fall of 1846. Hyrcanus and his brother, John, voted for the first governor of the State of Iowa. They were on their way here and arrived in Iowa City on Election Day in 1846. The city was crowded because of election. When they told the officials that they were on their way to settle in Iowa they were allowed to vote and both voted for Ansel Briggs who was elected first governor of the state.
The road west of Iowa City had not been much improved. At the old trading post they found a couple named Hutchinson. The Guinns stayed there overnight and the next day arrived at Marengo where there was a man who ran a ferry across the river and had the post office in his home. At the present location of Koszta a man named Hench had three log cabins and he called the place Hench's Settlement. Hench told the Guinns that two men, William Greenlee and Robert Furnas, had been through there a month or so earlier and had settled about two miles north of Koszta on Section One of Cono Township in Iowa County. These two men were brothers-in-law of the Guinns.
When Hyrcanus left in 1843 for Tennessee he had marked a large white oak. On his return trip in 1846 he found this tree and crossed the river there. He was about two miles east of the present location of Belle Plaine. Against the south side of the ridge they built a house of logs. A small stream fed by springs on the ridge ran near the house. The location was about where the Rene Arens home now stands.
November was spent in the construction of the log house and winter was well underway before they had much chance to see the rest of the countryside. When they did get out they found a white trapper in a log house on the north side of the river about one-fourth mile west of where the city dump now is. The man was all alone and not too talkative. He didn't even volunteer his name, but he did give them some vegetables which he had stored in the ground, some dried pumpkin, smoked fish, deer meat smoked in the chimney of his fireplace, and he told them where to find a bee tree. They found enough honey to last them through the winter and Hyrcanus Guinn used to say that they wouldn't have made out nearly so well if it hadn't been for that trapper. Guinn was never able to thank him properly because when they returned in the spring the man was gone, never to return.
In the spring of 1847 Hyrcanus and John Guinn went about two miles east and two miles south of their location to see how the Greenlees and the Furnases had stood their first winter in Iowa. There John met Miss Caroline Goodwin who was a niece of Mrs. Furnas. In the fall of 1847, since the trapper had not returned to his cabin near the river, John tore the cabin down and built a new one. In 1848 he and Miss Goodwin were married at the home of Robert Furnas by Andrew Meachan, a justice of the peace. This was the first marriage in Cono Township. In the spring of 1850 Major Wood of the regular Army encamped on the north side of the Iowa River about a mile east of where John Guinn lived. There were two companies of Dragoons and a detachment of Infantry with Majors Olmstead and Johnson. The camp was called Buckenough. It was used as a base for supplies being hauled from the Mississippi to Fort Dodge where a stockade was being built. The Army had set up a saw mill along the river and the men cut trees and sawed them into lumber which was sent by ox team to Fort Dodge. The Army offered to buy all the logs the Guinns could bring in. Guinns had cut plenty of logs for houses so they sold a good many to the Army. The camp was there three or four months. When they were ready to leave they owed the Guinn Brothers enough that the brothers were able to buy the saw mill which the Army didn't want to take along.
The Guinns moved the sawmill to the approximate location of the present Seventh Avenue and Third or Fourth Street. The ground is higher there and was out of danger of high water when the river flooded. That was the starting point of Guinnville. In later years John Guinn bought a steam engine for the saw mill and hauled it from Davenport by oxen.
The river road was the oldest trail or road through this country. The main road east and west went along the south side of the river through Marengo and Koszta to the four corners south of Belle Plaine. A mile west of the four corners was a settlement called Dover, laid out by Adam Hall. Dover had a hotel, a general store run by Jim Guthrie, post office, blacksmith shop, and two brick kilns. Some of the early families were Winslows, Wrights, Blinkinsops, Ridenours, Graigs, Duffields, Sumners, Davenports, Boyles, and Ainsworths.
