History of Clarke County

The following information was gathered by Enid Kendall and Diane Peters Shough and comes from Clarke County Historical and Biographical Record and miscellaneous county records.

History of Clarke County, Iowa

Clarke County is in the south central part of Iowa and is composed of rolling hills with no major waterways but several small creeks. The pioneer settlers found plenty of water and lots of timber along the creeks.

Originally a part of Des Moines County, Clarke County was established by the Territorial Legislature January 13, 1846, and named for James Clarke, then the Territorial Governor. At that time Clarke County was five townships across. The present boundaries with twelve townships were adopted in 1849.

The first settlers of Clarke County were Mormons who were on their way to Salt Lake City, Utah. They had strayed from the larger group wintering at Garden Grove in Decatur County and spent the winter of 1846 at "Lost Camp" in Green Bay township about six miles south of the present Osceola. The first permanent settler was Robert Jamison in Franklin Township. Other early settlers were John Kyte (Franklin twp.), William Rook (Liberty twp.), Bernard Arnold and Ivison Ellis (Green Bay twp.), and Alexander Collier, William Gardner, and Levi Gardner. In 1851 a large invasion of settlers began that lasted about five years.

During the session of the Legislature in 1850-51 a commission consisting of two men and one woman was appointed to locate a county seat for Clarke County. They chose Osceola, named after a Seminole Indian chief. George Howe had claimed the area intended for Osceola, however, as a part of his farmland. He sold it to the County for $100.

The first lawyer in the county was P.J. Goss. He came in 1852 and stayed for thirty years before moving to Kansas. The Hawkeye mill was the first mill in the county. It was north of Osceola on Buck Run and land farmed by Andy Young. This steam-driven mill was a combination flour and sawmill. The county's spiritual needs were first met by itinerant preachers. One of the first in the county was Rev. Higgins. He held services at various homes.

Hopeville was established in western Clarke County in 1851. This commune was established by a group from Lee County. Ottawa and Liberty were laid out in 1854 followed by Lacelle in 1855. In 1868 both Woodburn in the eastern part of the county and Murray, ten miles west of Osceola, were founded because of the coming of the railroad. Leslie and Jamison were both stations on the narrow gauge railroad.

In 1854 a large, wooden, two-story courthouse was constructed. It was contracted for the price of $1,000 and completed for $1,600. This building was abandoned in 1883 and a second courthouse was built on the same site. It was a beautiful red-brick structure with marble floors adorning the hallways and steps. A large, stately clock-tower rose high above the ornate structure, chiming out the time for all our citizens to hear. Price of this structure was $38,725. In 1956 this building was torn down and the present structure took its place at a cost of $275,000.

Early transportation was by stage with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad coming to Clarke County in 1868. In 1881 a north-south narrow gauge railroad began running from Des Moines, through Osceola, to Missouri. It was abandoned many years ago. Today, Osceola is situated at the junctions of Interstate 35, Highway 34, and the Burlington railroad.


County Timeline

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