Decorah Township

"No wonder for the Indian people, here was one of their favorite haunts upon the banks of this beautiful river, fed by its springs and trout brooks, its bluffs now becoming so bare, then covered with their forests in which were the wild deer, the partridge and squirrel; these vales, now at times bare and dust-covered, filled with waving grass, plum trees, fruits, and flowers. No wonder, I say, that from the outside prairies the Indian trails centered here, along with these, our recent predecessors of a former race, in accordance watch their simple patriarchal government, by their families and their tribes, came in here for the burial of their dead, and here to hunt and fish," so stated Rev. E. Adams, the early pastor of the Congregational Church of Decorah in a Thanksgiving Day address preached at the Methodist Church, November 27,1867, on the subject, "The First Things of Decorah."

Development of the city of Decorah is so intertwined with the nearby rural areas in Decorah Township that it is next to impossible to write separate historical facts about either. But at some point a historian has to start and Rev. Adams in his discourse says that in the month of June, 1849. An ordinary immigrant wagon, pulled by horses, with the members and the belongings of the Wm. Day family, settled down at a spring now known as the Day Spring, located directly back of the Winneshiek Hotel.

The remains of an abandoned village of the Winnebago Indians was still in existence in the neighborhood as the Days arrived. They later became well known as the first residents of what was later to be Decorah. The Day family within a short time built the Winneshiek House, with its completion on or about December 24, 1855.

A second pioneer, Wm. Painter, a native of Green County, Ohio, arrived shortly after the Day's and the first birth recorded in the township was of his son George Patten Painter born in the fall of 1849. He was honored by being given the name of the two sons in the Day family, George and Patten. Painter built a mill on the Upper Iowa River taking as a partner a man by the name of Aldridge. Gristmills and sawmills were the forerunner of industry, these being closely tied with the agriculture of the area.

Other early pioneers were Philip Morse, Mr. Driggs, Heivly, Dunning, John B. Onstine, Dryden Smith, A. B. Weber, John L. Burton, L. Bullis, and E. E. Cooley.

What gave the Decorah area a special rise of importance took place in the year 1855 when the land office for the Turkey River Land District was established the day before Christmas of that year. "The town was crowded with adventurers from all parts of the country, with a rage for land almost barbarous." "For two weeks, until some system was established, entrance was gained to the office by brute force," said Rev. Adams in his history.

On March 15,1868, a paper mill company was organized at Freeport which continued for a period of years. A lime kill still standing at its located in section 11 on land now owned by Dr. E. H. McMasters. It supplied materials for the manufacture of paper at this powered mill.

Near what is now known as Siewert Springs, a man by the name of A. A. Aikens started a woolen mill that was shown on a map of Decorah Township in 1875. Strangely enough a nearby land owner's name was Patrick Henry.

Six cemeteries or burial places are recorded for Decorah Township. Those well plotted and recorded are that of the Lutheran Cemetery, the Phelps Cemetery, and the St. Benedicts Catholic cemetery in section 27. In section 31 southwest of Decorah on highway number 52 is located the Union Prairie Cemetery which was set aside in 1868 from land purchased from Guttoram Ellenson. An old established cemetery is on the grounds of the Freeport Methodist Church while to the woods mile east of Freeport in section 13 is a cemetery which is traced back to 1851. This cemetery is located along a road, which once ran east out of Freeport, but later the road was abandoned because of erosion.

Please, contact the county coordinator to submit additions or corrections.

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