The First One Hundred Years
Harrison County Iowa History
Before the late 1840's, no white man had settled the area of southwestern Iowa at the point where Harrison County is now located. Probably the first explorers to set foot in this area were Lewis and Clark, who camped just below the mouth of the Soldier River. Reports of rich fur resources soon brought a number of trappers and hunters, who found the land teeming with elk, buffalo and prairie grass that grew as high as the back of a horse. This area served primarily as an Indian hunting region, with the Pottawattamie, Omaha and Sioux Indians roaming the district at various times.
The great land rush began in 1853, when Harrison County was organized by an act of the Fourth General Assembly of the State of Iowa. The availability of good land at $1.25 an acre, and the assurance of a legal title, were the most influential factors in encouraging immigration. The inhabitants were scattered throughout the county, mostly on small farms or in the seven villages which were platted by 1867 - Magnolia, Calhoun, Little Sioux, St. John's, Dunlap, Woodbine, and Logan.
The first white man to settle in St. John's Township in which Missouri Valley is now located, came from Tennessee in 1848. In that year, the John REYNOLDS, Charles SMITH, Adam STEVENS, George LAWRENCE and MONGRUM families settled in what became known as Tennessee Hollow. During the next decade, there followed a prominent movement into the township mainly from the states of Indiana and Ohio.
Meanwhile, construction of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had begun and proceeded westward across the state. This railroad had been promoted and financed by John I. BLAIR, one of Iowa's foremost railroad magnates. Upon hearing rumors of the coming of a railroad across Harrison County, the townsite company of St. John's tried to persuade the railroad to run the rails through St. John's, which was then a thriving community. In spite of their efforts, construction of the railroad took place one mile to the north, at the base of the bluffs where the Missouri and Boyer River bottoms converge, and then proceeded along the Boyer River, hugging the west line of hills in order to avoid the low land.
The first known settler on the site selected by the railroad officials, was H.B. HENDRICKS, who came from Indiana. Two years later, W.B. and George MCINTOSH came and started farming adjacent to him. The name given to the settlement was MCINTOSH Point. In 1865 George MCINTOSH bought eighty acres of land from the state government and sold it to the John I BLAIR Lot and Land Company for $30.00 an acre. The company platted the town and filed the name as Missouri Valley. Almost immediately, the company put its lots on the market, businesses were established and the village of Missouri Valley came into being.
Missouri Valley was a frontier village. Streets were unpaved and muddy, and during the rainy seasons it was very common to see teams of horses mired in the mud. The sidewalks and crossings were made of wooden planks, while livestock roamed the streets, necessitating the fencing of most houses. Moreover, the river bottoms south of the settlement were covered with water, and Indians could often be seen camping along the Boyer River.
It was a bustling and energetic center in 1868, with most businesses located in South Sixth Street between Erie and Ontario Streets There were also a few business establishments on Erie Street, which eventually became the main thoroughfare. The year 1868 also witnessed the erection of the first railroad shops which quickly employed fifteen men. In later years the expansion of these shops was to be a boon to the growth of Missouri Valley.
The frontier spirit of compromise was not always apparent in this early community. The town was divided by an imaginary line running north and south. To the east of this line was “Whisky Row”, and to the west as “Dog Town.” Ill feeling was so intense between the two sections that at times it was not safe for the citizens of one part, to visit the other.
By 1871, when Missouri Valley had reached a point of considerable commercial importance, a movement began to incorporate the village. This was achieved on December 1, 1871. The same election saw the selection of a mayor, recorder and five trustees. The city council met for the first time that same month, under the leadership of W.J. HARRIS, the first mayor of Missouri Valley.
A problem when undoubtedly confronted most counties in Iowa, was the location of a county seat. Though Magnolia had been designated as the first county seat in 1853, a struggle for relocation by special election continued until 1891, when Logan was finally selected.
Another controversial question in Missouri Valley involved temperance, and the situation was serious enough to cause a great deal of strife in the following years.
