History of Marion County, Iowa by Wright and Young (1915)

Chapter I: Physical Features, Geology, Etc.

Location and Boundaries - Surface - The Des Moines River - Origin of its Name - The Skunk River -
Other Water-Courses - Timber - Geology - The Glacial Epoch - Character of the Glacial Drift - Geological Surveys -
Economic Geology - Coal - Building Stone - Clays - Miscellaneous Minerals - Water Supply

Marion County is located south and east of the geographical center of the state, in the third tier of counties from the southern boundary; the fifth tier from the eastern, the sixth from the western and the seventh from the northern. It is bounded on the north by the County of Jasper; on the east by Mahaska; on the south by Monroe and Lucas, and on the west by Warren and Polk, the latter county forming the boundary north of the Des Moines River - a distance of one about one mile. The county is in an exact square, twenty-four miles on each side, with an area of 576 square miles, or 368,640 acres.

Generally speaking, the surface is an undulating or rolling prairie. Along the larger streams are lines of bluffs or hills between which are bottom lands of great fertility. Summit Township takes its name from the fact that the highest point of land in the county was formerly supposed to be near the Town of Otley, on the watershed between the Skunk and Des Moines rivers. Official surveys have shown this to be erroneous. The highest point in the county is near Pleasantville, where the altitude is 925 feet above sea level. Near the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad station in Knoxville the altitude is 910 feet, while that of Otley is only 893. The City of Pella has an altitude of 878 feet and the lowest known point in the county is where the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad crosses Cedar Creek, north of Bussey, which is 673 feet above sea level.

The Des Moines River - Iowa’s principal stream - enters the county near the northwest corner, flows in a southeasterly direction and crosses the eastern boundary about ten miles north of the southeast corner. In its meandering through the county it forms the boundary between Perry and Swan townships; Red Rock and Union townships; flows through the Township of Polk, and in the eastern tier separates the Township of Lake Prairie on the north from Clay on the south. Its principal tributaries from the north are the Walnut, Prairie and Brush creeks, and those from the south are the Wild Cat, White Breast, English and Cedar creeks. About three miles above the Town of Red Rock the river once made a long bend to the southwest. In 1847 the upper end of this bend became blocked with ice and river cut a new channel, shortening its course by some three miles. This new channel from that time on has constituted the main bed of the river and is known as “the cut-off.”

There has been a great deal of speculation as to the origin of the name “Des Moines.” For some time it was thought to be an Indian word, but investigators have reached the conclusion that the name was given to the stream by the French. Nicollet says the name Des Moines is a corruption of an Indian word which means “at the road.” According to his account “the inhabitants associated this name (Riviere des Moins) with that of the Trappist Monks (Moines de la Trappe), who dwelt on the Indian mounds of the American bottom. It was then concluded that the true reading of the Riviere des Moins was Riviere Des Moines, or River of the Monks, by which name it is designated on all the maps.”

Nicollet is in error when he says the stream is so designated on all the maps. The first reference to the river was make by Joliet, who published a map of the interior in 1674, the tear following his voyage down the Mississippi with Father Marquette. Upon this map the name of the Des Moines River is given as “Ouacuitanas.” Some fourteen years later Franquelin’s map, or “Carte de la Louisiane,” was published and upon this map the river appears as the “Moingona.” Upon De Lisle’s map of 1707 it is given as the “Riviere les Moingona,” and the early French explorers and traders called the Indians living along the river the “Les Moins.” In time the river came to be generally known as “La Riviere de Moines,” which is unquestionably French.

About 1870 Judge Charles Negus, of Fairfield, Iowa, wrote quite a treatise on the Des Moines River, which was published in the Annals of Iowa, and in which he advances the theory that the name means “River of the Mounds.” In his closing paragraph he says:

“From the fact that there were a great many mounds in the valley of the River of Des Moines and above the lower rapids of the Mississippi, it is reasonable to suppose that the Indian name of Moingona was abandoned and that the river was designated by the French as the River Des Moines, which means the river of the mounds.”

