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

Section 7 - Page 20 & 21, Submitted by Shirley Plumb, July 22, 2012

Page 20

Wapello’s History Begins In Year 1836
Plat for City Put on Record Jan. 17, 1837

Photos of the Louisa County Court House and the Louisa County Jail

One of the oldest settlements in Louisa County is the county seat. Wapello, which was first laid out in 1836 and 1837 and a plat for the place recorded under the name of “Wappelow” on Jan. 17, 1837. The town evidently spring up in several different sections, for in the early records reference may be found to Upper Wapello, which corresponds to the present England’s addition, Center Wapello, the original town, and Lower Wapello, which was undoubtedly the first to be laid out.

Jeremiah Smith Jr., of Des Moines County, and a number of other early settlers in this region are credited with first laying out the town of Lower Wapello. An instrument made by Smith to James McDaniel gives verification to this fat. It reads, in part:

    “Know all men by these presents that I, Jeremiah Smith Jr., of Des Moines County, I. T., for and in consideration of the sum of $ 300, to me paid by James McDaniel of Louisa County, I. T., have sold unto the said James McDaniel all of my interest in the original town plat of Lower Wapello, Louisa County, Iowa Territory, situated on lots one and two of the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section 35, township 74 north, range 3 west, as laid off by me and other in the year 1836 and 7, and as by reference to such plat at the land office will appear”.

The instrument was dated August, 27, 1844.

When a territorial road was established west of the Mississippi by a board of commissioners set up by the legislative assembly of the Wisconsin territory, it was located through Wapello. The original plat and field notes of the part of the road through Louisa County locates the public square of Lower Wapello as one point on the line. According to the field notes of the survey, this point must have been situated upon the land referred to in the Smith deed. It was only a couple of years after the first settlement of Lower Wapello that Center Wapello, now known as the original town of Wapello, became the main town.

The seat of justice was a at Wapello by a vote of the people, and the county commissioners, William Milligan, Israel L. Clark and Wright Williams, purchased the great part of the southwest quarter of section 27, township 74 north, range 3 west, for the seat of government in Louisa County. Laid out by John Gilliland, county surveyor, the plat was certified by him on May 6, 1839 – more than a hundred years ago.

The next part of the present town to be laid out was England’s addition, and this was followed by Bird’s addition, Townsend’s addition, Herrick’s addition, Bell’s addition, and others. The man after whom the first addition is named was among the earliest settlers of Wapello. He was Thomas England who came here in 1835 to take up his residence in this frontier country.

Probably the first man to operate a tavern in Wapello was William Milligan, who built the first dwelling house in the town. The records show that he procured a license for one year commencing April 1, 1837, but old-timers recall that he did not keep a regular tavern but simply entertained friends occasionally.

In August, 1837, S. S. Gourley was granted a tavern license for a sixth months term, and his place is supposed to have been the first regular tavern in Wapello.

In 1838 John Drake built the Drake House, and mention can be found in 1839 of the Drake House. Three or four years later he moved to a more pretentious hotel on Front Street. The first saloon operator was probably Nelson Derthick in Central Wapello while the first regular store keeper appear to have been John Bevins of Upper Wapello.

The county seat of Louisa was first established at Lower Wapello by the Wisconsin legislature on Jan. 18, 1838. The following year an election was held, and it was voted to locate the seat of government at Center Wapello and the county commissioners decided to erect the court house there. The three towns in time unite into one, and the first brick court house was erected under private contract in 1840 at a price of $ 1,300.

Plans for the building were made by an early settler, John Rinearson, and cost the county the sum of $ 5.00.

Wapello’s post office was opened on Aug. 15, 1837, with Christopher A. Ballard as postmaster. The early history of schools in the community begins in the summer of 1840 when John Gilliland, then county surveyor, conducted a private school in his log cabin on Main Street in the north part of town.

The court house was used for school purpose for a time, and in 1844 the first regular school house was built. This building was used until 1853 when a brick structure was erected.

The town of Wapello was first incorporated in 1856 after a special election had been held to sound out sentiment on the proposal, and the first city officers named to preside over the incorporated town were: John Corson, mayor, Lewis Kinsey, recorder; James Semple, marshal; and H. T. Leaver, D. C. Jackson, Leonard Robinson, Thomas Stoddard and L. P. Wells, councilmen.

Many constructive improvements have been made and the town has grown in size and expanded to a marked extent since its first humble beginning when the vanguard of the white settlers was first entering this section of the country. Today, Wapello is a bustling, enterprising town with an attractive physical make-up. It boasts a new court house which is one of the most attractive in the state, a modern school system including a new high school building, a spanking new county jail and many other improvements which speak well for the progressive spirit of its citizens.

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Page 21

They Ordered First Paving and Sewers

Photo of Muscatine City Council members ~ The city council that gives Muscatine its first paving and first sewers is shown above in a photo that was taken in 1895. Acting to assure the city streets that would support traffic in all kinds of weather, these aldermen supervised the installation of brick paving that began at Second Street and Iowa Avenue and extended to Front and Third streets and through the most heavily-traveled portions of Second Street. At the same time, the city body ordered construction of sewers under the new paving.

Appearing in the picture, left to right, are Alderman George Keckler, Alderman George Eitman, Alderman Chris Hetzel (bearded man in foreground), City Treasurer J. M. Butler (shown just behind Mr. Hetzel), City Attorney Frank Richmond, the late Dr. E. B. Fulliam, Sr., Mayor of Muscatine; Alderman Charles Warfield, Alderman Frank Ashcraft, Alderman W. L. Roach, Alderman J. S. Nietzel and Alderman John Sterneman.

Mr. Eitman, who served on the council for four years while he was between the ages of 27 and 31, is the only surviving member of the group.

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