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Linn County History

Updated February 13, 2011

LINN COUNTY was created in December, 1837, and named for Lewis [Lucius] F. Linn, United States Senator from Missouri. It lies in the third tier west of the Mississippi River and in the fourth south of the Minnesota line. The county is twenty-four miles wide by thirty long containing and area of seven hundred twenty square miles. The Cedar and Wapsipinicon rivers flow through it in a southeasterly direction having fine belts of woodland along their banks. 

In February, 1838, John Mann of Pennsylvania, settled at Linn Grove on Upper Big Creek, where he built a mill and log cabin for his family. In 1851 his mill was carried away by a flood and he was drowned. John Crow of North Carolina took a claim on the Wapsipinicon in April, 1838. Soon after Robert Dean, John Gibson, Peter McRoberts and others settled in Franklin township; Judge Mitchell, Jacob Leabo and Mr. Henry in Bertram township and several families made homes in Linn township, in Marion and other localities. In July, 1838, Israel Mitchell laid out the first town and named it Westport. In September of the same year William Stone staked out a town plat where Cedar Rapids stands and called it Columbus. The first store in the county was opened at Westport in the fall of 1838 and William H. Merritt opened one at Ivanhoe in the spring of 1839. The first election was held at Westport in October, 1838, for members of the Legislative Assembly, at which thirty-two votes were cast. 

The county was organized in June, 1839, by the election of the following officers: Samuel C. Stewart, Peter McRoberts and Luman M. Strong, county commissioners; John C. Berry, clerk; W. H. Gray, sheriff; Thomas W. Campbell, treasurer; Ross McCloud, surveyor. The commissioners chosen to locate the county-seat selected the site of Marion where a town was laid out in 1839. The first store was opened the same year by Woodbridge and Thompson and Luman M. Strong built a hotel. A mill was built by Bales and Thompson and several shops were opened. A court-house was built in 1840; and a Methodist church organized the same year with Rev. Mr. Hodges as pastor. A school was opened the following year. In 1852 a weekly newspaper was established by A. Hoyt called the Prairie Star which in later years became the Marion Register. The first cabin on the site of Cedar Rapids was built by an outlaw by the name of Shepard, in the year 1838. It was for a long time the rendezvous of horse thieves which infested that region in early days. They secreted stolen property among the islands of the Cedar River. The gang was not broken up until 1851. The first permanent settlement of that place was made in 1839 by T. Gaines and D. W. King who took claims on the west side of the river. 

In 1841 the town of Cedar Rapids was laid out by N. B. Brown and others; the following year a dam was built across the Cedar River and a sawmill erected. In 1844 N. B. Brown built a flouring-mill at a cost of $3,000; and in 1849 a woolen factory was built at a cost of $10,000. In 1850 D. O. Finch established a newspaper named the Progressive Era. 

In 1847 the town of Mt. Vernon was laid out by A. J. Willits and others, where Cornell College, one of the leading educational institutions in the State, is located. The main line of the Northwestern Railroad runs through Linn County from east to west and was the first built to Cedar Rapids which has become one of the important railroad centers of the State.

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