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Harrison County Iowa Genealogy

St. John's Township
excerpts from the 1891 Harrison County History

On the south line of the county, and second from the western border, is found St John's Township. It was formed into a civil township under Judge D.E. Brainard's administration, in 1856, and named Hoosier, which name it retained until 1860. It is bounded on the north by Calhoun and Taylor Townships, on the east by La Grange, on the south by Pottawattamie County, and on the west by Cincinnati Township. It contains an area of forty-two sections, equivalent to 26,880 acres of land.

The Willow and Boyer Rivers flow through the territory. The timber is all confined to the eastern half of the domain. Spencer's Grove in the north, and McGavren's Grove in the southern portion, also that found fringing the streams, provide a good supply of timber for hard wood and fuel purposes.

The township is well supplied with railroads. The Chicago & Northwestern system, made up of the Chicago & Northwestern, Sioux City & Pacific, and the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley line, all form a junction in the center of St John's Township, at what is known as Missouri Valley, which is the largest city of Harrison County.

The population of this township, including the city, in 1885, was 3,431. The 1890, United States census gives the township and city a population of 3,791.


Up to 1848 not a single white man had invaded what is now known as St. John's Township, but it was during that year that John REYNOLDS and family, William SMITH,Sr, Charles SMITH,Jr, Adam STEVENS, George LAWRENCE and the MONGRUM families all made settlement in "Tennessee Hollow," on the south line of the township, most of them coming in 1848 and 1849. They all came from Tennessee, and hence the name "Tennessee Hollow." About the same time came William SPENCER, Eleazer DAVIS, and William STEELE, who located farther north in the township.

Other early settlers included William DAKAN in 1851; Erastus COLEMAN in 1852, Joseph A DEAL, in 1852 from Putnam County, IND., along with John DEAL-father of Joseph, James DEAL and Peter DEAL; William H BRANSON came in 1853 in the company of John LATHAN, John MOSTILLER and Harvey MOSTILLER; Alfred WALKER in 1853 from Ohio; Andrew R COX son of Abram in 1854; John A REEL in 1854 from Indiana; Logan CRAWFORD in 1854; Henderson FRAZIER in 1854 from Indiana; James G DAVIS in 1855; James A KIRKLAND in 1855; Jacob COX in 1854 from Ohio; Franklin F WEATHERLY came in the autumn of 1855 and who worked for Solomon BARNETT near Magnolia.

James M SMITH came in 1855; Bates BRANSON in the fall of 1855; Milton BERRY came in 1856; A.M. SMITH came in the fall of 1856 from Putnam County, Ind.; Moses B MCINTOSH, George T MCINTOSH and Addison L MCINTOSH came in 1856; Henry FRY came in 1856; John MARSHALL about 1857; Victor TAMISIEA came in 1857 from New York and his father settled in Pottawattamie County where he died. Thomas H FAITH arrived in August,1857; John W MCVEY came from Stark Co,IL in the spring of 1857; James DOUGHERTY in 1858; Robert BERRY in 1858; Jacob DARTING in April,1858; Allen S JONES in 1858; Alexis SCHMITT in 1858; Roger WOLCOTT in October,1859; James MCCULLEY in 1859; William M JONES in 1863; Isaac SKELTON in 1863; William T WILSON in 1865; William FISHER in 1870; John W VARNS in 1870; E NEWTON in 1867; Henry B COX and son John L in 1854; Reverend Lewis S SNYDER in 1856; William N FOUTS in 1857; Elias G HAIGHT in 1867; W.T. RODEN in 1868; and Peter KIRLY came in 1871.


The first term of school taught in St. John's Township was commenced the first Monday in December, 1850, at the building known as the "Mormon Tabernacle", a large log house, located on the northwest of the southest of section 35. It was a subscription school taught by Dr. Robert MCGAVREN, who took all sorts of commodities from the patrons of the school for his pay--very little cash!

At this time, 1891, St. John's Township is provided with nine excellent school buildings, including a fine two-story brick house at what was the village of St. John's. This does not include the Missouri Valley public schools. The total enrollment of pupils, aside from the city, is 305.

The first religious services were held by the Mormon people, about 1850, in the old log "Tabernacle" in "Tennessee Hollow".

At the village of St. John's the first sermon was preached by Elder John CASE, of the Baptist Church early in 1858. It was at the house of John DEAL.

A Methodist class was formed about 1858, with Jacob FULTON as leader. Finally the class was moved to the Missouri Valley. Among the early ministers were Revs. Mr. BAKER, Kirtland CARD and Arthur BRADLEY as Presiding Elder.


