Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 2 - Page 22, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, April 3, 2012

Many “Mushroom” Towns in County Soon Disappeared
Eight Settlements in Existence Here as Early as 1838

Man’s natural gregarious nature – given the added impetus of the need of standing together in order to meet the hardships which went hand-in-hand with pioneering in the days when this was still an untracked wilderness – led to the early establishment of many mushroom towns.

As early as the spring of 1838 when the Indians took their final departure, early white settlers had made long strides toward the development of this part of the Black Hawk Purchase.

Within a radius of 12 miles of Muscatine, at least six or eight promising towns had been started. A number of these were but short-lived, however, and even their names unknown by the present generation which never knew of their existence.

History records that Montpelier, located near the mouth of Pine Creek, was the first town and had the first post office in the county. It was laid out in 1834 by Benjamin Nye, generally credited with being the first white settler in Muscatine county.

The termination of the growth of Montpelier into any more than a village is attributed to a fight between Major Gordon and Mr. Nye, who operated the store at that place. While Gordon was recovering from severe knife wounds he received in the struggle, the clerk sold out the stock of goods, closed the establishment and moved to Muscatine.

The closing of the store apparently put a damper on the prospects of the town.

Another present town along the river, north of Muscatine, which still is in existence, Fairport, was also among the first-born municipalities in Muscatine county. Founded by Alfred Lyon and Co. in 1836, the town, then called Salem, numbered but four or five buildings and had a doubtful identity for several years until the pottery business started a mild boom.

Wyoming was located about three-quarters of a mile downstream, and like its rival, Salem, consisted of several buildings, with the principal figure in the town being Major Sherfey, operator of the grocery store. The town soon went into a decline after the major abandoned his store and went to farming in Sweetland township, and in a short time was completely abandoned.

The town which almost became the county seat – Geneva – was laid out in the spring or summer of 1837 by Dr. Eli Reynolds and John Lawson. Reynolds, who represented this district, attempted to have the county seat removed from Bloomington to his home town and succeeded in having the first legislature enact a law to this effect. It was vetoed, however, by Gov. Dodge and Bloomington remained the fountain head of the county government.

Situated about three miles up the Mississippi from Muscatine, Geneva boasted as its main industry, a steam saw mill which was first owned by Dr. Reynolds and Col. John Vannatta.

It was about this time that the town of Moscow was laid out by Dr. Charles Drury and Silas Webster. Moscow and an old Indian village near the old Salisbury ford comprised the frontier towns of the west and the north when the city of Bloomington was first established.

Founded in 1836 by Col John Vannatta, Bloomington three years later was incorporated as a town of the second grade. Benefitting from its natural advantages and the enterprise of its citizens, the town rapidly assumed a position of prominence ---g its neighboring communities and by the time its name was changed to Musquatine in 18--, it was well on its way to becoming a full-fledged city. Two long-forgotten towns of the county are Albany and Troy. The former was situated on Muscatine Island, just above the county line on the river bank, while Troy was only a few miles distant. The history of their origin is legendary.

According to the story, two adventurous Yankees happened to step off for wood, and concluded to each lay out a town for himself. They named the towns after the two New York cities which they hoped some day their foundlings would rival.

After staking off their towns, the river commenced to rise and the two intrepid pioneers soon found portions of their beloved cities under water. Without further ado, they proceeded to take the first boat and left for parts unknown, leaving nothing but the abortive start of their villages to mark the site of their disappointments.

Neighbors to the residents of the early Iowa towns were the towns of Illinois City, Edgington and Drury’s Landing just across the river in Illinois.

Drury’s Landing was a place of considerable importance for the first 25 years after civilization reached the Mississippi, being the only landing between New Boston and Rock Island – a distance of almost 60 miles – which made it one of the principal shipping points in this area.

Edgington and Illinois City never achieved the size or importance of Drury’s Landing, but were bustling little trading posts in their day.

Other small towns came into existence in the early 1840’s, including the village of Iowa, situated on the river just above the mouth of pine Creek; Springfield, near the first Cedar river bridge; Lucas, on the north side of the Cedar, near Tice’s ferry; and Hudson, which was located somewhere between the present towns of Atalissa and West Liberty.

Another town which had a short-lived existence, although of a somewhat later date, was the village of Winoga which was laid out by the Hon. J. Scott Richman on Muscatine Island, about six miles west of Muscatine along the old Southwestern railroad. The judge staked out the town when the railroad was first built, and in order to give it a start built two dwelling houses about 1859 or 1860. He found that town-building, however, was not always an easy matter and after failing to sell any of the lots which he had laid out gave up on the idea.

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First Jail “Air-Tight”

Muscatine county’s very first jail, ordered constructed by the board of commissioners at a meeting on Jan. 14, 1839 “on the square reserved for public buildings in the town of Bloomington,” may have been one of the best and most sturdy of its type in this section of the state, but it was break-proof.

