Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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History of Lake Township
Cerro Gordo County, Iowa

Lake Township

The Founding of Livonia and the County Seat War

Livonia's Defeat and Obliteration
Speculation as to the Respective Forturnes of Livonia and Mason City Had the Result of the County Seat Contest Favored the Foremer Instead of the Latter

Thomas O. Howard
"Dead on the Field of Honor."

Originally Lake township constituted fully one third of the total area of Cerro Gordo county and, with its large and prosperous settlement at and around Clear lake, was one of the most important, in wealth, area and population, of the county divisions. So important was it in these respects that when, in 1855, shortly after the organization of the county, the commissioners appointed by Judge Samuel MURDOCK to locate the county seat decided favorably to Mason City, Lake in its pride of wealth, population and area determined to contest the decision of the commissioners and secure the county capital itself.

To do this, it was necessary, first of all, to secure the appointment of a new commission, and this the Lakers were successful in doing. This new commission was composed of Stephen H. HENDERSON of Mitchell county, James TAGGART, of Benton county, and George McCOY. In 1857 this commission came to relocate the county seat of Cerro Gordo county.

The commission met at Clear lake, April 29, 1857 , and after taking the oath of office, administered by I. W. CARD, who was then a justice of the peace, proceeded to investigate not so much the rival claims of the contestants as the claims of the Lakers. After due investigation and deliberation the commission made a report in favor of the Lakers by selecting a part of section 18 of township 96, range 21 west, which is the same as modern Lake township. [Site of present city of Clear Lake.]

After defining the place of their selection by metes and bounds, the commissioners in the report to the county judge of Cerro Gordo county, J. S. CHURCH, say, "We have name the said selection 'Livonia.' The commission therefore adjudge, determine and hereby constitute said Livonia henceforth the seat of the justice of said county of Cerro Gordo. And the above described selection and description of land shall be the site and locality for the erection of the necessary county buildlings."

The report of the commission was made April 30, 1857, and steps were at once taken to carry the decree of the commission into effect. The construction of a court house was begun and completed during the summer of 1857, and late in the fall a part of the county records were moved from Mason City and placed in the new court house at Livonia. C. H. HUNTLY, treasurer and recorder, and E. D. HUNTLY, clerk of court, both moved their records and offices to the new court house and spent most of the winter of 1857-8 at Livonia.

Lake township had won the second battle in the county seat war and would have fain sat down for a moment and enjoyed a little needed rest and the fruits of victory, after the heat and smoke and strenuous labor of the fight. But, alas and alack! There was to be no rest for the weary, no spoils for the victors. The whole country to the east and northeast was up in arms and no sooner did the county court convene than a petition signed by over half the voters of the county, asking the court to grant an election to be held in April, 1858, to submit to the voters of the county the question "Shall the county seat of Cerro gordo county be removed from Livonia to mason City." Judge J. S. CHURCH, the county judge presiding granted the prayer of the petition and set the first Monday in April, 1858, as the momentous day for the battle of the ballots.

From the beginning it had really been a hopeless war for Lake, for it was a war against the logic of the situation as well as a war against overwhelming numbers. Livonia was located at one side of the county and the county was without roads or bridges and no means of transportation save that of foot and team. It would have been inconvenient for a great majority of the people with the county gridironed with railroads, the streams all bridged and the wagon raods ditched and graded as they are today. In 1868 such a situation was intolerable. Therefore the large settlements on the Lime and the Shell Rock were united against the one settlement on Clear Lake.

But the Lakers were brave and full of fight, even though the fight was hopeless and a hot campaign lasting from early in February to April was fought without quarter given or asked by either side, whe the votes were counted, the inevitable had happened; Mason City had won with 155 votes and Livonia had lost with 48 votes. In other words, the people of the Lime and the Shell Rock had defeated the people of the Lake by 107 majority in a total vote of 203.

The county seat, together with the officers and records went back to Mason City and Livonia vanished from the face of the earth as utterly as Carthage and Ninevah and more utterly, for not even a stake or stone marks the site of Livonia, which massive ruins still attest the ancient power and glory of the Punic and Assyrian capitals.

It is idle to speculate on results had that battle of the ballots for the county seat two and fifty year ago, dealt defeat to Mason City and victory to Livonia. It is a demonstrated fact that the seat of county government is alone insufficient for the building of cities; yet had the county seat remained at Livonia would not or would the Iowa Central Railway when it came to be built a little more than ten years later have deflected enough to the west so as to have passed through Livonia instead of Mason City, and would the Milwaukee road have built its shops and round house and established its division headquarters at Livonia instead of at Mason City? These are questions for the philosopher and not for the historian to answer. It may not be amiss, however, to point out that in that early time when means of communication in the way of trade were entirely inadequate, Mason City possessed several very important advantages over Livonia. For example, Mason City possessed the only quarries of building stone for miles around; Livonia had none. Mason City possessed limestone for an important and growing lime industry ; Livonia had none. For Livonia's single, rather inadequate water power at the foot of the lake, Mason City had a good if not better at Parker's mill and a much better one at the Kuppinger mill.