About a mile north and a little west of Dover is the spot where the four counties (Benton, Iowa, Powesheik, Tama) join in a common corner. Levi Ruhl (Whitfield Ruhl's grandfather) lived near there and was a justice of the peace. It was very fashionable in the old days for couples to be married standing on the four-county corner. Levi and his brother, Andy, were considered the strongest men in that area. Kern said that he saw Levi pick up a barrel of salt and put it in a wagon. Andy went west every summer and worked in the gold mines in the Black Hills.
The road which came north through the site of Belle Plaine led to Irving which was a fair sized settlement and had an academy. The road went north of Irving about two miles where it joined the old stage coach route from Cedar Rapids to Toledo.
In 1852 Andrew Johnson, a close friend of Hyrcanus Guinn, was elected Governor of Tennessee. He insisted that Hyrcanus come for the inauguration in 1853 so Guinn took his family with him back to Tennessee. There he told his family and friends about the opportunities in the new state and these people considered a move to the west. In 1855 they gathered twelve wagons, oxen, horses and mules and with families and possessions started for Iowa. The families who came to Guinnville at this time were: William S. Guinn and his wife, Mary (Greenlee), and five children, Andrew Jackson Guinn and his wife Catherine (Farner), and six children, Francis M. Greenlee and his wife, Emmaline (Guinn), and three children, George Washington Ealy and his wife, Malvina (Greenlee), and seven children: (Kern's family), Andrew Jackson Ealy and his wife, Elizabeth (Greenlee), and two Children James R. Ealy, James R. Catron and his wife, Isabella (Lauderdale), and one son, John B. Greenlee and his wife, Elizabeth (Lauderdale), and two children. There were 18 adults and 25 children in this wagon train. When they arrived the sawmill was in operation and lumber was available to build houses.
John Guinn and Alex Suslong were partners in the mill at this time and lived a little south of the mill. James Ellis was a blacksmith and wagon maker and his home and shop were on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street. John B. Hancox ran a boarding house north of the sawmill. James Miller had a general store between Fourth and Fifth Streets on Seventh Avenue. Henry Faye was a carpenter and his home was about where 312 Fifth Street is now. J. W. Filkin owned 160 acres that lay between what is now First and Eighth Streets and Seventh and Thirteenth Avenues. He was a well- educated man and when he came to Benton County from New York State in 1850 he was appointed county surveyor. His house burned in April, 1873, and a valuable library burned with it. The house standing there now was built later (Jim Pech's). There was a ten-acre grove of trees around the house called Filkins' Grove where all the gatherings and picnics were held.
With the seven families who were here and the eight who came from Tennessee there were enough to request a post office. The post office at Guinnville was established in 1856 with John Guinn as postmaster. Guinnville was surveyed on October 30th and 31st, 1856, by Wesley Whipple, and was a part of the Northeast Quarter of Section Thirty, Township 82 North, Range 12, West of the 5th P. M. The plat of Guinnville was filed for record November 8, 1856 by John E. S. Guinn and Caroline Guinn. This part of Section 30 was what is now bounded by Seventh Avenue and Fourth Avenue on the east and west, and Second and Sixth Streets on the south and north. Belle Plaine's Fourth Street was Guinnville's Main Street. A school house was built on the corner of Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue and it served as meeting house and church as well as school.
In the fall whenever it got cold enough to freeze the meat, everyone brought his hogs or herded them to the William Guinn farm which was located west of Belle Plaine along Salt Creek. There was a fine sand bar on the west side of the creek where all the butchering was done. The smaller boys and girls carried wood and brush for a fire in which rocks were heated, then placed in barrels of water to heat the water enough to scald the hogs. This community butchering was a big social event and would sometimes last for two weeks. The timber along Salt Creek was full of hanging carcasses cooling out. Men kept watch during the nights to keep wild animals away from the meat. Any surplus meat could be sold at the store for $1.50 a hundred. Carcasses were stacked in a shed at the store until a load could be hauled to Iowa City, stacked in boxcars and shipped east.