Judge Negus does not tell his readers how he reached such a translation, but as all the leading authorities who have written upon the subject agree that “La Riviere des Moines” means “The River of the Monks,” it would be interesting to know how he reached his conclusion.

There is still another theory as to origin of the name. Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike, in his journal of the expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi in 1805-06, calls particular attention to this tributary of the great Father of Waters, which he calls the “River de Moyen” and expresses the belief that the name as thus spelled is a corruption of La Riviere de Moines or River of the Monks. Charles Rollin Keyes, who served for some time as assistant state geologist, and who made a rather careful study of Iowa’s physical features, her resources and nomenclature, says the name as given the river by Pike means “the middle.” He explains both the etymology and its significance by saying 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 middle of the interior, or the region lying between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Mr. Keyes is inclined to the opinion that this is the real origin of the name, and that the change from “De Moyen” to Des Moines,” while a comparatively easy transition, was really a corruption of the true name.

Across the northeastern part of the county flows the Skunk River. It enters the county about five miles west of the northeast corner and flows a general southeasterly course until it crosses the eastern boundary in section 24, township 77, range 18. Concerning this stream, a history of Marion County published in 1881 says: “The current in the main is very sluggish, though in some places the fall is sufficient to afford good water-power. The slope of that part of the channel which lies in Marion County averages between three and four feet per mile. At some points the land slopes gradually away from the stream, thus permitting large portions of the bottom lands to be overflowed during the rainy season and making travel difficult or impossible where there are no good roads and bridges. At other places there are rocky bluffs which preclude the possibility of an overflow at any season of the year. The stream has an abundant of good timber along its banks and contiguous thereto. It is properly noted for the abundance of fish which it contains, though since the building of numerous dams further down, the fish are not so numerous or of such good quality as formerly.”

Frank Labiseur, who was the United States interpreter for the Sac and Fox Indians in early days, says: “The Indian name of this river was Chicaque, which, in their language, is anything of a strong or obnoxious odor - such as skunk, onion, etc. From the fact that the headwaters of the stream abound in wild onions, the interpretation should be ‘Onion.’”

The name Onion, as suggested by Mr. Laiseur, would no doubt be an improvement over that of Skunk, which carries an unpleasant impression, but the old Indian name of Chicaque, or Chicauqua, is more euphonious than either. It is said that the first white settlers along the stream used the Indian name until its English equivalent was learned, and Donnel, in his “Pioneers of Marion County,” says: “A bill was introduced during the session of the State Legislature of 1869 and 1870 enacting that it should be called Chicauqua, which, however, failed to pass.”

Next to the Des Moines and Skunk rivers, the most important stream of the county is the White Breast Creek, which crosses the western boundary about three and a half miles north of the southwest corner and flows in a northeasterly direction until it empties into the Des Moines River near the center of Polk Township. The Indian name of this creek was Wau-po-ca-ca (White Breast) and is said to have been bestowed upon it from the fact that a bear with a white spot upon its breast was once killed near the stream. There was also an Indian chief called White Breast who lived in what is now Polk Township. The largest tributary of the White Breast is Butcher Creek, which rises near the town of Pleasantville and flows toward the southeast until it empties into the White Breast near the railroad station of Donley.

English Creek, called by the Indians “Sauk-e-lash,” has its source in the western part of Washington Township, where it is formed by the junction of several small streams, the principal of which are Long Branch and Wild Cat Creek. From that point it flows toward the northeast through Knoxville and Clay townships and empties into the Des Moines River not far from Harvey.

Cedar Creek enters the county from the south, near the southwest corner of Liberty Township, and flows in a northeasterly direction until it crosses the eastern boundary about a mile south of the Town of Tracy. Its principal tributaries are the North Cedar and Walnut creeks.

The above mentioned water-courses, with their numerous minor tributaries, afford good natural drainage for practically all parts of the county. An early report of the commissioner of the United States Land Office gives the number of acres of swamp land in Marion as 6,400, but by the introduction of tile drains nearly all of this has disappeared or been reclaimed, so that there is very little waste land in the county.