The possession of these advantages by Mason City would have more than offset the possession of the county seat by Livonia even at that early day. Later developments showed Mason City to possess a thousand fold greater natural advantages. For instances, the Devonian shales out of which the brick and drain tile are made, are close to the surface and therefore workable at Mason City, while at Livonia, if they exist at all, they are buried deep under the detritus of the Altamont moraine; Mason City possesses an accessible abundance of the material out of which Portland Cement is made while Livonia has nothing of the sort.

To sum up – It is altogether probable that had Livonia remained the county seat it would be but little larger than the present town of Clear Lake and Mason City would be substantially what it is today, minus the court house and jail.

Although once of so much importance to the county, owing to its large area and relatively large wealth and population, the history of Lake after the closing of the first chapter, has been an uneventful one. In 1865 Clear Lake was detached from it and as the years went by it was gradually robbed ot its territorial patrimony until it was finally reduced to a tract of land six miles square, embracing only congressional township 96, range 21 west.

Lake township as it is now organized, is bounded on the east by Mason township, on the north by Lincoln, on the west by Clear Lake township, and on the south by Mt. Vernon.

As the traveler enters Lake township from Mason township he notes that the almost level prairies on the left are giving way to a land covered with low hills and mound-like eminences. These are the huge heaps of detritus left by the Wisconsin glacier.

Geologically, when one passes from Mason township into Lake township, he passes from an older into a newer country. Mason township has the soil and topography created and left by the Iowan glacier, while Lake township has the soil and the topography created and left by the Wisconsin glacier. As is pointed out elsewhere in this work, the time interval between the retreat of the Iowan and the retreat of the Wisconsin glacier, was probably not less, and may have been more than twenty thousand years. So the traveler who passes from Mason township into Lake township at the same time spans a gulf of twenty millenniums.

Lake is one of the best agricultural townships in the county. Its hills, which are really mere heaps of earth, are like most of those of the Altamont moraine, fertile clear to the summit, and it has less low, wet land than most of the townships in the region of the Iowan drift. Its rich soil produces abundant crops of corn, oats, barley and potatoes, as well as all kins of forage crops. Of late, the growing of sugar beets has become a large, growing and profitable agricultural industry. The township is also noted for its fine cattle, horses, sheep and swine.

Lake township is well watered by willow creek and its numerous small tributaries. The main branch of this stream finds it source in Clear Lake and flows throught the township from section 18 in a northeasterly course until it passes out through section 1.

At an early day, that is at the time of the coming of the white men, Lake township was fairly well timbered. Besides the beautiful groves on sections 7 and 8 and what has always been known as “East Grove,” about three miles southeast of the lake, there was considerable native timber in the northern part of the township. The soil seems to be adapted to the growth of both fruit and forest tress, and there are in the township many fine orchards and artificial groves of forest trees.

Early Settlement of Lake and Clear Creek (sic, Clear Lake) townships is so inextricably mixed that it is extremely difficult to definitely separate some of the more prominent. This state of affairs arises from the fact that several of the early settlers had land in what afterward came to be Clear Lake township, although at the time and for some years it was lake township. For instance James DIKIRSON is credited to both Lake and Clear Lake townships as a first settler. It seems clear, however, that Dickirson did settle in Lake prior to anybody else. He settled on section 7 and built the first house in the township there in 1852.

RICE and ALLAWAY came in 1853 or 1854. In 1855 there was quite an immigration. Among those who came that year were, Hiram A. STILES, Rowland GARDNER, Harry LUCE, E. A. TUTTLE, Andrew BUTTERFIELD, William WILSON, Abram BENNETT, Peter PARRISHrish, James B. WOOD and Peter MEDDAUGH.

Hiram STILES settled on section 6, where he remained about five years, when the call of a new frontier prevailed and he moved on. The last known of him he was in Kansas.

Elon A. TUTTLE, one of the famous TUTTLE brothers of pioneer days, settled on section 7, on forty acres of land he bought of James DICKIRSON. This was the first land he owned in Lake township although he afterward added to it until he owned a tract of several hundred acres. Associated with his brothers, Marcus and A. B. TUTTLE, he entered a claim of 500 acres, and the same season hauled the lumber for his first house from Iowa City, a distance of not less than 150 miles. This was the first frame house in Lake township.

