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William Meissner


Posted By: Tammy (email)
Date: 11/13/2011 at 10:03:51

WILLIAM MEISSNER. In this volume, dedicated to pioneers of the county, the full meed of praise and respect should be given to the gentleman whose name introduces these paragraphs, who was, in fact, one of the pioneers of Grundy County, having located here many years before even a railroad put in its appearance.

William Meissner was born in the city of Muhlhausen, in Thuringia, Germany, a son of Carl August and Amelia Fredericke (Roebling) Meissner, both of whom were born and reared there. His paternal grandfather was a trustee of the city revenue, while his maternal grandfather was a retail merchant. All of the family held to the Evangelical Lutheran faith.

Carl August Meissner started out early in life for himself, and from a small beginning soon became a prominent business man, and was the first to start the manufacture of American cotton goods in his section of the country. Owing to the unsettled feeling following the Revolution of 1848, however, he sold out and removed with his family to this country, following the example of thousands of others. Our subject, William, who was one of seven children in the parental family, with others had preceded him here, and they located on a farm near New York, at which point the father made headquarters for the family, most of whom had gone into business.

When our subject was eighteen years of age he showed evidence of having incipient consumption, and by medical advice he started out to try farming. After a few years spent among the stumps and stones of pretty Staten Island, he heard of the fine prairies in the northwest which were waiting for the settlers, and of the richness of their soil, which to him then sounded like a fairy tale. At that time large portions of Iowa land were thrown on the market, and his uncle, John Roebling, a well known engineer, became interested in these lands through an assistant engineer who was working for him. This assistant, Alex Gower, who was born at Gowerís Ferry, Iowa, so interested Mr. Roebling in this part of the country by his enthusiastic descriptions of his native state that he had him look up the best lands for entering at that time, and as a result, in the year 1855, he entered a splendid tract of prairie land in the eastern part of the county, in what is now Black Hawk and Grant Townships, some of which lands extend far back into Black Hawk County. The land fever had been infectious. Some of Mr. Roeblingís friends, Mr. Knox, a lawyer in Pittsburgh, and Doctor Nurich, of New York, also secured several thousand acres in this vicinity, some of which land is even to-day held at high figures. Many other parties also took up these lands in a speculative way, and soon, with all of the choice land withdrawn from the market, many would-be settlers would have been debarred, and thus our subject became a prey to the land fever and borrowed $1,000, with which he entered eight hundred acres of land in sections 31 and 32 of Grant Township. He also accepted the proposition of Mr. Roebling to open a portion of his land with a stock farm in view.

In the fall of 1855, in company with his brother Frederick and Alex Gower, he first set foot on Grundy County soil. His brother entered for himself and a friend two sections southwest of Grundy Centre, which he later sold to Mr. Boies, and it now forms part of the Governorís farm. Mr. Gower received from Mr. Roebling commissions for effecting entries of some eight hundred acres now known as the Rugg Farm. On their trip west they passed three or four log cabins after they left Waterloo, and found two more close together in the timber, the habitations of Mr. Freels and William Cramer, truly hospitable pioneers, who, with their families and a few more were the only settlers for many miles around on the creek. The country, however, was delightful, and our subject returned in the spring of 1856 for good, inducing E. H. Beckman, who was then in Illinois, to come along with him, and he proved one of the best men the county ever had. Mr. Roebling, unlike other land speculators, intended opening and improving a large portion of the land himself, but heavy cost, combined with the distance to market, soon caused him to give this up. The next year Mr. Meissner started out entirely on his own accord, and with less than a dozen settlers in the two townships, remained there for nearly ten years. Those on the Government stage route were considered the best located, while the grand stretch of fine prairie immediately north and northwest seemed to offer no inducement to settlers, and for nearly ten years hardly a team passed his house. Any attempt at settling the neighboring country beyond, as undertaken by one or two, was ridiculed. During this time a few of the pioneers left, but a few welcome new-comers took their places. For years the nearest market was Waterloo, and there a few loads of produce would drug the market. At that time the settlers were obliged to pay as high as $8 cash in gold for a barrel of salt and other things were high in proportion.

A county seat was finally established, and the county was organized and a court house built, but all the people were so engaged with their own labor that politics did not cut any figure. When the county judgeship was abolished, Mr. Meissner served as Supervisor from his town for several years because no one else would go. In the meantime things had changed there, as the war had broken out and drawn upon the population of the thinly settled country as everywhere else, and no influx could be looked for in the near future. Here were the settlers with a world of beautiful land around them in the hands of speculators, acting as a most effective drawback on progress. The formerís labor increasing values under exorbitant conditions, left for them their pains and costs. The latter were reaping the profits. Mr. Roebling was willing to sell at reasonable figures, some other speculators likewise, who like some of the settlers found themselves land poor.

In 1858 our subject made a trip to Germany, and while there married Miss Elfride Beckman. While in the Old County he wrote, had printed, and to some extent circulated, a descriptive pamphlet of Iowa, dwelling more especially upon his immediate district. Though there was no apparent gain from this at the time, a few years later a gentleman, popular all over Germany, Gustave Stuve, Heckerís compatriot in Baden in 1848, and for many years an exile from his country, who spent his time in the United States, and whose history of the United States is favorably known, obtained one of Mr. Meissnerís pamphlets and corresponded with him with a view of locating an industrial German immigration on Mr. Roeblingís and Doctor Nurichís lands. Mr. Struve re-published the pamphlet, together with the large correspondence, giving detailed information in regard to the country. He wrote Mr. Meissner that he had distributed them by the thousands all over Germany and was receiving many letters of inquiry regarding the same. After having expended over $500 in publishing the same, together with a publishing firm in Coburg, and not having received one bona fide application, they gave up the project, but good seed was sown. By the time of the close of the war, however, a railroad was projected, which accomplished in one season more than had been done otherwise in years. Many changes of land were made from large holders and became the property of actual settlers. It was not until 1876, however, that the first railroad entered this section of the country, while another road, which was projected in Waterloo in 1855, and which was the most vital to this locality, was not completed until twenty-nine years later, when the splendid road-bed along the Black Hawk bore the first trains in 1884. Many of the old settlers had become land poor before that time, and others had departed and new-comers moved in, many of whom outstripped those who did the pioneer work in the country. Schoolhouses and churches have sprung up now, new organizations have been effected, and the new generation have profited much by the benefit of the labor of those who preceded them. The prairies of Grundy County have become the finest agricultural district in the state, and the hard times spoken of elsewhere are not felt in this locality.

Of the many fine farms in this county, Cloverdale Farm, the property of Mr. Meissner, stands pre-eminently as one of the finest and most cherished of the old homesteads there. Many farmers have retired with ample competency, and most of them have removed to town. Others, like Mr. Meissner, have cherished the old homestead, which they have maintained for headquarters for the younger generations. Among his many friends and relatives here our subject has decided to spend his remaining years in the enjoyment of the competency which he has well earned by his many years of faithful and efficient work for the upbuilding of the community.

Portrait and Biographical Record
of Jasper, Marshall and Grundy Counties, Iowa


Grundy Biographies maintained by Tammy D. Mount.
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