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

Section 2 - Page 8-9, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, April 27, 2012


Unnoticed by hundreds of Muscatine motorists who pass over it each day of the year is a granite stone set in the brick pavement on Front street at the intersection of Iowa avenue which marks the spot where the first house erected in Muscatine stood. Mayor Samuel G. Bronner is shown above brushing off the block which was placed by the Old Settlers assn. in 1899 to designate the location of the house which was put up in 1833 by Russell Farnham, an Indian trader. The marker is on the easterly line of Iowa avenue. Photo of Samuel G. Bronner

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Through the Years With ROACH & MUSSER CO. Mfgs.
Of Sash, Doors and Woodwork for the Home

Photos of Brent Bros. with Employees, 1869 and Muscatine Mfg. Co., 1884
In 1867 R. W. Brent and E. F. Richman opened a small curtain factory on the second floor of what is now 203 East Second street. From this small beginning grew the factory and organization that is the Roach & Musser Company of today. The following year Mr. Richman sold his interest to R. W. Brent and his brother, Theo. R. Brent.

This new firm moved in 1869 to the east side of Iowa Avenue, soon afterward to Front street, east of Sycamore in the McKibben Building, the present site of Van Nostrand Saddlery Company.

Brent Brothers in the Fall of 1874 moved to South Muscatine, they having built a planning mill and washboard factory, and were known as Brent Brothers & Company. After 1876 the firm was known as Brent Mfg. Company and composed of T. H., R. W., Wm. O., and Edward J. Brent.

Before 1886 the name was changed to Muscatine Mfg. Company and reorganized in 1887 with E. J. Brent, Manager, C. R. Fox, President, and Z. W. Hutchinson, Vice President. In the year 1890 this firm was reorganized as Muscatine Sash & Door Company, later as Roach & Musser Sash & Door Company, and again later as Roach & Musser Company.

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First Trading Post Was Established Year Earlier

The Red Man had scarcely had time to pull up his trappings and head farther westward before the encroaching progress of the American pioneer when the first white settler erected his crude log cabin in Muscatine county.

It was in the spring of 834 that Benjamin Nye pushed his way along the banks of the Mississippi to a site near the mouth of Pine creek in Montpelier township and decided to erect a “home” – the first attempt of a white man to begin habitation in this region.

The previous year, the Indian title to the land now forming Muscatine county became a part of the Blackhawk Purchase under which the United States government gained possession of [blank line – text missing]

There is some cloud on Nye’s claim to being Muscatine county’s first white settler, some authorities giving the title to err Thornton who arrived here the same year, but the preponderance of evidence seems to be in favor of the former. Whereas Nye, joined a short time later by his cousin, Stephen Nye, settled in Montplier township, Err, Lott and James Thornton located on the slough at the southeastern corner of Seventy-Six township.

A man by the name of John McGrew came to this section of Iowa in 1834 but did not settle at once in Muscatine county. He took up his residence in the Thornton neighborhood, but in Louisa county, near the Muscatine county line. Subsequently, in 1842, he moved to an 80-acre tract in Seventy-Six township which he purchased from Col. George Kincaid.

Previous to this, in 1833, Russell Farnham, an agent of Col. George Davenport, Indian trader at Ft. Armstrong, had set up a cabin along the banks of the Mississippi river at a site now marked by a granite stone in the intersection of Iowa avenue and Front street, Muscatine.

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Farnham was an Indian trader and remained here for about two years before ill health forced him to return to Rock Island. He was never considered a settler, however, so that at the beginning of 1835 it may be considered that there were none but the Nye and the Thorntons in the county as settlers.

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Soon after their arrival, a few other hardy pioneers made their appearance in this region to lay claim to a portion of the fertile soil of what is now Muscatine county. Hardships and privations were their lot, but they put aside these thoughts in their hope of what advantages and benefits they believed the new land to hold. In 1835 came James W. Casey, John Vanatta, John McGrew, Arthur Washburn and Dr. Eli Reynolds.

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Casey, who arrived here in the fall of the year, built a cabin west of the trading house and become the first permanent settler of the town which was to be soon known as Bloomington and later as Muscatine. Here he outlined plans to build a town which he named Newburg.

The Casey claim, which was near the foot of Broadway, was popularly known as “Casey’s Woodyard” or “Casey’s Landing.” Before he died in the fall of 1836 and was buried on the high bluff where schoolhouse No. 1 was later erected, Casey had extended his claim one mile down the slough and a mile north.

The action was made possible by taking into partnership several other pioneers who had come to the settlement. Listed among the original proprietors of Newburg, which is now embraced within the city limits of Muscatine, were Edward E. Fay, William St. John, Norman Fullington, H. Reece, Jonathan Pettibone, Breese and Higginbotham, Abijah Whiting, W. D. Abernathy, A. J. Smith and others.

