Henry County IAGenWeb


Mt. Pleasant City Directory, 1870

Burlington Daily Gazette and Job Printing House, Parson’s Block, 1870


The city of Mt. Pleasant is located in Center Township, a little south of the geographical center of the county, on a high prairie whence it derives its name. Including in its corporate limits at this time quite a large amount of territory, it is yet pretty well settled with a population of some six thousand, constituting a community than which, for its size, there is not another more intelligent, more moral, more religious, to be found in the State. By strangers visiting the place its situation and surroundings are considered peculiarly beautiful. At a distance of four miles the Skunk river, one of the principal streams of the State, takes its southeasterly course to the Mississippi: while Big creek, a small clear stream, surrounds us in the shape of a horseshoe, one and a half miles distant north, west and south. In these directions, thickly studding the loamy bottom lands, are seen heavy forests of oak, hickory, walnut and maple, which on the little tributary Saunders’ run, approach on the west to the very limits of the corporation; and feathering here into a luxuriant growth of sapling among the large trees, invite many a merry picnic group to find enjoyment in their shade. In the east, the scene is one monotonous prairie, stretching far as the eye can reach, relieved only by houses here and there, and groves which the hand of man has planted. Henry county was organized by an act of the Territorial Legislature, then Wisconsin, at its first session, held at Belmont, Wisconsin, during the winter of 1836-7. The same act that organized the county, located the county seat at the then village of Mt. Pleasant. And here, despite two or three vigorous efforts to remove it, it has since remained.

The first white settler on the territory now embraced in Henry county, (then constituting a part of Des Moines,) was one James Dawson, who, in the spring of 1834, squatted on a claim one and a half miles west of town. The land afterwards became the Caulk farm, and is now owned by Hugh B. Swan, Esq. Presley Saunders, the first settler in Mt. Pleasant, moved here in February, A. D. 1835. Other families soon after moved in, and in the summer of 1836, the town was platted by Presley Saunders, after a survey by Dr. J. D. Payne, and a record thereof made February 3, 1837. By this, with a slight addition soon afterwards made, the town consisted of 48 blocks, including the public square. Meantime, the population of the place had steadily increased, and at the time of which we speak amounted to about two hundred persons. But the dwellings were still but the huts and cabins of pioneers, as we are told there was “not a single two story house, shingled roof, brick chimney or plank floor,” in the place. During the fall of that year, however, the first bricks were made, and their introduction greatly improved the appearance of things. The first store in the place was opened by Col. J. H. Randolph, May 12th, 1836. The Colonel had first started business in Burlington, but not liking the location, removed to this place. Trade, in those days, was conducted largely on the credit system, but the pioneers were an honest set of fellows, and always paid their debts.

The first school was taught by John P. Grantham, Esq., in a little old log cabin in the bush west of town, commencing in the spring of 1837. The same building was also used as a church by the different denominations who could keep up preaching. The town of Mt. Pleasant was first incorporated by act of the Iowa Territorial Legislature, approved January 25,1842. The town charter provided for a city government, consisting of a president, four councilmen and a recorder, to hold their offices for one year. Under this, as far as we can learn, S. B. Parker, Esq. familiarly called Judge Parker, was elected the first president, and Col. Randolph and Mr. Hubbard were of the council. At a subsequent election, Colonel Randolph was called to the presidency. The town at this date was small, and it was found rather tedious to keep up the dignity of municipal government--though we are assured that an infinite amount of the first talent was expended in the composition of ordinances--and finally, by general consent, the thing was allowed to collapse. The State was admitted to the Union in 1846, and after this, by act approved February 5, 1851, the “town of Mt, Pleasant" was again incorporated. This time, the executive authority was vested in a Mayor; the other officers remained as before. At the election thereupon, held in April of that year, Col. Wm. Thompson was chosen mayor; Messrs. Harpin Riggs, Titus V. Taft, John S. Green and Alvin Saunders, councilmen, and Henry H. McMillan, recorder. We ran under this charter until the spring of 1857, when, by virtue of the act of July 15, 1846, we became a city, with enlarged corporate powers and privileges. At the present time we rank as a city of the second class under the general incorporation act.

The first newspaper published in the county was “The Iowa Freeman,” by D. M. Kelsey. This had been published for some time previous in Ft. Madison and was purchased and brought here in 1848 or ’49. In 1850 the furniture and good will of the establishment were bought out by Prof. S. L. Howe, who removed the office to his high school building, where, for five or six years, he published “The True Democrat,” a radical newspaper of the strictest sect. Its editor was Prof. Howe; its compositors, his pupils. Several of the young typos who set up the abolition leaders of the editor, have since become known to fame in connection with John Brown’s operations in Kansas, and in that more gigantic conflict whereby the supremacy of the national government has been maintained. Of later date flourished “The Observer,” started by Sam Galloway--afterwards in the editorial charge of Messrs. Wickersham & McFarland. “The Home Journal,” “The Iowa Tribune,” and “The Republican News,” are names of papers that have since been printed here, but under those names no longer exist. At present, we have “The Mt. Pleasant Journal,” by Mr. Frank Hatton, and “The Free Press,” by Dr. D. W. Robinson.

