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1914 County History
Fort Madison

<big>Hon. Nelson C. Roberts
Honorable Nelson C. Roberts

The City of Fort Madison, one of the seats of justice of Lee County, is pleasantly situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about twenty-five miles above the mouth of the Des Moines, on the site of the old fort erected early in the nineteenth century by the United States, from which the city takes its name.

For many years the early history of the old military post was veiled in uncertainty and various statements have been made as to the time when and by whom it was established. No less an authority than Gardner's Dictionary of the United States Army states that "Fort Madison was erected by Lieutenant Pike in 1805, a few miles above St. Louis." The same authority also states that the fort was "evacuated and rebuilt in 1813.'' Rufus Blanchard, in his Discovery and Conquest of the Northwest, published in 1880, says: "The United States built Fort Madison in 1804, on tne west bank of the Mississippi, opposite the Des Moines Rapids." Appleton's American Cyclopedia, under the title Fort Madison, says the town "derives its name from a fort erected in 1808, and named in honor of James Madison." The article on Fort Madison in Johnson's Cyclopedia is signed by the editor of the Fort Madison Plain Dealer and says the town occupies "the site of a fort built in 1808 and captured by the Indians in 1818." Old gazetteers describe Fort Madison as "A United States Military Post, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, about twelve miles above the Des Moines Rapids; the site of the present Town of Fort Madison, in Lee County, Iowa. Latitude, 40 36'; longitude, 14 15", W. Washington."

From these statements the reader can see that early writers on the subject were widely at variance, both as to the exact location of the fort and the time when it was erected, as well as the name of the officer under whose direction it was built. It appears that one or another of these errors has been perpetuated in later historical publications, owing to the authority consulted, and some have maintained that the old fort was built by Zachary Taylor, while he was a lieutenant in the regular army. In July, 1897, an article prepared at the War Department in Washington was published in the Annals of Iowa, and purports to give the official history of the old fort.

In order to understand how some of the errors above mentioned crept into the history of Fort Madison, it will be necessary to notice briefly some of the events that preceded and led up to its establishment. On March 9, 1804, the territory of Upper Louisiana was surrendered to the United States by France, under the treaty of April 30, 1803. The territory thus surrendered embraced the present states of Missouri and Iowa, and all the unexplored region north and west of those states included in the Louisiana Purchase. By an act of Congress, approved March 26, 1804, its name was changed to the "District of Louisiana," which was attached to the Territory of Indiana for all political purposes. In November of that year Gen.William H. Harrison concluded a treaty with the five leading chiefs of the Sac and Fox Indians, in which the United States agreed to protect these Indians in the possession of their lands west of the Mississippi. The date of this treaty no doubt led Blanchard to make the statement that the fort was erected in that vear.

The next year (1805) Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike was sent up the Mississippi on an* exploring expedition, with instructions to select a site for a military post "somewhere between St. Louis and Prairie des Chiens, and to obtain the consent of the Indians for its erection." In his journal, Pike says: "I have chosen three places for military establishments; the first on a hill about forty miles above the river, de Moyen Rapids on the west side of the river in about 41 2' north latitude. The channel of the river runs on that shore; the hill is about sixty feet perpendicular, nearly level on the top."

The war department article above referred to says: "There is ample evidence to show conclusively that this was the site on which Fort Madison was erected." The "ample evidence" is not given in the article, and some who have investigated the matter are inclined to the opinion that the site referred to in Pike's journal is where the City of Burlington now stands. There are good grounds for this belief, as the distance from the mouth of the Des Moines River mentioned by Pike corresponds more nearly to the location of Burlington than that of Fort Madison. The hill and the current as described by Pike also apply to Burlington, and the longitude, which was merely estimated by the explorer, likewise fits Burlington better, the forty- first parallel running about ten miles north of that city. However that may be, the selection of the site by Pike is doubtless responsible for Gardner's error in stating that the fort was built by him in 1805. The following report of Lieut. Alpha Kingsley to Gen. Henry Dearborn, then secretary of war, gives the correct history of the location and establishment of Fort Madison:

"Garrison at Belle Vue, Near River Le Moyne,

"22 November, 1808.

"Sir: — Having received orders at Belle Fontaine, to move up the Mississippi River as far as the River Le Moine, with Captain Pinckney's Company under my command, and fix on a suitable situation for a fort, as nigh that place as possible — not finding any place nearer to that designation than this — I have accordingly fixed on it, which is about twenty-five miles above Le Moine. The season being so far advanced when I arrived here (26th September) that it was impossible to put up such buildings as were necessary to answer the object in view, I therefore thought it expedient to erect temporary houses for the winter. Having set a good picket around my camp, with bastions at right angles, I then commenced upon the factory, and other store houses, barracks, etc., all of which are small and done in a rough way, but will answer the purpose, they being nearly completed. I shall, by the first of next month, commence on building a small fort with three block houses, of hewed timber, so dis- posed as to have full command of each angle of the fort — a plan which I humbly submit. Having plenty of timber convenient, and that of the best quality, I am fully of the opinion that by June next I will have the fort ready for the reception of the troops. The expense of this work to the United States will be but a trifle, when put in completion (comparison) with the good effect that will result to the Government.