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It was in 1836 that Col. Vanatta brought his family here and laid off a town which he called Bloomington, and it was later in the same year, on Dec. 7, 1836, that the county of Muscatine officially came into existence by an act of the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin.

This section at that time came under the laws and jurisdiction of Wisconsin, after originally being attached to Michigan when first ceded to the government from the Sac and Fox Indians. It was not until July 4, 1838, that it became the territory of Iowa, with Robert Lucas, former governor of Ohio, as the first governor.

The act fixing the boundaries of Muscatine county was as follows: “That the county included within the following boundaries, to wit: Beginning on the Mississippi river at the northeast corner of the county of Louisa, then up said river 25 miles on a straight line, thence west to the Indian boundary line, then with said boundary line south to the northwest corner of the county of Louisa, thence east with the line of

(Continued on Page 9)

Page 9

Benjamin Nye Recognized as 1st White Settler

said county of Louisa to the beginning, be and the same is hereby set off into a separate county by the name of Musquitine.”

Bloomington was designated as the county seat and remained as such despite an effort of Dr. Eli Reynolds, one of the founders of the town of Geneva then located along the Mississippi about three miles north of here. Dr. Reynolds, who represented this district in the legislature, succeeded in getting a bill passed removing the county seat to Geneva and the change which might have played a vital part in the history of this city was thwarted only when Gov. Dodge refused to sign the measure.

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Following the staking out of the Casey claim, other claims followed rapidly in order. The next claim was made by Charles H. Fish and others in the “upper town” which was a half mile square, from the center of the courthouse square east. Joe White took up a claim a half-mile square in the vicinity of the old fairgrounds. The Barkalow claim was on Mad Creek, lapping into the “upper town” claim at the northeast corner where Barkalow had an enclosure and cornfield. Charles A., A. O., and D. R. Warfield bought the Barkalow claim and extended it in 1837 to a mile square. With “Black Ben” Matthews, they took possession in December of that year.

Selection and marking off of a claim as nearly accurate as possible without use of a compass formed the first matter to occupy the attention of the early settler. This was done by stepping and staking, or blazing the lines as he went. The absence of section lines made it necessary to take the sun at noon and at evening as a guide by which to run claim lines. So many steps each way counted 320 acres, more or less – at one time the legal area of a claim.

Although not accurately correct, these claim lines served their purpose until the lands could be surveyed. The earliest survey was made in Muscatine by Major William Gordon in May, 1836, and the second survey was completed in 1840.

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When the first public land sales were held in Burlington in November, 1838, the county reserved the quarter section of land upon which the courthouse now stands, paying the government $1.25 an acre for the tract. When this occurred there were probably 50 buildings and 200 persons upon that part of the town plat included in the county’s section. Construction of the court house did not begin until 1840 and was not completed until the following year. The cost was approximately $15,000, raised by the sale of lots.

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Other parts of town were purchased for groups of individuals at the Burlington land sales, the east part by Charles A. Warfield; the fractional quarter south of the county quarter by Suel Foster; 80 acres west of the fraction by Breese and Higginbotham; and a balance west and north of the Breese and Higginbotham purchase purchased by William St. John.

About the same time, additional land purchases were being made by Col. T. M. Isett, Suel Foster, Dr. John H. Foster, Adam Funck, Robert C. Kinney, G. H. Knight, B. White, William Devon and J. W. Neally.

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Growth of the county during these days of its infancy was rapid. By 1838 – only four short years after the first settlement had been made – there were 1,247 inhabitants in Muscatine county, and by 1840 the number had increased to 1,942.

This influx of settlers continued at a steady rate, as scores of pioneers – most of them a hardy, thrifty and Godfearing people – located in the community. Some of them occupied themselves in farming, others set up in business in the thriving young river metropolis of Bloomington.

The first grist mill in the county was erected on Pine creek in 1837 by Benjamin Nye, and the same year Dr. Eli Roberts and John Lawson put up a steam sawmill at Geneva, the first in the county. It was later moved to Muscatine.

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History reveals that the town of Bloomington was originally incorporated as a town of the second class in 1839, and at the first election held in the home of r. C. Kinney on May 6, 1839, the Hon. Joseph Williams was named president over two competitors, Arthur Washburn and Lyman C. Hine.

Williams received 38 of the 40 votes cast. Other officers elected were: Arthur Washburn, Henry Reece and B. P. Howland, trustees; Moses Couch, recorder; Giles Pettibone, street commissioner. When the officials held their first meeting on May 10 of that year, Couch was appointed as treasurer, John Marble as marshal, and Charles H. Fist as assessor.

The first ordinances enacted related to the sale of liquors. Saloons then went under the more polite title of “groceries,” and licenses sold for $25 a year.

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The blooming young river city continued under the name of Bloomington until in 1849 an order signed by Judge James Grant in district court here at the request of a petition bearing some 200 names officially changed the name to Muscatine.

