Cerro Gordo County Iowa
Part of the IaGenWeb Project



1875 A. T. Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas
of the State of Iowa

NOTE: This transcription appears as it was written in 1875.
Some terminology is not considered to be politically correct in this day and age.


This county is situated in the second tier from the northern line of the state, and is the fifth west from the Mississippi. It is twenty-four miles square and contains an area of 368,640 acres. Like most portions of Northern Iowa, it has a very pleasing diversity of surface, particularly in the eastern portion, produced by the valleys of the numerous creeks and streams, by which the county is well drained, while the prairies, which form the greater portion of the area of the county, are not devoid of a good degree of diversity occasioned by their undulations. The prairies, except in the southwest, where a number of extensive marshes are found, are generally high, rolling and dry, though never being sufficiently broken or abrupt to render them unsuitable for pleasant and profitable cultivation.


Nearly every portion of the county is well watered by clear and rapidly flowing streams, generally supported by springs. All the water courses in this part of the state flow more rapidly than in the west and southwest portions, affording better and more abundant water power for machinery. The east part of the county has larger and more numerous streams of running water than the west. Shellrock River flows from northwest to southeast, through the middle of the northeast corner township, watering portions of two other townships. It is a rapid stream, flowing through extensive beds of limestone, and presenting many superior mill privileges, but few of which are as yet improved. This stream has its source in Minnesota, and is a tributary of the Shellrock, and to Cerro Gordo County, is the most important stream in it. It enters from Hancock County, nearly six miles south of the northwest corner of Cerro Gordo, and thence flows in a northeast course some six or eight miles, touching the south line of Worth County. Thence its course is in a southeast direction, leaving the county near the middle of the east line. It meanders through five different townships, affording the county at least thirty miles of water course, exclusive of its tributaries. This stream also flows through and over beds of limestone throughout nearly its entire length in this county. It has many tributaries, one of the most important being known as Willow Creek, having its rise in the west part of the county, and one branch of it being the outlet of Clear Lake. These streams abundantly water all the north half of the county, while in the southeast corner there is a stream known as Coldwater Creek, which with Beaver Dam Creek, and its several branches, water most of the south half of the county.

It may be hardly necessary to refer to an element so common throughout all parts of Iowa as water, yet it is well to state that the purest and best is easily obtained every where by digging from ten to thirty feet, and in many localities living springs are found bursting from the banks of the streams and along the rivers.


Clear Lake, the Saratoga of the West, is one of the largest and most beautiful in Iowa. It is situated in township 96 north, of range 22 west, is about six miles long east and west, by an average of two miles wide, the widest place being nearly three miles. The water in depth is from ten to twenty-five feet, and abounds in various kinds of fish, including pike, pickerel, bass, buffalo and other varieties. People resort here from great distances for the purpose of fishing, and at certain seasons of the year wagon loads of them are easily caught with spears, hooks, seins, and by the various other methods known to the piscatorial sportsman. On the south side and east end of the lake, are large bodies of timber, amounting in the aggregate to several thousand acres. The bottom of Clear Lake is pebbly, and the water pure and clear, as the name indicates. A line of rocks, or boulders, extends around the border, protecting the banks from washing, as the waves often beat against them with great force. At the east end of the lake there is an outlet leading into Willow, and thence into Lime Creek. This outlet has been turned to good account by the erection of a flouring mill for which it furnishes an excellent mill power, the supply of water being constant and easily controlled.

Clear Lake is the only one of considerable size in the county. The southwest corner township contains several small ones, none of which have names, not being considered of sufficient size or importance.


The northern portion of the county is abundantly supplied with the various kinds of timber common to this portion of the state, which consists principally of burr, red and black oak, walnut, butternut, hickory, lime, and white elm. The most extensive bodies are found along the Shellrock River, Lime Creek and surrounding Clear Lake, and extending northward into Worth County. Owen's Grove, in the east, and Lime Grove in the south, furnish a good supply for fuel and other general purposes to the settlers around them. The southwest portion of the county has little or no good timber, but nature has abundantly supplied it with fuel in the extensive peat marshes which are among the best and most valuable in the state. It is estimated that there is over twenty thousand acres of native timber in the county, which will afford, if properly preserved, a supply for all purposes for which native timber is used for all time to come.


