The Wapello Republican
June 18, 1981, Section B, Page 77

Transcribed by Shirley Plumb, June 14, 2018


     One hundred twenty-five years ago, Louisa county was the location of a genuine boom town, as fabulously fast growing as any of the better known western boom towns. This was the little known town of Burris City which was laid out and platted in 1855 on the north bank of the Iowa river at its junction with the Mississippi, immediately below Toolesboro.

     Today there is absolutely nothing left to mark its location except the levee and a few pillings where the large river packets tied up when loading and unloading.

     The town was the idea of an energetic young man of only 32 years of age. His name was Nathan Burris, and when he first saw this location, he felt that here was the exact place to develop another great river metropolis at such a strategic location as on the point between two rivers.

     The all-important fact which he was not aware of however was he lack of sufficient elevation but a few years after the town was built, it was flooded in the extent that six to eight feet of water flowed through the streets in the spring of 1858. That year was the start of the citizens to leave this fine new town for a safer and higher ground on which to establish a new home and by 1868 there was not a single building left standing. They were either town down and moved piece by piece or in many instances the entire building was moved to a location which was not flooded every spring.

     With the aid of eastern capitalists, Nathan Burris had built more than 100 buildings within 60 days after the town was platted into 5,000 lots with some of them selling as high as $ 10 a front foot and the business locations were selling at $ 1,000.00 a lot. According to actual existing records the value of these lots was $ 1,158,100.

     At its zenith, the town of Burris was the finest and the most modern town on the Mississippi river and boasted of nearly every type of business which was in existence at that time. The Ellsworth hotel was a two-story brick building and was considered the finest building in Louisa county with its marble floored billiard rooms and a large saloon in the basement.

     One of the legends persisting, but without any proof, is that after the big flood of 1858, the hotel owner found 14 victims drowned in the basement saloon and his cook found a 10-pound catfish in the large hotel kitchen range.

     There was also a large planning mill, a sawmills, a brick yard and a newspaper besides numerous smaller businesses. All of them did a thriving business because there were several hundred men engaged in grading the Air Line Railroad quartered ere with their families.

     Burris, Iowa, as it was originally called, after its founder, was incorporated by a special act of the legislature and approved on January 28, 1857 and after that date it was known as Burris City, Iowa.

     The history of Burris City is kept alive by stories and a wide open space in the middle of Mallory Cemetery where the victims of the epidemics were buried together, no headstones, and no cemetery records. Burris City once a reality now remains a dream.

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