"This situation is high, commands an extensive view of the river and adjacent country — also an excellent spring of water — and I believe there is no place on the river which will prove more healthy, and none more advantageous to the Indian trade. I shall prosecute the work of the fort with all possible expedition, and hope by spring to have it so far advanced that it will bid defiance to the evil-minded savage, and at the same time insure the respect and friendship of the better disposed. With these sentiments at heart, having the public good in view, at the same time wishing to comply with my orders, which, though not pointed, leave me latitude, for which I have above premised, and fully expecting your approbation, I shall proceed to complete the work.

"I am with high consideration, sir, your very obedient servant, Alpha Kingsley, Lt., First U. S. Regt. Inft."

Subsequent reports and correspondence of Lieutenant Kingsley show that during the winter the little garrison was occupied in the preparation of white oak logs, from twelve to eighteen inches in diameter, cut to a uniform length of fourteen feet, hewed on both sides and freed from bark. Early in the spring of 1809, as soon as the weather would permit, these logs were conveyed to the site of the fort and the work of erecting the block-houses was commenced. About this time Lieutenant Kingsley learned that the Indians were preparing to raid the frontier settlements and that the first blow would probably be struck at the garrison. Under date of April 19, 1809, he wrote to the war department as follows:

"Upon receiving this information I made every possible exertion to erecfblock-houses and plant my pickets; this we did in two weeks (lying on our arms during the night), and took quarters in the new fort on the 14th inst. Being tolerably secure against an attack, we have been able to get a little rest, and are now making preparations for the safety and defense of this establishment."

This letter was dated from "Fort Madison, near River Le Moin," and is the first official evidence of the application of that name to the new post. James Madison had just been inaugurated President of the United States on March 4, 1809, and the name was unquestionably adopted in his honor. The correspondence of the founder of the fort therefore shows that the site was selected by him in the fall of 1808; that temporary quarters were established there for the winter, and that the fort bearing the name of "Madison" was first occupied on April 14, 1809.

The plan of the fort submitted by Kingsley on November 22, 1808, showed the factory building, or trading house, inside the stock- ade, but in his letter of April 19, 1809, he says: "The recent conduct of the Indians has evinced to my mind that the thing is improper (except the warehouses), and, unless I receive contrary orders, shall build the retail store outside, say 100 yards distant."

Fort Madison, Government Post 1808
Fort Madison, Government Post 1808

This plan was followed and in May, 1809, he wrote: "As the commanding officer of this post, it would be pleasant to know how far I am to comply with the requisitions of the factory, inasmuch as, if the soldiery are drawn for the use of the factory in such numbers as to answer the expectations of the factor, it will be impossible to complete the fort this season."

In response to this letter of inquiry he was informed that the soldiers were to build the factory, "receiving extra pay therefor at the rate of ten cents per day and one gill of whiskey for each man, to be paid by the factory department."

About this time Capt. Horatio Stark, of the First Infantry, then on duty at regimental headquarters, near Fort Adams, Mississippi, was ordered to proceed "with one corporal and seven privates, via St. Louis, to join and assume command of Captain Pinckney's company." He arrived at Fort Madison on August 24, 1809, and relieved Lieutenant Kingsley in the command of the fort. From statistical reports relating to the troops in the District of Louisiana on September 1, 1809, ^ ' s learned that the garrison at Fort Madison then consisted of First Lieut. Alpha Kingsley, Second Lieut. Nathaniel Pryor, one surgeon's mate, three sergeants, three corporals, two musicians and sixty privates of Captain Pinckney's company; Capt. Horatio Stark, one sergeant and eight privates of his company, making a total of eighty-one, exclusive of the seven persons connected with the factory department, who were subject to garrison duty in case of emergency.

The Indians regarded the building of Fort Madison in their country as a violation of the treaty of 1804, and soon after it was completed an attempt was made to destroy it, but it was unsuccessful. No official report of this event is on file in the archives of the war department and the real facts cannot be learned. During the winter of 1811-12 and the summer following great anxiety prevailed regarding the designs of the Indians, whose attitude became constantly more threatening, making constant watchfulness on the part of the garrison a necessity. Small parties of whites were attacked and killed near the fort, but no attack upon the fort itself was made. Lieut.-Col. Daniel Bissell, commanding the troops in the District of Louisiana, wrote to the war department that Captain Stark had been directed to put Fort Madison in the best possible state of defense, and expressed his belief that, "if vigilance is used, there can be no danger of his not being able to defend the place against any number of Indians that may be brought against him."

Notwithstanding this expression of confidence in Captain Stark's ability to hold the fort. Colonel Bissell, soon after writing the letter, sent Lieut. Barony Vasquez with twelve m,en to Fort Madison, "to assist the commanding officer of that post to put his work in the best possible state of defense." Shortly after the arrival of this reinforcement, Captain Stark took a small detachment and descended the river on special service, leaving the post under the command of Lieut. Thomas Hamilton.