Like most portions of Iowa, the chief source of wealth for the future, as well as the sure support of the present inhabitants of Cerro Gordo County consists in its rich and fertile soil, which is peculiarly adapted to the growth of small grains, vegetables and esculent roots, though corn is grown with a good degree of success. Small fruits are raised in abundance, while the success with apples and pears has been such as to justify the cultivation of the hardier varieties only. There is a plentiful supply of stone, much of which is of excellent quality for building purposes. Much the greater part of it at every exposure is excellent material for the manufacture of lime, and all suitable for common building purposes. The magnesian strata being more uniformly bedded, of dense and uniform texture, is admirable material for dressed stone, for bridge piers, or other heavy masonry. The whole county is thought to be underlaid by strata of the Devonian age immediately beneath the drift, which are freely exposed in the valleys along the Lime and Shellrock, and are not unfrequently found at the surface at a considerable distance from the streams in the northwestern part of the county. Some of the common limestone near Mason City is thinly and uniformly bedded, and, having a light gray color, looks well in business houses which have been constructed of it at that place. Many of the rocks are highly fossiliferous, and show the outlines of various kinds of shells, and being of the sub-carboniferous or kind which belongs below the coal measures, no discovery of coal may be expected in this region. The inhabitants must therefore depend upon the forest trees and the peat marshes for their supply of fuel, although their excellent railroad facilities give them an opportunity of securing coal from the southern part of the state or from Illinois, should these resources ever be exhausted.

On the banks of the lakes and streams an abundance of sand can be obtained, while clay suitable for the manufacture of brick is found in sufficient quantities to meet all future requirements, though it is nowhere so abundant as in the southern part of the state.


The first white settlers in the county were Joseph HEWETT (HEWITT) and James DICKIRSON, who arrived at Clear Lake, July 14, 1851, where they constructed rude cabins. Their object in coming was to capture elk and buffalo calves, and they were accompanied by two young men, John ALLOWAY and Henry ROBINSON, who came as teamsters, and remained one year. They did not expect to remain over winter, but this being the rainy season so well remembered by old settlers, they experienced so much difficulty in crossing the streams which so impeded their enterprise that they were necessarily obliged to remain, and sending for their families, they settled down at the southwest corner of the lake without any white neighbors nearer than Bradford, Chickasaw County, fifty miles distant, at which place there were only four families. As this was embraced in the neutral ground, and had been purchased from the Indians a year or two previous, they were little disturbed save by a few wandering Indians who occasionally came back to their old hunting and fishing grounds. They were principally occupied in trapping, hunting and fishing, and as game was plenty they led a wild, adventurous life during the years that they remained so far away from the borders of civilization.

The next settlement in the county was made on Lime Creek, in July, 1853, by two brothers, David and Edwin WRIGHT. They located about three miles above where Mason City is now situated.

In the Fall of the same year James and Robert SIRRINE took claims at the east end of Clear Lake, where they still remain.

In the Fall of the same year John B. LONG and John L. McMILLIN settled where Mason City is now located, taking claims, as the land did not come into market until the 5th of September, 1854.

For several years the two principal settlements of the county were at Clear Lake and Mason City. As early, however, as September, 1853, Anson C. OWEN settled at Owen's Grove, in the east part of the county, where there is now a flourishing settlement.

Among the first settlers at Shell Rock and vicinity were Richard MOORE, H. L. SMITH, Elijah WILTFONG, Richard MORRIS, G. L. BUNCE and Chauncey LUGARD - all prior to 1855.


As before stated, for the first two or three years the Indians gave the settlers no trouble.

Captain Joseph HEWITT remained at Clear Lake some five or six years, when he removed to Algona, Kossuth County, where he lived several years, and he then returning to the Lake, lived there until his death, in May, 1865. Few men were better known among the early settlers of Northern Iowa. Before coming to Cerro Gordo County, he had been a trader among the Winnebago Indians, in the northeast part of the state. Learning of his location at Clear Lake, several families of the Winnebagoes followed him there in the Winter of 1853-4.

The Sioux, who lived farther north in Minnesota, learning that some Winnebagoes had come upon the "neutral ground," determined to exterminate them. About five hundred of them came down during the Summer of 1854, and for some time feigned to be very friendly with the whites and Winnebagoes, eating and smoking the peace-pipe with them.