Joseph WOOD entered his claim on section 25, of what was at the time Lake township but which afterward became Clear Lake township, being in congressional township 96, range 22. Peter R. Wood, a son of James Wood, was a sergeant in Company B, 32d Iowa. He had the pleasure and honor to die, dressed in Union blue and with his good Enfield rifle giving his country's foes ball for ball on the sanguinary battle field of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. Peace, honor and glory be unto him. During 1856 Marcus and A. B. Tuttle, Charles Gillespie and Elnathan Crowell located in the township. About the same time Caleb HUBBARD and a Mr. PISER settled on the prairie. It was also this year that E. A. TUTTLE brought his family from Johnson county. There were also other settlers.

Thomas O. HOWARD was born in Marlow, N. H., December 13, 1832. In 1856 he married Miss Rosa, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William DORT. He was a carpenter by trade. In August, 1862, he enlisted in Company B, 32nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry. At the organization of his company, he was elected orderly sergeant. In 1862 he was promoted to the second lieutenantcy (sic) and in 1863 was promoted to first lieutenant, which position he held when his regiment went into action at Pleasant Hill, La., in 1864. It fell to the lot of Lieutenant Howard to command the skirmishers in front of his regiment and he received special mention for his bravery in that trying position. Later in the engagement he fell mortally wounded. He was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later. Thomas O. HOWARD was a typical American volunteer soldier. He came from the common walks of life; a carpenter. He entered the service of his country carrying a gun; he died for his country as a first lieutenant; he would have creditably filled the office of a general had the exigencies of the services demanded it of him. He was tall, well formed and comely, with a dignified bearing and a winning open countenance; truthful and honest in all his dealings, courageous, brave, firm, yet kind and generous; he was every inch a gentleman and a man. Napoleon would have made him a marshal of France. The Grand Army Post at Clear Lake is called the "Tom HOWARD Post" in his honor. He left a widow and two orphan children. When the roll of the Tom HOWARD Post is called let some one answer for him as the French grenadier did for Latour De Auvergne; "Dead on the Field of Honor." Thomas O. HOWARD settled in Lake township in 1857.

James D. FREMAN was born in Plainfield , Vermont, July 19, 1827, and came to Cerro Gordo county in 1871. At the breaking out of the Civil war, he was living at Chatfield, Minnesota. He enlisted in Company D, 8th Minnesota Infantry in 1862 and for three years wore the blue and carried a gun and knap-sack. The first year of his service was on the Dakota frontier fighting the blood thirsty Sioux. The Sioux having accepted defeat, his regiment was ordered south in 1863. He received his first serious baptism of fire at the great battle of Murfreesboro. After that he was engaged in several great pitched battles besides many minor engagements.

Benjamin LEONARD Jr., was born in Niagara county, New York, April 4, 1836. He came to Cerro Gordo county in 1875 and settled in Lake township. The thunder of rebel guns and the bombardment of fort Sumter had scarcely ceased their reverberations when Leonard shouldered his musket and started to the front, enlisting in the 3rd Wisconsin Infantry twelve days after the rebel victory in Charleston harbor. He served with Pope in his short and inglorious campaign in Virginia and also under McClellan. At the battle of Antietam he received a severe gunshot wound in his right arm which necessitated his honorable discharge.

Charles BRAYTON, a brother to the wife of Benjamin LEONARD, was born in McHenry county, Illinois in 1838. He went to Wisconsin in 1862 and the same year enlisted in the 31st Wisconsin Infantry. He served his country faithfully for three years, being mustered out with his regiment in 1865. All honor to Charles BRAYTON, for he was one his country's defenders in the hour of need.

Sylvester HILL was born in Barford, Stanstead county, Canada , in 1840. Although born under the British flag, he came of good New England stock, his father being a native of New Hampshire and his mother a native of Vermont. He emigrated to Wisconsin in 1859 and in 1864 he enlisted in the 51st Wisconsin Infantry and served to the end of the war a true and faithful soldier of the Union.


Lake township was one of the three original townships of the county. The first election was held on the first Monday of April, 1857, at the house of James SIRRINE at Clear Lake, when the following officers were elected; Marcus TUTTLE and H. G. PARKER, justices of the peace; Peter P. WOOD and Hiram STILES, constables; Joseph TURNER, clerk.

First Events.

The first marriage was that of Michael CALLANAN, Jr., to Miss Mary Ann GRAY.

The first birth was Joseph DICKIRSON, son of James DICKIRSON, who with Joseph HEWITT, were the first white settlers who came to and founded the Clear Lake settlement. This boy, Joseph, was born in May, 1855.

The first death was that of a little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Marcus TUTTLE, who died January 3, 1857.

The first school in Lake township was taught by Mrs. LUTZ at her own home in 1856. The first public school was taught in the winter of 1857-8 on section 9, by E. A. TUTTLE.

WHEELER, J. H., Ed. & Comp. "Lake Township." History of Cerro Gordo County, Iowa. Chapt. 19. Lewis Pub. Co. Chicago. 1910.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, April of 2011



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