This was among the earliest "silent cities" of Harrison County. It was laid out in 1858 on the north half of the southeast quarter of section 35. A child of Mr. and Mrs. Timothy CASE, who died in 1858, was the first person to be buried therein.

VILLAGE OF ST. JOHN'S -- (Defunct)

This was the original place of the township and had it not been for the railroad company building to the north, and establishing a town of their own, would today hold first rank among the cities of this county. [On current maps, the site of St. John's or "Old Town" is known as Findley]

This place was platted in July,1857, by a town site company and recorded December 25, 1857, on sections 26 and 27, township 78, range 44. The members of such company were: Robert and George MCGAVREN, John DEAL, G.H. COTTON, E.W. BENNETT, Noah HARRIS, P.J. MCMAHON, C VORHEES, H.C.PURPLE and James A JACKSON.

Harvey & Woodruff opened up a general store the fall of 1857 and Jacob PRESTON opened a hotel called the "Boyer Valley House." He soon sold to Jacob FULTON. The next winter not being a favorable season for building, things were at a standstill until the Spring of 1858, when life and improvement were seen on all hands. This kept up until the "wild cat" banks all over the country failed, ruining thousands of good business men and thwarting trade from ocean to ocean. But railroads always build and boom a new country and on the appearance of the cars one mile to the northwest of St. John's on sections 14 and 15, sprang into magic-like existence "New St. John's", which name was soon changed to Missouri Valley.

Thus was born and died what has now come to be called "Old St. John's." Around the spot still lingers many a fond memory of pioneer days, when men and women lived largely upon hopes, which have long since vanished.


The following business was carried on during the existence of St. John's. A post- office was established in 1858 with William N FOUTS as postmaster. Then came W.E. ELLIS, who was succeeded by E.K. ROBINSON. At the request of the patrons this office was discontinued in 1871.

The first to engage in trade at this point was Harvey & Woodruff, above mentioned. A man named PLATT opened up a small candy shop and grocery store in the fall of 1857. In 1858 "Squire" Noah HARRIS embarked in a general store. In 1860 a general store was put in by John C BUCHANAN, who a year later sold to Dr. Robert MCGAVREN.

In 1862 James SEATON conducted a store of general merchandise, continuing until the close of the war. He was drafted into the Union Army, came home and died in 1875. Early in 1865 Scott JUSTUS put in a stock of clothing, a year later a general stock. W.A. & W.C. ELLIS opened a general store in 1866 and in 1867 removed to Missouri Valley. In 1866 BROOKHAUSER & LAUGHERTY began general merchandising. In 1868 they removed to Missouri Valley.

The first hotel was the "Missouri Valley House," in 1857, by Jacob PRESTON. Later on it was operated by Jacob FULTON, Walter WOLCOTT and finally by W.A. ELLIS. In 1866 the St. John's House, a two story frame building was opened up to the public. Among the landlords of that house was Noah HARRIS. It was built by Dr. Robert MCGAVREN and Mr. HARRIS. It was operated until 1868 and then moved to Missouri Valley and converted into a hardware store which was burned in 1872.

In 1858 R FOUTS commenced to work at the blacksmith trade in company with one THRALL. Samuel GIBSON soon came in as did Robert HOY. In the winter of 1866-67 John C HENRY and John C CALEY, each started shoe shops. Two harness shops were in full blast, one by John P LAHMAN, who in 1867 moved to Missouri Valley. A hardware store was put in by W.J. HARRIS in the fall of 1866, a year later removed the stock to M.V. In March, 1868, Dr Robert McGAVREN bought an interest and helped to conduct business until it was burned November 14, 1872.

Louis HAMMER had a carpenter shop at St. John's but finally removed to Council Bluffs. Two wagon shops were in operations before the war, one by Samuel MYERS and another by a Mr. JERRED. The only physicians who ever practiced (to speak of) were Drs. Robert and George MCGAVEN, who came from Pottawattamie County in 1858. Dr. G.W. COYT was there a short time.


The first school taught at St. John's village was by Miss Ella MCWILLIAMS, now the wife of William ARTHUR, of Jackson Township, in the summer and fall of 1858. It was a subscription school held in a frame building not built for school purposes. In 1862 a frame schoolhouse was built in which a school was taught the following winter by Emily MUNDAY, who later became the wife of H.C. HARSHBARGER. In 1874 the present(1891) two-story, two-department brick schoolhouse was erected at a cost of $2000. It is 25x44 feet. At one time there were 106 pupils attended this school, but since Missouri Valley has made such progress in school matters, this school is on the decrease.


In 1857 William ARTHUR and H.N. CARTER built a sawmill at St. John's which they operated until 1862 and moved the plant away. Mr. ARTHUR now lives in Jackson Township, while Mr. CARTER resides in Kansas City.
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