Van Meter Township History

Excerpt from The History of Dallas County, Iowa, published in 1879 by the Union Historical Company of Des Moines, Iowa

This township is the second one from the east in the south tier of townships in Dallas County. It is known in the government surveys as congressional township 78, north of range 27, west of the 5th principal meridian.

The forks of the Raccoon River are near the center of this township, and the Bulger Creek flows into the South Raccoon river within the township boundaries, giving it very fine water, timber and mill privileges. It also has plenty of good prairie farming land, and some excellent river bottom land for agricultural purposes.

Its surface is, for the most part, rolling, the soil fertile, and the general improvements now pretty well advanced. It is becoming quite thickly settled, and has numerous large and well improved stock and grain farms, and the citizens are generally in comfortable circumstances.

The territory now known as Van Meter Township was, for a long time after the organization of the county, without any separate township organization, being split up and attached to the other adjoining townships. For a long time the east half was a part of Boone, while a part of the northeast corner was attached to Adel Township, and the remainder, in connection with the greater part of what is now Adams township, united in forming 'Coon township, which was soon afterward all thrown into Adel Township, and so remained for a number of years, until Adel was settled in its present form.

Van Meter was first settled in its present form by the following order, made January 4, 1869, as shown by the records:

Ordered, That all that portion of congressional township number seventy-eight (78), range 27, now included in the township of Boone; and all that portion of said congressional township number seventy-eight (78), range twenty-seven (27), aforesaid, now included in Adel, be detached from said townships of Boone and Adel; and that the whole of said township 78, range 27, shall constitute a new township, to be called and known as Van Meter Township; and it is further

Ordered, That William Ellis  be appointed to post notices of the organization of said township of Van Meter, in pursuance of the statute in such cases made and provided.

This order established the township in its present form, with the boundary lines of the congressional township above named. Some minor changes in the boundaries may have occurred since, for school purposes or other conveniences, but no record of any important or permanent change is found since that date.

Van Meter Township has the honor of the first settlement in Dallas county being made within its present bounds. This settlement was made by the Stump Brothers, during the fall of 1845, as before stated.

Early the next spring a number of more settlers came into that vicinity, the Wrights, the Ellis's, the Haworth's and others, and during that year the number was increased by the arrival of Henry Stump and family, Noah Staggs, Mr. Clark, Henry Garner, Henry Busick, John Juvenaugh, James Black, William P. McCubbin, Richard Golden, John Clayton, Sylvanus Night, James More, Nathan Moore and William Brown, and doubtless others whose names we have not been able to ascertain--making quite a thriving--settlement in that vicinity during that year.

We are indebted to Mr. Levi Wright for the principal information regarding the early settlement of this township, who came into that vicinity in February, 1846, took a claim on section 16, in company with his brother, James Wright, built a cabin on his claim, and moved his family there from Polk County the following April, where he still lives, a number more coming into that and other parts of the county at the same time and in company with him.

The first house built in Van Meter Township was also the first one built in the county, which was the claim cabin, 16x18, built by the Stump brothers early in the winter of 1845.

The second claim cabin in the county was built by Levi Wright a few months later, in the last of February, 1846, about the same size and style of structure and architecture as that of the Stump cabin.

John Wright built the third cabin soon afterward, and Henry Stump, sometime during the spring of 1846--as Mr. Wright informs us--built the first double hewed-log house in the township, consisting of two rooms, one story high, each room being about sixteen feet square. This house was considered a fine structure in those days, and perhaps was not surpassed in beauty and convenience and comfort for many years.

The first death in this township was also the first one in the county. It was that of old Mr. Coffin, the father of Greenbury Coffin, and father-in-law of John Wright. He died at Henry Stump's house, of old age, during the winter of 1846-47, and was buried in the Clayton grave-yard.

The first school-house in the township was a log cabin, built on section 15, during the spring of 1847, by a claimant who soon moved away and left it vacant, and for some time it was used as a school-house, until a better one was provided. The first school taught in this house was taught either by William P. McCubbin or Miss Malinda Night. Mr. Wright informs us that these were the first two who taught school in the township, but does not remember certainly which taught first.