General Harrison's victory in the Battle of Tippecanoe, November 7, 1 8 1 1 , broke the backbone of the Tecumseh conspiracy and drove the Winnebagoes from the Wabash Valley. This incident had the effect of inciting that tribe to adopt measures of retaliation and war parties were started in every direction, one of which was directed against Fort Madison. The wily Sac chief, Black Hawk, who had never been satisfied with the treaty of 1804 and the erection of Fort Madison in the Indian country, joined this Winnebago war party with several of his band and was active in the assault upon the fort on September 5, 1812. No official report of this attack has been found, but Niles' Register of October 31, 1812, gives the following account of the event, which was furnished for publication by one who was in the fort at the time:

"On the 5th inst. at half past 5 P. M. this garrison was attacked by a party of the Winnebagoes, the number not precisely known, but supposed to be upwards of two hundred. Fortunately there was only one soldier out of the garrison (John Cox) who fell a victim to the scalping knife. A constant firing on both sides was kept up until dark; early next morning they commenced again, and about 7 o'clock they set fire to a Mr. Graham's boat and loading, this man having arrived on the 4th; they also burnt two boats belonging to the public; soon after they began to throw fire on the block-houses that stood near the bank of the river, but not sufficiently near to command the space between them and the river ; syringes being made of gun barrels, the roofs were wet so as to prevent fire taking. During this time part of them killed the live stock, plundered and burnt Mr. Julian's houses, destroying the corn; and on the 7th they continued throwing fire on the block-houses and shot arrows in the roofs with matches tied to them.

"The morning being calm, all their attempts to fire the block-houses proved useless. In the evening they burnt Mr. McNabb's house and attempted the smith shop, and it was generally believed they were only waiting for a favorable wind to burn the factory, so that it might catch the garrison, which would have been the certain means of destroying us all; to prevent that, as the evening was very calm, the commanding officer, Thomas Hamilton, dispatched a soldier with fire to the factory, and in less than three hours that building was consumed without any danger to the garrison. During the day several Indians crept into an old stable and commenced shooting out of it, but a shot from the cannon by Lieut. Barony Vasquez soon made their yellow jackets fly.

"On the 8th we heard but little from them; several canoes were seen crossing the river, and on the 9th not an Indian was to be seen, nor was a gun fired. I am happy to say no lives were lost in the fort, one man was slightly wounded in the nose. The Indians must have had many killed, as several of them were seen to fall."

This report has been quoted at length to show the conditions about Fort Madison at the time of the attack. From it the reader may see that there were a few houses about the fort — McNabb's and Julian's being burned — besides the factory building and smith shop. The loss of the factory department was considerable, as shown by a letter from the factor, John W. Johnson, to General Mason, superintendent of the Indian trade, under date of September 15, 1812, in which he tabulates the losses as follows:

Sixty packs of peltries at                                $30 $1,800

One hundred and twenty bear skins                       120

Other articles lost in the fire                                    250

Value of buildings destroyed                             3>3o

Total                                                                       $5,500

On the recommendation of Gen. Benjamin Howard, governor of the Missouri Territory, the war department wrote to Colonel Bissell on October 1, 1812, to withdraw the troops from Fort Madison and other points, with all army stores, provided Governor Howard should still advise such action. In his reply Colonel Bissell recommended that the posts be maintained until the following spring. Thus mat- ters stood until April 4, 1813, when Governor Howard wrote to Bissell, regarding the evacuation of the fort, as follows: "Had my opinion been taken before we were in hostility with the Indians, it certainly would have been in favor of its evacuation, but from a variety of considerations arising from existing circumstances, I deem the abandonment of it inadvisable. Were it to take place at this time the measure could be employed with great dexterity among the Indians by the British agents, as evidence of our inability to maintain it, and would embolden those who are now hostile, and probably decide the wavering to take part against us. * *

"The number of men now there and destined for the place, stated in your letter, is, in my opinion, entirely equal to its defense against any assault by Indians alone, if well supplied; but if a British force with artillery should cooperate, I fear it would be insufficient, unless the garrison is strengthened in a way not usual, nor necessary to repel attacks made by Indians."

At that time the garrison consisted of about one hundred men of the First and Twenty-fourth Infantry, with Lieut. Thomas Hamilton in command. Acting upon the recommendations of Governor Howard, it was decided to maintain the fort until a more favorable opportunity for its abandonment presented itself. Twice during the month of July, 1813, the post was attacked by Indians, but in such small parties that they were easily repulsed. On July 18, 1813, two days after the second attack, Lieutenant Hamilton wrote to Colonel Bissell, giving an account of the assault and begging for certain supplies, if he should be expected to hold the fort. He closed his letter by saying: "I must repeat that I do expect to hear from you within one month, and when I do, I wish most cordially that it may be for the evacuation or removal of this garrison. If I do not hear from you by the 20th of August and the Indians continue to harass me in the manner they appear determined to do, I do not know but I shall take the responsibility on myself, that is, if they will permit me to go away. It is impossible for us to do duty long in the manner that I have adopted."