Despite various other small problems, Missouri Valley continued to grow, and experienced a considerable rise in population, which jumped from 2,304 in 1885, to over 4,000 in 1900. Much of this increase resulted from the extension of the city limits. Business was brisk. As many as two hundred teams of horses could often be seen on only six streets of the town, with some merchants having retail sales of $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
Much credit for the growth of Missouri Valley should be given to John I. BLAIR, who helped promote the three railroads that converged here; the Cedar Rapids and Missouri River Railroad, later known as the Chicago and Northwestern, the Sioux City and Valley Railroads. In just a few years, these railroads had given the community contacts that were an asset to local merchants and farmers, who could now take advantage of market prices. Shipping of cattle was facilitated by the stockyards which were owned by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Besides serving farmers, the yards were a feeding point for western cattle and sheep on their way to Chicago. The railroad further proved to be an asset to the local farmers when in 1877 the Chicago and Northwestern started to run a weekly refrigerator car from Missouri Valley to Chicago. The railroad undoubtedly brought people to the community, for it became headquarters for the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad, and was also the site of the road's repair and machine shop. When a railroad bridge across the Missouri River at Blair was built, business flourished. The round house, machine shops, repair blacksmith, paint and other shops eventually employed approximately 500 men whose combined monthly income was over $60,000.
The period following the First World War was one of unrest. In 1922, a national railroad strike occurred, which lasted two and a half months. This strike ushered in a period in which there was a gradual reduction in the number of shopworkers employed.
The railroad shops which had at one time employed over 500 men, employed only about 50 in 1921. Greater steam power, longer freight hauls, and the depression were causes for the removal of the shops from Missouri Valley. Although the population was affected, and the loss of payroll to local business was felt, the city continued to survive.
In 1883, however, the city was growing. The C. L. DEUR Lumber Yard was a booming business. J. J. SULLIVAN operated a brick yard which manufactured 25,000 bricks a day, and this operation continued until the early nineties when the demand for soft brick declined. Among the earliest businesses established here was the Valley Mill first built in 1877, and later rebuilt by A. EDGECOMB and C. L. DEUR. In 1901 the Updike Grain Company of Omaha, Nebraska, constructed an elevator with a 400,000 bushel capacity was built on the same site. That same year a new grain elevator building was constructed by the Missouri Valley Grain Incorporated Company. During the first two decades of the 1900's other businesses were established, including the Missouri Valley Butter and Cheese Company. Later, the Gillette Sanitary Dairy and Creamery was organized, as was a Cold Storage Company which manufactured, stored, and sold ice. Other businesses followed but inevitably failed because of inadequate financial backing.
Of considerable importance to the development of the community were the banks. The first of these was a private one that was soon dissolved. Another continued as a private business until 1889, when HOLBROOK, COALBAUGH and W.J. BURKE organized it under the name of the Valley Bank. The second bank was The First National, organized on May 21, 1884 by O.B. DUTTON. The last bank to be organized was The State Savings Bank which started doing business in 1898. Of these banks, The Valley Bank, now known as The People's State Bank, and The First National, now survive in new and improved locations.
The growth of Missouri Valley's public utilities was a further impetus to growth. In 1888, the City Council voted to provide the city with electric lighting; a joint stock company was formed and lighting facilities provided. This later became the Iowa Light and Power Company. In 1898, this company pioneered a heating system for business and home use. Frank TAMISIEA, as city attorney, secured the agreement for the heating and lighting of the library, City Hall, and pumping station without charge from the Iowa Light and Power Company, during the time of its charter. This resulted in saving the library and city large amounts of money over the years - an outstanding contribution to the city's economy.
A water system was established in 1889; mains were laid, a reservoir constructed, wells were dug and a water filtering plant installed which provided the finest facilities of any area around here. A sewage disposal plant was later installed.
In 1880 the first telephone was installed. Later, the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company was established here; a new building was constructed, a dial phone system was set up and all rural lines rebuilt. The installation of gas facilities followed.
The first fire fighting equipment was a bucket brigade, but this proved ineffective, and in 1874, the citizens organized Fire Rescue Company Number 1. The council was instrumental in the purchasing of a hand engine, hoses and ladders. Much confusion resulted at first, but this situation was remedied when a fire team and wagon were purchased. By 1918, these were outdated, and the first fire engine was purchased. In 1961, the Missouri Valley Volunteer Fire Department purchased a modern fire truck at the cost of $24,000. The second truck is now used for rural fires. Another piece of equipment which was purchased by the Fire Department with the help of citizen contributions, was an Emergency Rescue Unit. This has since been replaced by a larger and better equipped unit, which has been of great service to the community.
