Henry County is the second tier from the south line of the state, and is the second west of the Mississippi River, and contains an area of 432 square miles, or 276,480 acres.


The surface of the county is high and undulating. Numerous streams traverse its territory, affording good natural drainage and abundance of water to every township, as well as enhancing the richness and variety of the scenery. Good well-water is obtained at a depth of from twenty to thirty feet.

The soil is a rich black loam, with a sufficient proportion of sand to impart warmth and promote easy tillage. It is well adapted to the production of grain, grass, fruit and vegetables, and the county is known as one of the best agricultural and fruit-growing counties in the state.

The county is abundantly supplied with timber, usually consisting of the several varieties of oak, hickory, maple, walnut, etc.

Excellent water-power is afforded by Skunk River, which traverses the county from corner to corner, with an average fall of three feet to the mile, and by Cedar and Big Creeks.

Coal is found near the western border of the county, upon Cedar Creek, but although it is here found in considerable quantity, Henry is not usually classed among the coal counties, for the reason that only a very narrow strip of its territory along the west side of the county, from the point where Skunk River enters it to the southwest corner, lies within the coal field. Skunk River, after following very near the northeastern boundary of the coal field for a long distance, here leaves it entirely and passes into the sub-carboniferous region, very near the point where it deflects to the east again in this county, after running nearly southward for some miles.

Good building stone is obtained in the sandstone quarries of the county, out of which were constructed the piers for the railroad bridge over the Mississippi at Burlington, and an abundance of limestone is found, which produces good quick lime. Some good building stone is also obtained from the limestone beds.

Potters' clay, of excellent quality, is plenty, and is extensively manufactured into pottery and tiles. Good brick clay is also plenty.

The surface of the county is generally high, without any swamps or stagnant water to produce miasma. The climate is excellent and healthful.


James Dawson was the first white man who settled on territory embraced within the limits of Henry County. He made a claim one mile and a half west of where Mt. Pleasant is located, in the Spring of 1834. In the Fall of the same year Presley Saunders came from Springfield, Illinois, and took a claim where Mt. Pleasant in now located, and after laying the foundation of a cabin, returned to Illinois. In February, 1835, he came again to Iowa, completed his cabin, and settled permanently. During the same year he temporarily staked off a number of lots.

The following may also be named as among the early settlers of the county: Joseph Moore, A.C. Dover, John Williford, Aaron Street, Peter Boyer, Jesse Hancock, Rev. William M. Morrow, and Rev. Samuel Hutton. The ministers were of the Baptist denomination.

The first post office was established at Mt. Pleasant in 1836, and Alvin Saunders was appointed post master. He subsequently filled the office of State Senator, and still later was appointed Governor of Nebraska Territory.

Mary Saunders, daughter of Presley Saunders, born in 1835, was the first white child born in the county. The first death was that of a man named Pullman, who came from Indiana in 1835. After being in the county but two or three months, he was found dead on the small branch which passes through the site of the present City of Mt. Pleasant, with his rifle by his side. He had taken his own life by accident or intentionally.


In the Winter of 1836-'7, the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin, then in session at Belmont, passed an act organizing the county of Henry, and locating the county seat at Mt. Pleasant. Several efforts were made to establish the seat of justice at Augusta, but all failed.

The first election for county officers took place January 13, 1837, at which Robert Caulk, Samuel Brazelton, and George J. Sharp were elected County Commissioners; Dayton C. Roberts, Treasurer, and John Riddle, Coroner. N.M. Scott, H.M. Snyder, Richard Childers, Levi Smith, and William Stout were elected Constables. Sheriffs and justices of the peace were appointed by the Governor. William D. Brown was the first Sheriff; and Samuel Nelson, George Moffatt, and Abraham C. Dover were among the first justices of the peace.

The first District Court was held in a log cabin on the west side of the Public Square in Mt. Pleasant, April 14, 1837, Hon. David Irwin, of Wisconsin, presiding. It was a territorial court, with both federal and local jurisdiction. Hon. W.W. Chapman acted as United States District Attorney, and Dr. Jesse D. Payne as Clerk. The following persons composed the first grand jury impaneled: Claybourne Jones, Sr., Samuel Hutton, Marshall Saunders, C.W. Hughes, D.C. Roberts, William M. Morrow, James McCoy, K.T. Maulding, Benjamin F. Hutton, Jacob Burge, Moses Shirley, W.J. Lowell, Thomas Clarke, William King, David Minter, James Williford, Sr., G.W. Lewis, Henry Snyder, Sr., Berry Jones, Little Hughes, John H. Randolph, Presley Saunders, and Warren L. Jenkins - John H. Randolph acting as foreman.

Hon. John P. Grantham, it is believed, had the honor of inaugurating the first educational institution in the county, and in the town which subsequently became a city of schools and colleges, in the Spring of 1837, in a log cabin.