This was the last official communication ever written from Fort Madison. The Indians, urged on by British agents, foremost among whom was the notorious Dixon, became daily more threatening and late in August began a regular siege. Reduced to the greatest extremity for want of ammunition and provisions, and seeing no disposition on the part of the authorities to relieve the situation, Lieu- tenant Hamilton decided to abandon the post and accept the consequences. By working under cover of night, a trench was dug from the southeast block-house to the river, where the boats belonging to the garrison lay. On the night of September 3, 1813, the garrison, moving noiselessly along this trench on their hands and knees and carrying the little remaining stock of provisions, their arms and a few valuables, gained the boats. They were fortunate enough to capture a large dugout belonging to the Indians. When all was in readiness, the torch was applied, the boats shot out upon the broad bosom of the Mississippi, and, although the Indians were encamped within easy gunshot of the fort, the movements of Hamilton and his men had been conducted with such secrecy that they were gone and the fort was inflames before the savages discovered what had taken place. Thus ended the history of Fort Madison as a military post — the first ever erected by order of the Government in what is now the State of Iowa.

For many years after the destruction of the fort, one of the stone chimneys remained standing and the place became known to traders, trappers and travelers on the Mississippi as the "Lone Chimney." The Indians gave the site of the fort the name "Po-to-wo-nok," signifying the place of fire. One of the streets in the present City of Fort Madison is called Potowonok. The old fort stood near the southwest corner of the square bounded by Front, Second, Oak and Broadway streets. At the foot of Broadway, Jean Espy Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, erected a monument in the form of a chimney, called the "Lone Chimney Monument," to mark the site. It was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies on October 28, 1908, approximately a century after the fort was established by Lieu- tenant Kingsley. Where the fireplace would be in a real chimney is a tablet bearing the inscription:

"Erected 1908 by Jean Espy Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution on site of Old Fort Madison Built 1808 Evacuated and Burned by Garrison 1813."

For nineteen years after the abandonment of Fort Madison, the beautiful valley where it stood remained unoccupied by civilized man. In 1832 Peter Williams, whom Isaac R. Campbell describes as "a botanical mullein leaf doctor," built a log cabin on the bank of the Mississippi, four or five hundred yards below the ground once occupied by the fort. The region had not yet been opened to settlement and a detail of soldiers was sent down from Fort Armstrong (now Rock Island, Illinois) to remove the trespasser. Williams r cabin was torn down, the logs were thrown into the river, and he was taken to Nauvoo as a prisoner. There some of his friends interceded for him and he was released, probably with the injunction: "Go and sin no more."

The same year that Peter Williams was dispossessed, Gen. John H. Knapp, while on his way up the Mississippi River to Fort Snelling, learned from the steamboat captain that the site of Fort Madison was claimed by Augustus Horton, who lived on an island a few miles down the river. Knapp bought Horton's claim, took possession, and built a log cabin near the foot of Broadway, where he established an Indian supply store. After a short time he sold his stock of goods to Judge Cutler and spent the winter at a hotel kept by his cousin, Nathaniel Knapp, at Quincy, Illinois.

General Knapp is credited by some authorities with being the first white man to effect a permanent establishment at Fort Madison. He was born at Goshen, New York, May 30, 179 1, and in his boyhood was apprenticed to a saddler. In the fall of 1814 he was a lieutenant for about three months in Captain TuthilTs company of New York militia and subsequently was commissioned brigadier-general of state militia. For some time he was engaged in coal and iron mining in the Tioga Field. In 1830 he made a trip via Buffalo and the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and it was while returning east that he decided to locate at Fort Madison. In the spring of 1833, accompanied by his cousin Nathaniel, he returned to his claim.

When the United States, in June, 1833, acquired full title to the lands of the Black Hawk Purchase, Peter Williams returned and reoccupied his claim, erecting his cabin on the bank of the river, between the present Chestnut and Walnut streets. After a brief residence there he removed to the Des Moines River, where he died in 1835.

Some time in 1833 Richard Chaney, who had previously located on the creek bearing his name opposite Keokuk, attracted by the settlement at Fort Madison, came up the river and made a claim on the upper part of the town site. He built his cabin near the mouth of the creek that empties into the Mississippi not far from the penitentiary. His claim included the old field that had been cultivated by the soldiers of the garrison twenty years before. Other early settlers were Aaron White and Zachariah Hawkins.

In 1835 John H. Knapp built a hewed log house on the exact site of the old fort, one of the old chimneys of which he utilized for his residence, cleaned out the old well that had been used by the garrison, erected a new store building and sent for his family. On October 9, 1835, his wife, Harriet, twosons, John H., Jr., and Jonas S., and a daughter, Elizabeth, arrived. They were accompanied by a married daughter, Mrs. Joseph S. Douglass, her husband and two children.

Views of Black Hawk Heights
Views of Black Hawk Heights

In June, 1835, John H. and Nathaniel Knapp employed Adolphus Allen to survey and lay out a town, the eastern limit of which is the present Oriental Street, and the western boundary was a short distance above Pine street. The boundaries, as given by Mr. Allen in his report, were as follows: "Commencing at low-water mark on the Mississippi River, due south of a red or Spanish oak tree standing on the bank of the river and running due north one-half mile; thence due east 1 12 rods, or thereabout; thence due south to low-water mark on said river; thence westerly, following the meandering of said river, by the said low-water mark, to the place of beginning."

Between Front Street and the river were several fractional lots, on. one of which stood the store first built by General Knapp and sold to Judge Jacob Cutler. Not long after the Knapps had their town surveyed by Mr. Allen, Dr. John Cutler, a son of the judge, James D. Shaw and a Doctor Ferris bought the claim of Peter Williams and laid it out in lots, their plat adjoining that of the Knapps on the west.

