Copyright 2003 By Bob Hibbs
April 26, 2003  

Saturday Postcard 191:
Drunken Pigs and Grazing on Pentacrest

Fencing that offered no opening at the Washington and Clinton streets corner in the foreground in this image taken about 1890
of the “Red Brick Campus” flanking Old Capitol.  The 1882 Medical Building at left adjoins 1863 South Hall next to Old Cap.
The structure at right is 1866 North Hall. All three buildings burned.

clinton washington

Fencing demarks the southeast corner of the Pentacrest in this 1853 image of Iowa City business district looking at what is now
the Iowa State Bank corner then occupied a two-story white storefront at Washington and Clinton streets at the center of this image.
None of the structures in the digitally enhanced image survive.

By Bob Hibbs


Despite being the capital of Iowa, Iowa City is a rip-roaring mess; a wide-open frontier town.

Livestock graze on the grounds surrounding the statehouse, muddy streets are chopped with ruts and littered with road apples, dogs roam in packs, pigs root at their leisure, and trash lines the gutter just beyond the boardwalk.


Hay is stacked along Iowa Avenue just east of Clinton Street awaiting next Tuesday’s sale.

Three shots ring out from a pistol fired into the air as celebrants leave a bar Sunday evening, riders gallop away 
at breakneck speed past ladies in floor-length skirts heading for a church gathering, while others linger in the bar in a not-friendly poker game. 

This is 1852 Iowa City; but, it isn’t a matter needing Matt Dillon or Wyatt Earp.

The problem is utter lack of city government; zero, nothing; everyone is free to use the public spaces as he sees 
fit, so long as he doesn’t encounter a tongue lashing from the lone local sheriff, or the wrath of the Vigilance Committee in more serious offending circumstances.


There are no rules against dogs and other animals running loose, no controls on bars or discharging firearms. There is no speed limit, nor streets crew; no sanitation laws.

But, taxes are low. A store-keep last year paid $2.85 in property tax. Why create another layer of government 
when both state and county governments already exist here?

The statehouse grounds are fenced to keep horses and cattle away after years of complaints.

This situation is not fictional; it really existed. Iowa City population was approaching 5,000 as Iowa’s bustling capital city. The arguments against local government and favoring low taxes won the day through four prior attempts during 14 years – until conditions ripened into those described above.  And, worse!

The open sore festered one day about fall 1850 when a barkeep dumped a large batch of well-pickled whiskey-flavoring cherries in the gutter in front of his establishment. Soon a street sow and her brood were ravishing them.

Piglets soon were chasing their tails, filling the air with playful snorts, huffs and squeals as they reeled about hardly able to stay on all fours. At the precise moment that a Sons of Temperance meeting was breaking up, the mother sow is said to have keeled into the gutter with a resounding splash, leaving the piglets to ogle passersby 
and cavort with each other in silly antics.

“Even the beasts,” exclaimed one of the Sons.  The following week witnessed inauguration of the “Society for 
Moral Reform,” but the following year an attempt to install a local government failed for the fourth time.  It finally succeeded two years later.

City government came into being April 6, 1853 in a mayor-council form under special legislative charter, which was abandoned in 1864 in favor of incorporation under general state law. The council-manager form was adopted nearly a century later.

Jacob De Forest was the first mayor; Anson Hart recorder, C.H. Buck treasurer, Robert Hutchinson marshal and Benjamin King assessor. The council consisted of nine alderman – Edwin Lanning, William Hunt and E.C. Lee representing the first ward; Thomas Snyder, F.P. Brossart and W. Penn Clarke the second, and Peer Roberts, Peter Stetzer and J.R. Van Fleet the third.

The first session of the new council began the process of adopting 13 ordinances, including ones providing for cleaning sidewalks and streets, prohibiting discharge of firearms in town, taxing dogs and prohibiting them running at large, appointing a streets commissioner, prohibiting hay stacks on streets, controlling bars and gambling, prohibiting speeding in town called “fast riding and driving of buggies,” preventing nuisances (such as free-running livestock, and other unrelated matters), preventing desecration of Sabbath and creating a board of health.  

Wouldn’t serving as a public official have been a breeze during “the good old days?”

Next Saturday: Clinton Street a century ago.

Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and researches history related to them.

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