Henry County IAGenWeb



By Olive Cole Smith

As Mt. Pleasant approaches its hundredth birthday it is fitting, we of this 2nd generation tell what we know of the old days. I want to tell what I know, have been told, or read about the early efforts to bring culture to Mt. Pleasant; and keep the people up to what was going on in the world. I find I have scrap books; secretary books and notes I copied from “The Journal”, before either historically minded persons cut those old papers to useless shreds. Isn’t it queer how little sense some people have and how little conception of the rights of others? In 1905 I wrote to many of the older people for their memories of the old days, as well as taking notes of conversations with Smith Thompson, James A. Throop, in fact anyone at that time who might remember when the Library idea started in Mt. Pleasant.

The Mt. Pleasant Lyceum was incorporated Feb. 14, 1844. With the object of establishing a Library and scientific apparatus, the cultivation of the Arts and Sciences and the diffusion of useful knowledge. The officers to be a president, treasurer and secretary. The names of the corporators were Morton [sic: Norton?] Munger, John P. Grantham, Samuel Nelson, Dr. Jesse Payne, Nelson Lathrop, John Craig, J.C. Hall, James Walmsley and Alvin Saunders.

I found no other information about the Mt. Pleasant Lyceum, although I think some of the same men were among those who started the Mt. Pleasant Collegiate Institute the same year. Rev. Heustis was president of the institute that in the fifties assumed the name of the Iowa Wesleyan University and is now the I.W.C.

About that time Prof. Samuel Howe came from the east and started his “High School and Female Seminary” that later became Howe’s Academy. From some source I copied that “The Iowa Freeman” with D.M. Kelsey, editor, was published in 1840. Prof. Samuel Howe bought the office in 1850 and started the “Iowa Democrat”. Soon after this, Samuel Galloway started the Whig Paper, “The Observer”, which was subsequently published by Samuel McFarland. I find articles by “Pilgrim”, the name under which C.T. Cole wrote when she first came to Mt. Pleasant, a bride in 1857, in the “Home Journal”, “The News” and “The Observer”.

It was in the Observer in 1857 that Pilgrim speaks of the Library club that met in the old court house. She was trying to arouse public sentiment for sidewalks, so the women could get to interesting meetings. Look at your Goodey books of the fifties to realize why women in their long dresses, over hoop skirts were house bound when it was muddy. There were neither sidewalks nor stepping stones. Uncle Throop came about the same time he told me that a man told him that another man told him that one spring when it was especially muddy, he was picking his way to town along the stake a rider fences thru the fields bordering Scott’s Lane. It was always the muddiest place in Henry County, even in my days. Well, as he was going along, he noticed a perfectly good hat floating along in the gooey mud and got a stick to rescue it. “Imagine my surprise to find a head under it. When I asked him if I could help him, he said, ‘No, I’m all right, I’ve got a perfectly good horse under me, but I am worried about some people ahead of me in a lumber wagon, a man, his wife, and children. They have some slow oxen, I haven’t seen anything of them for some time and am afraid they may be stuck in a mud hole, you know Scott’s Lane does get muddy sometimes.’”

From the Journal of Jan. 9, 1869, I copied this item. “The first court house erected in the state was that which now stands in the Public Square.”

From Smith Thompson who was a man of intelligence, excellent memory and discriminating taste, from James A. Throop, who was historically minded, I got the names of some of the men who took part in the discussions of the great public questions of the fifties and some of the subjects discussed. There was Dr. Stebbins, Dr. De Wolf, Dr. Pearson, Henry Clay Dean, Rev. Packard, John Craig, those names were given me by Mr. Throop. Smith Thompson said his memory went back to 1855, he remembered that Rev. Stearns of the Presbyterian church was active in the discussions, as was Rev. Packard of the Congregational church, who was a man of ability; also Dr. Pearson, who was the first homeopathic physician in town and a man who belonged to a distinguished family. Dr. Sumner Stebbins who was an able man from Cincinnati, who was here but one winter. Henry Clay Dean, who delivered a series of lectures about the great men in the U.S. Senate, was distinguished as an orator, a camp meeting preacher, and was the only man who upheld slavery and the southern lawyer Cook, and lawyer Doolittle, were also mentioned as taking part in the discussions.

Col. C. Ben Darwin of Burlington delivered a lecture on Mexico. One discussion was “Resolved: the Human family did not originate from single parents.” Under this quotation I wrote the names of Rev. Packard, Alvin Saunders and several others. It would be interesting to know how they settled that point, as this one “If God is Omniscient and Omni present, why pray?”.

Henry Starr of Burlington came often to lecture. J.C. Hall of Burlington, who came up to court, joined in the discussions, as did Col. Wm. Thompson, editor of the “Burlington Gazette”. T.M. Woolson, Samuel Howe also took part. The Death Penalty was discussed, the ministers being for it, Dr. Pearson and John H. Davis being against it. The Kansas and Nebraska bill, “The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise” and “The Fugitive Slave Law” were remembered as subjects, as was a lecture on spiritualism by a woman lecturer. Prof. McGugan of the Keokuk Medical school came up to denounce Homeopathy.

Grace Greenwood’s brother, R.B. Clarke was here for a time before going to Washington, D.C.

The railroad got as far as Mt. Pleasant in July, 1856. James A. Throop told me when he and his sister came earlier that summer, they took a stage from New London to the Tiffany House, where Mr. Cole met them. When the visit was over, they drove to Keokuk, by way of Nauvoo. It took two days to drive to Keokuk in those days, even when the roads were dry.

From family letters I learn that men went from Mt. Pleasant to Kansas in groups of ten. Mr. Throop wrote to his sister, Cordelia, that W.R. Cole might not be able to visit her, as he was responsible for financing ten men to go to Kansas to help swell the votes for Free Kansas. I find one letter from Tom Bereman, after he got to Kansas, stating he liked it and would be glad to stay if the girl to whom he was engaged would agree. His brother, Alvin, also went at that time to Kansas. Neither of them remained, however. The Bereman family was one of the best of the early families in the county and we come across their names in everything that helped make this a better community.

It was in the fifties that Mr. Chamberlain tried to start a Library with the help of the Universalist church and his fund. It has been my pleasure to turn over to the church two or three of his letters about his fund, how he wished it invested and used.

[“Mt. Pleasant News”, Friday, February 10, 1933, page 3]

Note: Olive Cole Smith [1869-1948] was the daughter of Rev. William R. and Cordelia Throop Cole. A tribute to her is written elsewhere on this site: http://iagenweb.org/henry/Family/OliveColeSmith.htm

Transcribed and contributed by Pat White, September 2019

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