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1914 County History
Physical Features, Geology, Etc.

Lee County occupies the extreme southeastern corner of the state.  On the north it is bounded by the counties of Henry and Des Moines, being separated from the latter by the Skunk River; on the east by the Mississippi River, which separates it from the State of Illinois; on the southwest by the State of Missouri, from which it is separated by the Des Moines River, and on the west by the County of VanBuren. The form of the county is that of an irregular trapezoid and its area is a little over five hundred square miles.

Along the boundary streams the surface is somewhat broken, the bluffs sometimes reaching a height of 200 feet or more. In the interior the county is an elevated plateau, the surface of which is gently undulating or rolling. Across this plateau there are two wide, shallow troughs trending toward the southeast, marked by the valleys of East and West Sugar creeks. The narrow watershed between these two troughs terminates at the Mississippi River in what is known as "Keokuk Point."

East Sugar Creek rises in the southwestern part of Henry County and flows a southeasterly course through the townships of Marion, Franklin, West Point and Jefferson. Not far from the little station called Beck Siding, on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, it receives the waters of Panther Creek, and about half a mile below the mouth of Panther Creek it unites with the Little Devil Creek to form Devil Creek, which empties into the Mississippi about halfway between Fort Madison and Montrose. Its total length is a little over thirty miles.

Panther Creek, the principal tributary of East Sugar from the west, rises in the southern part of Franklin Township, about a mile east of the Town of Donnellson, and flows a south easterly direction for some ten or twelve miles, when it unites its waters with those of East Sugar Creek as already stated.

Little Devil Creek has its source in the northeastern part of West Point Township and flows in a general southerly direction throughout its entire course. It is about ten miles in length.

West Sugar Creek rises in Cedar Township, near the northwest corner of the county, and flows southeastwardly through the townships of Cedar, Harrison, Franklin, Charleston, Des Moines, Montrose and Jackson, a distance of some thirty-five miles, or until it empties into the Des Moines River about six miles west of Keokuk.

The principal tributary of West Sugar Creek is called Main Creek. Its source is about a mile north of Argyle Station, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, and its source is southeasterly until it empties into West Sugar Creek, near the northwest corner of Jackson Township.

The Des Moines River is Iowa's principal stream. It rises in the northwestern part of the state and flows diagonally across the entire state to the extreme southeast corner, where it mingles its waters with those of the Mississippi. It first strikes Lee County near the southwest corner of section 18, township 67 north, range 7 west, from which point it forms the boundary between Iowa and Missouri for a distance of about thirty miles, or throughout the remainder of its course. In early days, during the spring floods, steamboats from the Mississippi would ascend the river as far as Raccoon Fork, and smaller steamboats would go up as far as Fort Dodge. Clearing away the timber and cultivating the soil have changed conditions so that the river has been robbed of a good portion of its original water supply and it is much smaller than formerly. On some of the old maps made by early French explorers the river is shown as being fully as large as either the Mississippi or Missouri.

There has been considerable speculation as to the origin of the name "Des Moines." The first reference to the stream was made by Joliet, who, on his map of 1674, gives the stream the name of "Ouacuiatanas." In 1688 Franquelin made a map, or "Carte de la Louisiane," upon which the river appears as the "Moingona." DeLisle's map of 1707 shows it as the "Riviere les Moingona," and the French called the Indians living along its course "Les Moins." In time the river came to be generally known as "La Riviere des Moines," which is unquestionably French, and has been interpreted as meaning "The River of the Monks."

When Lieut. Zebulon Pike explored the Upper Mississippi Valley in 1805-06, he called particular attention to this stream, which he called the "River de Moyen" and expressed the opinion that the name thus spelled is a -corruption of La Riviere des Moines, or River of the Monks. Charles Rollin Keyes, who served as assistant state geologist along in the '90s, and who made a somewhat exhaustive study of Iowa's physical characteristics and resources, says the name as given by Pike means "the middle." He accounts for it on the hypothesis that when the French voyageurs visited St. Louis and were asked from what part of the country they came they replied "De Moyen," meaning the country between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, or the middle of the interior. Mr. Keyes is inclined to think that this is the true origin of the name, and that the transition from "De Moyen" to "Des Moines" was a comparatively easy matter.