Nearly all of the people who lived in and around Guinnville were from Greenville, Tennessee, and most of them had relatives and friends still in Tennessee. The new settlers wanted someone from here to go and urge their friends and relatives to come to the new land of opportunity. In 1860 Kern's father undertook the trip with his family. Kern's family led a group from Tennessee to Iowa in the spring of 1861. They came by way of Arkansas and Missouri because their wagons were of a wider gauge than those from the north and east which had worn trails farther north. The wider wagons had difficulty with the narrower roads so the southern route was taken. The settlers were in northern Arkansas when the Civil War broke out. Kern's father enlisted with the 3rd Arkansas Cavalry and served for the duration of the war. Those who were too young or too old to enlist went as far as Bald Knob, Missouri, where they waited out the end of the war. Kern was born there in 186L. After the close of the war Kern's father returned to his family and they made their way to St. Louis, came by boat to Clinton, and from there to Belle Plaine by train. When they arrived here, they had their home waiting for them. In, 1867 they moved to 80 acres two miles west of Belle Plaine, in Section 25 of Salt Creek Township. From that time until his death, Kern Ealy lived, in or close to Belle Plaine."
Kern's story of early Iowa Township and Guinnville brings us up to the first years of the town of Belle Plaine. How did it start? What happened to Guinnville? We will try to answer these questions with accounts from other early settlers and pioneers.
I Remember ...
For the next part of our history of Belle Plaine, we turn to other stories related by pioneer residents. Set out hereafter are some personal remembrances of the earliest settlers of our community taken from the February, 1895, Union Annual Supplement. Only excerpts which seemed most interesting to the writer are used.
The first is written by a Col. B. Wilson who was with a party of land hunters who stopped overnight with the family of John Guinn in the fall of 1849. "I remember how cordially we were treated . . . and how Guinn told us that the Indians were his most social neighbors and how the Indians shared venison and buffalo meat with the settlers. He had to go to Cedar Rapids to the mill and Iowa City was the nearest point where groceries could be purchased. We went up into Tama County, looked up some land, were some three days gone, and came back to Guinn's to get a square meal. We ate heartily although his wife was away visiting. When the morning came such a breakfast as she gave us: splendid biscuits, coffee, fresh meat and pure sweet milk. They were averse to receiving any pay. I selected a piece of land west and south from where Belle Plaine now is and two years later moved to it, after having built a cabin . . . Belle Plaine is one of the best towns of its size between the big rivers. Her business men are gentlemanly and accommodating, her officers kind and firm, her preachers earnest and eloquent, her lawyers terse and forcible, her printers wide awake and truthful as may be, her politicians earnest and anxious, and her people generous and sociable."
Peter Spracklen wrote about his early experiences: "I came to Tama County in the fall of 1852 . . . I returned to Mount Pleasant where I had left my wife and upon our return stopped near Marengo which consisted of three or four houses and a stage route inn on the road from Iowa City to Fort Des Moines . . . We took dinner at Guinnville with John Guinn, and later the same year I stopped over with Guinn for about a week. During that time I went deer hunting and followed a deer a little west of Belle Plaine . . . I was taken by the land and landscape and later decided to leave my former claim and purchase the area I had seen . . . We arrived here in January of 1853 and boarded for a while with John Guinn, paying $4.50 a week for myself, wife, child, and brother, Soloman . . . My brother and I squatted on two eighties, one on the east, and one on the west side of what is now called the county line road but is a half mile this side of the line . . . In the spring Soloman put up a smithy . . . and this log cabin was the first habitation ever put up by a white man on the ground-now within the corporation limits of the city of Belle Plaine. Richard Postlewaite and his sons, William and Joseph, lived in a cabin two miles east. John Guinn was the sole settler on the river bottom in this neighborhood. To the west was William Beabout and to the north was Robert Arbuthnot. No other settlers were found nearer than 12 miles up Salt Creek . . . so Spracklens were in the center of a four-mile prairie. Mallory Morgan was the first man to come within the now corporate limit; William Postlewaite was the next to come. He entered the place afterwards secured by Presley Hutton and upon which the original town of Belle Plaine is located. Henry Boody came in 1854 . . . the first child born was Ella, born to Peter and Maria Spracklen in July, 1854. The child died in infancy . . . Iowa City and Cedar Rapids were the market places and families clubbed together and hauled enough to last six months at a time. When W. A. Parris came to this locality, he hired out to the Spracklens."