When the first white men came to what is now Marion County they found an abundance of timber, especially along the streams, and this fact no doubt wielded considerable influence in bringing about the early settlement of the county. Mot of the pioneers were from the older states east of the Mississippi River, particularly Ohio and Indiana, where timber was plentiful, and the early settler selected his claim where he could secure logs for his cabin, fencing material for his fields and fuel for his home. Along the Des Moines River the average width of the timber belt was about four miles. Belts somewhat narrower bordered the other streams and contained fine specimens of black walnut, white oak, red and black oak, maple, elm and ash, with some wild cherry and cottonwood. Here and there, upon the high, undulating prairies on the watersheds between the streams, were groves of timber in the early days that influenced some pioneer to locate his claim in the immediate neighborhood. As a rule the prairies of Marion County were not so large as those in some other parts of the state, but they were well drained, easily cultivated and with highly productive soil.


Geology deals chiefly with rocks, but to the geologist anything is rock that consists of earthy or stony material, whether it forms a compact, consolidated mass or not. The hard or indurated rocks of Marion County, commonly called the bedrock, belong to the Carboniferous system, which has been divided into the Upper and Lower Carboniferous, or the Sub-carboniferous and the Coal Measures. The upper part of the former, known as the St. Louis, and the lower part of the latter, known as the Des Moines, are the only representatives of the system in the county. The only outcrops of the St. Louis limestone are seen along Thunder Creek and the Skunk River in the northeastern part of the county along the Des Moines River from about the mouth of the White Breast Creek to the eastern boundary, and along Walnut and Cedar creeks in the southeastern part of Clay Township. These are the oldest surface rocks found within the county.

Over most of the county the Coal Measures are represented by thick beds of shale with the intercalated coals. The limestones of the Coal Measures are limited in quantity and are generally of inferior quality. The Red Rock sandstone, of the Des Moines formation, outcrops along the Des Moines River a short distance above and below the town of Red Rock, where its greatest thickness is a little over one hundred feet. This is an interesting formation to geologists because of its great thickness and the limited area over which it is found. On either side, to the east and west, it ends abruptly and no further traces of it are found in either direction. Northward it has been traced by deep well records to connect with the sandstone quarries about four miles northeast of the town of Monroe, in Jasper County, and its most southern exposure so far noted by geologists is at Eagle Rock, a small hill extending east and west along the White Breast Creek, where the bluff on the north s!
ide of the creek presents a vertical face of more than fifty feet of massive sandstone, gray or buff in color and firmly consolidated throughout the greater part. In the exposed face of the cliff are several pockets, where the loose sand has been displaced by the action of the atmosphere, due to insufficient cementing material. In one of these pockets it is said that an eagle formerly built its nest for several seasons, thus giving the name to the rock.

Over the indurated rocks, which constitute the county’s foundation, so to speak, lies a covering of unconsolidated materials called the non-indurated rocks. This is composed of fine sediment - clays, sands and gravelly loams - and belongs to the Pleistocene system.


Far back in the geologic past, about the close of the Paleozoic period, came the Pleistocene, or “Ice Age,” during which the entire present State of Iowa was covered with a vast sheet of ice, called a glacier. The great central glacier extended from the region of the Great Lakes westward to the Rocky Mountains. It was formed in the northern part of North America by successive falls of snow. The weight added by each snowfall tended to compress the mass below into a solid body of ice. In time the entire glacier began to move slowly southward, carrying with it great bowlders, clay, soils, etc., to be deposited in districts far distant from those from which they were taken. As the huge mass moved slowly along the bowlders and other hard substances at the bottom left scratches or markings, called striae by geologists, upon the bed rock, and from these scorings the scientist has been able to trace with reasonable accuracy the course of the glacier. At various places along the west bank of the Mississippi River, from the mouth of the Iowa to the mouth of the Des Moines, these striae have been noted upon the rocks forming the bluffs and indicate that the general direction of the great glacier was toward the southeast. That this was the course of the glacier was toward the southeast. That this was the course of the glacier is borne out by the direction in which the principal rivers of Iowa flow, which is toward the southeast. As the ice melted the water gradually trickled to the bottom, where it washed away the softer materials deposited by the glacier, following the great mass until it disappeared in the warmer climate, when the stream thus formed became a permanent river.