During the year 1836 there was a material increase in the population of the new town and a number of new buildings were erected. In this year General Knapp built a large frame house on the site of the old fort and opened it as a hotel under the name of the "Madison House." It had accommodations for about fifty guests and also had a large assembly room for conventions, etc. Nathaniel Knapp also built a frame hotel known as the "Washington House." Both these hotels did a prosperous business, as at that time there was a heavy tide of emigration westward and sometimes as many as one hundred wagons would be lined up On the Illinois side of the river, waiting to be ferried over.

Among the patrons of General Knapp's store was Chief Black Hawk, whose son, Nes-se-as-suk, was about the age of John and Jonas Knapp. The three boys became playmates and the old chief would frequently gather them about him in front of the store and tell them stories of his hunting expeditions and his experiences in war. The Indians were generally good customers and rarely failed to pay their debts, though Black Hawk left an unpaid bill of some ten or twelve dollars at Judge Cutler's store.

About the time the Madison House was built the First United States Dragoons constituted the garrison at Fort Des Moines, where Montrose now stands. Among the officers were James C. Parrott, afterward colonel of the Seventh Iowa Infantry in the Civil war, and Robert E. Lee, who became commander of the Confederate armies in that great internecine struggle. The officers of the dragoons made frequent visits to Fort Madison and were entertained by General Knapp at the Madison House. On the evening of January 2, 1837, General Knapp attended a reception and ball at the hotel. During the evening he contracted a slight cold, which developed into quinsy and he died two days later. His body was the first to be buried in the Fort Madison Cemetery. After his death the hotel was conducted for some time by his son-in-law, Joseph S. Douglass, when he died of typhoid fever. Mrs. Knapp then leased the building to Lorenzo Bullard, who remained in charge until 1845, when he removed to Wisconsin.

The death of Nathaniel Knapp was more tragic. On July 13, 1837, accompanied by a friend named Doyle, he went to Bentonsporl, in Van Buren County on some business connected with the court. Upon their arrival they registered at a hotel and engaged lodging, after which they went out in town. Later in the evening, another guest— Isaac Hendershott, of Burlington — arrived at the hotel and the landlord, assuming that Knapp and Doyle were out to "make a night of it," and the rooms all being taken, assigned Hendershott to the room engaged by the two Fort Madison men. Toward midnight Knapp and Doyle came in, took up a lighted candle and proceeded to their room to find the bed occupied. Knapp somewhat indignantly demanded to know what the occupant was doing in that bed, and, according to Hendershott's statement afterward, made a gesture as if to draw a weapon of some kind. Hendershott sprung from the bed, unsheathed a sword from the cane he carried and stabbed Knapp near the heart. The wounded man exclaimed, "Doyle, I'm a dead man," and sank to the floor, still holding the candle in his hand. He lived but a few minutes and in the excitement which followed Hen- dershott made his escape. The following spring a steamboat stopped at Fort Madison and some one recognized Hendershott as one of the passengers. The news spread rapidly and in a short time an infuriated crowd headed by Thomas Fulton, a relative of Knapp, boarded the boat and gave the assassin a terrible beating. At the next term of the District Court in Van Buren County, Hendershott ap- peared at Farmington, relying upon his theory of self defense to secure an acquittal, but upon learning that an indictment for murder had been returned by the grand jury, he hastily decamped and was never seen in Iowa afterward.

With the death of John and Nathaniel Knapp, Fort Madison lost two of its most enterprising citizens, but tne constant influx of settlers
kept the growth of the town up to the expectations of its early inhabitants and in time the two founders were almost forgotten.

Madison House in 1878
Madison House in 1878

Some questions arose as to the validity of the title to lots acquired under the Horton and Williams claims and on July 2, 1836, Congress passed an act providing for the platting of certain tracts of land in the Black Hawk Purchase into town sites. One of these tracts was the site of Fort Madison. A supplementary act, approved by President Jackson on March 3, 1837, named William W. Coriell, George Cubbage and M. M. McCarver as commissioners to resurvey the town. The original plat was accepted by the commissioners, with the exception of the fractional lots between Front Street and the river, which were made public property. The first sale of lots in the Government survey was made at the land office in Burlington, in the fall of 1838, but those who had purchased lots from the original founders of the town were protected by provisions of the law, the holders of the property receiving patents direct from the United States. 

Fort Madison was incorporated by an act of the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin, approved on January 19, 1838. Section 1 of this act provided "That all that portion of territory which is included in a survey made by and under authority of the United States, and which is known and designated as the Town of Fort Madison, containing about six hundred and forty acres of land in the County of Lee, in said territory, be, and the same is hereby, constituted a town corporate and shall hereafter be known by the name or title of Fort Madison." 