Concerning the Skunk River, which forms the dividing line between Lee and Des Moines counties, Frank Labiseur, who was the United States interpreter for the Sac and Fox Indians in early days, says: "The Indian name was Chicaque, which, in their language, is anything of a strong or obnoxious odor — such as onion, skunk, etc. From the fact that the headwaters of the stream abound in wild onions, the interpretation should have been 'Onion.' "

South of the Skunk River and almost parallel to it is Lost Creek, which rises in the southern part of Pleasant Ridge Township and flows southeast through Pleasant Ridge, Denmark, Washington and Green Bay townships. Near the little hamlet of Wever, in the last named township, it formerly sank into the earth and found its way to the Mississippi through a subterranean channel, but now runs by an open channel into Green Bay.

Jack Creek rises near the Village of Charleston and flows in a southeasterly direction through Jefferson and Montrose townships, emptying into the Mississippi near the Town of Montrose. Other tributaries of the Mississippi are Lamelee Creek, in the southern part of Montrose Township ; Price Creek, in the central part of Jackson; and Soap Creek, at Keokuk.

Lick Creek flows southward through the western part of Harrison and Van Buren townships and empties into the Des Moines River near the Village of Croton. About five miles farther down Mumm Creek, a small stream, some four miles in length, joins the Des Moines, and Monk Creek empties into the same river at Belfast. Prairie Creek flows in a northwesterly direction through the western part of Pleasant Ridge Township; Sutton Creek, in the same township, flows to the Skunk River; Cedar Creek crosses the northwest corner of Cedar Township, and there are a number of smaller streams in different parts of the county, giving Lee an excellent system of natural drainage. The waters of all these streams ultimately reach the Mississippi.


West Point, in the northwestern part of the township of the same name, is the highest point in the county; the next highest is at Big Mound, in Cedar Township, and the lowest known level is at the low watermark of the Mississippi River at Keokuk. The following table shows the altitude of various places in the county above both the low water level of the Mississippi at Keokuk and the sea level:

Big Mound
Fort Madison (Santa Fe depot)
Keokuk (Fourteenth and Grand Ave.)
Montrose  (R. R. Station)
Pilot Grove
Saint Paul
West Point
The figures given in this table are taken from surveys made by civil engineers in the construction of railroads, the surveys of the Mississippi River Commission, and other sources. They are believed to be as near authentic as they can be made. By taking a map of the county and studying it in comparison with the table, a good general idea of the topography of this portion of Southeastern Iowa may be obtained. 


Alluvial plains border all the streams of the county, especially along the lower portion of their courses. On the Mississippi River, however, the alluvial deposits are important at two points only — one a triangular district between the Skunk River and Fort Madison and embracing the greater part of Green Bay Township, and the other alluvial area including a large part of Jefferson and a portion of Montrose townships. In these two sections the plains near the river are low and wet, subject to overflow in times of high water, but farther back the surface rises in a series of sand terraces to a height of about fifty feet. In his report for 1895, the state geologist says: "These terraces represent the flood-water stages of the river in times somewhat remote, yet subsequent to the deposition of the drift which once covered the area and which was removed by the river in the process of widening its valley." 

At Sand Prairie, or Vincennes, on the Des Moines River, is an alluvial plain similar in all respects to the terraced areas on the Mississippi. In all these districts the soil is above the average in fertility, while along the smaller streams the alluvial deposits, consisting chiefly of a sandy loam, yield large crops. 

On the uplands of Lee County, the soil is chiefly a black loam-like humus, less sandy than the bottom lands, ranging from two to five feet in depth. In a few places there are small areas of that tenacious soil known as "gumbo," which can be cultivated only with great difficulty, but by far the greater portion of the county is composed of a rich, tractable soil, well adapted to agriculture. 


During the years 1847 to 1850, Dr. D. D. Owen, acting under the authority of the United States Land Office, undertook the study of the mineral lands of the Northwest, and it was through his work that the first accurate accounts of the geology of the region now comprising the State of Iowa were given to the scientific world. A brief reconnaissance of Lee County was made in 1858 by A. H. Worthen, afterward state geologist of Illinois, but owing to the limited time allowed for his work he was unable to go into details. About 1870 Dr. C. A. White published a geological account of the state, in which some references are made to Lee and the adjoining counties. 

