A BRIEF HISTORY OF BLACK HAWK COUNTY, IOWA
Black Hawk County is located in northeast Iowa in the fourth tier of counties south of the Iowa-Minnesota border and in the fourth tier west of the Mississippi River. It is believed that the county and the Cedar River which flows through it were named by Lt. Zebulon Pike, the county in of Chief Black Hawk, head of the Sac and Fox Indians and the river because of the large number of Red Cedar on its banks.
Black Hawk County was created when its boundaries were established on February 1843 by an act of the Territorial Legislature of Iowa at which time it was attached to Delaware County for judicial and revenue purposes. It was attached to Benton Co. on January 17, 1853 the General Assembly appointed three commissioners to locate and establish a county seat. By the same act Bremer, Butler and Grundy counties were attached to Black Hawk. Cedar Falls, then a village, was selected for the county seat on June 9, 1854 while Black hawk was organized as a county in its own right on 17 August 1853.
The first white man in the area that is now Black Hawk County was apparently a man named Paul Somaneaux, a hunter and trapper. He came in 1838 but soon left, later returned and built a cabin on the future site of Cedar City. He was followed by William Chambers who came to the area in the spring of 1844 and built a cabin where Cedar Falls is now located.
The first settlers were William Sturgis and E.D. Adams who left their families in Johnson County in March 1845 and scouted the Cedar River area in search of a site for water power. Coming upon the area where William Chambers had been the year before, they laid claim to the land near the rapids and the land where Cedar Falls is now located. They built cabins near the rapids and broke some land. They later filed their claims to the United States Land Office in Dubuque, Sturgis claiming the northern section and Adams the southern.
John Hamilton and his sons arrived the next spring with a team and breaking plow. They built a cabin and are reputed to have been the first to use a plow in the county in preparation for cropping. They, however, became dissatisfied, abandoned their claim shortly and returned to Johnson County.
In July 1845 George W. Hanna came with his wife, Mary, and two sons accompanied by his brother-in-law, John Melrose and located on the west bank of the cedar. His wife was the first white woman to have ever crossed the Cedar. George Hanna entered his land two years later, the first to be entered from Black Hawk County. William Virden and his wife, Rebecca, and two sons arrived in October 1845 and settled on Black Hawk Creek about three miles west of Waterloo.
The following settlers were located in various parts of Black Hawk County in 1846: William Sturgis, E.D. Adams and J. Taylor at Cedar Falls; Charles Mullan at Waterloo; George W. Hanna and John and Samuel Melrose between Waterloo and Cedar Falls; William Virden on Black hawk Creek; James Newell and E.C. Young in the northwest part of the county.
When the 1850 federal census was taken in the county, more than five years after the first settlement, of 135 persons were enumerated, 75 of who were males and 60 were females. There were 26 families each living in a separate dwelling. The population in the county had increased to 3015 by 1852.
Subsistence agriculture was the primary industry when Black Hawk County was first settled. However, businesses to service the growing settlements soon arrived as did individuals in the professions. Small industries soon developed, primarily to provide materials to service the farms and the villages and towns.
In the summer of 1845, William Sturgis began to build a dam on the Cedar River intending to construct a sawmill. He sold his claim and improvements in December 1847 to John W. and D.C. Overman and John T. Barruck who soon had the first sawmill in the county in operation. This company soon enlarged their operations and erected a grist mill in 1850, the first in the county.
In the summer of 1850 Andrew Mullary came from Freeport, Illinois with a stock of goods and opened a store in Sturgis falls (now Cedar Falls). Previous to this it had been necessary to travel to the Mississippi river towns to purchase needed items of merchandise and provisions.
The first school was taught at Sturgis Falls in the summer of 1846 by Mrs. A.J. Taylor who had six tuition students. The first religious services in the county were held in Mr. Mullan’s cabin at Prairie rapids and elsewhere in the county in 1847 by Rev. Collins, a Methodist missionary. Later that year Rev. Johnson, also a Methodist, preached to the pioneers of Black Hawk.
The first post office in the county was established in Cedar Falls in the late summer of 1848 with D.C. Overman as postmaster.
The first newspaper to be published in the county was the Iowa State Register and Waterloo Herald on December 15, 1855 by William Haddock. It was discontinued in October 1859. The Waterloo Courier began January 18, 1859 with W.H. Hunt and George T. Ingersoll, editors and publishers. This paper, a continuation of the Cedar Falls Banner is the oldest newspaper in northeast Iowa west of Dubuque.
Black Hawk County experienced a rapid increase in population as was typical of the counties in the mid-west states that were opened up to settlement beginning in the 1850’s. Black Hawk County, however, had considerable industrial development, especially during the period after 1900 and is now one of the most industrialized counties in Iowa. Thus, it is one of the wealthiest and most populated counties in the northern part of the state of Iowa.
Black Hawk County is divided into 18 townships, names as follows:
Barclay, Bennington, Big Creek, Black Hawk, Cedar, Cedar Falls, Eagle, East Waterloo, Fox, Lester, Mt. Vernon, Orange, Poyner, Spring Creek, Union, Waterloo and Washington.
Three of the early towns were Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and La Porte City. A short history of each is listed here.
Cedar Falls – The first settlers of Cedar Falls were Sturgis and E.D. Adams who came in March 1845. A few lots were laid out in 1851 but little was done to plat a town site then. The town site was resurveyed and platted in 1853 by the Overman Brothers and E. Brown and recorded in Buchanan County. In 157 J.M. Overman was elected the first mayor and George C. dean was elected city clerk. The University of Northern Iowa was founded in Cedar Falls in 1876.
La Porte City - This town was founded and laid out in 1855 by the Honorable Jesse Wasson. Among early settlers were: G. Bishop, W. F., Riley Montray, R.A. Brooks, W.C. Kennedy and George Cook. This town was organized in 1871 with R.J. Quilkuin as mayor and W.H. Brenkerhoff as clerk. It is surrounded by rich farm land and derives its business mostly from local farmers.
Waterloo – Charles and America (Virden) Mullan and two sons arrived at the present site of Waterloo on June 24, 1846 to join the Hanna and Virden parties. The town was laid out in the fall of 1853 by Virden, a surveyor, who neglected to file the plat. The first name given the town was Prairie Rapids or Prairie Rapids Crossing. In 1850, seven settlers drew up a partition requesting a post office and naming Charles Mullan as postmaster. Mr. Mullan went to Cedar Falls to seek an endorsement from the postmaster there and while there named the town Waterloo. (Various other reasons are given for naming the town Waterloo.) In the spring of 1854 Charles Mullan, with the following landowners laid out the town that became the city of Waterloo: Lewis Hallock, George Hanna, J.H. Brooks, J.R. Pratt, B.M. Cooley and James Virden. The platt was recorded on June 24, 1854.
America Mullan, wife of Charles Mullan, was William Virden’s sister. Mary, wife of George Hanna and Rebecca, wife of George Virden were sisters of John and Samuel Melrose.
Waterloo is located in the geographical center of Black Hawk County and is the county seat.