Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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MASON CITY — John B. LONG, the eldest of 12 children, moved to Mason City with his wife, Anna, and seven children in the spring of 1854 from LaSalle County, Ill.
He joined a friend, John L. McMILLIN, also of LaSalle County, reports LONG'S great-grand-nephew John Jay "J. J." LONG in his new My LONG Family History.
Two other Illinois families came with the LONGS: George and Julia BRENTNER and Joseph HEWITT.
These four families were Mason City's earliest settlers, along with James JENKINSON, who was the first to live here permanently, over the winter of 1853.
The federal government was just opening the area for private land claims at the Federal Land Office in Fort Des Moines. J. J. LONG analyzed township maps of early Mason City to determine that LONG purchased 300 acres, BRENTNER purchased 1,836 and HEWITT, 305 acres.
LONG'S two 150-acre parcels were in Lime Creek and Mason Townships. He built his house in Lime Creek Township, at the point where Lime Creek — the Winnebago River — and Calmus Creek converge, in what is now the Lime Creek Nature Center.
He and McMILLIN named this area Masonic Grove.
LONG, BRENTNER — a German immigrant — and HEWITT platted the city. Each was an owner with one-third interest. They set aside a site, Central Park, to be preserved as a public square. Land was also set aside for a public courthouse.
Eventually HEWITT sold his interest to the other two and moved 10 miles west to further establish the settlement at Clear Lake. That left BRENTER owning the land west of what is now Federal Avenue and Long owning the land east of it.
Mason City at that time extended primarily from what is now Second Street South to Fourth Street North and was bounded by Delaware Avenue on the east and Jefferson Avenue on the west.
LONG, who had completed training to join the Masonic Order in 1850, drew upon his Masonic training in naming this area, south of Masonic Grove, "Shibboleth," which means "ear of corn" or "streams," J. J. LONG writes. When that name fell out of favor, he renamed it Masonville.
In September 1855, the settlers applied for a post office, but learned the name Masonville already existed in Iowa. A new name, Mason City, was chosen, and Mason City was born, Nov. 21, 1855, J. J. LONG reports.
A little-known fact about John B. LONG was his long friendship with John L. McMILLIN. Both were born in Clermont County, Ohio, and may have been cousins, J. J. LONG says. LONG, who was 13 years older than McMILLIN, met McMILLIN when both were living in Rockford, Ill. They became Masons within two years of each other and were next-door neighbors in 1850, when they were living in Dommick, Ill.
McMILLIN moved permanently to Cerro Gordo County in 1854 and built the first general merchandise store in Mason City at 110 S. Federal Ave., where the Palace Theatre was later located.
In 1856, LONG built and stocked, with McMILLIN'S help, his own general store four blocks south of McMILLIN'S. He sold dry goods and groceries while living with his family upstairs.
J. J. LONG describes a "grand ball" in March 1856 to celebrate the dedication of LONG'S general store. The event was catered by McMILLIAN, whose wife served as chief cook. Seventy-five couples from Mason City and Clear Lake attended.
J. J. LONG'S research verified that a hard-bound ledger showing purchases from a general store from Oct. 9, 1855, to April 9, 1856, is from LONG'S store. The ledger has been preserved and is in the archives of the Mason City Public Library. Among the items sold in October 1855 were two undershirts, for $1.50 each; a bottle of blackberry root syrup, 30 cents; a gallon of molasses, 80 cents; and four pounds of sugar, 50 cents.
During the summer of 1855, LONG was elected captain of a local militia of about 25 men from Mason City and Clear Lake, according to J. J. LONG. They decided to drive off a group of Sioux Indians following a raid by the Sioux on a Clear Lake settler. They found a settlement of about 60 Indians seven miles north of Clear Lake, on Lime Creek, and demanded they return silver extracted from the settler's wife. After a smoke of the peace pipe, the Sioux returned the silver and moved on. Although not a shot was fired, the incident was called the "Grindstone War."