There was very little law in those days, and very little respect paid to that which was attempted to be enforced. As an illustration of that fact, the following well authenticated fact is given:

The man Dover, who had appointed a justice of the peace, went to town with two men as sureties on his bond. The sureties got drunk and had a fight, when the newly appointed J. P. had them arrested and brought before him on a charge of breach of the peace. A jury was empaneled and case called for the State. Immediately thereafter one of said defendants (and surety) sailed into the court room and said: "Gentlemen of the jury, I have been robbed; my pocket-book has been feloniously taken from me. Gentlemen of the jury, I do not mean you, nor do I mean you, gentleman by-standers, but the man who robbed and feloniously stole from me my pocket-book is in this room, and I was going to whip him before I leave the room;" then, commencing to draw off his coat, "Esquire Dover, pull off your coat."

J.M. ALLEN, Clerk. W.T. SPEARMAN, Sheriff.
J.F. HOUSMAN, Treasurer. ANNA E. PACKER, Superintendent
ROBERT BAXTER, Auditor.           of Public Schools.
J.J. FANCETT, Recorder.   


This city is situated near the geographical center of the county, on what was originally a beautiful high prairie. Big Creek sweeps around the north, west and south sides of the city in the shape of a horseshoe, abundantly skirted with timber, while the open prairie extends many miles eastward. Joseph Moore erected the first house within the town limits in the Fall of 1835. It stood at the northwest corner of the Public Square. Here Mr. Moore started the first store, a small stock of goods being on the ground before the building was completed. The town was regularly surveyed in the Summer of 1836, and on the 12th of May of this year, Col. John H. Randolph opened a store. The town was granted a city charter by the Iowa Territorial Legislature, January 25, 1842, but after maintaining a municipal organization for about two years it was discontinued. A second charter was obtained from the Legislature in 1851, and since that time the city government has been regularly maintained. The first election under the new charter was held in April, 1851, and Col. Wm. Thompson was chosen Mayor, H.H. McMillan, Recorder, and H. Riggs, T.V. Taft, J.S. Green, and Alvin Saunders, Trustees. The corporate powers of the city were increased by the Legislature in 1857. It now ranks as a city of the second class under the general incorporation law.


This city is an Independent School District, and has two Graded School Buildings, costing $23,000 and $10,000 respectively. The schools are at all times presided over by first-class talent.

Howe's High School and Female Seminary is one of the oldest and best known throughout Southern Iowa. Many of the prominent men of the state graduated here.

Iowa Wesleyan University. - This is the oldest chartered educational institution in the state. It is ably presided over by John Wheeler, D.D.

Female Seminary. - This is a Presbyterian Institution. It is under the management of Rev. Luther Belden. The building is commodious and the grounds ample and pleasant.

Iowa State Hospital for the Insane. - This fine and commodious hospital is located on a tract of land containing about 310 acres. The site is beautiful, and the building is nearly centrally located upon the tract. It cost about $400,000. The Board of Trustees are Luke Palmer, President, Burlington; A.W. McClure, Secretary, Mount Pleasant; W.C. Evans, West Liberty, L.E. Fellows, Lansing, and Mrs. E.M. Elliott, Mount Pleasant. Resident Officers - H.M. Bassett, M.D., Superintendent; Miss M.A. Cleaves, M.D., Second Assistant Physician; M. Riordan, M.D., Third Assistant Physician; A.R. Wickerham, Steward; Mrs. Ella M. Wickersham, Matron, and Rev. Milton Sutton, Chaplain.

Churches. - There are 12 churches here and some are very fine. The denominations are Methodist Episcopal, 3; Old School Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Baptist, Colored Baptist, Universalist, Christian, Episcopalian, German Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic, each one.

The Masons maintain a Lodge and Chapter here, and the Odd Fellows a Lodge and an Encampment.

Newspapers. - There are two published here. The Mount Pleasant Journal, Republican in Politics, published by the Journal Publishing Company, J. Teesdale, Editor; and the Free Press, Independent in Politics, VanCise & Throop, Editors and Proprietors. Each has a large circulation. Both are conducted with ability and are a credit to the county. The first newspaper published was the Iowa Freeman, commenced in 1849, by D.M. Kelsey.

Banks. There are two here. The National State Bank was first incorporated as a State Bank in 1858, with a capital of $50,000. It reorganized in 1865 as the National State Bank, with a capital of $100,000. President, T. Whiting; Cashier, J.H. Whiting.

The First National Bank was chartered in 1865, with a capital of $75,000. P. Saunders, President; H.S. Clark, Cashier.

The general business of the city is good in nearly all branches. It is a prominent shipping point on the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, and has many excellent commercial advantages.

Mt. Pleasant has long enjoyed a reputation abroad for its liberal support of educational institutions and churches, and the high standard of morality maintained by its citizens generally.

OTHER TOWNS. - There are many other thriving towns and villages in the county, among which are Hillsborough, Lowell, Marshall, New London, Rome, Salem, and Trenton; also the following additional post offices: Boyleston, Cottongrove, Oakland Mills, Swedesburgh, Wayne, Winfield, and Winona.


~ source: HISTORY: Henry Co., IA From the A. T. Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875. Pages 487-488
~ contributed by Conni McDaniel Hall, October 2018

History Index  **  Henry County IAGenWeb