This county is in the fourth tier from the southern boundary line of Minnesota, and somewhat east of midway between the two great rivers. It is twenty-four miles east and west, by the same north and south, and contains an area of 576 square miles. What is known as the correction line crossed the county on the south line of the northern tier of townships, setting those township nearly a mile a half further west than those of the corresponding ranges south of them.
The surface of the county is generally rolling and gently undulating prairie, the largest extent being found in the southwest; which is well adapted to farming and grazing purposes, but n consequence of its remoteness from timber was the last to be settled. The more broken parts along the Iowa River and its tributaries, which was well supplied with native timber, was the first to be taken up, but since the completion of the railroads, which readily furnish lumber from the pine forest of Minnesota and Wisconsin these vast prairies have been rapidly improved, and in consequence of the superior quality of their soil, are fast becoming the most productive and valuable portion of the county. The northeast part has an excellent soil, and is well improved. Most of the streams have deep channels, thoroughly draining the surface without the use of any artificial means, except in that portion west of Alden, along the line of the railroad, where there are a few ponds and marshes, which are not so extensive or deep but that they can be readily drained when the growth of the county shall render it necessary. The soil is generally a black vegetable loam of great depth and almost exhaustless fertility, and fully equal to that of any other county in the state for agricultural purposes. No failure of crops from either wet or drought are reported since the settlement of the county, which is certainly a record of which her citizens may well be proud. Along some of the streams gravel of the drift appears on the points of some of the ridges, but a short distance back they are covered with a deep, rich soil.
The county is well watered by the Iowa River and its tributaries, which stream enters on the north side, about five miles east of its northwest corner, and flowing transversely through it passes out within a mile and a half of its southeast corner. The Iowa, in this part of its course, flows quite rapidly, and at an ordinary stage of water has perhaps an average of 100 feet in width, while the shores are usually high, rocky bluffs, in many places rising in bold, perpendicular palisades some fifty or sixty feet above the level of the stream, and alternately change from one side to the other, with but a limited area of what are usually called bottom land. These bluffs are usually flanked by a series of elevations, rising and extending back for some distance, and embracing the valuable timber belt of the county. Some very fine water powers are afforded by the Iowa River in this county, particularly at Iowa Falls. In a distance of six miles above that city the river has a descent of forty-six feet, with a constant supply of water, which might be used in propelling a large amount of machinery. The value of this magnificent power is greatly enhanced by the fact that in close proximity to it is an inexhaustible supply of good building stone, ready for the hand of the artisan, to construct substantial dams and permanent building for manufactories. Time is the only question in regard to the more full development of these resources, which at no very distant day will be the source of great wealth to the county.
The principal tributaries of the Iowa in this county are: South Fork, Henry and Minerva Creeks on the west, and Bear Creek on the east. The most important is the South Fork of the Iowa, which enters the county very near the northwest corner, and passing in a southeasterly direction to its junction with the main stream in the southeast corner township, thus watering and draining a large portion of the county. It has a number of tributaries, the most important being Tipton and Beaver Creeks. The streams are all bright and clear, and, being well distributed in all parts of the county, afford good drainage, and being largely supplied by springs, afford a constant, never-failing supply of stock water. Springs of clear, cold water are quite numerous, while good wells are readily obtained on the prairies by digging from fifteen to twenty-five feet deep.
It is estimated that about one-tenth of the county is covered with timber, the area of woodland gradually increasing where the fires are kept from destroying it, as in the thickly settled portions. Heavy bodies of timber extend along the Iowa River on both sides nearly all the way, so that the north and east portions of the county have a plentiful supply. There are also fine groves on the South Fork of the Iowa, and on Tipton and Honey Creeks. The timber consists of the different kinds of oak, walnut, butternut, hard and soft maple, hickory, elm, hackberry, Linn, ash, cottonwood, birch, cedar, cherry, etc. On Iowa River, below the town of Steamboat Rock, are found some white pine, a few trees having attained a growth of sixty feet or more in height. Some years ago there were many larger trees, but they have been sawed into lumber, and several houses in the county have been partially built of native pine lumber. The western portion of Grundy is chiefly supplied with timber from Iowa River, in this county.