The first church service was at the house of James Black, some time in 1846. The sermon was preached by Rev. William Busick, a Radical Protestant Methodist, who supplied a circuit west of Des Moines. Religious services were then held altogether in private houses and school-houses for some time.

The first church organization formed in the township was that of a Methodist Episcopal Church, some time during 1847, and the first church building erected and dedicated in the township was probably the one in the town of Van Meter.

The township has five different grave-yards within its limits: one at De Soto, one at Van Meter, one near Levi Wright's, and two others.

The wooden bridge at Van Meter, built by Jonathan Peppard, is 364 feet long, being a double bridge, and is a model in construction. It is by considerable the longest bridge in the county, and cost a great amount of money for its construction.

The iron bridge at Van Meter's mill on the Adel and De Soto road is 220 feet long, and is also a model bridge of its kind.

This township has two fine bridges, built by the county, one spanning the main Raccoon river at the town of Van Meter, and the other across the South Raccoon at H. G. Van Meter's mill, near the west line of the township.

The township has also some good stone-quarries, which furnish both sandstone and limestone in abundance, and a good many of the limestone boulders are found scattered on the surface in different places.

It has eight school-houses, besides two graded schools in De Soto and Van Meter; and at least five or six church buildings, counting those in the towns.

There are two thriving towns in the township, De Soto and Van Meter, each of which receive due notice further on, under the head of towns.

Van Meter Township affords plenty of coal, and the most extensively worked coal mine in the county, the one at the town of Van Meter owned and worked by the Chicago & Van Meter Coal Company, a sketch of which is previously given under the head of "Coal Mines."

It also has two good water-power grist-mills, and numerous excellent mill sites on the Raccoon River.

H. G. Van Meter's mill is situated on the bank of the South Raccoon, about three miles west of De Soto, on the main road to Adel. On the same site was formerly a saw-mill, built by Glover & McPherson about 1855-6, and the property was sold by them in 1859 to H. G. & Jacob Van Meter, who tore down the old saw-mill and built a grist-mill a little above, or perhaps partly on the old mill site, in 1860-1.

This mill is now owned by H. G. Van Meter, and is said to have one of the best dams on the river, having a head of about seven feet of water. It has three run of stone, one four-foot burr, one three and a-half feet, and one two and a-half feet, only two of which are run at once. One burr is capable of grinding eight bushels per hour as an average. This mill is kept in good running order, and has a large run of custom.

Jacob Van Meter's mill is situated on the bank of the main Raccoon, near the town of Van Meter. It was built about 1866-7, and also has two wheat burrs, each about three feet, and one corn burr about two and a-half feet in diameter. Each of the wheat burrs is capable of grinding about six bushels per hour, and the dam has a head of about six feet fall. This mill is also kept in good repair, and has an extensive custom.

Van Meter Township has one good railroad, the C., R. I. & P. R. R., which enters the township at the east side, about a mile from the southeast corner, and follows the valley of the main Raccoon River as far as the town of Van Meter, where it turns up the valley of Bulger Creek, and follows that in a rather crooked course, passing out at the east side of Van Meter Township, on section 30, at De Soto.

This road furnishes the township with excellent shipping facilities and market privileges, and gives it two towns within its limits--De Soto and Van Meter-- also two good post-offices at these towns, and daily mails arrive and depart regularly, north, south, east and west.

There are numerous large and elegant farm houses and country residences in the township, among which may be mentioned those of J. J. and H. G. Van Meter, and fine yards and fruit orchards in every direction, all of which indicate thrift and enterprise on the part of the owners of the farms and .citizens of the township.

The first election held in Van Meter township was held at the house of Henry Stump, April 5, 1847, that being one of the polling places at the first election, and it was then and there chiefly that the spirited contest was had between the rival candidates for the office of sheriff, when the jug of whisky won the day.

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