Historical Narrative
La Porte City, Iowa

Prior to 1850 the population of Black Hawk county was composed of people of a migratory disposition, and although the first settlements were made as early as 1844 the pioneers seem to have preferred to spend their time in hunting, trapping, and trading with the Indians. But that migratory and roving population soon disappeared and in its stead came a sturdy and determined class of men and women who went to work with a will to establish themselves permanently and to develop the resources of the country.

The first actual settler within what is now known as the corporate limits of La Porte City was one James Hamer, who settled here in 1853. He was like many of the first comers to the county - a rover, and after remaining here for a few years took up his journey westward. In the same year, 1853, George Cook located here and became owner of a large body of land, embracing that included in the original plat of La Porte City. In 1854 John A Dees platted a town site on the north side of Big Creek under the name of Ottawa, and soon afterwards opened up negotiations for the sale of the same to Dr. Jesse Wasson, then living in Vinton.

Dr. Wasson came here to investigate the site, but believing that the south side of the creek offered the best site for a town, he at once purchased a large acreage of ground including the land on which the original town of La Porte is located. His Vinton partner, Joel W Catlin, was associated with him in the deal. Both moved here in 1855 and by the middle of May of the same year they had erected a store room 18 x 50 feet on the corner where the K of P building now stands.

To supply this store they purchased goods in Boston and had them shipped to La Porte, Iowa, the name of the town being suggested by Dr. Wasson, whose early life had been spent in La Porte, Indiana.

The first plat of the town was made by Wesley Whipple on June 5th, 1855, the original proprietors being Dr. Jesse Wasson, Junia Wasson, Joel W Catlin and Rosella Catlin. The plat was filed for record July 16th 1855.

The first home of the Wasson's was in rooms at the rear of their storehouse where they lived while building a dwelling across the street. The Wasson homestead was erected on the lot where the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Arenholz is now. It was a small, one-story brick structure and had what might be termed as 'modified penthouse" in the center of the roof. The entire space on the four sides of this addition was filled with windows. This style of architecture is rarely seen now as it had not been used on housed built within the past 85 years. It is unfortunate that La Porte City did not have the foresight to buy the Wasson's old home and use it for a library, social center or some other public benefit, or even have preserved it as a memorial to the founder of the town.

Among the earliest settlers were George Bishop, the first attorney in the new town: W.L. Fox, Riley Moultrie, W.C. Kennedy and R.A. Brooks.

The first sawmill was put up on Big Creek in 1856 by Dr. Wasson. The first grist mill was constructed about the same time by Lewis Turner but the mill was destroyed by fire and was not replaced until the end of the Civil War.

George Banger Sr. located here in 1856 and engaged in the boot and shoe business. He was a shoemaker and filled a long felt need. John Ings came here with Mr. Banger and opened a harness shop, which he continued for several years. In the same year John Rolph and W.L. Fox built a story and half building, 12 x 12 feet, in the brush on the east side of Main Street, near Commercial, out of native timber.


As a bank is supposed to be an index of the prosperity of a community, we may assume that this vicinity did well financially as three banks were chartered in La Porte City from 1884 to 1913. The Union State Bank was first organized on July 1st, 1884. The first officers were:

President, G.W. Hayzlett; Vice President, P. Bowman; cashier, A. Van Valkenburg; directors, G. W. Hayzlett, Jesse Oren, Henry Wiese, B. Stanton, W.A. Walker and Damon Mott.

The First National bank was organized August 12th, 1889. The officers chosen were: President, James F Camp; A.B. Elmer, A.E. Kline and E. Simpson. The Farmers Savings bank was organized march 18th, 1913, with O.A. Wallace as president; J.A. Winmoth as vice president; Jesse O. Kober, cashier; Catherine Gingrich, assistance cashier. Later the Union State was merged with the Farmers Savings and business was conducted under the latter name.

First Railroad

The first railroad built through La Porte City was in 1870, when the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota line reached here in June. The first train passed through here December 1st, 1870.

The Old Mill

The old mill was on creek by James Robertson's farm. Behind Mrs. Warren Sides, Sr. house (on locust). It was 10 feet high and if you go exploring, you may find dome of the old oak posts still standing.

