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Henry Blake MITCHELL remembers early days -- 1903


Posted By: Joey Stark
Date: 4/24/2012 at 20:52:51

(Henry Blake Mitchell)
The Fairfield Ledger
July 1, 1903
Page 7 Cols. 1 & 2

Written W. G. Ross.

I was born in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, on July 5th 1818, and came to Jefferson County in 1840. The route to Fairfield from New Hampshire at that time was by no means straight. I came over the mountains to Troy, N.Y., thence to Buffalo on the Erie Canal, then on the lakes to Cleveland, O., then to Cairo in the same state, and on the Ohio and Mississippi to Ft. Madison. From Ft. Madison the road was by way of West Point and Salem. I crossed Cedar at Coltraine's mill in Van Buren County, south of Glasgow. There was no Glasgow then, and I spent the night at the log cabin of Noah Wright near where Mt. Zion church is now located. The next morning I walked up to the James Galliher homestead in Cedar township and got my breakfast, and the entire bill of fare was coffee, corn bread and side meat. I reached Fairfield on November 1st, 1840, having walked all the way from Ft. Madison.

Fairfield was then a modest village of from fifty to seventy-five people. The courthouse was located at the southwest corner of the square, where is now the Jefferson County State Bank. Dr. Wall (Waugh?) had a tavern where the Jordan building now stands, and Dickey ran a tavern where the Workman-Slagle buildings are on the north side of the square. Wm. Winn had a harness shop about where Simpson now runs a meat market, and this Wm. Winn was the first man that I knew who was buried in the old cemetery. John Ratcliff had a grocery where Wells' bank was for many years. On the east side of the square there was no building flush with the street. Parrish Ellis had a cabinet shop on the east end of the lot where Rodibaugh now has a harness store, and on the south side Richard Irwin had a general store on the lot where the Odd Fellows building now is.

On West Burlington Street the Congregationalists had a church on the lot west across the alley from the Jefferson County State Bank. On West Broadway Gilbert M. Fox had a dwelling where the club rooms now are, it being the building that was torn out to make room for the present brick. On North Main street there was a log dwelling where the Ricksher buildings now are, occupied by Ira Tilson (Tillotson). J. W. Culbertson lived in a cabin on the present opera house lot. Ebenezer S. Gage had built a story and a half frame building where the old Smith house is, on lot 8, block 4, old plat, and used the front part as a store and the back part and upstairs as a dwelling. West of it was a log cabin, formerly the dwelling of Gage, and which was then sometimes used for a school house. North of the Gage building H. B. Nelson had a frame dwelling which was never finished, and Willis Stone had a dwelling where the Kelloggs now live.

Dr. Moberly lived in a one story house, two rooms, fronting south on the courthouse square, and where the Fairfield house now is was a two story log house owned by James Clark. The Presbyterian church stood on the east one of the lots where the Methodist
church is now located. On the east part of the Leggett house lots Wm. Wilkins had a dwelling and blacksmith shop, both made of logs.

J. L. Scott had a dwelling on the library lots facing south, and he was then the sheriff of the county. The jail was located on South Main Street on the lots now owned by Orlando Flower. These are all the buildings located then on the original town quarter, so far as I can recall. It is not likely that I have missed any. Samuel Shuffleton lived where Lights now do and Pitzer where M.H. Cuddy now does, but both of them were outside of the town. I broke ten acres of ground for Pitzer west of his dwelling and running out to Fourth Street and New Chicago, in 1842.

Strictly speaking, there was not then a gray-headed man in the town. The oldest man, I think, was E. S. Gage, and he was about forty. The first session of court I remember was in March, 1841, and it was the first term held in the courthouse. At a former term it was said the grand jury met in the brush. Charles Mason of Burlington was the presiding judge, and of the lawyers I can remember Samuel Shuffleton and Thomas H. Gray. Rice was then reading law, I think, and George G. Wright was admitted to the bar at this term.

What was called the first Indian purchase, or the Blackhawk Purchase, was made of the Indians in 1832. The description of the land is set down as follows: "The Sacs and Foxes cede to the United States a strip of land following the west bank of the Mississippi river till it ends at the Missouri line fifty miles west of the Mississippi river, excepting a piece of land 400 square miles on both sides of Iowa river and containing Keokuk's village, not far from the site of Wapello, and excepting also the Half Breed Tract." The west line of this purchase ran through Jefferson County, very nearly at the east line of Fairfield township.

The next purchase was in 1837 and embraced 1,250,000 acres of land, and the west boundary was a straight line from the west terminal points of the former purchase. The west line of this purchase ran north and south, varying somewhat to the northeast and southwest very nearly through the center of Locust Grove township. The Indian Agency was at Agency City, and Phelps and Ewing each had a trading post at Ottumwa, and Eddy had one at Eddyville. Black Hawk's village was at lowaville. The Indians moved west in the fall of 1842, as they were required to be gone by April 15th 1843, and they then vacated a strip about seventy-five miles wide and extending out near Chariton. Indians were occasional visitors in those days in Fairfield as they passed back and forth from Iowaville to Wapello in Louisa County. Their trail at that time ran near where Geo. W. Ball now lives and crossed Cedar at John Famulener's old farm and thence directly to lowaville or Selma as it is now called. Their aim was to keep on high ground, thus avoiding swamps and morasses, and go as directly as this would allow from ford to ford. The deer, elk and buffalo trails followed this same rule.

The three townships, Liberty, Fairfield, and Black Hawk, were first thrown on the market February 7th, 1843, the six townships to the east having already been on the market for many years. The people who had squatted on the land formed a protective association and appointed one man to make the bids, and but one man did make bids except in one instance. That there should be no rival bidding was an unwritten law, but it was effective.

The settlers did not propose that anyone having some money should speculate at their expense in their farms and homes. I was appointed to make the bids for Fairfield township. The auctioneer took his place inside the window at the Dickey hotel, Capt. Evans acting as secretary or clerk. The land was sold by congressional numbers, eighty acres at a time, extending north and south. The auctioneer would call out east half of northeast quarter. If it was on my list I said, "Bid." That ended it, and the auctioneer went on to the next piece. "Bid" meant that I or someone for whom I was acting would take the land at the government price, $1.25 per acre. When twelve sections were gone over in this way a recess was taken, the sales made were closed up, the money paid and the purchaser received a certificate of purchase. On the same day quite an amount of land was sold in Liberty and some in Black Hawk. J. J. Smith, for whom Smith's ford is named, was the principal purchaser in Liberty.

In 1848-9 there was a plank road made from Burlington to Mt. Pleasant. In 1850 there was much agitation here about building a plank road from Fairfield to join the road there from Burlington. A number of the leading citizens of Fairfield formed a company for this purpose and made a contract with Alexander Fulton and myself to grade the road for three miles east of J. A. Beck's present residence. T. W. Titus was to put in the bridge over Crow Creek. We did all the grading the contract called for except a part of the Labagh hill. The railroad began to be talked about here in 1852-3 and further work on the plank road was abandoned.

*Transcribed for genealogy purposes; I am not related to the person(s) mentioned.

Note: Transcribed and contributed for posting by Richard K. Thompson.


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