With the melting of the ice, the materials carried by the glacier were deposited upon the bedrocks in the form of “drift,” which constitutes the non-indurated rocks of the Pleistocene system, known as alluvium, geest, loess and till. At the close of the glacial epoch the surface was without wither animal or plant life. Gradually the rain and winds leveled the surface, the heat of the sun warmed the earth, and life in the most primitive forms made its appearance.

A peculiar fact regarding the geology of Marion County is that 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. The absence of later Coal Measures, Tertiary strata or Cretaceous rocks indicates either that the region has been dry land from the close of the Carboniferous to the present; or, if under water since, the deposits have been removed by erosion.


As stated above, the glacial drift is composed of alluvium, geest, loess and till. The alluvium is a fine sediment, sometimes mixed with sand or loam, laid down by the streams upon their bottom lands. Geest, or residual clay, is the result of the slow decay of limestones where they have been long exposed at the surface and is what is left after the remaining portions of the limestone have been carried away in solution. It sometimes contains fragments or flint or chert. The fine, pebbleless clay, ranging from yellow or buff, to ash-color, containing little balls of lime, and sometimes containing shells of land snails of fresh water species, is called loess. Underneath these is the blue, yellow or buff bowlder clay, with associated gravels and sands, often containing granite or other foreign species of rock. This blue, compact clay is known to geologists as the till, or “lower till” of the glacial deposits.

The drift of Marion County is that formed by what is known as the Kansan ice sheet, though the pre-Kansan glaciers may have been responsible for some of the deposit. Formerly the mantle of drift covered the entire county and was probably quite evenly distributed. Since the close of the glacial period, the erosion of the streams has been active in cutting through it, leaving an unequal distribution. The drift is clearly exposed on most of the hillsides, but is covered on the uplands by the loess and on the bottoms by the alluvium. Large bowlders are frequently seen in the bottom of ravines but are seldom found elsewhere. A ravine about five miles southwest of Knoxville and a short distance south of the White Breast Creek is fairly filled with these bowlders, some of which are two feet or more in diameter. Many of these bowlders are striated or polished, sometimes on one side, sometimes on two sides, almost parallel to each other, showing plainly that they had been carried to their ultimate destination by the glacier.


During the tears 1847 to 1850 Dr. D. D. Owen, acting under the authority of the United States Government, undertook a geological survey of the mineral lands of the Northwest. In 1849 he made an examination of the outcrops of stone along the Des Moines River and described several exposures of the Coal Measure rocks in Marion County, the most important of which were those at Elk Bluff, near the western line of Polk Township, and at Red Rock. His report, a “Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota,” was published in 1852 and contains the earliest mention of Marion County geology.

In 1856 A. H. Worthen, then an assistant on the Iowa Geological Survey and afterward state geologist of Illinois, made a more extended and detailed study of the Des Moines Valley. The result of his researches was published in Volume I, Geology of Iowa, in 1858.

Dr. C. A. White, then state geologist, in 1870 published in his report for that year the first description of the coal beds of Marion County and gave some analyses of the same. This subject was more fully treated in the report of the Iowa Geological Survey for 1894 by Dr. C. R. Keyes. Until the publication of this report geological investigation had been confined to the district lying along the Des Moines River, but Doctor Keyes took into consideration the coal deposits of the entire county.

In 1898-99 B. L. Miller made a complete geological survey of the county and prepared a geological map to accompany his report. Both report and map were published in the report of the Iowa Geological Survey for the year 1900, and it is from this source that many of the facts in this chapter have been taken.


While the student of geology would doubtless find a great deal to interest him in the scientific discussion of the geological structure of Marion County - its groups, stages, systems, faults, synclines and anticlines - the average reader will be far more likely to develop an interest in the subject of economic geology - that branch of the science which treats of industrial and commercial importance of the various mineral deposits within the county. Foremost among these deposits is


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

Doctor White, in his report of 1870 above referred to, says: “Marion is, without doubt, on of the best coal counties of the state. Indeed, except in the immediate valley of the Des Moines and in the lower portion of some of its tributary creeds, a shaft of two hundred, or three hundred feet depth at most, could hardly fail to pass through one or more coal beds.”

