North Liberty, Iowa

By Karyl Bonnett, North Liberty, IA

As one meanders through the aged gravestones of Ridgewood Cemetery, perched on the crest of a lovely wooded hill on Scales Bend Road off Hwy 965, one is struck by the number of simple white stones countersunk with a large shield indicating the interred resident is a war veteran. Other than a stone for Guy Stewart, a veteran of the Spanish American War, they represent participants in the War of the Rebellion commonly referred to as the Civil War. 

            The surnames of the first Penn Township settlers included Gaylor, Dennison, Scales, Wray, Wein, Alt, Purdoo, Dollarhide, Clark, Harless, Waterson, Asian, Napier, Crozier, Gilbert, Herington, Chamberlin, Moreland, Zeller, Kepford, Bowman, Hawk, Lininger and others. One can find tombstones of most these settlers and large numbers of their descendants in Ridgewood Cemetery.

            The preponderance of these settlers issued from Pennsylvania. For that reason, Francis Bowman and his wife Margaret, both buried in Ridgewood , suggested that the township, which originally included Madison Township, be named after the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn; thus Penn Township.

 Martha Bowman, school teacher and  daughter of Francis and Margaret, gave the official name to our city, North Liberty.

            David Crozier, early settler and veteran, fought in the Blackhawk War (1832).  Blackhawk and his tribe were disenfranchised from their homes near Rock Island and moved forcibly to Iowa along the Des Moines River. Unhappy with this move, Blackhawk “illegally” returned to Illinois resulting in the hostilities referred to as the Blackhawk War.

            Illinois called for volunteers. David, living at that time in Edgar Co. Illinois with his wife Margaret, was in the first group to enlist making sergeant in the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Illinois Volunteers.

            In 1840, Crozier moved his family to Penn Township. His cabin, which eventually burned down, hosted the first school. His daughter, Nancy married Nathaniel Scales in 1842 making history by being the first marriage in Penn Township. Nathaniel lived in the area now known as the Jolly Roger Campground. Scales Bend Road, on which Ridgewood Cemetery is located, is named after Nathaniel Scales.

Almost every able-bodied male in Penn Township volunteered to serve in the War of the Rebellion, which helps to explain the large number of military stones in Ridgewood. However, not all the Civil War veterans fought in Iowa units. John Arnold was in the Pennsylvania Calvary; Wm Evans and Harmon Franklin, Indiana infantry: Jacob Price and John Ramsey, Pennsylvania infantry; and Varner Lindsay, W. Virginia infantry.

            The Civil War wrecked havoc on the families of Penn Township, North Liberty and Iowa as a whole. Over 80, 000 men were mustered from the state of Iowa. This was over half the able-bodied men.

Fathers and sons are buried at Vicksburg, Wilson’s Creek, Shiloh, Champion Hills, and hundreds of other locations. Large numbers lie in ignominious unmarked graves.

A correspondent of the Iowa “State Register” after a re-union excursion to Shiloh in 1884, reported that over 3,500 union troops were interred at Shiloh Cemetery. “They represent 203 regiments from thirteen different states. Nearly two thirds of those interred were not identified. Of the known dead, Iowa had the third highest casualties.” Only Illinois and Ohio lost more men. The correspondent estimated that up to a fourth of the unidentified union dead were Iowans.

 David Stewart, a Civil War surgeon and physician from North Liberty, reported that 3,000 Iowans died in battle, 10,000 died from wounds and over 10,000 more were discharged from sickness caused by conditions of service. A small gray stone about a foot high in Ridgewood Cemetery marks the resting-place of Stewart, surgeon in the 28th Iowa Infantry.

A walk through Ridgewood Cemetery is a stroll through history: not just of Penn Township and North Liberty but of the World. The settlers all came from someplace else; not just from other states. Some came from other countries. They brought their customs, religions and the spirit of adventure.

 And rumor has it that Ridgewood Cemetery may also have been the site of a native American burial mound.

My thanks to Joan Alt Belknap whose book  A History of North Liberty and Penn Township piqued my interest in local history and provided much of the material for this article. This book may be checked out from the North Liberty library. 

Copyright ã 2006 by Karyl Bonnett

Editor's Note: The author is in the process of photographing all of the gravestones in Richwood Cemetery and has already posted dozens of them on the Gravestone Photo Project.