F. M. Greenlee wrote about his early days: "I arrived here in November, 1855, and lived for a time with my wife's brother, Hyrcanus Guinn, and in the spring moved into a log cabin across the road, and in 1857 to Guinnville, founded by John Guinn. Guinnville consisted of three or four log cabins. When the Rock Island was brought to Marengo we thought it only a short distance to market. In 1861 the North Western began grading and I helped grade . . . wild turkeys were plentiful and it was not unusual to see 20 or more deer in a herd. Indians were thick and not inclined to be friendly, although we were not molested."
Henry Boody wrote: "I came in 1855 and soon after bought 80 acres at $2 an acre and $14 an acre for timber land which was much more valuable than prairie. (The area he bought would be approximately from the Country Club road west to Seventh Avenue, south to Fourth street and north to Sixteenth Street.) The nearest sawmill was at Koszta and I cut timber from my Buckeye land and hauled the logs to Koszta. I broke the prairie and planted wheat which was hauled to Iowa City and sold for 40 cents a bushel. We traveled by ox team and it took three days to make the trip. In 1859 the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railway (predecessor of the C&NW) commenced grading and I worked for $2 a day with my cattle . . . We raised 20 hogs and drove them to Buckeye and received $2 per hundredweight. Times were hard; money loaned at 20 per cent and was hard to get even at that interest per year."
William Parris tells his story now: "In 1856, Benjamin Parris, my father, followed me to Iowa and bought from Soloman Spracklen 200 acres which would be bounded by Seventh Avenue and Eleventh Street, county line road and the line of the corporation limits on the north. After making the purchase he returned to New York leaving me here. Except for Guinnville there were just four habitations on the spot now covered by our city corporation. All were log cabins, with the puncheon floor of the frontier. No nails were used in putting them together, but they were pinned and tied by poles. Mallory Morgan had a cabin 10 by 12, with hay roof and mud stopped chinks; Henry Boody had his cabin; William Postlewaite had his cabin on the exact spot where the Greenlee opera house was burned last summer (this would be about in the middle of the north side of Main Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues), and there was Peter Spracklen's place. I worked for William Postlewaite and many a night lodged in the cabin on the hillside."
Samuel Hart's narration follows: "I drove through what is now Belle Plaine on the way from Koszta to Irving in 1857. At Guinnville I found John Guinn and F. M. Greenlee. On the original Belle Plaine site naught was visible but the cabin of Postlewaite, the next nearest being that of Ben Parris. In 1859 I entered business with Levi Marsh at Irving. When the railroad missed Irving, Presley Hutton, a resident of Irving, bought the quarter section which William Postlewaite had entered from the government, which adjoined that of Parris and is that land now bounded by Oak Street on the west, the Selden property on the north, the road east of the creamery on the east, and Sherman Street on the south (Seventh Avenue, Eleventh Street and Thirteenth Avenue). The patent had never been secured and it had fallen into the hands of a speculator in Iowa City. When Mr. Hutton bought it, to ease the claim of Postlewaite, he deeded him a strip of land 100 feet by 180 feet in size, which strip would now be bounded, by Beech Street (Eighth Avenue) on the east, the alley on the south, Second Street (Thirteenth Street) on the north and Dr. Worley's lot on the west the 180 feet running east and west. On this tract Mr. Postlewaite, who was obliged to give up his comfortable log cabin, built himself a frame shack on almost the exact spot where the fire of 1894 originated . . . I sold out my Irving interests and bought a lot from Mr. Hutton on the northeast corner of Beech Street (Eighth avenue) and First Street (Twelfth Street.) On this corner I built a hotel in 1863 (Hart House) and continued to run it until 1871."