It was not until 1893, however, that any comprehensive survey was made of the geological formation and resources of Lee County, the result of which was published in Volume III of the Iowa Geological Survey. According to this report, "The stratified, or indurated, rocks are almost entirely Lower Carboniferous limestones. These form the great basement upon which the coal measures of the region were laid down. * * * The total thickness of the rocks exposed above low-water level in Lee County is not far from four hundred feet, though the actual vertical measurement of an outcrop at any one place is probably nowhere more than one-half of this maximum." 

Several typical or standard sections are given. Probably the most important of these are the ones at the old McGavic mill, two miles below the union depot at Keokuk; the record of the Hubinger well in Keokuk; the bluff section at Fort Madison; a section at Denmark, on the Skunk River; one at Croton, on the Des Moines River, and one on East Sugar Creek, about two miles northwest of Franklin. From the investigations made at these and other points in the county, the geologist prepared a "General Geological Section," which shows the geological construction of the county to be about as follows: 

Beginning at the surface, there is a deposit of alluvium, loess and till, of the Pleistocene age, averaging about sixty feet in thickness. Immediately below this are the lower coal measures, varying from five to forty feet. Next comes the St. Louis limestone, about thirty feet in thickness, after which comes the Augusta limestones, and below the Augusta group lie the Kinderhook shales. Arranging the different strata in the form of a table, the section would show the relative proportions of the different formations to be as follows — starting at the surface:


Lower Coal Measures
St. Louis Limestone
Sonora Shales
Warsaw Shales
Geode Bed
Keokuk Limestone
Montrose Chert
Upper Burlington Limestone
Lower Burlington Limestone
Kinderhook Shales

All the strata lying between the Kinderhook shales and the St. Louis limestone belong to the Augusta stage. The Kinderhook shales are best exposed on the Des Moines County side of the Skunk River, near Patterson station; the Burlington limestones are also seen to best advantage along the Skunk River from its mouth up as far as Augusta; the Keokuk limestone has a fine exposure at the mouth of Soap Creek and near the old McGavic mill site; the geode bed, the Sonora and Warsaw shales, the St. Louis limestones and the coal measures are also seen in the outcrops in that locality. The geological report already referred to says: "These several outcrops serve as standards to which all sections in the county may be readily referred. * All the bedded rocks have been subjected to profound erosion, which has carved out deep channels and numberless minor depressions. Over this uneven surface the glacial materials have been spread, obscuring in great part the harder rocks. Subsequent action of running waters has cut through the drift mantle and laid bare the underlying strata at many places." 

The Glacial Epoch

Far back in the geologic past, about the close of the Paleozoic period, came the Pleistocene or "Ice Age," during which all of what is now the State of Iowa was covered with a vast sheet of ice, called a glacier, extending from the region of the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains. This glacier was formed in the northern part of the continent by successive falls of snow. The weight added by each snowfall aided in compressing the mass below into a solid body of ice. In time the entire glacier began to move slowly southward, carrying with it great boulders, clay, soils, etc., to be deposited in regions far distant from those from which they were taken. As the huge mass moved slowly along, the boulders and other hard substances at the bottom of the glacier left scratches or striae upon the bed rocks, and from these scorings the geologist has been able to determine the course of the glacier. At various places along the west bank of the Mississippi River, from the mouth of the Iowa to the southern border of the state, the striae have been noted upon the rocks of the bluffs, indicating the general direction of the great glacier to have been toward the southeast. 

As the ice melted, the materials carried by the glacier were deposited upon the bed rocks in the form of drift, which constitutes the alluvium, loess and till as noted in the preceding table. At the close of the glacial period the surface was void of either animal or plant life. Gradually the action of the rain and winds leveled the surface, the heat of the sun warmed the earth, and life in primitive forms made its appearance.

It is a noticeable fact that within the limits of Lee County there are no deposits representing the period of time intervening between the laying down of the lower coal measures and the beginning of the Pleistocene or Ice Age. If later coal measures or Tertiary strata were deposited they were removed by erosive agencies before the beginning of the glacial epoch. The effect of this erosion has been noted by geologists in the discovery of preglacial valleys of the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers. 