A prominent Winnebago brave named To-Shan-e- ga (Otter, in their language), suspicioned their intentions, and wanted the white settlers to use their influence with the Sioux to protect them. It was not long until two Sioux, skulking around the camp of the Winnebagoes, waylaid and shot a boy about sixteen years of age, belonging to the latter tribe. Not content with killing him, they severed his head from the body, and carried it away with them.

HEWITT and DICKIRSON then sent their teams and conveyed the Winnebagoes out of the country, they making their way back to the tribe in the vicinity of St. Paul.

At this time Mr. DICKIRSON lived on the prairie a mile east of the lake, and the movements of the Sioux were such as to induce the settlers to take steps for their own protection. Mr. DICKIRSON'S house was resorted to by all the settlers as the place of common defense.

The Indians came in force within a quarter of a mile of the house, and made demonstrations which indicated hostile intentions, repeating their manoeuvers at intervals for several days. At last, Captain HEWITT determined to know what their intentions were, and accordingly went to them. The Sioux informed him that they supposed the Winnebagoes were in the house, and that, if so, they were determined to have them. HEWITT told them if they would leave their arms on the prairie they might proceed with him and search the house. They accepted the proposition on condition that the whites all come out of the house and leave their arms there. The stipulation was agreed to, and the Indians made a thorough search, twenty-one of their number being detailed for the purpose.

After being satisfied that no Winnebagoes were about, each of the twenty-one warriors took out a revolver that he had concealed under his blanket, and exhibited it to the whites to show them what advantages they had, and made some sport over the fact that the whites had allowed them such a chance.

Pending these difficulties the governor of the state sent a detachment of fifty soldiers to Clear Lake to preserve the peace and put down any disturbances that might arise. Before the arrival of the military, however, the Indians left for Minnesota, and thus ended the first Indian war of Cerro Gordo County.

The next Indian disturbance is familiarly known to the old settlers here as the "Grindstone War," and took place in the Summer of 1855. In this, our old pioneer friend, James DICKIRSON, figured prominently on one side, against twenty-one marauding, vagabond Sioux warriors on the other. The Indians came to the house of Mr. DICKIRSON and commenced showing their troublesome disposition by attempting to kill his chickens, break his grindstone, and in many other ugly ways. Finally, one of the swarthy rascals took up the grindstone and made off with it, whereupon Mr. DICKIRSON took a good-sized stone and followed him. At the entreaty of his wife and Mrs. Tuttle, he threw down his weapon, fearing that if he struck the Indian, the others might be so exasperated as to endanger all their lives. He forced the grindstone away from the Indian, and in doing so threw him several feet, sprawling on the ground. He recovered and followed Mr. Dickirson with a club, striking him slightly on the head. The latter then returned the blow with the grindstone, inflicting a wound which laid the Indian out on the ground for several minutes. The other Indians were up to this time, at the house, but went down and took up their wounded comrade.

They then held a pow-wow over the affair, and decided that Mr. DICKIRSON should pay the wounded Indian $100, or give him a horse, either of which, the former positively refused to do. The Indians then threateningly surrounded him with their guns cocked, repeating the demand, and telling him that unless he complied they would shoot him. Mrs. D. begged her husband to pay the sum demanded, but he persistently refused. The wife had some five or six dollars in silver, which she gave the Indians, and they finally left the premises.

Next day all the settlers at Clear Lake and Mason City, to the number of twenty-five collected together, and went to the Indian camp, on Lime Creek, some seven miles north of the lake. They found about sixty of them there, and demanded that they should immediately leave the country. They also made them refund the money which Mrs. D. had given them. The Indians left in great haste, glad to get off so easily. Of this little expedition, John LONG, then of Mason City, was captain.

The Sioux never came into the county after this, but the Winnebagoes came in large numbers for the purpose of hunting and fishing. They always maintained friendly relations with the whites.

Among those who resided at Clear Lake at the time of this "Grindstone War," were James DICKIRSON, Joseph HEWITT, Robert O. SIRRINE, William WILSON, Rowland GARDNER and William LUCE. The two last named, with their families, less than two years afterwards, were killed in the Spirit Lake massacre - Miss (sic, Abigail) GARDNER, a young daughter of Mr. GARDNER, being carried away a captive and subsequently purchased from her captors.