William White added these observations: "I came to this locality in 1861 . . . My first act was to circulate a petition among the farmers to raise money to start the town here and not at Plaquemine. In the fall I built a building on the east lot now covered by Guthrie Auditorium on the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and Twelfth Street. I built the first bridge across the Iowa River, of the corduroy type, which was used for some time. I built the first frame house in the new town. Main Street was a very muddy place indeed but the town grew very rapidly in 1864 and its solidity was established."
The Arrival of the Iron Horse and the Establishment of Belle Plaine
Belle Plaine has always been known as a "railroad town." The arrival of the railroad was the reason for its existence. It grew because of the railroad; it declined as the railroad withdrew; it survived because it had the will to survive. It will grow again with the hard work, encouragement, and co-operation of its people. The years from 1862 to 1872 brought settlement of the prairie, permanent establishment of the town, and the beginnings of commerce and culture. These accomplishments all had their origin in the coming of the railroad.
In order for the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railway Company to retain grants of land given by the government, it was necessary that railroad track be laid to a point 40 miles west Of Cedar Rapids by January 1, 1862. This point was at Plaquemine, a few miles across Salt Creek, west of Belle Plaine. The company which was in charge of construction was strongly in favor of locating a station at Buckeye and a spur had been built there with the intention of constructing a station but the desired concessions of land could not be gained from Hyrcanus Guinn and the Mall brothers, owners of the land. A representative of the company, W. W. Walker, came across the deep cut and met Presley Hutton and Benjamin Parris who agreed to give 40 acres to establish the station at Belle Plaine. The deal was closed. Mr. Hutton reserved to himself ten acres around his cabin and this ten acres has been the source of everlasting trouble. It divides Blair's original plat and Hutton's Addition in the middle of the Turnbull Block about where Garling's Furniture Store now stands. The original grant given by Hutton and Parris, was divided in the center by Seventh Avenue.
The naming of the town is described in a letter from John Hutton published in the Belle Plaine Union's 1946 State Centennial issue. The July 18, 1946, edition of The Belle Plaine Union gives the following account of the naming of Belle Plaine:
The incident of the actual selection of the name of Belle Plaine for the city is related in an old letter written May 21, 1928, to Mrs. Gladys Anderson by the late John Q. Hutton, son of Presley Hutton, who was present at the time the town was named. This bit of history as related in Mr. Hutton's own words follows:
"Two weeks before the town site was named, the same party were at a dinner with my people that would gather two weeks hence to select the name, and in the meantime names were to be the question before all present. I recollect there were about five or six persons in the party. Quite in earnest was the discussion with father's family regarding names, and many were the names suggested, and discarded."
"The day of the actual naming arrived, and the party put in a prompt appearance, and since the dinner was good and the day beautiful everyone seemingly was well pleased. I, as a boy of 16, was alert and listened to the conversation with a boy's interest."
"To avoid the commonplace run of names was the paramount object. The five or six interested railroad men, father, mother and my sister walked out in front of the farm house. The view up and down the Iowa River from the elevated plateau was beautiful that early summer's day. One of the party walked off some distance, stood there, and presently returned with a smile and I believe he at once remarked 'I have it!,' of course meaning a name, and he spelled it out 'B-e-l- l-e P-l-a-i-n-e.' It caught the approval."
"W. W. Walker, the only person that I now positively remember, made the suggestion that the ladies should now decide from the names suggested. They had eliminated many of the names that had been brought up, as only a few had been thought appropriate, and the ladies were to pick one from among them. However, none was really considered after the wonderful suggestion that had been made and which was, in our opinion, an inspiration."
"My sister and mother were in no doubt as to the heartfelt desire of all that the name should be 'Belle Plaine,' and they made the decision without hesitation. I think it is likely that my sister, Rebecca Hutton, gave the decision."
"The day's work ended with the best of good feeling. The balance is history."
Many of the early citizens moved here from Irving when it was seen that there was little hope of ever getting a railroad connection to that town.
