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

Section 3 - Page 9, Submitted by Cheryl Sheets, March 20, 2012

Financial Woes Started ‘Way Back
First Year Saw County ‘in Red’ to Tune of $2,908

Financial woes beset Muscatine county ‘way back in its teething stages, and by Jan. 1, 1840—just a century ago—the county was “in the red” to the extent of some $2,908.91.

The county of Muscatine first came into existence on Dec. 7, 1836 by an act of the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin, but the first financial records for the county now available at the court house are for 1838.

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Issuance of licenses in those days formed a more lucrative source of revenue than did taxation from which governmental units today derive the great bulk of their income.

The county licensed merchants, peddlars and “grocers,” the latter dispensing liquid refreshments, although historians cannot seem to agree whether it was common for all grocery stores to handle liquor, or just certain types of them.

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There is no itemized account of receipts and expenditures for the first year, 1938 [1838]. The record simply lists in gross amounts, receipts of $489.32 and expenditures of $1,184.37 for an operating deficit of $695.05 for the year.

A more detailed accounting is available for 1839, revealing expenditures of the county government to be rising at a considerably more rapid rate than receipts.

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Preservation of law and order ran into a comparatively big figure for that year, with the cost of criminal persecutions, jury fees and sheriff’s fees all figuring heavily into the total. Bridge construction also was a major item, and the recapitulation of disbursements shows: Criminal prosecutions, $578.19; bridges, $1,118.60; jury fees, $276.99; sheriff, $294.76; road views, $241; commissioners’ and clerk’s fees, $197; other fees, $197; other fees and room rent for district court, $117; election, $108; and miscellaneous, $107.12; total $3,038.66.

On the other hand, receipts totaled but $824.80, made up of $578.16 in license fees and $246.64 from taxes. As a result the county debt had risen to $2,908.91 by the first of 1840. John Vanater, Robert Stuart and Mapes Timm were the county commissioner in whose hands these financial troubles rested at that time.

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County revenue began a marked pick-up in 1840, and taxes asserted themselves as the main source of funds with which to run the county government. A new scource of income also figured into the receipts, as fines brought in $155.37 during the year. Receipts from licenses were $797.07; 1839 taxes, $223.07; and 1840 taxes, $1,818.43; making a total of $2,994.14.

Early Relief Problem.

At the same time, though, the county incurred additional items of expense in 1840. Muscatine county was faced with its first “relief problem,” and we find on the financial statement for that year an expenditure of $421.25 for “support of the poor.”

Other items of expense cropped up as the functions of the county government became more manifold and diversified, as can be seen from the following detailed list of expenditures:

    Expense of criminal prosecutions, $496.22; support of the poor, $421.25; services of sheriff, $391.34; laying out territorial roads, $271.16; district attorney fees, $355; services of clerk of district court, $136; services of clerk of board of commissioners, $163; services of commissioners, $162; fees of officers of district court, $89; rent of rooms for district court and juries, $116.96; expense of assessing for 1840, $116.75; jurors fees, $196.22; jailor’s fees, $84.02; jail furniture, $52.75; expense of elections, 1840, $39.10; expense of stationery, $32.25; amount overpaid for licenses and refunded, $16.80; extra services to clerk of board of commissioners for 1839, $32; and expense of obtaining lists of lands sold in the county from the land office, $70.60; for a total of $3,336.67.

    Balance of tax for 1840 still due the county at the time was placed at approximately $800. The board of commissioners then included John Vanater, Benjamin Nye and William Leffingwell.

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It was in the following year 1841, that for the first time receipts topped expenditures and Muscatine county began to find itself upon a solvent basis.

Expenditures Cut in 1841.

This was accomplished not not through an increase in receipts but rather through a slashing reduction of expenditures which fell off almost a thousand dollars to a figure of $2,373.68.

Income also fell off but not so much and amounted to $2,603.28. It was noted on the bottom of the financial statement for the year, however, that a balance of tax for 1841 still due the county totaled $2,820.59.

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During 1841, the county collected $584.74 in 1841 and $1,588.86 in 1840 taxes. Licenses brought in $352.29, fines accounted for $39.39, and sale of laws amounted to $18.

Items of expenditure were: District court, $1056.80; jail, $267.37; commissioner’s court, $186; extra services, commissioner’s court, $65; assessment 1841, $112.50; election 1841, $66.38; territorial roads, bridges, etc., $203.21; making tax list, $50; field notes of six townships, $30; support of poor, $299.36; stationery, $14.56; and printers bill, $22.50. The statement was prepared by L. C. Day, clerk.

In the year 1863 and on Jan. 18, a monster mass meeting was staged at the Muscatine county courthouse when residents endorsed the president and his proclamation and adopted resolutions cheering soldiers in the field. At the same time a warning to “traitors” at home to “keep still” was also issued.

The Muscatine city council agreed to pay $1,500 damages to the First Congregational church occasioned by grading of Pine street on Jan. 26, 1856. At the same meeting the council voted to increase the city police force from six to nine men.

“Specie in proportion to the amount of money in circulation, was never more plenty in our community than at present. We have heard repeated inquiries for good paper in exchange for specie, but understand it is hard to get”—news item published on Jan. 10, 1843.

Church Leader

Photo of Rev. John Hudson
Instrumental in the erection of the first Presbyterian church edifice in Muscatine was the Rev. John Hudson, who in the month of May, 1847 received an invitation to become the stated supply of the Presbyterian church of Bloomington. Then, in 1849, he removed to a farm near West Liberty which he had purchased while residing here, and in that community organized a society and built a house of worship which was later removed to West Liberty.

Born in Lexington, Ky., July 19, 1800, he grew to manhood there, receiving his education in eastern schools. He started in the ministerial profession in 1822, serving congregations in several Ohio cities and in Tennessee before coming to Muscatine.

He married Miss Elizabeth Bell in Lexington. The minister’s death occurred at Keota, Ia., in 1891.

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