First Newspaper

The first newspaper to be published in La Porte City was the la Porte City Progress, which was started in 1869 by J.T. Metcalf. The next year the paper was sold to Dr. Wasson, Dr. G.W. Dickinson and Charles Vale. Late that year Dr. Wasson came into sole possession of the sheet and as he was a staunch Democrat he advocated the policies of that party. The second paper to be established in town was the La Porte City Republican, published by W.H. Brinkerhoff in 1872. After a few months this sheet died. In 1879 Dr. Wasson took his son, Buren, into his partnership in the Progress, and the same year the La Porte City Review was begun by W.E. Thorne and Sa.A. Wagoner. In 1892 the Progress and review were consolidated and published as The Register. in 1893 the plant was sold to E. Duke Naven who changed the name to Progress Review. In 1895 the La Porte City Press was established by Eilliam Chapple who continued as editor and proprietor until August, 1900, when he sold out to H. G. Adams and Clark Ravlin. These owners changed the policy of the publication to support the Democratic party. H. B. Lizer purchased the Progress-Review in 1901 and three years later secured possession of the rival sheet, which he merged with the one he already owned.

First State Road

The state road through La Porte City was not located with the compass and most people have the impression that the surveyors followed the course of the Cedar River. But according to W.L. Fox the location was determined by the high-handed strategy of Dr. Wasson. The road was to extend from Cedar Rapids to Cedar Falls and would be a decided asset to La Porte City if it would pass through this town. Dr. Wasson was to be informed by friends at Vinton when the surveyors reached that point. This was done and down went the Doctor to Vinton to get acquainted with Mr. Field, the surveying boss of the party as well as with the rest, and made himself generally agreeable and besides had his Vinton friends helping him. The fact is that the Doctor found out that the surveying party had a particular liking for good whiskey and he told them when they reached Mt. Auburn they would find a pole planted with a flag waving from it and that this would give them a point on the bank of Big Creek to whichhe would like the road to run; and that at the foot of the flag pole at Mr. Auburn they would find a jug of the best whiskey that money would buy and another jug when they got to Big Creek. And he kept his word and this assured the future success of La Porte City, for the state road which was run several miles out of line in order to strike a jug of whiskey is now the Main Street of La Porte City. By this road the town of La Porte was platted. La Porte had to raise $10,000 to get that road through here and it was a mighty big task for the poor little town to raise that amount of money.

Paving - 1912

Not too much information was published in the paper about the paving, such as the type, cost, etc., but there was a great deal about the character of the workers. Seems they were fine upstanding men of good moral character and the company (Turner Construction Co.) was reliable. Many local people would be hired to help. However, Mr. Halbfass could remember that 2 inches of concrete were first poured, then 2 inches of sand, and then 4 inches of bricks. Nelson Osborn used to work for ten cents an hour running errands and carrying water for the men. He'd work 10 hours a day and at the end of the week, he'd have earned $6.00

Many of us feel the paving is a special part of La Porte City. It has help up well and is certainly a charming part of our city.

Opera House

The old Opera House built about 1901 and torn down in 1945. A Mr. Sutton built it and put on a self supporting roof. Any traveling show played here. The school used it for their programs. Nelson Osborn can remember when he played the part of and Indian and his father made him a tomahawk. (I am surprised he'd make him that as Nelson "just happened" to go through the curved glass window on their new house.) Paul Bedard bought the Opera House and made it into a garage. Mr. N. Osborn bought it in 1919 and ran the garage until 1930.

It was torn down in 1945 and the Estep Ford Garage was built by Gale Ballhelm on the same location.

Marriage (Nov. 14, 1883)

Back in the 1880's it was customary for the bride and groom to take some wedding cake and other treats to the printers office, the he (the printer's devil) would toast the happy couple and write an article on the wedding. Sometimes the writer would get carried away and almost forget to tell about the wedding as in the following article:

Ever since Adam led Eve from the altar in the Garden of Eden a blushing and happy bride, marriage has been in vogue. The union of hearts when united by love is the happiest period of human life. How beautiful to man, when he returns from his daily labor, to see a woman-one of God's loveliest of creations-stand on the threshold of her little home, with outstretched arms, ready to welcome him whom she has promised to love and honor. This to man is his Paradise on earth - a paradise where his whole heart finds comfort, peace and repose, where he is loved and loves in return.

Marriage is promulgated and prompted by many different methods, the most popular begin the pleasantries of the buggy ride of the silent swinging to and fro of the old gate, when all nature is at rest save the moon, who occasionally hides herself beneath a cloud, in imitation of a tunnel on a railway - to let the young lovers osculate and drink the fountain of love from each rosebud lip. Or in some cases, as is now being proven, the rather marriageable young lady begins the erection of a little domicile just to give her suitors a pointer. But these are not all the ways, too, that life where single blessedness is exchanged evenly for that life, where two lives live as one. (Then follows in the article a description of the character of the happy couple.)