Most kinds of wild fruits found in other parts of the state are common here, including grapes, plums, crab-apples, red and black raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. There are some blackberries, but they are not considered abundant,. Among the different kinds of native shrubs may be mentioned the hazel, sumach, elder and prickly ash. The beautiful and highly ornamental tree known as the white birch is also found along the Iowa River. This, together with the white pine and cedar, are annually sought for and carried away to other counties as ornamental trees. Some two or three different species of willow grow along the borders of the streams.
Although Hardin County has not proved to be the wonderful Eldorado that it appeared in the golden dreams of some enthusiasts away back in 1953, yet it turns out to be rich in mineral resources of far more practical importance for the comfort, happiness and present and future prosperity of the county.
The early settlers scarcely appreciated the importance of the occasional coal croppings, as they appeared along the Iowa River on both sides, between the points where the towns of Steamboat Rock and Eldora are now located; or at least it was a number of years before it began to attract any considerable attention. It is true that two or three mines were opened and worked to a limited extent, yet most of the valuable coal lands were entered long after the first settlers had taken up the fine prairie lands adjacent. Doctor White, State Geologist, states that the position of the exposures of this strata, which is the most fully developed in the immediate vicinity of Eldora, so much to the northeastward of a line indicating the general trend of the boarder of the coal field, suggests that this coal region may possibly be a large outlier from the main field, similar to, but not so far removed, as the coal-measure outlier lying between Muscatine and Davenport. These mines are, however, of great value, not only to Hardin County, but to this entire section of the state. Since the completion of the Central Railroad of Iowa, the Eldora Coal Company, and some others, have opened several mines, which they have worked in an extensive manner, and annually ship large quantities of coal by the above named road and the Illinois Central. There are several mines now being successfully operated at different points, with an average thickness of from four to four and half feet. The vein worked is doubtless the same in all the mines mentioned, the quality of the product and the thickness of the vein only varying as mining progresses from the river edges of the deposit. The coal is of the kind known as bituminous, and about equal to the average quality of Iowa coal. Extensive examinations have not yet been made, but enough is know to demonstrate the fact that a large area of this portion of the county is underlaid with coal, and that it will yet be found at many other points, as indicated by the exposure of the rock formations known as the coal-measures.
Hardin County enjoys the advantage of an abundant supply of excellent building stone, obtained nearly all along the Iowa River and its tributaries. The finest quality is found at Iowa Falls, where a limestone is easily quarried in unlimited quantities, which admits of a finish almost equal to marble. By some one of her wonderful and mysterious processes, Nature has lifted up for the use of man eighty feet in thickness of her sub-carboniferous limestone strata. It is quarried in blocks of any size, and with the greatest ease. Many substantial and heat stone buildings have been erected here from this material, and it is now being extensively shipped on the railroad to other points. It is well adapted for door and window caps and sills, as well as for ornamental stone work generally. Some three or four miles above Iowa Falls this stone sinks below the bed of the river, but reappears at Alden, six miles above Iowa Falls, where it is extensively quarried and used for building purposes. Where the limestone dips below, so as to become inaccessible, the sandstone of the coal-measures rises, affording to other portions of the county a very good quality of stone for ordinary purposes. This limestone is of the best quality for the manufacture of quick-lime, large quantities of which are supplied at Iowa Falls, Alden and other points.
Valuable beds of potter’s and fire clay are found at various points, and there are several extensive potteries in the county, which annually manufacture large quantities of stoneware and considerable fire-brick. A considerable quantity of this clay is shipped to other points, and is pronounced by competent judges to be fully equal to the best New Jersey clay, and will at no distant day undoubtedly prove one of the important and valuable resources of the county. Excellent material for the manufacture of brick is generally found in nearly all sections of the county.
