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John Ossian Porter, born in N. Y. State, and later a resident of Pennsylvania, migrated to Winneshiek County at an early date and founded the village of Ossian.
Mr. Porter purchased the west 1/2 of N. E. 1/4, and the S . E . 1/4 of N. E 1/4, of section 10, township 96, range 8 in 1850. This property bordered on the 'Military Trail', the road connecting Fort Crawford and Fort Atkinson. Evidently, the Porter property contained the 'Quarter House', a log structure used as an overnight shelter by the travelers on the Military Trail.
When the Porter's youngest son was born in 1855, he was named Ossian. This same year the Village of Ossian was founded.
There is evidence that mail addressed to Ossian, Iowa, was delivered to this point as early as 1853. A letter addressed to Nathaniel Cornell, Ossian, Iowa, dated that year, was received by my great-grandfather. Mr. Porter was appointed the first postmaster of Ossian.
"Ossian" is described in the encylopedic dictionary ass "A legendary Irish hero and bard of the third century, subject of a cycle of poems by James MacPherson, published 1760 to 1768, purporting to be translations from the original Gaelic manuscripts of Ossian." Legendary or not, Ossian the Bard, is a well known tradition in Ireland. Quite likely, Porter, though born in New York State, was of Irish ancestry.
We cannot claim our town's name as unique. There is an Ossian, Indiana, of about the same population; and at one time, an Ossian, New York, was in existence.
We find it of interest that in 1851, founder Porter was delinquent in his taxes to the amount of $3.80. John McKay, of Washington Prairie, reputed to be the richest man in Winneshiek County, paid the taxes, and was issued a tax deed to the Porter farm, by the county treasurer, for the additional sum of $119. Although Mr. Porter retained ownership, perhaps by delayed payment during a grace period, the title to his property remained cloudy. When a parcel of 32 acres was sold to Sarah Owens many years later, she demanded that the title be cleared. John McKay's widow and children agreed to sign off their claim for $1. That is how close Ossian came to being "McKaysville!"
There are three visits of Porter children to the town of their birth on record. Harry, Abe and Sarah Porter Benson were interviewed in October of 1919 "by the editor of the Ossian Bee. They stated that their parents settled at this site in the fall of 1848. However, when Harry and Obert visited at the Weitgenant home in 1937, they said that their parents arrived in 1849. In the state census of I856, John O. Porter is listed as a resident of Iowa for six years. Likely, this date was used for scheduling Ossian's centennial celebration of 1950- Historian A. L. Goddard, in his account of the Josiah Goddard family's journey up the Military Trail, tells of staying overnight with the Porters in October of 1849. We are inclined to accept Mr. Goddard's date. He pinpoints their time of arrival at the gates of Fort Atkinson as: "Late in the afternoon of Oct. 20, 1849." His brother confirms the hour and date in an account written for Bailey's History of Winneshiek County. Since the Porters were well established at the Ossian site when the Goddards arrived, they must have been on the scene for at least several months.
In their interview of August, 1949, Harry and Orville Porter located their home on Will Mullaney's residential property on Broadway (present Edward Linderbaum residence) . An ice house and utility building, constructed by Mr. Mullaney during his proprietorship of the Mullaney & McManus meat market, stood on the old foundation of the Porter house. The residence was a frame structure; the boards were hewn from logs hauled from Moneek timberland; the shingles were of oak and shaved by hand. According to the boys, this home was constructed in 1853.
Mr. Goddard refers to the Porter's house as: "A solitary log cabin." Perhaps "he family lived in the "Quarter house" on the Military Trail prior to 1853. This log structure, located at the point of one quarter of the distance between McGregor and Fort Atkinson, was on the present (1982) site of the Donald Kipp residence.
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this page was last updated on Thursday, 01 April 2021