As early as 1842 agitation had started to have the name of the town changed, inasmuch as considerable confusion resulted in the mails because a growing village in Illinois also bore the same name.

Col. Vanatta was a native of Bloomington, Ill., and when he arrived here he gave the town the same name. He and some of his supporters vigorously opposed any attempt to remove the name of Bloomington, Ia., but after a number of yars campaigning the change was consummated by Judge Grant’s order of June 6, 1849.

Since that time the town has borne the name of Muscatine. In 1851, by an act of the legislature, Muscatine was given a special charter and became a full-fledged city.

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First Iowan Elected to Congress

Photo of Judge S. Clinton Hstings - Iowa’s first representative in the national congress after the state had been admitted to the Union in 1846, was Judge S. Clinton Hastings, one of the most prominent Muscatine barristers of the early days when the city was still in its infancy.

During the years immediately preceding the admittance of iowa to the Union, Judge Hastings served as a member of the iowa council and the house of representatives. His appointment to the national congress followed soon after Iowa had become a part of the Union.

He also held the double distinction, serving as the first chief justice of two states – first Iowa – then later California.

Though his early life was spent in the east, Judge Hastings came to Muscatine, then known as Bloomington, in 1837. He was admitted to the bar in Muscatine, and was soon appointed to the office of justice of the peace. In the latter capacity, the judge maintained steadfastly that his “jurisdiction covered the whole western territory, extending to the Pacific ocean.”

As justice of the peace, Judge Hastings tried only one case, but from that gained considerable notoriety. He won considerable fame also through a heated personal rivalry with Alexander McGregor, well known Davenport lawyer of the early days. An account of an incident in which Hastings bested McGregor in a law suit at Davenport is contained in an early history of the community.

“Alexander McGregor was one of the original proprietors of the town of Davenport, and a terror in this region in the practice of his profession. He was very abusive when handling a case. It was his game to scare the other side out of their case before a jury if he could. The first case Hastings had after he came to Muscatine, he found McGregor on the other side – and McGregor attempted his old tactics, and Hastings met him on his own grounds. When McGregor abused his witnesses, Hastings abused McGregor and astonished court and jury by his daring to do such a thing.

“In his speech to the jury, McGregor bore down on Hastings like fury, and when Hastings came to reply, he just raked McGregor from head to foot, black-guarded him, called him names and made him so mad he was red as a brick. And Hastings won the case. Three weeks later, Hastings again met McGregor in Davenport. A farmer from Cedar county was Hastings’ client, and the trial was before two justices, according to the old time way. It was in 1838. McGregor had fixed it up to pack the jury and Hastings saw the game and determined to check mate it. He knew that McGregor was a power and determined to expose his tactics. The whole trial was a wrangle between the attorneys more than anything else.

“When the argument came up, the lawyers got into a bitter quarrel and at last McGregor called Hastings a liar, rose to go for him, and Hastings knocked him down. Then McGregor rushed out of the court room across the street to a grocery store, where he borrowed two pistols and went back to court, where Hastings was talking to the jury. Hastings told the jury that McGregor had two loaded pistols in his pockets but he was a coward and dared not use them. And then Hastings, without ever looking at McGregor, abused him. McGregor trembled with rage – actually became purple in the face – but he didn’t fire. The result was the jury hung until it was discharged, three or four of them being in favor of a verdict for the judge’s client.

Judge Hastings married Azelta Bratt at Moscow in 1845. She died in 1876. The judge’s death occurred Feb. 18, 1893, at San Francisco.

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On Jan. 29, 1872 , occurred the death of John G. Stine, pioneer settler, early industrialist and former mayor of the city at his residence here.

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Photo of David R. Warfield - The real estate business, raising of fine stock and the lumber trade were business ventures of David R. Warfield, who came to Muscatine in the year 1837.

He was born in Easton, Md., March 30, 1816 and married Miss Johanna Steinberger, a native of Ohio. His first business enterprise here was the building of a mill for the manufacture of lumber on Mad Creek. He later turned to the real estate business. He died April 23, 1872.

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Blacksmith Shop Was First “Gym” in Bloomington

There was nothing in the way of organized sports to occupy the residents of old Bloomington. Instead, Tiley Smalley’s blacksmith shop served unofficially as he town “gymnasium.” Here it was that many of the town’s leading citizens gathered to test their strength in wrestling, jumping, lifting and other feats of strength.

The Hon. Ralph P. Lowe, his law partner, John g. Deshler, Michael Greene, Ozra Phelps, Hiram “Pap” Matthews, Reuben Warren and a dozen others of less muscular ability vied in this impromptu competition.

One could not pass the shop, old-timers recalled, without finding from six to 12 either engaged in these tests of strength or listening to some story from “Pap” Matthews, who was regarded as an expert in this line.

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