As early as 1858 geologists noted the great development of glacial material along the west bank of the Mississippi in the vicinity of Fort Madison. Twenty years later Maj. G. K. Warren first made known the existence of an old river valley in that locality. In 1890, without knowing of Warren's work, C. H. Gordon prepared a map showing the course of the river in ancient times, his conclusions corresponding in every particular with those of Major Warren. Gordon's map shows that from the mouth of the Skunk River to Montrose the old channel was not materially different from the present one. From Montrose the old valley swept with a broad westward bend to the Des Moines River, a short distance below the present Village of Sand Prairie. Concerning the evidences of this, Gordon says: "The comparatively narrow rocky gorge within which the river now flows from Montrose to Keokuk is itself suggestive of its more recent origin than the broad valley above and below bordered for the most part by drift covered slopes." 

The width of the preglacial channel of the Mississippi is about six miles, which is about the width of the valley at the present time above Fort Madison. It is quite probable that the preglacial river was no larger than the present stream. After cutting its early channel it then continued the work of erosion until the valley was widened to the limits indicated upon Gordon's map. 

The existence of a buried channel through the western part of the county — probably the preglacial course of the Des Moines River -was first observed by geologists in 1893. This old valley is approximately marked by the present course of West Sugar Creek. Geologists find abundant evidence that the present channel of the Des Moines River above Sand Prairie is of comparatively recent date and are inclined to the opinion that the river once flowed farther eastward than now, joining the Mississippi near Sand Prairie. Then came the Ice Age, during which the underflow of waters started a change in the course of the streams, and after the ice melted the rivers were forced to cut new channels through the drift.

Character of the Drift

At the bottom of the glacial deposits is the "lower till," which in Lee County averages about twenty-five feet in thickness. It is composed of a blue clay, filled with bowlders of various kinds and sizes, with deposits of sand at intervals. These sand beds often constitute the source of water supply in wells on the upper levels. Above the blue clay is a yellow clay, which also contains boulders. At what are known as the "Yellow Banks," on the Des Moines River, the lower till is seen to consist of "twenty-five feet of sand resting upon blue clay and over this fifteen feet of silty clay, dark above and overlain by eight feet of yellow clay, which in turn is capped by a thin veneer of loess." 

The sand varies in places to a fine gravel and along the east bank of West Sugar Creek, near the mouth of the stream, it gradually merges into a coarse, incoherent sandstone. The yellow clay deposits also contain much sand, as may be seen in the cuts along the line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad where it cuts through the main divide between the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers.

Loess consists chiefly of a fine, ash-colored silt and is distributed over all of Southeastern Iowa in deposits varying in thickness from two feet to fifteen feet or more. A little south of New Boston, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, it has a development of fifteen feet, somewhat marly at the bottom, and at Keokuk the bowlder accumulation is covered by stratified white and iron bearing sand grading upward into pure loess. Here the thickness of the silt and stratified sand is about thirty feet. The loess is also seen in the exposures along Soap Creek and in the terraces above Montrose. 

Above the loess lies the alluvium or soil, which is composed of the lighter materials carried by the glacier and decayed vegetable matter that has been deposited since the close of the glacial epoch. As this portion of the drift constitutes the surface and is seen in all parts of the county, it is not deemed necessary to give any extended account of its character or the manner in which it was deposited.

Economic Geology

While a general discussion of the structure and formation of Lee County may be of interest to the student of geology, there is no doubt that the average reader will find much more interest in the subject of economic geology — that branch of the science which treats of the commercial and industrial importance of the various mineral deposits within the limits of the county. Probably the most important of the minerals is

Building Stone

Lee County is well supplied with stone suitable for nearly all classes of construction, every stratum of the Lower Carboniferous limestone affording a good grade, though varying greatly in texture and quality. In at least thirteen of the sixteen townships quarries have been opened and profitably worked. The Burlington limestones are durable, easily quarried and readily dressed. The thick ledges of this formation are well adapted to dimension work of all kinds. In the Keokuk limestone is found a hard, compact rock, which breaks evenly and is quarried without difficulty. The upper part of this formation, often called the Warsaw, is principally a magnesian limestone, some sand and small pebbles. The largest quarries of this stone are on the east side of the Mississippi, at Sonora, where it is quarried under the name of Sonora sandstone. Buildings in Keokuk erected of this material more than half a century ago are still standing and the action of the atmosphere has not eradicated all the tool marks upon the stone, which attests its durability. The St. Louis white limestone is fine-grained, compact, usually bluish or gray in color. Some layers have been used for lithographic purposes. 