Or in this wedding - one of the biggest affairs of the year according to the write up; (Oh yes, the presents were always listed and their donors.)

A brilliant assemblage had found itself under the hospitable roof of Mr. and Mrs. B.S. Stanton yesterday. Beauty shone, and with sparkled at the gayest marriage of the season.

The occasion was the marriage of their daughter, Miss Alice Spaulding, to Mr. Albert Elwell, both of this city... Everybody seemed to be at home and acquainted; and so the formalities incident to a more pretentious affair, were happily conspicuous by their absence. ...

The presents were many and very costly. There never was a finer display of costly presents, different from the general marriage presents given in this city. They were useful and costly, amounting to several thousand dollars...

Thus they were married. Yesterday morning Allie was a maid; this morning a wife. The marriage ceremony is the turning point in all our lives. Her old associates will know Allie Stanton no more. She is now Mrs. Elwell, she has adopted his name. She has given him all - her hopes, her love, the present, the past the future; promised to love, honor, and obey. He in return gave her his name, his home; promised to "to love, cherish and protect" until death doth part.

We trust his dreams of the past are realized; they are now on the shelves of the future. God grant they may blossom most beautiful.

The Bride

Something old and something new, Something gold and something blue. If she should see a strange cat or hear a cat sneeze on her wedding day, then she will be very happy; and if on her wedding morning she steps from her bed onto something higher and again on something higher still she will from that moment rise in the world. For this purpose a table is placed beside the bed, and it can stand near the dresser or something higher than it, then she must step from the table to that which is higher. But who betide her should she fall. (this is exactly how it was stated in the article).

In leaving the house and church she must be careful to put her right foot forward, and on no account to allow anyone to speak to her husband until she has called him by name.

Seven out of every ten married women believe they could have done better by waiting for a second offer, and nine out of every ten married men wished to goodness they had.

Oldest Resident

At one time La Porte City could boast of having, as a resident, the oldest woman in the state of Iowa. She was Mrs. Catherine Barrett, familiarly called "Granny" by every one in town. She came here from County Tipperary, Ireland, probably about 1875. She did not know how old she was, but estimating from historical events she recalled she must have been at least 85. She made her home in a small building that stood where the Skelly station is located. It was fortunate that there was no health officer here then for Granny kept her chickens and pig in the house. When she went about town., she always carried a heavy cane and usually her body was bent forward at various angles. But as she happened to meet one of her convivial friends, who per chance offered her some liquid refreshments, she not only straightened up but she actually bend backwards.

Remember When

Santa Clause, it seems, deals impartially this year. At some places he left no sign of his appearance, while at other places he displayed a lavish hand. At Kirk McQuilkinsz, for instance, he left a bright 9 pound boy. Success (December 25, 1888).

The boys celebrated Halloween, Saturday evening, by making it interesting for most of our citizens, throwing corn, filling stovepipes, confiscating gates, etc. and the worst act, cutting off the flag rope, on the pole, compelling our democratic friends to take the pole down to put the rope through the pulley. This is carrying a joke altogether too far, and some of our "smart" young men will do something "so smart" if they keep on, they themselves will smart. (From somewhere around 1880.)

The Hick's Plumbing & Heating building was hard maple floors. This used to be a marvelous roller skating area.

Shoes were shined for ten cents. Later known as Harry Esher's Barber Shop and presently occupied by the JayCees.

Line Ring Advertising! Whenever a new shipment of peaches, pears, apples, or any lie of groceries came in, the proprietor would arrange to have the news go out over the telephones. One ring would go to several homes and the news told, then on to another group.

We can have very little realization of the privations of the early-day hard winters. The fierce blizzards sometimes began the last of November and continued through most of the winter. Potatoes would be frozen hard and rattle like walnuts in the sack. Hundreds of prairie chickens froze to death and the wolves would surround the house in gangs, making the most awful howls one ever heard.

Mr. Fox gave an interesting and graphic description of a Christmas party which he entertained in his hotel in 1859. The guests gathered at 8:00 o'clock, when nearly two feet of snow had fallen on the level. Archie Baker, the stage driver, took his coach and ran a free bus around town, taking the ladies to their homes. Darius Boyd acted as conductor. Offtimes the snow was so deep that Darius would carry the ladies in his arms to their doors, but he came to grief. While he was lugging one lady across her dooryard he suddenly floundered into a hole three feet deep. To the surprise of the remaining party Darius and his passenger disappeared completely. They were soon rescued however. A good many of the people did not go home until afternoon and vowed "they never had such a good time before in all their lives."