Some very fine specimens of iron ore have been found along the line of the Iowa River, in the vicinity of Iowa Falls.
In the fall of 1852, the few adventurers who had found their way up the Iowa River into Hardin County caught a little of the gold fever which then prevailed pretty generally throughout the country. Shining particles of a substance resembling gold were found mixed with the sands along the river and in the ravines, and immediately it was proclaimed to the world that gold had been discovered. The reports spread far and wide, and for a time the newspapers of the country teemed with reports from the Hardin County gold mines. At one time, from five hundred to one thousand persons were encamped in tents and wagons along the river between Eldora and Steamboat Rock, all engaged in prospecting for gold. The excitement, however, gradually subsided, but was revived again to some extent in 1857. Tn that year O M Holcomb spent considerable time in prospecting and washing for the precious metal. And it is said succeeded in obtaining small quantities.
The question as to the existence of gold here, which is strenuously maintained by some, is still an unsettled one, although there is no disputing the fact that its equivalent is here, in rich beds of coal, potter’s clay and building stone, all of which the excited gold seekers of 1853 overlooked.
The first settlement in Hardin County was made on the Iowa River, in the southeast corner, in what is now Union Township, by Greenberry Higgins, who moved with his family from Keokuk County, in this state, in 1849. During the next year the following families located in the same vicinity: James A Dawdy, William Robinson, Abraham Grimsley, and Samuel Smith, Sr, with his son, Samuel Smith, Jr. At this time Cedar Rapids was the nearest market, but it being a poor one the settlers did most of their trading at Iowa City, one hundred and fifteen miles distant. In the Fall of 1850 Jacob Kidwiler made a claim on the river some ten miles above the present site of Eldora, his nearest neighbor being Samuel Smith, Sr, who had taken a claim about twelve miles below. The next settlement was made in the vicinity of Iowa Falls, in February, 1851, by B I Talbott, his nearest neighbor being Kidwiler, eight miles down the river. In the Spring of 1852, Nathan Townsend and John Caldwell settled in the same vicinity. These three families were from Pleasant Plain, Jefferson County, Iowa, and their settlement was the farthest west at that time up on Iowa River. Mr Talbots claim embraced the site of the present town of Iowa Falls and the depot grounds. Soon after this a town was laid out a little southeast of the place where Iowa Falls is located, which was known by the name of Rocksylvania. A stone building was erected and occupied as a hotel, and some other improvements made.
In 1851, several families of the Society of Friends from North Carolina, settled in the south part of the county, on Honey Creek, where they subsequently laid out a town, calling it New Providence. This was the nucleus of the large thriving settlement of Friends in that part of the county. During the same year several families settled on the North Fork of Iowa River, in what was subsequently Pleasant Township, among who were Isaac S Moore, James Miller, Cavinder Gear and Thomas Bennet. Here a town was laid out called Point Pleasant. The settlers above mentioned did not at the time of their settlement enter the land on which they located, but merely made claims. The first entry of land in the county was made by Jacob Kidwiler, being a tract of timber land. It is believed the first mill was built at Hardin City, in 1853. At this point quite a flourishing village grew up, but it is now almost deserted as a place of business. There is still, however, a good flouring mill there. About the same time, or perhaps a little later, Mr Talbott built a mill at Iowa Falls, on the site of the present large flouring mill.
On the 1st day of January, 1853, Jonathan and Samuel Edgington settled where Eldora is now located, and in June and July of that year the town was laid out. The town site was entered by the county for the county seat purposes except one forty-acre tract which was entered by James H Brain, who donated one half of it to the county. During the same year, the Edgington Bros brought the first stock of goods to the new town, and the first to the county. While the commissioners were pondering the questions as to what the name of the new town should be, they were relieved by the suggestion of Mrs S R Edgington, that it be called Eldora - being a contraction of Eldorado-as this was the era of the memorable gold excitement in Hardin County.