Jackson Township leads all the others in the amount of stone quarried. Along the Mississippi at the base of the bluff, immediately north of Keokuk, and in the western part of the city, along Soap Creek, there are several large quarries in operation, most of the stone being of the blue Keokuk limestone, though some Warsaw stone is also taken out. The stone is shipped over the railroads centering at Keokuk to all parts of the Central United States. In the northern part of the city several small quarries have been opened in the St. Louis limestone for sidewalk, street crossings, etc. 

In Des Moines Township there are quarries near the station of Sand Prairie, from which stone is taken for local use, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Company has a quarry near Hinsdale. In the same vicinity the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company has a quarry, from which stone is taken for bridge abutments, etc. 

Near Ballinger station, in the southeastern part of Montrose Township, a quarry was opened about twenty years ago by McManus & Tucker in the Warsaw magnesian limestone. It was from this quarry that the stone for some of the additions to the state penitentiary at Fort Madison was taken. Other additions were built of the dolomite limestone from the Schafer quarries across the river in Illinois. The Fort Madison High School and the building of the Fort Madison Canning Company are also constructed of this stone. There is another quarry in this township directly south of the Town of Montrose, but the stone produced there is chiefly for local use. 

In Jefferson Township the Wemmer quarry, on the west side of Sugar Creek, near the northwest corner of the township, was opened about 1880 and has been operated on a small scale more or less continuously since that time. The stone from this quarry hardens greatly upon being exposed to the weather. None has ever been shipped, the output being used in the surrounding country for foundations, bridge abutments, and similar purposes. 

There are but few exposures of the bed rock in Charleston Township, owing to the fact that there are no large streams. About a mile southwest of Donnellson, on a small tributary of Sugar Creek, is the Donnell quarry, the output of which is used locally for foundations and retaining walls. At a few other points along the creek there are exposures of a white oolitic limestone, which is believed to belong to the St. Louis formation, and on Panther Creek, in section 13, near the eastern boundary of the township there are some outcrops of the St. Louis stone that have been quarried to some extent. 

Near Crotton, Van Buren Township, a quarry was opened some time in the '60s, during the days of slack water navigation, in a deposit of massive yellow sandstone belonging to the lower coal measures. Stone from this quarry was used in the construction of the locks and dams in the Des Moines River. It is not much used at the present time. There are outcrops on Lick and Mumm creeks and near the mouth of Monk Creek from which stone is taken for local use, but no regular quarry is operated. 

Near the Town of Franklin, in the township of that name, there are several small quarries in the white, granular ledge of the St. Louis limestone. At the Graner quarry, about a mile east of the town, a good quality of flagging is quarried. A mile north of this is the Pardall quarry, from which stone has been sent to Fort Madison after being dressed at the quarry. The church at St. Paul is built of this stone. White limestone is also taken from quarries along Sugar Creek and some of its tributaries, and sandstone is exposed at various points in the coal measures. 

In West Point Township the building stone is nearly all of the St. Louis limestone. Most of the quarries are in the western part of the township. Some of the beds dress well and are used in making tombstones and bases for monuments. Considerable lime is manufactured in this section of the county. In section 30, on Little Sugar Creek there is a deposit of fine white sandstone which hardens upon exposure and is quarried to some extent. There are several other deposits in the township where quarries might be profitably worked if suitable transportation facilities were provided. 

On Lost Creek, in the eastern part of Washington Township, considerable stone for constructional purposes has been taken. The output here is entirely local and is used chiefly for foundations. 

Very little building stone has been produced in Green Bay Township, the principal quarry being near the railroad bridge over the Skunk River about a mile north of Wever. The stone here is the Lower Burlington limestone. 

Along the Skunk River, in Denmark Township, there is an abundance of good building stone of the Burlington, Keokuk and St. Louis limestones in sight and some quarrying has been done. At South Augusta considerable stone is taken from the bed of the river, which here passes over rapids, and at several other points in that neighborhood small openings have been made. There is no doubt that someday this stone will be quarried more extensively, as it is easily accessible and of good quality. 

The oolitic bed of the St. Louis limestone is the principal stone quarried in Pleasant Ridge Township. There are a number of small openings from which the stone is taken as needed for local use. 

The old Jarret quarry is the principal one in Marion Township. It is located in section 36, near the southeast corner of the township. Farther up Sugar Creek is the Pilot Grove quarry, from which flagging, foundation stone and material for bridge abutments are taken. 


