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Posted By: County Coordinator
Date: 4/4/2020 at 22:52:42

GUY WELLS - The facts forming this biography are taken from the Old Settlers’ Book of Lee County written by Hon. Daniel F. Miller.

Guy Wells was born in Wyalusing, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, July 21st, 1813. He came west in March, 1838, and was engaged as civil engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad till October 1839, when he settled at Fort Madison, Lee County, Iowa. While living here, in 1839, 1840 and 1841, he, with James Wilson (now deceased), was a contractor under the employ of the United States or building the penitentiary at Fort Madison. Iowa was then a territory, and the United States furnished the money for territorial government, including the building of the penitentiary. While engaged in this government work, Mr. Wells and said partner also carried on a store of dry goods, groceries, hardware, etc. They sold out the store to William G. Albright about 1843. About this time, he and his said partner built a steam ferry boat and had it run from Fort Madison across the Mississippi river about two years. During the time of owning the ferry, he and said Wilson, and C. H. Perry, and Arthur Wolcott started another store in Fort Madison, and ran it several years; and with A. Ladd and James Wilson he erected the large block still used as mercantile houses on the southeast corner of First and Pine streets, Fort Madison.

From 1842 to 1844, he acted as Deputy Sheriff of Lee County under Col. William Stotts. In the year of 1845 or 1846 (date forgotten) he ran a store of goods for Bonnel Brothers, at Salem, Henry County, Iowa.

In 1846, the Bonnel Brothers loaded three barges or flat-boats with corn, pork, lard and oats, to send down the Mississippi from Fort Madison to New Orleans, and entrusted two of the barges to a regular pilot; the third was given in charge to Mr. Wells. The two barges in charge of the regular pilots were sunk in the Mississippi, and never reached their destination, one by a snag and the other by a collision with a steamboat, while the boat in charge of Mr. Wells landed safely in New Orleans and its cargo was disposed of to good advantage, it being just at the commencement of the war with Mexico, which caused produce to be in good demand.

In the spring of 1847, he left Fort Madison and settled in Keokuk, and soon after was engaged as surveyor under the United States by General Lewis, Surveyor-General of Iowa, to survey government lands, preparatory to their sale by the government. Which lands lie in what are now known as Tama and Poweshiek Counties.

In the fall of 1847, he was employed as Assistant Engineer on the Des Moines River improvement, employed by H. W. Sample. First President of the Board of Public Works of Iowa. Col. (afterwards Gen.) Samuel R. Curtis, of Pea Ridge Fame, was then Chief Engineer of said work. About 1849 or 1850, he was appointed Chief Engineer of said improvement, and continued as such (except two years) till 1857.

From about 1847 to 1853, he was city Engineer of the city of Keokuk, and established its grades; also assisted in establishing its system of sewerage. In 1859, in connection with J. R. Hornish and H. W. Sample, he undertook to construct the Illinois and Southern Iowa Railroad from the east side of the Mississippi river opposite Keokuk to a connection with the Toledo, Wabash & Western Railroad at Clayton, Illinois, forty-two miles from Keokuk, and finished it on the 5th of March, 1863. This was the first eastern railroad Keokuk ever had. Mr. Wells and his partners in this enterprise, two years after its completion (in 1855 or 1856,) sold out to considerable pecuniary advantage.

About 1867, he formed a partnership with Col. William Patterson and others in running the Sonora stone quarry, and furnished the rock for the bridge across the Mississippi River at Keokuk, for the foundation of the new State House at Springfield, Ill., and various other public improvements.

In 1869, he assisted in organizing a company for the construction of the Keokuk, Iowa City & Minnesota Railroad, which work he has still on hand.

In 1857, he was elected President of the School Board of Keokuk, and has served continuously in that capacity till the present time. The large public edifice known as the Wells School-house is named in honor of his efficient services in the department of education in thus city.

About 1868, he united in partnership with George B. Felt and f. H. Vandegrift in the construction of a large steam saw mill at Montrose, which they finished. It is still being worked, and although Mr. Vandegrift (deceased) has been succeeded by another partner, Mr. Wells is still interested as a partner therein.

Mr. Wells has been twice married. His first wife, whose maiden name was Sarah G. Sturdevant, whom he married in Pennsylvania, died in about a year after marriage. He was married to his second wife, Miss Ellen H. Hawxhurst, at Fort Madison, October 1st, 1850. By this marriage he has had four children three of whom are living.

Mr. Wells is a man of great energy and comprehensive business capacity. Few men have done the amount of business that he has in Lee County since he first landed here thirty-four years ago. As an engineer he has had few equals in the country. He is a good financier, public-spirited citizen, and warmly devoted to the cause of education and general improvement.

Illustrated Historical ATLAS of Lee County, IOWA
A. T. Andreas
Chicago, ILL.

Transcription by Mary H. Cochrane, Volunteer


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