W H Foote came into the county in 1855, and located on a farm a few miles west of the present site of Iowa Falls, building the first house on the road between Cedar Falls and Fort Dodge. He is now a resident of Iowa Falls.
The county was duly organized in February, 1853, the following being the first county officers: Alexander Smith, County Judge; James Putman, Clerk; Samuel Smith, Treasurer and Recorder; Thomas Bennett, Sheriff; and S R Edgington, School Fund Commissioner. Before the organization the county was attached to Marshall for revenue and judicial purposes.
The first county warrant issued was for $20, in favor of John Sheperd, July 29, 1853, in payment for services as surveyor in laying out the Town of Eldora.
The first matrimonial transaction was the marring of Peter S Miller and Laura Jan Duke, April 14, 1853, by Alexander Smith, County Judge. During the same year five marriages were solemnized, the next year, twelve, and in 1855, there were forty-one.
The first term of the district court was held by Judge C J McFarland, in November, 1854, but of its proceedings no records are extant. The next court was held in April, 1856, and among the attorneys present were M M Crocker, E W Eastman, and James W Woods - the latter gentleman being familiarly known by the nick-name of "Old Timber." At this term, D E Ellsworth was admitted to the bar.
The first court house was a two story frame building erected in 1856; in October of the same year it was destroyed by fire, and a new one built the next year. An effort was made at one time to remove the county seat to Point Pleasant, on which a vote was finally taken, the result being for a long time contested between the two points. For some ten years the matter was in litigation, but was finally in June, 1868, decided by the Supreme Court in favor of Eldora.
The first newspaper published in the county was started at Eldora, by O M Holcomb in 1856, and was called the Hardin County Sentinel. Its principal editor was Honorable J D Thompson, who was the first judge elected in the Eleventh District. In the Summer of 1857, it passed into the hands of James Speers, who, after running it something less than a year, sold one-half of the office to J D Hunter, who in a short time purchased the other half, and became sole editor and publisher, which he continued until 1863, when he turned the establishment over to M C Woodruff, now of the Dubuque Times, who in November, 1865, removed it to Iowa Falls, and changed the name to the Iowa Falls Sentinel. During the time it was owned by Hunter, the entire office, books, papers, and materials, were consumed by fire, which necessitated a suspension for about two months, when it was again started with a new office. Woodruff conducted the Sentinel until April, 1869, when he sold to J B Matthews. It is a neat, live local paper, and is now under the editorial management of S M Weaver.
After the removal of the Sentinel to Iowa Falls, the Eldora Ledger was established January 6, 1866, by R H McBride, who has since conducted it, and by his able management made it one of the most popular local papers in the state. It has a large circulation, and is a good advertising medium.
The Eldora Herald made its first appearance in September, 1873, under the direction Isaac L Hunt, who is still its publisher and editor. It is a good local paper and is well supported.
The Ackley Independent, under the editorial management of J R Riblet, was established in 1868, and has since done much to advance the interests of Ackley and the northeastern part of the county.
The Alden News made its first appearance, December 2, 1873, with W M Robertson as editor and publisher. January 12, 1874, it passed into the control of J B & J A Matthews, who have made it an interesting local newspaper, and who are still laboring with a good degree of success to build up Alden and vicinity.
The Union Star appeared among the press of Hardin County in March, 1875, with the name of R L Rowe at the head of its editorial columns. It is still battling for a position in the well occupied field of Iowa journalism, and is rapidly growing in favor and influence. R L Rowe & Co, are the present editors and publishers.
For a new country, Hardin is particularly fortunate in possessing superior railroad advantages. The Dubuque & Pacific, and the Iowa Falls & Sioux City, now under control of and operated by the Illinois Central Company, pass east and west through the northern tier of townships, having stations at Ackley, Iowa Falls, and Alden. The Central Railroad of Iowa runs north and south through the eastern portion, passing the valuable and exhaustless coal-fields in the vicinity of Eldora. Other roads have been projected and probably will be built at some not very remote period in the future.