Probably the first mention of coal in Iowa was made by the English tourist, Featherstonhaugh, who went down the Mississippi in a canoe in 1835 and noticed indications of coal in some of the outcrops along the river. Later in the same year Albert Lea, an agent of the United States Government, appointed to ascertain the resources of the Black Hawk purchase, reported "large coal deposits between the mouth of the Des Moines River and Raccoon Forks." 

As Lee County lies on the extreme eastern margin of the great coal field west of the Mississippi, it can never be expected to occupy a place among the important coal producing counties of the state. The coal deposits, however, are large enough to be of some commercial value, local demand being supplied to some extent in certain sections of the county. The largest deposits noticed so far are in the coal measure rocks in the northern part of the county, particularly in Franklin, Marion and Pleasant Ridge townships. Although the coal measures exist in fully one-half of Van Buren Township no attempt has ever been made to open mines. There is also a small district of the coal measures near Keokuk, in Jackson Township. 

Mining has been carried on for many years, but in a rather desultory manner. The largest mines operated are on Sutton Creek, in Pleasant Ridge Township, about five miles northwest of the Town of Denmark. The coal beds here form a portion of the coal-bearing area which extends northward into Henry County. At the old Norris mine a considerable quantity of coal was mined years ago, the output going to West Point and the adjacent country. In recent years none of the mines has been worked systematically, the coal now being obtained chiefly by "stripping" along the creek, where the vein ranges from two to three feet or more in thickness. No doubt, as the better mines of the western coal field are worked out, these deposits will be developed and mined with profit. 

In Marion Township the Stevenson mine, a short distance east of the Town of St. Paul, has been used for a number of years as a source of local coal supply; but it is worked mainly during the winter months when the demand for coal is great enough to make mining profitable. Three miles southwest of the Stevenson mine is a small shaft from which coal has been taken annually for several years and supplied to the people living in the vicinity. 

Nearly four-fifths of Franklin Township lie in the coal field and coal has been mined at several places. About two miles from West Point, in the eastern part of the township, is a mine from which small quantities of coal have been taken at intervals for a number of years. In the early '90s washouts in the road leading west from West Point exposed a vein of coal varying from one to two feet in thickness and this has been mined in a limited way. Several mines have been opened on Sugar Creek, in the northwestern part of the township, the best known being the old Hardwick mine, from which sufficient quantities of coal were taken at one time to supply the local demand. This mine was once worked by means of a shaft, but that method has been abandoned and the coal is now obtained by drifts in the ravine. The vein here is the thickest discovered so far in the county, measuring in some places over three feet. Small drifts have been made about a mile down the creek from the Hardwick mine and some coal has been taken from the beds at that point. 

In Jackson Township coal of good quality has been developed below the City of Keokuk, on the upper side of the Nassau Slough, where the vein is about eighteen inches thick. North of the city, in the bluffs near Rand Park, coal was once mined by means of drifts, but some years ago the entrance was blocked by debris from the falling roof and the mines have not been reopened. 

Clay Deposits

At numerous places in the superficial or drift deposits of the county are beds of good clay, and some of the geological formations also furnish a good grade of this material. Probably the best known clays are those which overlie the coal deposits, but the Warsaw beds have been used successfully in the manufacture of brick, and it has been demonstrated that the Kinderhook shales are well adapted to the manufacture of high-grade paving blocks. The Hubinger Brick Works at Keokuk were utilizing the Warsaw shale at that point more than twenty years ago. Thin bands and nodules of lime rock make the shale difficult to use, as it has to be specially treated to get rid of these ingredients, after which brick of high grade can be made from it. 

The shales of the coal measures are found in various parts of the county and in many places they are accompanied by coal sufficient to burn the clay products. Some of the light-colored shales, where free from grit, are excellent for pottery, and the drab and yellow shales can be made into brick. 

The blue clay of the lower till is seldom well exposed at the surface and is, therefore, little used in making clay goods, although tenacious, fine-grained and well adapted to the purpose. The yellow clay of the till contains too many foreign substances to make it profitable to attempt to utilize it in manufacture. 

For ordinary brick the alluvium has been used in some places. The best clays in this formation are found chiefly along the Des Moines and Skunk rivers, and along some of the larger creeks. 