The area which Presley Hutton gave for the site of Belle Plaine had originally been entered from the government by a William Postlewaithe who had built a log cabin on the claim. He had failed to prove up his claim, however, and it had fallen into the hands of a speculator in Iowa City, where the U.S. Land Office was located. When Presley Hutton bought the quarter section he deeded to Postlewaithe a strip of land 100 by 180 feet in size to ease the claim of Postlewaithe. Mr. Postlewaithe had built a cabin on the land originally entered by him near the corner of Seventh Avenue and Main Street and he was obliged to give this up. On the tract given him by the Huttons he then built a shanty on the spot now occupied by the Lincoln Cafe. The location of this shanty was destined to become a landmark. In 1894 the great fire, which burned nearly all of the business district and threatened destroy the town, originated on that very spot.
One of the railroad's reasons for locating a station at Belle Plaine was the difficulty of grading west of here where the Salt Creek bottoms are swampy and boggy. Attempts to make a fill across this area were at first unsuccessful since the material used for the fill disappeared almost as fast as it was dumped. The railroad construction company finally reached Plaquemine, the coveted spot 40 miles west of Cedar Rapids.
It is said that the company, in order to extend the railroad to this point and hold it's government grant, merely spiked the rails at the ends and moved the cars over them by hand, as they dared not put an engine on the track.
An old saw mill stood at Plaquemine on what was then known as the Parks farm.
Belle Plaine grew faster than its founders dared hope and the value of the land along the railroad probably prevented the laying of a town square such as those found in so many of the towns which grew up about this time.
In the fall of 1861 William White built a storeroom on the northeast corner of what is now Ninth Avenue and Twelfth Street and a man named Crider occupied this building. Crider put in a stock of goods but the next two years were so unprofitable for him that he was sold out by his creditors who took possession of his goods and sold them at auction and divided the resulting cash as the law provided.
John I. Blair, a railroad magnate, platted Belle Plaine, consisting of 13 blocks, on April 24, 1862, and the plat was filed and recorded on May 13, 1862. Blairs Addition was platted on April 17, 1865, filed April 19, 1865, and covered Blocks 14 through 21. Hutton's Addition to Belle Plaine was platted August 26, 1863, filed and recorded Sept. 29, 1863, by Presley Hutton and this Addition is the one which has caused difficulties in abstracts in that area ever since. G. F. Kirby was the surveyor of the town of Belle Plaine.
John I. Blair was apparently much opposed to liquor, and in deeds given by John I. Blair and Ann Blair, his wife, the following provision usually appeared: "Upon this express condition, however, that no spirituous liquors of any kind except for medicinal purposes shall be sold upon the premises, and upon a breach of this condition, the said grantors and their heirs may re-enter said premises and hold the same as of their former estate." This restrictive clause was later released, probably because of the difficulty it caused in passing title to the real estate.
In the fall of 1861 a building was erected for a saloon but the proprietor was advised to and did remove the shanty from the platted town and began business close to town.
In the fall of 1861-62 I. N. Isham built another store building, occupied by H. H. Smith. George Lowe completed a grain warehouse about the same time. The first dwelling, after the town was platted, was built by William White in the spring of 1862 and Mr. Forbes, who was clerking for Mr. Crider, built the second dwelling. Soon afterwards a house was moved to the plat of Belle Plaine from Guinnville and during the summer and fall of 1862 several other houses were built.
James Ellis started a blacksmith shop during the summer of 1863. The first postmaster was D. C. Forbes who had his office in a shanty about where the Coast to Coast store now stands on the south side of Main between Eighth and Ninth avenues. The first sermon was preached by Elder Holland, a Christian minister, in the fall of 1862, in the Crider store which was then vacant. Two small schools were taught in the winter of 1862-63, one by Mrs. Greene, and the other by Mrs. Pillbeam, whose husband was at that time pastor of the circuit of the Methodist Church. Dr. Crawford, the first doctor, came to Belle Plaine in 1863 and Drs. Cox, McMorris and Cook were other pioneer doctors. The latter three were still in practice in 1912 when Belle Plaine was 50 years old. In the fall of 1863, as nearly as can be determined, the businessmen of Belle Plaine were as follows: James Ellis, blacksmith, E. G. Brown, successor to Isham's general store, Andrew Hale, grain and stock buyer, James Smart, lumber dealer, Carter Buckley and George Watrous, grain buyers, J. B. Daniels, harness maker. William Shaffer was the first station agent.