Germany Licked...The War is Over
(Headlines of the Progress Review November 14, 1918)

Huns Brought to Terms. U.S. Forces Helped Turn the Trick.

Citizens of La Porte City and Vicinity Wild With Joy and Enthusiasm When News That Armistice Had Been Signed Was Made Known Here.

The dispatch conveying the news of the signing of the armistice was greeted by wild enthusiasm in La Porte City last Monday morning. Message came about 3:30 and before 4:00 all the bells in town were ringing and crowds of people lined the streets beginning to celebrate. A parade, headed by the band, was formed and went through the principle streets of town before daylight.

By five o'clock the Progress Review office had a special war end edition printed and by the efficient help of the girl scouts and the boy scouts this extra was delivered over town and was the first press dispatch to be received by the most people. This extra was printed and delivered free of chard, and the first half of the run had to be made by the lights of a lantern as the electric lights were off. The war chronology given in the extra edition had proven to be of much interest and as we have not been able to supply the calls for copies the same will be reprinted in this issue today.

Another parade was staged at ten o'clock and everything invented with which to make noise was in evidence. The boy scouts were on the job all day and by going in relays kept all the bells in town ringing all day long. Regular work of all kinds was abandoned with the exception of getting meals and most families were served cafeteria style.

By one o'clock in the afternoon the streets were thronged with people from both town and country and a line of marchers was begun at the interurban station and extended down main Street, thence up the Avenue and up to Main by way of Commercial Street. The band again led the procession and following were the members of the G.A.R., the surgical dressing class of the Red Cross, the Woman's Relief Corp., various floats, citizens on foot and in autos.

Good Old Days

With all the teacher contract disputes hereabouts this fall, Constant Reader sends along a list of rules for teachers, circa 1872-

"Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys and trim wicks."
"Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day's session."
"After ten hours of school, the teacher should spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good works."
"The teacher who performs his labors faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents per week in his pay if the Board of Education approves."

Remember Velie Vehicles housed in the building where Fose Produce was? You'd find washing machines, engines, and many more items. It was run by O.E. Miles, Elias Fos, and John Rahn.

Hester V. Cummins Berry

1862 - 1953. Hester V. Cummins Berry, local poet, published two books "A Bundle of Twig" in 1893 and another book of poems for children. Her childhood was spent in the home of her grandfather at La Porte City. She was a sister of M.E. Cummins and taught school until she was married to Gordon Berry at Gladbrook.

Many of her poems are of home and family and friends. Her philosophy of life was refreshing in several of her writings:

Don't Worry After School
Well, what is the use to worry?
The world will take care of its own;
There are places abloom with flowers,
Where the sun has never shone.

Don't fret because your neighbor
Has a finer house and lot;
At the same time he may be longing
For something you have got.

If you envy other people
For wealth, or joy, or fame;
If your position was reversed,
You'd be longing just the same.

Don't worry if the seasons
Are not just to suit your taste;
Trust God to manage a little--
The earth will not all be waste.

He alone can give the increase--
Can provide the abundant supply;
And only when he chooseth,
Shall a blossom fade and die.

He can attend to the weather,
And we need never fret;
For He is wise and loving,
And never can forget.

So don't try to run the machinery,
Of the whole world at once;
For, instead of becoming a genius,
You may only remain a dunce.

There are other people, remember,
In this world; nay, not a few,
Who can get along without you,
No matter what you do.

Clara, my dear old schoolmate,
I can hardly write a word;
I feel so very lonesome--
Not as happy as a bird.

I dare not think if my schoolmates,
Or the old schoolroom at all
For fear that in remembering,
The bitter tears should fall.

The winds sweep over the prairies,
And a mist hides the light of the sun
As it creeps over hill and meadow;
And I, with my day's work done.

Start on my homeward journey,
Not happy, and light, and free,
For my life is dull and dreary--
Void of all ecstasy.

I can't tell you about the children
Just yet, for the little while,
But I shall, when again I see you,
Welcome you with a smile.

So goodnight, dear friend,
and God bless you;
May the future years to us bring
No more clouds than brightness,
In this maze of wondering.


Here is a listing of all the images which I have found in my files associated with La Porte City.

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