BUILDING A NEW CAPITAL CITY pgs 57-67
When Governor Robert Lucas had been appointed to come to the new Territory of Iowa in 1838, he took up his journey from Cincinnati. He had been Governor of Ohio and he did not seem to be at all doubtful about his plans. Indeed, he was a very energetic man and knew what he wanted in his new position. When he arrived at Burlington, then the capital as it had been before of the Territory of Wisconsin, he found that the secretary of the Territory had reached the place in advance of the Governor. In fact, the Secretary had done some things that would have been done by the Governor had he been present. Perhaps that may have been one reason for some unhappy differences between them. But that need not be explained, since it did not interrupt very much the business of the new government.
There were other officers at the capital: an attorney for the territory, a marshal, and three judges of the highest court. To make the laws, as already pointed out, the people elected thirteen members to the Council or Upper House, and twenty-six members to the House of Representatives. These different single officers and the two houses made up the machinery of government with which to start the business of the Territory. The office of the territorial treasurer was soon created, and in 1840 that of territorial auditor.
Although Burlington served very well for the capital at the beginning, it was not long until some place nearer the center of population was sought. In order to change the capital it was first necessary for the legislature to pass a law and for the Governor to sign it; and that was done. But the law did not fix the place very exactly, since it said that the capital should be somewhere in Johnson County, and the expectation probably was that it would be put somewhere on the Iowa River in that county.
Just as there were men appointed to county seat towns in the new counties, so now there were three men, commissioner, named to look for a good place to build the new capital. Not one of these was a resident of the county where the law had said the town should be placed, but each was selected from a different county. The names of these men will become familiar to those who follow the history of Iowa very far. Mr. Chauncey Swan came from the county of Dubuque, Mr. John Ronalds from the county of Louisa, and Mr. Robert Ralston from the county of Des Moines.
In the spring of 1839 these three men met at a place called Napoleon on the Iowa river and in Johnson County. It was at that time the county seat but, like many other towns, it had very few people. Not far from this place they found a wooded hill near the river and they at once decided to locate the capital city on that hill and the land adjoining it. An entire section, or 640 acres of land, was then set apart for the new capital.
It happened that some settlers had put a claim upon the same land; but when a territory, or state, or the government of the United States wants any land, no person can keep it. To be sure, the owner will be paid the value of his property, for the government does not wish to take private property without returning the just amount belonging to the person who surrenders it. Any citizen who thinks he has been unjustly treated has only to show the justice of his claim in order to have the State or nation government make the matter right.
After the commissioners had decided upon the place for the city, they set a strong slab in the ground to mark the site overlooking the river. Upon the slab they wrote: “CITY OF IOWA, MAY 4th, 1839”, and then they signed their names. But that was not all they had to do; the law by which they were appointed said also that they should proceed to plan a capitol building (See cover picture), and one of their number should attend to its construction. For that purpose Mr. Chauncey Swan was chosen; and he soon returned to the “City of Iowa” to begin his work. Before commencing the building, however, he caused the entire section of land to be surveyed into the blocks of a town. The work of the surveyors was begun in June, 1839, and meanwhile plans were being made for the large building to be placed on the hill near the river.
On the Fourth of July the men who were helping in the survey stopped long enough to hold a celebration and listen to a speech. One of their number read the Declaration of Independence and Mr. John Frierson, one of the men in charge of the survey, delivered an address. From many places, far and near, the pioneers came to aid in the celebration and it is said that the Indians looked on, while no doubt they were wondering what all this talking was about. Perhaps there was a picnic dinner under the great oaks where the Indians had often hunted, but where they would hunt no more. Probably the white men who were so busy with the thought of the new city had no time to think of the redman who had the first right to this beautiful land. In Book One (p. 67) was described the journey of the Indians when they left the old hunting grounds which now were to be given up to the “City of Iowa”.