The first church in the place was built by the Cumberland Presbyterians, in the year 1840, on the corner of Main and Madison streets. The same building is now occupied as a residence by Dr. W. Bird, Other churches were erected in time, and we now number no less than eleven, to wit: Two Methodist, one Presbyterian (O. S.,) one Baptist, one Episcopalian, one Christian, one Congregationalist, one Universalist, one United Presbyterian, one Methodist colored, one Baptist colored--besides some other societies not provided with meeting houses.

In the earlier days of the town, there were a great many Indians still lingering in the county, whom the introduction of “fire water” and its civilized vices soon so far corrupted that Pope would scarcely have ventured on his apostrophe had he met them on our streets. They were a mixture of the Sac and Fox tribes, relics of that band which the defiant Blackhawk had led to defeat in 1830-32. For some years a few of these poor forlorn creatures lingered in the vicinity, subsisting by beggary, or sometimes by that singular abstraction of other people’s goods which results from confused ideas of the rights of property. But as civilization advanced, the axe of the white settler ringing in the forest, and his cabin building on the prairie, with the strange apparition of a city growing up in their midst day by day, these wild children of the woods turned their faces to the setting sun, and passed away from their old hunting grounds forever.

Though Mt. Pleasant has, like every other town, passed through a time of pioneering, and known the day of small things, yet there are now probably none in the State which excel it in the culture of all those delicate refinements which make this life pleasant. To such extent, indeed, have the citizens encouraged and promoted the cause of liberal education, the adoption of all true reform improvements in every department, the dissemination of principles of strict morality and temperance, that the reputation of the city has gone abroad, as that of a locality where it were good to dwell. And it has ever been the boast of the city that drunkenness is not tolerated in the shadow of her walls. From the first, a class of the most intelligent and moral have been attracted here to settle, and this element gaining so great an ascendency, all rival influences have been effectually discouraged from making any effort. At this time, the presence of first class schools, with their good influence, and churches for the accommodation of all, give us good cause to believe that here the seeds of vice may never spring to full growth, but in our garden the flowers of virtue bloom forever. The Iowa Wesleyan University, elsewhere noted at length, numbering already among her graduates more than one hundred persons, with full classes in attendance; the academy of Prof. Howe, one of the oldest schools in the place, whose pupils are scattered all over the west; the Female Seminary, founded within a few years, and now enjoying great prosperity, under the superintendence of Rev. E. L. Belden and a well-organized and graded system of public schools, with a high school department wherein may be completed a good course of study; these are some among the features that attract the immigrant seeking a home. Nor has it been without proportionate advantage to us, that by the choice of the legislature, this was selected for the location of that eminently charitable institution, the state Insane Hospital. Large and commodious, at once a credit to the architect who planned, and the hands that built, its presence is an honor to the place.

As a business center, Mt. Pleasant has not ranked so high as her sister cities, probably through the mistaken management of her capitalists, or the misapplication of their means. At present, she supports two banks, three hotels, eighteen dry goods stores, seventeen groceries, six clothing stores, six boot and shoe stores, five hardware stores, four drug stores, three furniture stores, three book stores, three pump and lightning rod establishments, two marble works, one foundry, two tanneries, two lumber yards, one queensware store, and others in proportion. What she needs is manufacturing establishments. These her population and that of the county can well sustain. The money which goes away to buy clothing could then be kept at home. We need woolen factories, paper mills, foundries--we need more labor and more capital, and the profit will amply repay. Situated in a region of country exceedingly fertile, and whose mineral resources promise abundantly; well-watered by the Skunk river and its tributaries Big creek and Big and Little Cedar, on each of which are forests of fine timber, with several quarries of excellent building stone, and frequent beds of coal; sustained by a population of intelligent, thrifty farmers; located in a State than which none stands higher on the roll of national honor; with a past reputation to which she can point without regret; there is certainly no reason why Mt. Pleasant should not continue to rise in importance and increase in wealth. The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad furnishes direct communication with the East, while now the immediate prospect of another road, the great St. Paul and St. Louis line, crossing the other at this place, already cheers us with the hope of increasing trade. Established thus as a junction point on two such important lines of travel, with a rival market for produce, incalculable advantages are at once secured.

With the considerations duly weighed, regarding location, population, and the prospects of growth, incident upon causes now working, it is hoped the predictions here expressed of the future of our city have not been too sanguine. We would not have them so. Our needs are great. We want more farmers--more men to till our fertile fields that lie adjacent, with their great wealth undeveloped. On these depends the growth of the city. It is not in the number of houses, or the wealth in our tills; not in the multitude of our schools, or the altitude of our church spires, that prosperity consists. Our population must be right.

"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey. Where wealth accumulates, and men decay; Princes and kings may flourish and may fade. A breath can make them as a breath has made: But a bold peasantry, their nation’s pride. When once destroyed can never be supplied.”

To our fertile prairies, then, are the husbandmen invited--they who among the rocks of eastern hillsides, earn a scanty living--here where land is cheap and farming easy--where none is so poor but he may be lord of a manor. And with such a population to sustain, we leave it to some other prophet to say what our future shall be.

Source: https://archive.org/details/GR_66?q=mt.+pleasant+1870+directory

Anonymously transcribed and contributed. Page formatted by Conni McDaniel Hall and added 08 Nov 2019.

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