COUNTY OFFICERS FOR 1875
Morris Frisbie, Auditor
Solon F Benson, Treasurer
Allen E Webb, Sheriff
Leeb Gilman, Clerk of Courts
Job Stout, Recorder
Frank A Moore, Supt Common Schools
S R Edgington, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors
This town, the county seat of Hardin County, is handsomely located on the west side of the Iowa River, about five miles west of the eastern boundary line of the county. The situation is a beautiful and eligible one, the site being on a high rolling and well drained prairie, with plenty of timber and coal in the immediate vicinity. On the south and west is a fine, well improved farming district, while on the north and east lies the valuable timber lands of the Iowa River. The citizens of the town have devoted much attention to the planting of shade trees and ornamental shrubbery, and many neat and tasty residences attract the attention of strangers who visit the place for the first time. A public park has been laid out in a cental position, around which most of the mercantile business is transacted in accordance with the arrangements of many western towns. Some portion of the early history of Eldora has already been given, which show that possessing a live energetic class of business men who are fully awake to their own interests, it is fast becoming one of the important towns of the state. By their own unaided energy and perseverence they obtained railroad and telegraph communications with the outside world, and have laid the foundation for a assured and certain future success. The town now has a population of some fifteen or eighteen hundred, and contains several fine churches, embracing the leading denominations of Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian Christian, and Universalist, while the public schools have good building, are well graded and under the charge of an efficient and experienced corps of teachers. The Masonic and Odd Fellow organizations are will represented, and the town contains every thing necessary to make a pleasant and desirable place of residence, while in a business point of view, few town of its size west of the Mississippi can make a better showing, and offer more flattering inducements for the future.
This pleasant and wide awake business town was laid out in October, 1855, the original proprietors being J L Estis, Hosmer Stevens and ____ Wilder, all from Kane County, Illinois, who purchased the land of _____ Talbott. The first building erected after the town was laid out was a frame by Judge John F Brown, now of Washington County, and M C Woodruff, now managing editor of the Dubuque Times, which they occupied as a real estate and land office. The first store was built by G S Smith, in 1855, while the first merchant was Samuel Parkman. Estes, Stevens & Larkins put up a three-story stone mill in 1856-7, while the first hotel, a handsome stone structure, and called the Western House, was erected by Alfred Woods, during the same seasons. A post office was established and a school house built in 1857, and the first church, a substantial and commodious structure was erected by the Congregationalists in 1860. The Dubuque & Pacific Railroad, now operated by the Illinois Central Company, was completed to this point in March, 1866, some ten years after the first survey of the line was made.
The situation of the town is one of the most beautiful, picturesque and romantic in Iowa, being located on the east bank of the Iowa River, or as some say on the north bank, the river here making a great bend to the east. The principal part of the town site is on a gently rolling, well drained plateau of ground, some seventy feet above the river, which here cuts its way through a deep gorge with perpendicular rocks or palisades rising on either side some fifty or sixty feet above the water. Fine groves of oak and hickory surround the town and originally covered a considerable portion of the site, forming one of the most attractive and naturally beautiful spots to be found on the whole course of the river. The lover of natural scenery can find in the immediate vicinity some of the most enchantingly beautiful valleys and sequestered vales that can be found in the country drained by the Mississippi River. Rock Run, which empties into the Iowa within the limits of the town, is a small sparkling brooklet that ripples down a deep, densely shaded ravine, overhung by boldly projecting rocks, whose moss and fern-covered sides never receive more than a few faint shimmerings of the noon day’s sun, and in imagination carried the visitor from the undulating prairies and smoothly rounded hills of Iowa to the dark, solitary and grandly beautiful ravines and canons of the Pacific slope.