The celebration being over, the surveyors continued their work. They first set apart the square of ten acres which should belong to the capitol building and then laid off streets in both directions from it. One street, or avenue, running eastward from the square about the capitol building was just as wide as the building was long—the widest street of all. This was called Iowa Avenue. There were other wide streets surrounding the ten acres, and one near the river front was expected to become the great business street of the city. As it happened, however, the business men did not put their stores on that street and it never came to be what the surveyors expected. Besides, there were places along the river where there were to be boat landings or wharves, for the steamboats which would come up the stream with loads of freight. Again the expectations were not fulfilled, although, as will be seen, there were a few cargoes unloaded there and as many taken on.
It is worth remembering that in laying out this new city on the land which was to belong to the whole Territory of Iowa, certain parts were kept for public use. For example, there were parks and public markets—north market, central market, and south market; portions of several blocks were set aside for the building of churches; and these could be had for nothing, if people wished to build a church. The first who came should have the first choice. Nor were the schools forgotten in the laying out of the town, for a block was kept near the central part on which the school buildings should sometime be placed. A “promenade” along the river was also mentioned, and this would have been a public park had all the plans been carried out as the “City of Iowa” grew.
In 1839 the capitol building was begun; and on July 4, 1840, Governor Lucas gave an address at the laying of the corner stone. On the old stone which is at the southeastern corner of the building, the figures “1840” are yet plainly seen. At first the stone for the walls of the capitol was quarried near by and slowly the work was being completed when in the fall of 1840 a committee from the legislature came to see how it was getting on. The members made some suggestions by which it could be improved; but the walls had to be torn out in some places and there was a delay in the work. Besides it was quite hard to find suitable stone to make the change. Soon a new quarry was found some distance up the river and the stone was brought down on flat boats. Some for special purposes, however, is said to have been hauled from an adjoining county by ox teams. All the stone and lumber were furnished from near-by sources.
While the workmen were busy on the new capitol building, they were suddenly startled by the whistling of a steamboat coming up the Iowa River. They could see the stars and stripes at the prow of the boat. The flag, as they saw it, against the background of green trees along the stream made a beautiful picture. And as the steamer, The Rock River as it was called, came up the landing at the foot of the hill the citizens crowded about to meet it; for steamboats were not yet a common thing at the city wharf. On the same day a large company of men and women, or ladies and gentlemen as men usually said in those days, were given an excursion by the captain of the steamer. They spent the afternoon on a trip up the Iowa River to the quarries from which the stone was brought to build the capitol.
Long before the capitol building was finished, the legislature and the officers of the Territory were anxious to move to the new capital and nearer to the center of the population. In January, 1841, it was decided that the next meeting of the legislature should be held in Iowa City (first called the City of Iowa) if the building was ready; or if some other place was made ready by the citizens. Fortunately there was a man who was willing to use his money for a building that would do for the officials and the session of the legislature; for the new capitol was not nearly finished when the time came to meet in the fall of 1841.
The members of the two houses of the legislature and the officers had to come from their homes by stage coach or on horseback. The weather was very disagreeable; so bad that men have left a story of the hard time they had to reach the end of their journey. But when they had come together they were quite happily surprised at the comfortable place which had been prepared for the meeting. Besides, the townspeople were very glad to have the government of the Territory moved to their city. By that time there were seven or eight hundred inhabitants in the new town, so that there was room for all who had be cared for while the business of the Territory was being done. On December 6, 1841, the legislature met for the first time in the new capital city, where it met every year until 1846; and then when the Territory became a state it met there every two years until 1857, when the capital was again moved.
Almost as soon as Iowa had become a state, and not long after the new capitol building had been first used, some men were ready to move again farther west to a new city. In 1847, therefore, the General Assembly passed a law by which men would be chosen to find a place for the next capital. They were to select a good place, of course; and this was found in Jasper County. There they set apart five sections of prairie land to be laid out into town blocks and lots. Some of these were sold in the new town which was called Monroe City. Just where it was, may be seen by looking on the railroad map shown in this book (p. 80). The very next year, however, the General Assembly changed its mind and the whole plan was given up. The most of those who had bought lots in the promised town got their money back. And that was the last of Monroe City as the capital of Iowa.