At the close of 1868, there were seven general stores, eight groceries, four implement houses, three hardware stores, five lumber dealers, two furniture stores, three drug stores, one book store, two hat shops, five tailors, six doctors, six attorneys, two jewelry stores, one music store, four wagon shops, four blacksmith shops, three hotels, one livery stable, nine saloons, four boarding houses, four shoe shops, three harness shops, two auctioneers, one flour mill, one planing mill, two painters, one bakery, two dozen carpenters, one tobacco store, five drays, five insurance agents, one newspaper, several grain buyers and three dentists.
Belle Plaine was incorporated in 1868 and took its charter as a city of second class.
The first bank was started in July, 1869, by S. L. Bardwell of Chicago, and afterwards became the Citizens' National, then State Bank.
A musical convention was held in Belle Plaine in September of 1869, conducted by a Prof. Palmer of Chicago.
In 1870 a peat bed was discovered on the farm of Peter Spracklen near Belle Plaine, covering about 30 acres and about 10 feet deep.
During 1870, 1,029 car loads of grain were shipped from the Belle Plaine station.
The second bank in Belle Plaine was the First National Bank, organized in May of 1872.
The first serious railroad collision occurred in the deep cut east of Belle Plaine in July, 1872, between a helper engine and the caboose of a construction train. Seven men were killed.
The first serious fire seems to have occurred on April 2, 1873, when the fine dwelling of J. W. Filkins was destroyed and his valuable library consumed.
In 1883 the south branch railway to southern coal fields was built and Belle Plaine seemed secure as an important point on the Chicago and North Western Railway.
Belle Plaine's First Mayor's Recollections
In an article preserved by Abbie Winslow, D. A. Kennedy tells of the early days of Koszta, Guinnville, and Belle Plaine. When Koszta began to decline, Kennedy moved to Belle Plaine, where he taught in the newly organized school along with Miss Rachael Cupid in 1865 and the same year he became the town's first mayor.
Mr. Kennedy was postmaster at Koszta, and kept the office in his store. He failed at the merchantile enterprise, largely due to the era of wildcat money during the presidency of Buchanan. He farmed and taught school in Koszta, and when the Civil War began he joined the 28th Iowa Infantry. He tells of his trip to Iowa City to report as follows: "We took the train to Iowa City, arrived there on time and reported at headquarters for muster; we were sent before the board of examination. Seven doctors stripped us of every article of clothing and put us through more antics than any yankee horse buyer would ask to have a horse exposed to, but we all filled the bill and were sworn into the service." Kennedy and six others from Jefferson township enlisted at the same time and all returned except Milton Bateman.
He returned from the war to find his wife and family living in Dover, and the country around being rapidly settled: "The wild prairies were being dotted by settlers making good improvements . . . and where I had traveled from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Black Hawk county south without seeing a habitation or sign of humanity, the land was being taken by the Germans, the Salt Creek Hills were being burrowed into by the Bohemians like moles to the meadow. I moved into Belle Plaine in the fall of 1865 . . . in a small one story house just east of Presley Hutton's residence which stood on the block, on the southeast corner of which is now located the Citizen's Bank."
"After that I taught in the first public school in Belle Plaine. Miss Rachael Cupid was my assistant . . . Later I taught several terms in the Guinnville school house until forced by my health to give up teaching."
"I was also an active member of the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company ... I have watched Belle Plaine spring up . . . and now I behold it a city of no mean proportions.. . I have never gone to bed hungry or suffered for the want of proper clothing in Iowa, never have seen the time when Iowa did not produce plenty for support of her citizens and have something to spare to the destitute of other states. Always ready and willing to do a liberal part, she stands today the pride of the Union. And now with three cheers and a tiger for Iowa, hurrah for old Koszta, and bully for Belle Plaine."