He also mentions the natural exposure of the two coal beds near the old town of Coalport, in Polk Township, and the mines in various parts of the county. The samples analyzed by Doctor White were taken from Bousquet’s mine at Coalport, a mine four miles east of Knoxville, and a mine near Marysville. The value of coal as a fuel depends upon the quantities of moisture, fixed carbon, volatile combustible material and ash that it contains. A coal with a large amount of moisture and ash and poor in fixed carbon and volatile combustible mater is a poor coal, and vice versa. In none of the samples analyzed by Doctor White did the moisture exceed 7 per cent or the ash 8 percent, while the fixed carbon ranged from 43 to 53 per cent and the volatile combustible matter from 34 to 48 per cent, showing the Marion County coal to be of good quality.

Park C. Wilson, who was state mine inspector from 1880 to 1886, in speaking of Marion County coal, said: “In regard to Mario County as a coal county, I will say that while traveling over the different coal counties for almost four years in the capacity of mine inspector, I have made a careful study, so far as possible, of their deposits, to determine their extent, and I am now firmly of the opinion that Marion County has the largest deposits of coal of any county in the state.

“In my opinion the greatest difference there is in Iowa coal is in the hardness of the coal, as the softer it is the more it is damaged by being handled, and in a practical point of view I consider that the most important question in regard tot he condition of Iowa coal in different localities, and one which can be readily answered by those who are shipping. The harder the coal, the better condition it is in when delivered to the consumer, and the better price it will bring in the market. And the hardness of the coal does not add to the cost of production, but, on the contrary, lessens the cost of mining, does not require the care in handling, stands exposure better, and is better for steam purposes than softer coal. In the above particulars, Marion County coal stands second to none in the state.”

Mr. Miller, in the report of his survey of the county, divides the coal deposits of the county into three districts: (1) the district north of the Des Moines River; (2) the district between the Des Moines River and English Creek; (3) the district south and east of English Creek. The principal mining centers noted by him in the first district were at or near Pella, Otley, Dunreath and Morgan Valley. In the second district he visited and examined the mines at Swan, Coal Creek, White Breast Creek, Coalport, Knoxville and Flagler. His report of the mines in the third district deals with the mines of the O. K. Coal Company and those at Hamilton and Marysville.

It is not the purpose of this chapter to give a history of the mining industry of the county, but merely to treat the coal deposits from a geological point of view, showing their extent, etc. A more complete account of mining as an industry will be found in Chapter XIV. In closing his remarks upon the coal fields of Marion County, Mr. Miller says:

“No attempt is made to correlate the various coal seams situated in different parts of the county, as it is impossible to trace any deposit for any considerable distance, yet something may be said in a general way concerning the deposits. It seems certain that the Dunreath coal is older than that now being mined south of the Des Moines River, and that those deposits, or other deposits of the same age, have been carried to considerable depth in the southern part of the county by the dip of strata in that direction. It is not meant that the coal beds north of the river are continuous, for this is known not to be the case, but merely that there are beds of the same age in the southern part of the county. If this supposition be true, the coal supply of Marion County is vastly greater than is usually supposed, and when the upper beds are exhausted in the southern half of the county there will yet remain a large supply of good coal at a depth probably not exceeding four hundred feet. Half a dozen accurate deep well records in this region would be sufficient to prove or disprove this supposition, but unfortunately these are altogether lacking.”


