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Early History of Iowa Counties


Posted By: Jennifer Gunderson (email)
Date: 12/26/2020 at 03:42:34

CERRO GORDO COUNTY lies in the second tier south of the Minnesota line, in the fifth west of the Mississippi River and is twenty-four miles square embracing twenty-four congressional townships, making an area of five hundred seventy-six square miles. It was established from the original county of Fayette in 1851 and named for a battlefield of the Mexican War.

In July, 1851, Joseph Hewitt and James Dickinson, who were hunting near Clear Lake, were so delighted with the beautiful country bordering it that they built cabins on the south and west shores and, sending for their families, became the first white settlers in the new county. They were fifty miles from the nearest neighbor and were frequently visited by parties of Winnebago Indians who came to the lake to hunt and trap. In 1853 David and Edwin Wright made claims about three miles north of where Mason City stands. In September of the same year Anson C. Owens settled at a grove which bears his name in the eastern part of the county. James and Robert Serrine took claims at the east end of Clear Lake the same year. John B. Long and John L. McMillan soon after settled on the ground where Mason City stands. Clear Lake is a beautiful body of water about six miles long by two miles wide and its greatest depth is about twenty-five feet. The Shellrock River flows through the north eastern portion of the county.

In 1854 the town of Mason City was laid out and the first store was opened by J. L. McMillan one of the proprietors of the new town site. The town of Clear Lake was laid out in the fall of 1856 by James Dickinson on the east end of the lake which bears the same name.

Judge Samuel Murdock of the District Court in 1855 appointed commissioners to locate the county-seat. They selected Mason City. Most of the early settlers in that town were members of the Masonic order and the settlement was first called "Masonic Grove" but when the town was platted in 1854 was named Mason City, by and for that fraternity. The first school in the county was taught by Eliza Gardner, a daughter of Rowland Gardner who, with most of his family, perished in the Spirit Lake massacre in the spring of 1857. Eliza was fortunately absent from home at the time and thus escaped the fate of her father's family.

The first newspaper in the county was established at Mason City by Datus E. Coon in 1858, and named the Cerro Gordo Press. Its proprietor became a prominent officer in the Union army during the Civil War. The first railroad was completed from McGregor to Clear Lake, through Mason City, in 1870 by the Milwaukee and St. Paul Company.

Source: Gue, Benjamin F. History of Iowa from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century, Vol. III. Publisher: New York : Century History Company. 1903. p 325-6.
Transcription: Jennifer Gunderson. 26 Dec 2020.


Cerro Gordo Documents maintained by Lynn Diemer-Mathews.
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