Section 2 directed that an election for town officers be held on the first Monday in May, 1838, at which time Philip Viele was elected president; Robert Wyman, recorder; Herbert Morris, Joseph S. Kennie, Charles McDill, John D. Drake and Isaac Atlee, trustees. As no regular meeting place was provided for the board, the sessions of that body were held at such places as could be secured, chiefly at the Madison House and the offices of Daniel F. Miller and Volney Spaulding. At the town election in May, 1839, Peter Miller was chosen president and continued in that office by reelections until the Iowa Legislature, by the act of February 12, 1842, granted the town a new charter, which provided for the division of the town into three wards and the election of a mayor and six aldermen — two from each ward. 

The first election under the new charter was held on April 4, 1842, the three wards having been established by the old board of trustees on March 5, preceding. Isaac Atlee was elected mayor; William B. Matthews and Henry E. Vrooman, aldermen from the first ward; Alexander Anderson and William Evans, aldermen from the second ward, and Josiah Cowles and Levi Leech, aldermen from the third ward. E. G. Wilson was the first recorder, or clerk, under the new charter, and Joel C. Walker was the first treasurer. Some years later the city was divided into four wards. 

Following is a list of the mayors of Fort Madison, with the year in which each entered upon the duties of the office : Isaac Atlee, 1842; Philip Viele, 1843 ; Thomas Hale, 1845 ; A. N. Deming, 1847; Wicklifr" Ketchel, 1848; Edward Johnstone, 1849; Philip Viele, 1850; Joel C. Parrott, 185 1 ; Joseph M. Beck, 1852; Joel C. Walker, 1853; J. H. Bacon, 1854; Philip Viele, 1855; Robert McFarland, 1856; R. W. Albright, 1857; Daniel F. Miller, 1858; Thomas S. Espy, 1859; Patrick Gilligan, i860 (served continuously by reelections until October, 1864, when he resigned and John A. Nunn was elected for the remainder of the term) ; Patrick Gilligan was elected again in 1865 an d J 866; T. L. Lawrence, 1867; Patrick Gilligan, 1868; Peter Miller, 1869; J. M. Casey, 1870; Henry Cattermole 1872; A. C. Roberts, 1873; A.J. Alley, 1876; Henry Schlemer, 1884 Otway Cutler, 1886; J. D. M. Hamilton, 1887; Samuel Atlee, 1893 J. A. Jordan, 1897; Samuel Atlee, 1899; Charles H. Finch, 1901 J. A. Jordan, 1903; Augustus P. Brown, 1905; Charles H. Finch, 1907; William L. Gerber, 1909 (died February 20, 1910, and August E. Johns elected to the vacancy) ; August E. Johns, 191 1 ; Augustus P. Brown, 1913. 

A few years ago a slight change was made in the city government. Instead of four wards, the city was divided into five, and the legislative department of the municipal government was made to consist of two councilmen-at-large and one from each of the five wards. On September 1, 19 14, the city government was constituted as follows: Augustus P. Brown, mayor; A. S. Gaylord, city clerk; J. R. Frailey, solicitor; A. M. Lowrey, treasurer; Matt Thrasher, chief of police; William M. Decker, chief of the fire department; Ben J. Schulte, street commissioner; F. R. Smith, assessor; N. J. Bever and Harvey A. Skyles, councilmen-at-large; J. C. B. Myers, first ward; F. A. Woodmansee, second ward ; W. D. Masters, third ward ; H. D. Kern, fourth ward; John Oppenheimer, fifth ward. 

Fire Department

The first step toward protection against fire was taken in October, 1841, when the board of trustees passed an ordinance providing: "That each and every person owning a building within the town limits, is required to provide said building with a good leather fire bucket by the ist of November; each building having one stove or fireplace to have one bucket, and those having more than one flue or fireplace to have one additional bucket for every two flues or fireplaces." 

The ordinance also provided that the buckets were to be kept in some convenient place, where they would be easy of access in case of fire, and a penalty of $1.00 per day was imposed upon all who had failed to comply with the provisions of the ordinance at the conclusion of the time specified. 

From that time until the spring of 1874, the records do not show what, if any, arrangements were made for the protection of property from fire. In the spring of 1874 the city purchased a Silsby engine, two hose carts and 1,500 feet of hose. A volunteer fire company was soon afterward organized and the apparatus was placed in the hands of the company. For a few months the engine and hose carts w r ere kept in a livery stable, until permanent quarters could be found. When the Government laid off the Town of Fort Madison, the lot at the northwest corner of Fourth and Market streets was reserved as a site for a public market. A brick market-house had been erected on the lot, and this was now turned over to the "Gem City Fire Company." It is still used as the central fire station and in the rear part of the building are the city offices. 

During the summer of 1874, three cisterns were built on Fourth Street — at the intersections of Pine, Vine and Maple streets — to provide storage for a water supply. In 1876 a hook and ladder truck, with all the necessary appurtenances, was added to the equipment. The old Silsby engine, the "Gem City," has been rebuilt and is still in service. On October 25, 1913, a combined automobile chemical engine and hose cart, carrying 200 feet of chemical and 1,200 feet of water hose, was placed in commission at the central station. 

The paid department consists of six men at the central station. In addition to this company there are six volunteer companies, to wit: Phoenix, No. 1, ten men; George B. Inman, No. 2, ten men; Boss Hose Company, No. 3, ten men; J. D. M. Hamilton, No. 4, ten men; German-American, No. 5, ten men; Fort Madison, No. 6, twenty men. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Company also maintains a fire company for the protection of the shops and round houses in the western part of the city. 

