Copyright 2003 By Bob Hibbs
Saturday January 31, 2004 

Saturday Postcard 229: Exploring the Old East Side

gov square

From Gopher Hill and the Female College past Mineral Spring House to Governor’s Square,
this small section of a 150-year-old map shows historic features no longer apparent in this
east-central Iowa City neighborhood. Street names were added in the section by the author.

By Bob Hibbs


A section of a 150-year-old map focusing on east-central Iowa City displays historic plans for a governor’s mansion and women’s college which have disappeared from today’s reality.

Iowa City was created as Iowa’s territorial and eventual state capital, complete with design of its public areas reflecting the layout of Washington DC. The capital landed, was incubated for 18 years, but flew off to Des Moines in 1857, leaving Iowa City a university in its place.

Although many believe the private Woodlawn enclave at the east end of Iowa Avenue was the intended site of the governor’s mansion, it actually was to have been on the bluff fronting the south face of Iowa Avenue bounded on the west by an appropriately named Governor Street. The site is labeled “Governor’s Square” on the 1854 map.

Researched and drawn by J.H. Millar of Panora near Des Moines, the map covers the entire city and is surrounded by a dozen drawings of local structures by pioneer Iowa City artist George Yewell. His “long neck” sketch of Old Capitol on the map suggests how long final design of its belfry, copula and dome was left unsettled.

Originally printed for Iowa City’s first banking and real estate agency, Cook Sargent & Downey, to promote local growth, many framed reproductions now hang in local homes and businesses.

“Female College” labeling on what today is College Green park reflects a historic gift by the city council of half the park to a joint venture of First Baptist Church and Odd Fellows Lodge with profits going to prime mover and the church’s pastor, Rev. Russell Belden, and to Sarah Allen, perhaps a family member. 

Like four other institutions of higher learning organized in Iowa City during early years, the college died without bearing fruit. For this enterprise Belden raised $6,000 in subscriptions during 1853, promising to erect a three-story 30-by-80-foot brick building trimmed with stone.

By fall 1855 when construction included basement and partial main level, Belden was stricken with cholera and died a few hours later. The project languished and eventual demolition cleared the site for the city.

College Green history also includes a 1908 letter to the Old Settlers Association from Mrs. Henry Murray describing childhood memory of it as “a wild strawberry patch and rattlesnake den.”

Mrs. Murray and her husband, the first permanent local physician, lived nearby at a home they named Gopher Hill. Now addressed 511 E. Washington, the subsequent still-existing house there was the life-long home to sisters Mildred and Ruth Wilslef.

Murray supervised construction of the first Washington Street bridge of Ralston Creek in 1847 which cost $30, was active during the 1850s with the first local public high school, and risk his life treating numerous patients during the 1855 cholera epidemic.

Murray neighbors were the Henry Lathrup family in what the map labels “Oak Villa,” a site now addressed 516 College St. next door east of the McGovern Funeral Home building which until recently served Henry Louis photo.

Lathrup, a renowned apple grower, edited the local Republican newspaper (1850s), was county superintendent of schools, served on the city council (1859), as UI treasurer and on its Board of Regents.

Mineral Springs House labeling refers to a public bath which an 1883 history reports was established “by a man named Bastardes” on a spot “over which seems now to be (where) the chalybeate and sulphur (sic) springs ran together.” It reports the site once belonged to Iowa Territorial Gov. Robert Lucas who “did nothing to utilize it.”

Market Brook labeling refers to a water course which now runs in an underground tube, having disappeared just like many other dominant features of early Iowa City.

Next Saturday: Old Hutchinson’s Quarry at the Art Building addition.

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

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