Stock raising and grazing has been, and still is, an important branch of the industrial interests of Cerro Gordo County. The adaptitude of the soil to the growth of grass, both tame and wild, combined with the excellent stock-water which is so generally distributed, render it peculiarly adapted for this purpose; the only draw-back being the long, severe winters, which necessitate such large amounts of winter feeding. The dairy business is receiving considerable attention, for which it is also well calculated. The butter and cheese from Northern Iowa rank among the best in the West.


The railroad facilities of this county are surpassed by few counties in Northern Iowa. The Iowa & Dakota Division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad passes through the county from east to west, a little north of the center, crossing the Central Railroad of Iowa at Mason City, from which place the Mason City & Minnesota runs in a northeast direction to Austin. The main line of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Minnesota also passes up the Shellrock River, in the two northeast townships.


The first newspaper published in the county was the Cerro Gordo Press, which made its first appearance in the Summer of 1858, with D. E. COON, subsequently a major in the 2d Iowa Cavalry, and brevet brigadier general, as editor. It was published at Mason City, and was discontinued after running about two years.

The second was the Cerro Gordo Republican, published at Mason City, by J. H. AYLESWORTH, who in about one year sold to H. G. PARKER, who conducted it until September, 1866, when Silan NOYES became associate editor and publisher, and the following year took full charge, and has since alone and with different partners conducted the Republican. The present editors and proprietors are NOYES & LANNING.

The Mason City Express, by H. R. SPINK, is a good local paper, and receives its share of patronage, while the Clear Lake Observer, established in 1871, by S. H. BRADY, the present editor, is a deservingly well patronized local sheet.


D. J. FARRELL, Auditor.   M. S. SCHERMERHON, Clerk.
JAMES RULE, Treasurer.   OWEN T. DENISON, Recorder.
H. H. SCHELL, Sheriff.
Supt. of Common Schools.
Chairman of Board of Supervisors.



This is the county seat, and is situated on Lime Creek, some four or five miles northeast of the center of the county. It was laid out in 1854, the locality being at first known as "Masonic Grove," most of the settlers being members of that Order.

J. L. McMILLAN built the first store in 1854, and sold the first goods in the county. It has the advantages of timber, building stone, and good water power, and has also been favored with excellent railroad facilities.

There are few towns in Iowa of the size and wealth of Mason City that are as well built, and contain so many elegant, substantial and architecturally handsome business houses and residences. The town is settled largely from the Eastern and New England States, and contains but a small foreign element, as is indicated by the neat, tasty, and clean appearance of the streets, yards and public grounds. A large stone public school building, located in a commanding position, is one of the first objects that attracts the attention of strangers who visit the city for the first time, while a number of commodious, elegantly designed churches beautify the general appearance, and indicate that the religious and moral wants of the community are well cared for. Being surrounded on all sides by a rich, beautiful and well improved farming section, with no rival towns in the vicinity, it has secured an unusually large and desirable retail trade, which the generous, enterprising, and thoroughly honest business habits of its tradesmen will long retain. Having excellent hotel facilities, and being only nine miles from Clear Lake, it has become quite a Summer resort for pleasure seekers. Altogether it is quite a pleasant place to live, and is destined to become one of the most important places in Northern Iowa.


This town is located at the east end of the lake of the same name, and was laid out by James DICKIRSON, in the Fall of 1856. James CROW built the first house soon after, and Thomas PALMER was the first to open a store. The Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad passes through the place. It has good hotel accommodations, and is fast becoming a fashionable summer resort.


This is a town pleasantly situated on Shellrock River, in the northeast part of the county. It was laid out in 1857, by C. W. TENNEY and John MORGAN.


This place is also on Shellrock River, about three miles below Plymouth. It was laid out in 1855, by Elijah WILTFONG. It has a fine water power, and there is an abundance of good building stone in the vicinity.


This is a station on the Central Railroad of Iowa, in the southern part of the county, and has a fine grazing and agricultural country around it.


This is a station on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, in the eastern part of the county.

  SOURCE: "HISTORY: Cerro Gordo County." A.T. Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa Chicago. 1875.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, February of 2011



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