Water Works

The Fort Madison Water Company erected its plant in 1885. At first, a reservoir with a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons was built upon a high bluff at the eastern end of the city and into this reservoir the water was pumped from the Mississippi River. Since then the original reservoir has been much enlarged and an additional one constructed, the two having a capacity of 14,500,000 gallons. These reservoirs are situated about one hundred and sixty feet above the level of the town, so that the gravity pressure is sufficient for all ordinary uses, direct pressure from the pumps being called into requisition only in case of fire. The pump-house has also been completely overhauled and the pumping capacity greatly increased, the daily capacity of the pumps being about seven million gallons. The company has about twenty miles of mains, distributed to all parts of the city. J. G. Sutton, a man of experience in his line of work, is the superintendent. 

Much of the water used for domestic purposes comes from the six artesian wells in the city. These wells are about eight hundred feet in depth and furnish a bountiful supply of pure, wholesome water.

Public Lighting

The Fort Madison Gas Company began business in 1885 D Y tne construction of gas works in the eastern part of the city, a short dis-tance east of the penitentiary. Ten years later the company had nearly eight miles of mains and was supplying about thirty thousand cubic feet of gas daily. Since then the mileage of the mains has been more than doubled, the capacity of the plant correspondingly in- creased, the price of gas reduced about 15 per cent, and the com- pany has nearly two thousand patrons. J. G. Moffett is the manager. 

Elecric lights were first introduced in 1887 by the Fort Madison Electric Light & Power Company, of which Samuel and J. C. Atlee were the principal owners. A power and lighting plant was erected at the corner of Maple and Johnson streets and the company began business. Under the ordinance of October 12, 1903, which provided for the lighting of the city by electricity — 100 arc lights of 1,200 candle power each being specified in the ordinance — the company was given greater privileges and the plant was practically rebuilt. In April, 1913, the old company was succeeded by the Fort Madison Electric Company, which has made extensive alterations. The old 

Front Street During High Water 1881
Front Street During High Water Period 1881

The above photographs were taken from the old "Q" depot. Anthexo Hotel and Academy in the foreground. steam plant at Maple and Johnson streets has been made a sub-station, the new company taking current from the Mississippi River Power Company, which owns and operates the great water power plant at Keokuk. Under the old system the streets were lighted on a ''moon- light" schedule, but the new company keeps the street lights on all night. About one hundred thousand dollars have already been expended in improvements and the increased patronage seems to justify the investment. Alfred S. Nichols is the local manager. 

Street Railway

The Fort Madison Street Railway Company was incorporated on June 2, 1887, under a charter to run for fifty years, with the following officers: J. B. Morrison, president; W. E. Harrison, vice president; Howell Jones, secretary; James T. Ritchie, treasurer; Charles H. Peters, assistant treasurer. These officers constituted the first board of directors. 

Work was commenced on a line running from a point near the penitentiary, in the eastern part of the city, to Ivanhoe Park, in the west end, and the first car passed over the road early in July. Until the summer of 1895 tne motive power was furnished by mules. Then the road was changed to an electric line, the Electric Light & Power Company supplying the power. The route followed by the railway from its eastern terminus at the east end of Fourth Street is as follows : Weston Fourth to Broadway; south on Broadway to Second; west on Second to Cedar; south on Cedar to Front; west on Front, past the boat landing and the railroad stations, to Union Avenue, where it turns south to Santa Fe Avenue, and thence west to Ivanhoe Park. There is also a spur from the main line to the shops of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, making a total length of a little over four miles. 

The Post Office

Late in the '30s a mail route was established from Flint Hills (now Burlington) to St. Francisville, Missouri, with "Doc" Hearn as the mail carrier. James Douglass was the first postmaster at Fort Madison and kept the office in his residence at the southwest corner of Second and Market streets, using a pine shoe box as a receptacle for the mail. From that time until 1914 the office was located in various buildings, the postmasters for many years keeping it in their respective places of business. After the business of the office increased to such a point that it was too large to be considered as a "side line" for some merchant, the Government rented quarters and appointed postmasters who were expected to give their entire time to the handling of the mails. 

The present handsome and well appointed postoffice building, one of the most modern in the State of Iowa, was opened to the public for the reception and transmission of mail matter on June i, 1914, with Nelson C. Roberts as postmaster. An appropriation of $75,000 was made by Congress for the purchase of the site and the erection of the building. The walls of the new postoffice are of Indiana oolitic limestone — commonly called Bedford stone — with terrazzo floor in the corridor, hardwood interior finish, plate glass windows, and departments for all divisions of the mail service. Besides the postmaster and his assistant, the office employs four clerks, six carriers, three substitute clerks and carriers, two janitors and three rural carriers who make daily trips into the surrounding country. From Mr. Douglass' little shoe box, the Fort Madison Postoffice now occupies the new building at the northwest corner of Second and Chestnut streets, and the annual receipts of the office are, in round numbers, $23,000. 