In the spring of 1855, LONG and McMILLIN led a movement that resulted in an election to form an independent county, Cerro Gordo County. On Aug. 7, 1855, LONG was elected the county's first judge, the highest office at the time, by a vote of 49 to 1. Judge LONG'S minute book is the earliest known record of court proceedings in Cerro Gordo County.
His opponent, Dr. Silas CARD, and Jacob Van CUREN, who was defeated in his bid to be elected the county's first sheriff, later accused LONG of malfeasance in office in what became the first trial in Mason City. LONG was acquitted and reinstated as judge, but he did not seek re-election in August 1857.
He rankled many citizens when, in 1856, he did not punish a local saloon owner for selling liquor, which was illegal in Iowa at the time. A vocal supporter of legalizing the sale of liquor, at a time when only ale, beer and wine could be sold, LONG acted as judge and jury by asking only that the prisoner turn over the liquor and let him go.
MASON CITY -- The largely untold story of John B. LONG, a founder of Mason City, is revealed in a new book by his great-grand-nephew.
John Jay "J. J." LONG, 67, of Winter Haven, Fla., has donated copies of his 526-page, soft-cover book, My LONG Family History, to the Mason City Public Library. The family genealogy contains the most comprehensive biography written about John B. LONG, J.J.'s great-grand-uncle, and offers an insight into Mason City in its earliest days. It reflects 38 years of research.
"This book is just a life-long dream," LONG said during a recent visit to Mason City.
Born and raised in Mason City, J. J. LONG never knew about the role his ancestor played in Mason City's history until the 1980s, when he was researching the family's genealogy.
"I began gathering as much information as I could about him," he said.
Much of his research was conducted with the help of the Mason City Public Library archives and the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society. He also consulted cousins and family members, county courthouses, township maps and Masonic officials.
John Barrett LONG was one of a number of settlers who arrived in Cerro Gordo County from Illinois. Credited with platting the original city, he was one of two or three men who owned nearly all of Mason City at that time. He also played a major role in selecting the name of the community, drawing upon his background as a member of the Masonic order. J.J. Long's research uncovered the exact lodge in Illinois where he did his degree work and the dates.
During the short time he lived here - from 1854 to 1858 - he was a town leader.
John B. LONG operated one of Mason City's first stores, a general store, located on South Federal Avenue. He was the first county judge of Cerro Gordo County and was instrumental in organizing an election to make the county independent. John B. Long was also elected captain of a local militia to ward off the Sioux Indians.
"He was primarily a farmer, but he was a lawyer, a judge, a visionary, an entrepreneur," said J. J. LONG. "He did it all." LONG left Mason City in February or March 1858, after being wiped out by the Panic of 1857, a worldwide depression.
"Back then everything was done on credit," J. J. LONG said. "He just could not collect from his debtors. The sheriff seized his property and put it up for sale."
The little-known details of his life after Mason City were uncovered by J. J. LONG.
LONG went first to Taney County, Mo., in southwest Missouri, where he and his wife, Anna, owned property and where their daughter, Margaret, lived. Anna remained in Mason City and, in December 1859, delivered their 11th and final child.
In 1861, when her husband failed to return to live permanently in Mason City, Anna LONG filed for divorce. She married Zebina DAY [an early rising citizen of Mason City] on Aug. 25, 1862. After about five years of marriage, she divorced him and moved with her children to join John B. LONG in Missouri. They were remarried on Jan. 5, 1872. [NOTE: Zebina DAY later married Jane JOHNSON on March 24, 1872.]
In 1870, the LONGS moved to neighboring Boone County, Ark., where LONG established a farming operation and built a two-story farmhouse near the community of Lead Hill, Ark. He bought land on either side of the White River and established a ferryboat business, LONG'S Ferry, that he operated for 18 years. LONG drowned on July 11, 1888, while transporting a mule on the ferry. He was 77. He and Anna are buried at [Protem Cemetery, a.k.a. Union Church Cemetery] Protem, [Taney County] Mo.
NOTE: Judge Long built Mason City's first school, a log cabin.
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