The building stones of the county are the limestone of the St. Louis and the sandstone of the Des Moines formations. As previously stated, the former outcrops at various places along the skunk and Des Moines rivers, Cedar Creek and some of their tributaries. The Geological Survey has divided the St. Louis limestone into the Pella and Verdi beds, both of which have been quarried to considerable extent. The oldest and largest quarry noted by Mr. Miller in his survey of the county is the one on Cedar Creek, about two miles southwest of Tracy. This quarry is not far from the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, with which it is connected by a short switch. Says Miller: “Although hundreds of carloads of stone have been removed and shipped to all parts of the state, the quarry has been worked only a short distance back into the hill. The principal beds in this quarry are the 16, 17 and 19-inch ledges. From the latter, blocks measuring 3 feet 3 inches by 5 feet can be easily obtained, and occasionally even larger pieces are removed.”

The geological map of the county prepared by Mr. Miller shows quarries at various places in the St. Louis limestone. Several of these quarries are along the Skunk River and Thunder Creek, in the northeastern part of the county. Rees’ quarry is located in section 1, township 75, range 19, about a mile east of Flagler on the north bank of English Creek. Mr. Rees formerly operated a quarry near the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad, a short distance northeast of Durham, and shipped considerable stone from there until the new quarry near Flagler was opened. Quarries have also been worked in the St. Louis stone on Walnut Creek, northwest of Tracy; near Howell station on the Wabash Railroad; about a mile and a half southwest of Pella, on the road to Knoxville; and on the south bank of the Des Moines River about a mile and a half below Harvey.

Although much better than the stone of the Coal Measures, the St. Louis limestone found in Marion County is not of superior quality. The different layers or ledges vary greatly in texture and durability, some being little affected by atmospheric action, while others disintegrated in a few years when subjected to alternate warm and cold weather. Foundation fifteen or twenty years old, when constructed of the better quality of the stone, present almost as fresh and solid appearance as the day they were laid, while those of the inferior quality of stone begin to crumble in a comparatively short time.

The great drawback to the quarrying of the St. Louis limestone in Marion County is the thickness of the overlying drift. The exposures are all in the valleys and ravines and as the outcrop is followed back into the hill the drift becomes thicker, so that the expense of “stripping” in time becomes so great that the business becomes unprofitable. For this reason it is quite certain that the quarries of Marion will never be able to compete with those of some other counties where the exposures are more easily worked.

Besides the sandstone of the Des Moines formation, some limestones and conglomerates have been quarried in the Coal Measures for building purposes, but they are confined to such limited areas and are of such inferior quality that they scarcely deserve more than a passing mention. In fact, if it were not for the scarcity of good building stone in a large part of the county, the Coal Measure limestone would hardly be considered worth quarrying. It is a heterogeneous stone in composition, breaks irregularly and cannot be dressed without great waste. The surface quickly becomes rough when exposed to the weather. It is used for foundations and for walling wells, but in recent years it has been almost entirely supplanted by cement.

The sandstones of the Coal Measures have been extensively quarried and the stone was formerly shipped to Des Moines and St. Louis, as well as to other cities in and out of the state. Although comparatively soft, this stone does not crumble and resists the action of the weather as well as some sandstones of much harder composition. In the early days of quarrying this rock it was blasted, but this shattered it so badly that the plan of channeling was substituted. While this process is somewhat slower, it yields greater profits in the amount of good stone saved for use. At Red Rock there is a vertical face of almost ninety feet exposed, and as there are no joint planes, or ledges, present in the formation it is possible to secure blocks of any size desired. Owing to the variation in color of the various parts of the rock, it is quite difficult to get blocks of a uniform color throughout, especially blocks of large dimensions. In order to work the quarry with profit it is necessary to remove large quantities of the stone and then assort it according to the different tints. These colors vary from a light gray to a brick red. The amount of “stripping” is small, the stone is of good quality, and the supply is almost inexhaustible.


Marion County is well supplied with clay suitable for brick and tile making, as well as some of the finer grades, well adapted to the manufacture of ordinary pottery, etc. The clays are obtained from the loess and the Coal Measure shales, the former being used most extensively. There are three different kinds of the loess clay - the gray surface material, the yellow clay and the blue clay. Often these are used separately, but better results can be obtained by using a mixture of the different varieties. As early as 1871 W. P. Fox noted clay beds near Knoxville, concerning which he said: “Within three-quarters of a mile southwest of the courthouse in Knoxville, a heavy bed of fire clay can be worked to good advantage and made to pay handsomely. Also within a mile of the courthouse, to the northwest, another bed of fire clay and potter’s clay exists, which it will pay heavily to work. In other places heavy beds of these clays exist in close proximity to the City of Knoxville, and pottery ware men should make note of this. Large quantities of brick clay also exist within a short distance of the city.”