The Commercial Club

The Commercial Club of Fort Madison was incorporated on February 3, 1904, with J. C. Ehart, president; T. T. Hitch, vice president; M. T. Walker, secretary, and C. E. Stoeckle, treasurer. As stated in the articles of incorporation, the objects of the club are: "For the social intercourse of its members, and for the promotion of the commercial and general welfare and prosperity of the city; to take by gift, purchase, devise or bequest real and personal property for purposes appropriate to its creation; to contract for and erect buildings for the purposes of the corporation, and to transact any and all other business ordinarily within the scope of such corporations." 

This club is the successor to the Business Men's Association, which was organized some twenty years before, but which after a time became inactive. The club has handsome quarters in the Burster Block, at the corner of Second and Pine streets and the club rooms are open from 9 o'clock A. M. until midnight every week day. On September 1, 1914, the club numbered about one hundred active members. The officers at that time were: Ernest Corsepius, president; Jesse Schlarbaum, secretary, and George M. Hanchett, treasurer.
Santa Fe Railroad Bridge Across Mississippi
Santa Fe Railroad Bridge Across Mississippi

Another organization, somewhat similar in character to the Commercial Club, is the Fort Madison First Association, which was organized in 191 1, with a capital stock of $30,000 as the basis of a fund to secure the location of new manufacturing industries. The motto of the association is, "Fort Madison first." It has been active in advertising the resources and advantages of the city as a manufacturing center and through its efforts new factories have been and are being brought to Fort Madison. The officers of the association for 19 14 were: Preston E. Roberts, president; Jesse Schlarbaum, secretary; J. A. S. Pollard, treasurer. 


Opposite Fort Madison, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, is what remains of the old Town of Niota, now known on the railroad time tables as East Fort Madison. In the early history of the city a ferry boat propelled by hand was the only means of crossing the river. This was succeeded in time by a steam ferry, the eastern terminus of which was at Appanoose, about a mile and a half above Fort Madison. Then Charles Doerr built a dike from Doerr's Island to the main land at Niota, constructed a good landing there, and the terminus at Appanoose was abandoned. In 1887 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Company, under a charter granted to a company some years before, built a railway and wagon bridge across the river. The bridge is 1,925 feet in length, with 1,000 feet of trestle work at the Illinois end. There is a roadway for vehicles on either side of the railroad track and between the track and the roadways are screens, so that horses will not become frightened at the sight of passing trains. Near the Iowa shore one span of the bridge is a draw, operated by a steam engine above the railway tracks, for the passage of boats. The first train passed over this bridge on December 7, 1887. 

No city on the eastern border of Iowa is better provided with transportation and shipping facilities than Fort Madison. It is a division point on the main line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, which gives it direct connection with Chicago and all points north and east of that city. The Burlington & St. Louis and Burlington & Carrollton divisions of the great Chicago, Burlington & Quincy System pass through the city, which is also the eastern terminus of the Fort Madison & Ottumwa Division of the same system. By means of these various railway lines the city is within easy communication with all parts of the country. Then there is the Mississippi River flowing in front of the city, and upon its bosom the boats of the Streckfus Line ply regularly between St. Louis and St. Paul, while the White Collar Line runs daily boats between Burlington and Quincy. Although river transportation has decreased to some extent since the introduction of the railroad, it is still an important factor in carrying freight and passengers, and Fort Madison is so situated that she can take advantage of the low rates offered by the various steamboat lines. 

Fort Madison has a fine high school building and four modern school buildings. In addition to these public schools each of the Catholic parishes maintains a parochial school, so that the educational facilities of the city are unsurpassed. Eight Protestant and three Catholic churches afford the church-going portion of the population ample opportunities to attend the denomination of their choice. The city has over three miles of brick paved streets and more than three times that amount of fine macadamized streets, good cement sidewalks, five public parks- — Central, Old Settlers, Ivanhoe, Riverview and Black Hawk Heights, two hospitals, good hotels, two daily newspapers, excellent telegraph and telephone service, a good public library, and a large number of cozy homes.

The business interests of the city include several large manufacturing establishments, three banks, a number of well stocked mercantile houses and the usual number of small shops, restaurants, etc., usually to be found in cities of its class. The following table shows the population of the city, as shown by the United States census reports since 1850: 

1850   1,509 

i860   2,886 

1870   4,011 

1880   4,679 

1890   7,901

1900   9,278

1910   8,900

When the Government's figures for 1910 were made known in Fort Madison, the Commercial Club claimed that an error had been made by the enumerators, and was granted permission to take a new census. Work was commenced and in two of the five wards enough additional names were found to overcome the decrease shown by the Government report below that of 1900. Then the census bureau announced that it would be impossible to make any corrections in the original enumeration and the work of the Commercial Club was stopped. In 191 2 the canvassers for the city directory took the names — or at least the number- — of members in each family, and this census showed a population of over eleven thousand.

With the excellent transportation facilities offered by Fort Madison, there is no reason why its manufacturing interests should not be greatly increased during the next few years. Its bountiful supply of pure drinking water, its wholesome air, its schools and churches, its intelligent and courteous people, its geographical location, all combine to make Fort Madison an ideal residence town and justify its sobriquet of "The Gem City."

Dr. S. W. Moorehead.

Source:  History of Lee County, Iowa, by Dr. S. W. Moorhead and Nelson C. Roberts, 1914

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