At Keokuk pressed and ornamental brick are made from the Warsaw and Kinderhook shales, though the former is much more extensively used, owing to the ease with which it can be obtained. Fire brick, furnace linings, etc., are manufactured from the clays that lie immediately below the coal seams. Among the early clay industries at Keokuk were the Hubinger Brick Works, the brick yards of R. P. Creel and James Mitchell, and the Spaan and Worley companies. 

There are several brick yards in the vicinity of Fort Madison, most of them utilizing the clay deposits in the southern part of Washington Township. One of the oldest is that known as the Reichelt yard, which has been in successful operation for a number of years. The Stellern and Hansmann yards, in the same locality, also manufacture large quantities of brick, and the Wiggenjost and Bartell yards do a good business. 

At Donnellson a brick yard was opened in 1891 at the west side of the town, where bricks for the public school building were made by hand from prairie soil. Three miles north of the town was found a bed of clay in the coal measures which was used in the manufacture of pottery, a factory for that purpose having been erected near the junction of the two railroads. After a fairly successful career of two or three years the works were moved to Farmington, Van Buren County. 


Sand suitable for making mortar for building purposes is found in the beds of nearly all the streams, the Mississippi, Des Moines and Skunk rivers supplying at almost any point an abundance of clean, sharp river sand of a high grade. At various places in the county there are lenticular beds of sand in the drift, which might be utilized for mortar making, and the soft sandstone of the coal measures, when disintegrated by the action of the air, makes a clean, sharp material equal to the best river sand. In a few places a pure, white sand has been found which, it is believed, could be used to advantage in the manufacture of ordinary glassware, and at various points in the drift beds are deposits of sand suitable for molding purposes. So far none of these deposits has been developed to any great extent. 

Although the geological survey reports the presence of gravel beds scattered widely over the county, the rivers and creeks especially affording an abundance of this material, and at places in the drift the beds being of comparatively easy access, the deposits have been scarcely touched in an economic way. In the southern part of the county there are a few miles of gravel road, but stone being plentiful in all parts of the county, it is the principal road-building material. It is possible that at some future time the gravel deposits may be developed and their contents used in the construction of highways. All in all, Lee County is as well supplied with road-building materials as any county in the state, and every year the macadam road is becoming more popular. 

Some hydraulic rock has been reported from time to time, but it appears the deposits are small and none has been utilized in the manufacture of cement. Lime is burned at several places in the county, the greatest quantities being produced at Keokuk and Montrose, where the Burlington and Keokuk limestones are used. Lime kilns have also been in operation at Denmark for many years. 

In addition to the minerals already mentioned, there are some not now attracting attention which may become of commercial importance in the future. Sulphide of nickel has been found in the upper part of the Keokuk limestone at Keokuk and Fort Madison; copper, gold and silver have all been noted in the county, but it is not to be expected that they will ever become money makers. In some of the limestones below Keokuk silver to the amount of four or five ounces to the ton has been shown by assays. Zinc blende, iron pyrites and sulphide of iron have all been found in the county, while in the geode beds quartz, calcopyrite, rutile, aragonite and dolomite are known to exist in greater or less quantities. At the bottom of the geode beds a fine white powder, believed to be the hydrous silicate of aluminum, has been noticed at several points.

The Water Supply

In every township of the county, particularly in the hills bordering the streams, there are springs of good water, many of which are never failing, while others almost dry up in seasons of slight rainfall. All over the county wells of moderate depth yield an abundant supply of good, wholesome water. In the southeastern half, and probably in the entire county, the conditions are favorable for securing a supply of artesian water. The great Keokuk syncline or trough underlies a large part of the county and throughout this area the pressure is sufficient to insure flowing wells at almost any point. The best known wells of this character are at Fort Madison and Keokuk. At Fort Madison six artesian wells have been sunk. They are the old up-town Atlee well, the well at the Atlee Mills, the one in Ivanhoe Park, the well at the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Hospital, the well of the Brown Paper Company, and the city well in the Old Settlers' Park, completed in August, 1914. At Keokuk the best artesian wells are the Hubinger well and the one at the Young Men's Christian Association. The water from these wells is wholesome, though one has "to learn to like it," on account of a peculiar taste, which after a time, becomes unnoticeable. There are also several mineral springs in the coal fields, but generally they are too small to supply more than the local demand for water. They contain various sulphates and some of them, no doubt, possess certain medicinal properties.

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

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