In almost every case the coal veins of the county are underlain with beds of fire clay, varying in thickness from a few inches to fifteen feet. Though very little use has been made so far of these deposits, tests show that the clay possesses all the essential qualities for the production of fire brick of the first class.

The principal clay working industries mentioned by Miller, in his report in 1900, were the Pella Brick and Tile Company, located in the eastern part of the City of Pella; the Wright brickyards, about two miles north of Knoxville and a short distance northwest of Bussey, and the King brickyard, in the northern part of Section 17, Township 75, Range 19, about a mile southeast of Knoxville. At the last named yards Coal Measure shale was used, sometimes alone and sometimes mixed with the clays of the loess. By mixing shale and loess it was found that the brick could be dried much more rapidly without danger of cracking, and that they could be burned much harder than those made exclusively from the loess. Mr. Miller noticed that brick taken from the kiln next to the furnace showed indications that led him to believe that a good quality of vitrified brick could be produced.

A great deal of drain tile has been used in the county, most of it having been manufactured in connection with the brick at the different plants. Loess is used exclusively for making tile, being better adapted to that purpose than tot he manufacture of brick, as tile can be dried without cracking under conditions where it is impossible to dry brick, and the loess clay burns to vitrification at a temperature not exceeding 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the tile made are of the smaller sizes, ranging from three to eight inches in diameter.

Pottery was formerly made at the King brickyard, at Coalport, and at Attica, where potter’s clay of good quality for the manufacture of the common grades of earthenware is found in abundance in the Coal Measures. A Mr. McPheeters was one of the pioneers in this industry, conducting a pottery at Knoxville and turning out an excellent quality of earthenware. A similar plant was operated for years by Jehu King, on the grounds now occupied by King’s brickyard, about a mile southeast of the city. Jugs, Jars, Churns, flower-pots, etc., were formerly turned out at these places in sufficient quantities to supply the local demand, and much of the product was shipped to Iowa and Missouri cities. The largest clay deposits are near Attica, where a number of small potteries were once operated, but on account of the great reduction in the prices of earthenware in recent years all the works of this character in the county have been discontinued.

There are now two large clay-working plants in operation in the county. One of these is located at Harvey, where immense quantities of terra cotta blocks, brick and tiling of all sizes are turned out, and the other is conducted in connection with the State Inebriate Hospital in the western limits of Knoxville.


Some years ago specimens of stone were obtained from the Coal Measures in the southeastern part of the county that were pronounced by lithographers to be a lithographic stone of good quality. Other finds of this stone in different parts of the county have also been reported from time to time, but it is not known whether the deposits are of sufficient extent to justify working or not. Nearly all the stone of this character used in the United States comes from Germany. If the beds of lithographic stone in Marion County are of any considerable size, they may in time be developed into a profitable industry.

In early years lime was burned at various places in the county, especially in the eastern part, and was used to supply the local demand. While not of the finest quality it was quite durable and was used by the people of the county for a number of years. In recent years, however, the finer grades of lime, made from the gray magnesium limestone, have been introduced and the old limekilns have been abandoned. Some of the St. Louis marls are believed to be suitable for the manufacture of Hydraulic cement, but no attempt has been made to utilize them for that purpose.

Near Hamilton there is a deposit of yellow ochre, which, judging from the outcrops and well borings, seems to be rather extensive. It has been detected in well borings two miles or more from where it outcrops and it is believed to be continuous between the two points. Samples of the ochre were sent to a paint manufacturing company for examination and test, and while the company reported that it contained the necessary constituents for paint, the samples showed so many impurities, principally calcium carbonate and sand, it was upon the whole unprofitable to undertake its use in the manufacture of paint. Notwithstanding this unfavorable report, it is believed that at least portion of the deposit may be free from the impurities and that at some future time the beds may be developed. A house at Hamilton was painted with the ochre several years ago and it has proved its durability as a pigment.