A significant factor in the city's growth was the improvement of the streets and roads in and around Missouri Valley. Due to the frequent, heavy rains and flooding of the lowlands, roads were often impassable, and straw, hay and a network of willows weighted with clay, were used to make the roads usable. This system continued until the modern methods of grading were instituted. In 1915, the Lincoln Highway east of Missouri Valley was completed and extended through the city, on to Council Bluffs. In 1929, with the re-routing of the Lincoln Highway over the newly constructed Lincoln Memorial Bridge which spanned the Missouri River, Missouri Valley became the crossroads of two important highway networks, 75 and 30. Prior to this time, a ferry was the only means of transportation across the river between Iowa and Nebraska.
Missouri Valley's transportation problems not only involved roads, but also streets. This condition was attached in 1914, when the first brick was laid on the corner of Ninth and Erie streets. During the year, fourteen blocks were laid by hand, and by 1923, the city had constructed approximately twelve miles of pavement. Pacing and resurfacing of streets has continued through the years.
The men of Missouri Valley have served their country well in the various branches of the armed forces. Politically, our city has been well represented at the state level. Four men, D.M. HARRIS, Hugh J. TAMISIEA, Robert W. HARVEY and Walter F. NOBLE have served at various times as members of the state legislature. The women of the community actively participated in the work of the Red Cross, particularly after, and during the Depression, and not only contributed supplies for hospitals, but made and distributed boxes of clothing, groceries and toys at Christmas to hundreds of needy individuals, and through the years have continued to be interested in helping others.
The churches made their contribution to the growth and well being of the community. The Catholic Church was the first to be established here in 1867. This was followed closely by the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. Other churches came after that: the Baptist, Church of Christ, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, St. Paul's Lutheran, First Lutheran, Church of the Nazarene, Jehovah's Witness, Church of God of Prophecy and recently, the Calvary Baptist Church. Through the years these churches have enriched the community, and although their specific contributions cannot be measured, they have had a great impact on many aspects of community life.
Of equal importance in the city's development, was the growth of its educational system. The first school of any sort was a subscription one started in 1867. In 1868, an Independent School District was formed, a one room frame building was leased, and a teacher was employed. This too, proved inadequate. A lot was secured, now the Culavin Park at the corner of Fifth and Huron streets, and in 1871 bonds were voted for the erection of a suitable building, the second permanent building of its kind in Harrison County. This school later served as a high school until 1916, when it became an apartment building. It was demolished in the thirties. At the time it was built, it was thought that the school, known as the Second Ward Building would meet the education needs of the community for many years, but this was not so. In 1883, a contract was let for a new four room school, two rooms above the two below, which later became a part of the Third Ward Building. Four more rooms were next added. A few years later, an additional elementary school was built in the first ward. For years, this was known as the First Ward Building, but was later renamed Zuver School, after Miss Ivy Zuver, a long time teacher in this community. It has since been demolished, as has the Third Ward Building.
In 1907, the Missouri Valley School System was placed on the accredited list of the North Central Association of Colleges. As the early years of the 1900's passed, it became evident that the high school facilities had become outdated, and this prompted the erection, in 1916 of a new school valued at $100,000. During the same year St. Patrick's School, a Catholic parochial school offering instruction through the eighth grade, was dedicated. During the Depression and its attendent financial stress, the people voted a $35,000 bond issue which supplemented a W.P.A. Grant, for construction of the present Memorial Auditorium. The building of a bus garage, remodeling of the high school and construction of the new Third Ward and Lynn Street Schools are important developments in the history of Missouri Valley.
The Public Library was another source of intellectual stimulus. Mrs. George W. COIT, president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, was the essential figure in organizing the Library Association in 1891. To replace the small room which was rented the first year, the City Council gave the association the right to occupy the Council Room. For a time, there was a shortage of reading material because most of the books were donated, but with the help of interested citizens a good supply of reading material was built up. Eventually the library became the property of the city, and a one mill tax was levied for its maintenance, but this proved inadequate. In 1909, Mayor WITHROW wrote a letter to Andrew Carnegie inquiring about a free city library, and received a reply stating that $10,000 would be given to the city for a new building if the city would assure an income of at least $1,000 a year for maintaining it once it was built. The community reacted enthusiastically and undertook the task of raising an additional $5,000 and purchasing a lot. Funds were raised, a tax of three mills levied and in 1912, a new $15,000 Carnegie Library was dedicated. The building remains unchanged, but now houses a children's department in the basement, while the adult section is on the first floor.