The town embraces several hundred acres, is handsomely laid out in wide, well graded streets and alleys. The building are generally of the most substantial kind, many of them being constructed of brick and stone, are neat and ornamental in their arrangement, while the taste displayed in the ornamentation of private grounds gives an appearance of homelike comfort and neatness, not usually found in new western towns. One need not see the people, or form their acquaintance, to judge of their character, as the evidences of intelligence and refinement are every where visible in the neatly painted dwellings, and their surroundings of flowers, trees and ornamental shrubbery. No one should visit Iowa Falls without taking a stroll to the cemetery, which is located on the bluffs overlooking the Iowa River a little northwest of town, and is under the special charge of the ladies. The association was formed in 1859 and incorporated in 1861, at which time a tract of about seven acres was purchased, which has been enclosed and ornamented in a style alike creditable to themselves and worthy of the purpose to which it is dedicated. The grounds have been laid out in drives and walks, a beautiful stone fault erected, and several hundred evergreens, maples and other ornamental shade trees planted. The religious societies that have erected houses of worship are the Congregational, Methodist and Baptist, while the Friends and Christians have organizations. The town has been incorporated and a proper system of municipal improvements put under way. It has a large public school building, containing all the modern improvements, one bank, six dry goods, three grocery, two drug and three hardware stores, three hotels, three agricultural implement establishments, two grain elevators, and the usual number of other shops and trades.
This flourishing town was first surveyed and laid out in 1857, by J W Ackley, of Waterloo, Iowa, in honor of whom it was named. It was not, however, anything more than a paper town until the completion of the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad in September, 1865, as there was not at that time so much as a single house erected on the present town site. Two years previous to this one Jesse C Foster, after wandering westward from the land of the Carolinas, of which he was a native, and associating himself of years with the backwoodsmen, finally pitched his tent on the suburbs of what is now the town of Ackley. As the surrounding country was settled to a considerable degree, he thought it a good place to commence business, and accordingly set to work to build a store in which he sold goods until 1865, meeting with good success. When the cars arrived, and the shrill whistle of the locomotive blew out loud and long, heralding the march of progress, the town site was nothing bu a naked prairie, interspersed with a few clumps of brush. No sooner was the depot established, however, than enterprising men from the east, whose foresight enabled them to discover that it was destined to be a town of considerable importance, began to come in, and the tide of immigration commenced that has continued to flow until the town has now a population of some fifteen hundred, and is the trading and shipping point for a large and well improved farming country.
William Frances erected the first building on Main Street, in which he opened a general variety story. J C Forster removed his store into town, and establishing himself on the north side of Main Street, was the second merchant in town. M Burns, Pardee & Foster, and Carter & Joseph soon after erected warehouses and elevators near the depot. Burns also engaging in the lumber business, as did one Eggert, who started a lumber yard about the same time. A S Nye and _____ Sechrist built stores a little later. In four months’ time five stores, three warehouses, and a number of dwellings were erected, and the place began to assume a business-like appearance.
The town was incorporated in 1869, and now contains a large public school building, several handsome churches, Masonic and odd Fellows lodges, a large number of business houses, many factories, etc, etc.
STEAMBOAT ROCK - This town is pleasantly situated on the east bank of Iowa River, five miles above Eldora, on the line of the Central Railroad of Iowa, and was laid out in 1855, the original proprietors being Isaac N Lesh, Charles Boyle and John Royal. S B Cunningham sold the first goods here, in October, 1855, opening his stock in a stable covered with prairie hay. The town takes its name from a large projecting rock on the river bluff at this point, which as a distance presents the appearance of a steamboat.
ALDEN - This place is on the west bank of Iowa River, about six miles above Iowa Falls, and one mile from the line of the Iowa Division of the Illinois Central Railroad, where a station is located. Henry Alden first settled here in June, 1854, and in 1856 laid out the village. He also built a saw mill. Excellent lime is manufactured here from stone obtained in the banks of the river. There is good water power at this point.
The other villages and post offices in the county are Abbott, Berlin, Cottage, Ellis, Hardin City, Midland, New Providence, Point Pleasant, Tipton Grove and Union