Small copper nuggets have been found at different places in the county, and this has caused some persons to believe that somewhere, sometime, a copper mine will be discovered. The nuggets vary in weight from a few ounces to about four pounds. In every instance they have been found in the glacial drift and it is quite probable that they were carried by the glacier from the Lake Superior region in the same way that the glacial bowlders were transported and deposited.

Reports of the presence of lead and zinc were made to Mr. Miller while he was engaged in making his survey of the county. Concerning these rumors he says in his report: “Whenever the exact location of these supposed deposits could be ascertained, the strata were carefully examined, but no evidence of the presence of either of these metals was found. With respect to the zinc, it is probable that the iron carbonate, siderite, which is found in the large septarial concretions in the black shale, has been mistaken for zinc blende. It closely resembles it in color, so that it is not surprising that such an error has been made.”

Gypsum, in the form of diamond or needle-shaped crystals, has been found in the black shales of the Coal Measures. But the crystals are too small to be of any economic importance. The same is true of iron pyrites, which are found in the coal and Coal Measure shales, but not in sufficient quantity to be of any commercial value.


The water supply of the county comes from the running streams and wells. There are a few springs but the flow is usually so small that they cannot be depended upon to furnish a constant supply of water. Throughout the county water-bearing strata are seldom exposed, and where they lie near the surface the drift of loess absorbs or conceals the seepage, thus forming boggy places rather than springs.

As most of the water is found in the drift the wells are generally shallow, the water is found in the drift the wells are generally shallow, the water frequently being found in small sand-filled pockets or veins. Two wells, only a few rods apart, may frequently be of different depths, owing to their obtaining their supplies from different sources. In the eastern part of the county water is obtained from the St. Louis formation. It is generally of good quality, though in a few instances is rather “hard,” on account of the large amount of calcareous matter held in solution. Water is found in the Coal Measures, but it is nearly always too strongly impregnated with mineral substances to be suitable for domestic purposes.

Some years ago a number of deep wells were sunk on the uplands between the Skunk and Des Moines rivers. These wells vary in depth from one hundred to three hundred feet. A few - those that pierce the sandstone - afford a bountiful supply of pure, wholesome water, but in most of them the water comes from the Coal Measures and is of poor quality.

Before the beginning of the present century several artesian wells were sunk in the northern and eastern parts of the county, though in none of them is the pressure sufficient to force the water to any considerable height above the surface, nor is there a strong flow at any time. The well at Flagler, which is 752 fee deep, is said to produce a water that possesses great curative properties for certain human ailments. All the water from the artesian wells is strongly impregnated with minerals, chiefly iron and sulphur. Two of these flowing wells, located in the Des Moines River bottoms near Red Rock, are about two hundred feet deep and apparently draw their water supply from the Coal Measures. So far as it has been tested, the water from the artesian wells has been found to be unfit for use in steam boilers on account of its corrosive action.

Within the last few years many persons have found it necessary to deepen their wells that draw water from the drift, on account of the great decrease in the supply. No one has been able to account for this phenomenon except upon the theory that, while the average annual rainfall has not changed materially, it is not as uniformly distributed throughout the year as formerly, and drouths are more frequent, which has an effect upon the shallow wells. Since the great drouth of 1911, drillers have been busy sinking deep wells in all parts of the county, invariably obtaining inexhaustible supplies at depths varying from one hundred to three hundred and fifty feet. Some of these wells on private farms have been sunk to a depth of over four hundred feet. In the summer of 1914 a well at the State Inebriate Hospital was sunk to a depth of over twelve hundred feet, when it was temporarily abandoned by the contractor. Members of the State Board of Control say that it will be sunk to a depth of 2,000 feet in 1915, unless a sufficient supply of water is sooner obtained.

Transcribed by Mary E. Boyer, December 2006, reformatted by Al Hibbard 11 Oct 2013