Early Day Settlers at Walnut Creek
The Walnut Creek early settlers included Brewers, Parks, Ruhls, Blinkensops, Dixons, Duffields, Sumners, Davenports, Boyles, Ainsworths, Winslows, McLennans, and Leimberers. An interesting diary kept by Daniel Winslow. during the years 1876-81 tells of the community and people. In it are all the details of pleasant rural living, the joys of birth and the sorrows of untimely death, as well as an account of the social activities of family and community. A few of the entries from the diary are reprinted here:
"Jan. 22, 1876 A big show in Belle Plaine to be seen. I went and saw it and it was a big bore just like all other shows."
"Aug. 26, 1876 Cold and bright, sun shone. I found a bee tree today-good for a man 73 years old."
"July 4, 1877 Had a celebration at Belle Plaine and rockets at night. The young folks had a shake foot at Cal Cohails last night.
"May 15, 1879 I hauled two hogs today and sold them for $2.75 per 100 lbs. Weight 470 lbs."
"June 25, 1879 I went to my hooks this morning and had a very large catfish on one of the hooks and taking him out he got off the hook and back in the water and I said some hard words. I caught some more small ones and set the hooks again."
"July 14, 1879 People are cutting wheat now and the chinch bugs and sickle have a race for the advantage. I went to town today with 16 dozen eggs sold at 7 cents per dozen."
"Oct. 14, 1879 I went to election and voted a straight Republican ticket. Mr. Malcolm lost one of his little girls last Saturday with diphtheria and she was buried yesterday."
"Oct. 28, 1879 An old Indian called today. Asked for smoking tobacco. Lit his pipe and left."
"Sept. 23, 1880 Frank England threshed his oats today. Mrs. J. Williams got apples today. I went to my fish hooks this morning and found three catfish fast on them. One weighed 3 lb., one 4 lb. and the other 10 lb. Good for a Alan 77 years old."
"Nov. 6, 1880 Republicans had a jollification last night at Belle Plaine over the election (Garfield)."
Daniel Winslow (1803-1893) was the grandfather of Frank Doughty (1856-1927) who had a dry goods store in Belle Plaine. Many of his relatives live in the community today.
Old Settlers Association
The Old Settlers' Association which held annual meetings at Koszta was organized in May, 1893, by D. A. Kennedy, T. V. Clark, W. J. Guinn, Rev. L. W. Ruhl, W. A. Sullenberger, and William Allen, all of Belle Plaine, and James Patterson and J. M. Richardson of Marengo. The first meeting was June 21, 1893 and D. A. Kennedy was elected president. The organization was called the Old Settlers' Society of the Iowa River Valley. Any person who had lived in Iowa for 25 years was eligible to join. Officers were elected annually, and male members contributed 25c each to defray expenses of the association. Ladies were admitted free.
This information comes from a carefully preserved program from the 1904 Old Settlers Picnic which belongs to Mrs. A. J. Koch of Belle Plaine. Mrs. Koch is the daughter of Annie Rebecca Trueblood the first white child born in Honey Creek Township, Iowa County, and a granddaughter of Rachel and Elijah Trueblood, pioneer settlers in this area. Mr. Trueblood at one time ran a ferry across the Iowa River and did a thriving business, especially during the days of the California gold rush.
Compiled by Jean Newland Swailes. With the assistance of the Centennial Historical Committee composed of Winnifred Lamb, Carole Froning, Katherine Froning, Mildred Stelcik, Thurman Ealy, Mabel Benner, Jessa Petitt, Mildred Wilson, Hazel Kithcart, Beulah Birch, G. W. Argo, Julia Riherb, Irene Cullis, Ada Hoffman, Marian Janss, Kate Ehlen, all of Belle Plaine, and Geneva Roszell of Vinton, and with the cooperation of Belle Plainers near and far.