Apparently prisoners held for serious crimes in other sections of Iowa were brought here for safe keeping.

Facing charges varying from larceny and horse stealing on to forgery and murder, six men – in their teens or twenties – escaped from the Muscatine county jail one night in August 1841.

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Pleading with the public to assist in their recapture, Denton J. Snyder, who served as sheriff from 1840 to 1844, posted a reward of $150 -- $25 per head – for their return where he authorized publication of the following notice under date of August 26, 1841:

    “Escaped from jail of Muscatine county, on the night of Wednesday last, the following described prisoners for whose arrest and delivery a reward of $25 each is offered, together with all necessary expenses incurred in their arrest and delivery:
         E. S. – A lad of 16 or 17 years of age of stout build, about 5’ 6” dressed in old blue jeans roundabout – charged with murder from Washington county.
         N. A. – About 28 years of age, heavy set, near six foot high, bright auburn hair of glossy texture – charged with horse stealing in Clinton county.
         J. B. – About 25 years of age, well built, about 5-8 high, black hair, thin visage, fair complexion, dark grey eyes. Charged with burglary and larceny in Clinton county.
         J. J. – About 20 years of age, 5-7, charged with horse stealing in Scott county.
         L. B. – About 22 years, near six foot high, light brown hair, wears a calico shirt and old, light colored pantaloons, charged with forgery in Scott county.
         J. B. – 26 or 27 years of age, near six foot high, thin coat or dark brown, hair slightly curly, forehead high or bare, with a fur cap and pilot cloth hunting coat, charged with larceny in Johnson county.
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The jail, records show, was rather a unique structure, and the first county building to be constructed in the county. Plans submitted for its construction showed:

    “Dimensions 24 feet long by 16 feet wide. Floors to be two layers of timbers crosswise, each layer one foot square. Walls two thicknesses of timber twelve inches square, ten inches apart, filled with stone pounded fine. Ten feet between floors. Planks on inside two inches thick with 20d nails one every inch square. Partition on lower story three-inch stuff. Flooring on inch plank tongued and grooved.

    “Upper story: Floor same width as above, with a trap door in the center of one of the rooms, trap door to shut down level with the upper floor, with hinges extending across the door, made of bar iron two inches wide and three-fourths inches thick, with a lock on opposite end of the hinge.”

Contract for this jail was let Feb. 11, 1839 to Giles and John Pettibone and L. C. Hine who were paid $1,400 for their work on its completion on June 1, 1839. It remained in use until the second jail and sheriff’s residence was built in 1856 and 1857.

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Because they had not paid the city $60 as agreed, the grant of “Keifingham and others” to dig coal in “Elm street, to beginning at some place in Water street and continuing to Third street” was rescinded by resolution of the city council on Jan. 24, 1857.

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Here in 1838 Abraham Smalley

Photo of Abraham Smalley
Abraham Smalley, born Oct. 24, 1815 in Bound Brook, N. J., reached here in the year 1838. His first wife, Sicha W. Nichols, died April 27, 1860. He married a second time on June 6, 1861. His death occurred March 13, 1902.

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Manufacturer Joseph Bennett

<1>Photo of Joseph Bennett
A dealer in foreign and domestic dry goods and manufacturer and dealer in flour and produce was Joseph Bennett, in business here during the 19th century. An early city directory listed his place of business as 150 Second street and his mill at the corner of Water and Pine streets.

Coming here from St. Louis in the year 1839, Mr. Bennett was married in the year 1845. He was born in Lunenburg, Worcester county, Mass., Dec. 5, 1817, and died April 15, 1906.

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Gorgeous gowns, elaborate home decorations and bountiful feasts may have been the order of the day when marriages were solemnized 100 years ago, but the editors way back when failed to give their public glowing accounts of the “all important event.” Typical of the marriage stories of that era is the following: Oct. 22, 1841 – “Married, on Thursday, the 14th instance, at Hudson, by the Rev. J. P. Van Hagan, Mr. William St. John, of this place, to Miss Cornelia Van Hagen, of Hudson, Muscatine county, Iowa.”

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Since 1877 . . .
Merchandising Fine Meat Products For The City of Muscatine –
. . . Sales of Rich Brand Products Reach New High

In 1877, Charles E. Richard opened a butcher shop at 213 West Second street on the site of the present Richard market. In 1940, C. E. Richard and sons operate not only the finest market in the city, but also the only packing plant in the community devoted to the producing of fresh meat and other meat products.

Recently at the end of the company’s fiscal year, sales in the city reached a new high – indicating the popularity and wide acceptance given RICH BRAND products. From the beginning, our job has been to merchandise the finest meat products to our friends and neighbors in the local community. We know we have succeeded and it is our purpose to continue our program.


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