While the library facilities were improving, the local newspapers were developing their important service to the community. Although several newspapers were started here, only one has survived. The Harrisonian, edited by D. M. Harris, was first issued in 1868. This paper was sold in 1872, and the name changed to The Missouri Valley Times. After changing hands several times, it again came into the possession of Mr. HARRIS. In 1891, the paper became a weekly. The second paper to be established here was the Harrison County News, later purchased by A. H. SNIFF who continued it as a daily and weekly. Other attempts to establish newspapers failed. In 1891, the Missouri Valley Times became a daily, and remained as such until recently when it went on a twice a week schedule.
Another source of entertainment was the annual Chautaqua, held during the early 1900's. Here outstanding entertainment was presented during an entire week, in a large tent erected at the Fairgrounds. People often camped on the grounds for the entire week, and the city park presented a picture of great activity, as horse races, concerts by the Municipal Band and ball games were enjoyed.
With the completion of a large beautiful Opera House in 1895, other forms of entertainment were provided. The Opera House had a seating capacity of about seven hundred. The chairs were upholstered in red plush, and the building lighted by electricity. Together with an Opera House Orchestra composed entirely of local musicians, some of the best entertainment in the United States was provided. This building was later purchased by the Cold Storage Plant, and today there is nothing left of its former glory.
The city's purchase of forty acres of land in 1878, for park purposes, resulted in another opportunity for community enjoyment. Since that time, the land has been leased by the city to provide the Harrison County Agriculture Association with grounds on which to hold their annual Harrison County Fair. An amphitheater, dance hall, Groom's Hall for exhibits, various buildings for the exhibition of stock, have all been added through the years. Not the least of its attractions is the swimming pool. The first one was constructed by the donated time and efforts of the citizens. This was replaced in 1960 by a fine new municipal pool and bath house, made possible by bond issue of $70,000 and a donation of $18,000 by the Julius F. MULLER Post of the American Legion.
Missouri Valley has many lodges and organizations which provide social fellowship. The first lodge to be organized in the city was the Masonic Lodge, which was chartered in 1868. This was followed by the Order of the Eastern Star, Odd Fellows, Rebeccas, Knights of Columbus, and various other groups. The Federated Women's Club has long been active in the community, as have the Kiwanis and Lion's Clubs.
Because of its location, flooding has long been a threat to the people of Missouri Valley. In 1949, the most disastrous flood occurred when the farm lands, Willow Park, Seaton and O'Dells Additions were submerged. Water came as far as the City Hall, and was so deep there that row boats were used in the street. Another serious flood occurred in 1952, when water again covered the bottom lands and the low lying parts of the city. In 1965, over one hundred homes were evacuated. Altogether, in the one hundred years of its existence, Missouri Valley has experienced approximately six floods, and the threat continues. Over the years, this has meant a great loss to both the community and to private individuals.
The years have produced many interesting developments in Missouri Valley. Within the city there have been new buildings. Among these recent additions are The First National Bank, Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, Franklins, Tamarack, Missouri Valley Roller Rink, Jerry's Body Shop, the professional buildings of Dr. F.X. TAMISIEA, Hugh J. TAMISIEA and Dr. A.C. BERGSTROM, as well as a number of attractive homes.
The most notable improvement, however, has been the construction of a splendidly equipped Memorial Hospital. This was made possible by the work of a dedicated committee who put in long hours of time raising money and creating interest in the project, and was further made possible by the generous donations of the citizens of the community. The first wing of the hospital was opened in 1958, and, with a second addition opened in 1965, accommodates approximately forty-six patients.
In 1964, a new rest and nursing home, called the “Longview Home” was built. It was licensed for fifty-seven patients, and has room for expansion. Both of these facilities fulfill a real need in the community and serve the people of the entire county.
Missouri Valley has an airport which offers facilities for many planes owned by local men. And it has a beautiful nine hole golf course and clubhouse. Just outside the city is a museum, begun by Preston NILES, and now the property of the Historical Association, which has become a tourist attraction.
A public recreation area was established with a Federal Wildlife Refuge and oxbow lake along the Missouri River. This DeSoto Bend Wildlife Refuge attracts thousands of visitors each year, particularly at the time of the vast migrations of ducks and geese. With the recovery of the former river boat, “The Bertrand,” and the consequent museum housing the artifacts, interest is even more intense.
Altogether, Missouri Valley has had a proud history for its one hundred years of existence, for in spite of various setbacks in its economy, it has continued to survive, and meet these problems. Its people are warm friendly and it is a good community in which to live.