Jefferson County Online
Making a County Seat

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa - A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement", Volume 1, Pages 191-196, published by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Company of Chicago in 1912 (in 1914 according to some citations).




The first and pressing duty confronting the county commissioners was to make the Town of Fairfield an actuality. As they were legally compelled to have it surveyed by the county surveyor, or if there were none then by the surveyor of an adjacent county, they employed James M. Snyder of Henry County and directed him to attend on Wednesday, April 17, 1839, to do this work. His official certificate attached to the original plat gives April 19th as the date of the survey. The various fees allowed him amounted to $68. Chainmen and markers paid for services rendered in this connection were James Coleman, David Bowman, Sylvester Herrington, John Payton and Daniel Sears.

As laid out the town was square, the sides fronting the cardinal points of the compass. It was divided into twenty-five regular blocks by six streets running east and west and six running north and south. The central block was called "The Public Square." The four streets enclosing it were each eighty-two and one-half feet wide. These were named for presidents: the one on the east, Washington; the one on the west, Jefferson; the one on the north, Madison; the one on the south, Monroe. Other streets were sixty-six feet wide. Of these the interior ones were given no names at the time, but subsequently the one on the east was named Williams; the one on the west, Jackson; the one on the north, Walnut; and the one on the south, Church. The northern boundary street was named Sears; the eastern, Smith; the southern, Chastian (sic - Chastain); and the western, Hueston. Each block was divided into quarters by two alleys each sixteen and one-half feet wide intersecting at right angles. There were eight lots to a block, each having a frontage of sixty-six feet and a depth of 132 feet.

On May 1st, the county commissioners gave and granted "for the purpose of Publick Highways, block No. 13, which is known as the Publick Square, together with the streets and alleys." This conveyance was noted on the plat and acknoledged on the same date by Smith and Sears before Joseph Parker, J. P. On June 8th, it was also acknowledged by Chastian before H. B. Notson, J. P.

About this time a contract was entered into with William Olney for the erection of a courthouse on lot No. 8 in block No. 14 where the Fairfield National Bank is now located. The contractor, as is even yet not an unusual happening, met with delay in his work and was allowed an extension of time in which to finish the building. It was accepted in December. A garnishment on account of wages due Gilbert M. Fox and Augustus Jackson postponed the final settlement. The structure cost $725.50, which included extras and painting. It is standing, still an example of good material and careful workmanship, on the southwest corner of the same block in which it was erected. It is in use as a blacksmith shop.

There was little delay in offering the lots to the public. The first sale was set for May 15th and was advertised at Fort Madison, West Point, Salem, Mount Pleasant, Keosauqua, Pickerell's Mill, Farmington, Lockridge, William Vinson's, John Millen's, Heddleson's Mill, John Morgan's, Enos Ellmaker's Shop and Moffat's Mill, and by four insertions in the Burlington Gazette. Advertising consisted chiefly in posting notices in places frequented by the poeple of a community. Pickerell's Mill was in the northeastern part of the county on Skunk River; Heddlston's Mill was on Big Cedar Creek in Van Buren County; and Moffat's Mill was on Skunk River in Des Moines County. The terms provided that one-third of the purchase money be paid in six months, the balance in twelve months. Bond and approved security were required. If the purchaser failed to meet the payments, the property was to be held for the obligation.

Hawkins Taylor has given some account of the event: "The whole county attended the lot sales, and a good many outsiders were there, especially from the agency, then a military post. Among others, there was one of the characters of that day; I do not now recollect his name, but he gambled, run horses and was ready for anything. He had a sweatcloth and a chuckaluck box, and whenever he could get a crowd he started his game."

It is likely the gamlbing, drinking, rough sports, racing and excitements the occasion promised were as potent an attraction in drawing the crowd as the opportunity to obtain valuable lots at speculative prices. With all this the real business of the gathering was not neglected. Alexander Kirk was crier. For his day's labor he afterward received $2.00. The bidding was spirited. Hawkins Taylor bid in ten lots. A readiness to buy was perhaps encouraged by the fact that notes of hand are easily made. Unfortunately there were buyers who were unable, when the day of payment arrived, to redeem their pledges.

As the county commissioners had not acquired actual title to the land they could only give bonds for deeds. These were not recorded as it was convenient to transfer them by endorsement from person to person until deeds were finally executed, conveying titles to the last holders. A number of the purchases at this sale are learned from a few bonds that by some happy chance have been preserved. In block No. 2, Lot No. 1 was obtained for $23.00 by Jonathan S. Rook, and lot No. 5 for $40.00 by Charles L. Cox. Cox's lot is part of the site of the Methodist Church. In block No. 3, lot No. 2 was obtained for $25.00 by Enoch Gilbert, lot No. 4 for $31.75 by Archer Green, lot No. 6 for $38.00 by Jonathan Turner, and lot No. 8 for $37.50 by John T. Shelton. This entire block makes up the present courthouse grounds. In block No. 8, lot No. 3 was obtained for $49.50 by Charles F. Emery. In block No. 11, lot No. 3 was obtained for $21.25 by Moses McCleary. In block No. 12, lot No. 2 was obtained for $169.75 by Benjamin Hutton, and lot No. 6 for $151.00 by Enoch Gilbert. These lots front on the east side of the public square. In block No. 14, lot No. 5 was obtained for $100.00 by William Hueston, and lot No. 6 for $26.00 by George B. Phillips. The former fronts on the west side of the public square; the latter is occupied by the buildings of the municipality, to which it now belongs. In block No. 17, lot No. 4 was obtained for $44.25 by Cyrus Olney, who became a distinguished lawyer. In block No. 18, lot No. 1 was obtained for $142.50 by Isaac Johnson, and lot No. 4 for $125.00 by David Peebler. These both front on the south side of the public square. The First National Bank is on the northeast corner of Johnson's lot. In block No. 24, lot No. 5 was obtained for $24.00 by Benjamin F. Hutton. From another source it appears that lots No. 5 and No. 6 in block No. 8 were obtained respectively for $190.75 and for $205.00 by John Ratliff. These were the top prices of the sale.

Apparently there was in vogue some manner of reserving lots, for on June 8th, the county commissioners prescribed that this should apply thereafter only to the even numbered lots and authorized persons "wishing to build in the Town of Fairfield," to build on the unreserved lots, which were offered them "at an average price with those sold at public sale of a similar situation." Appreciating that it takes houses and inhabitants to create a real town, their purpose in this was to encourage prospective settlers and to protect them against increased values when they came to purchase. Anyone making a selection of a lot was granted twenty days in which to commence improving it. On July 1st, this provision was limited by requiring that there be reasonable progess with building in such cases, or that both lot and labor shall be forefeited. On July 21st, lots No. 1, No. 3, No. 5 and No. 8 in block No. 4 were specifically designated as "subject to settling."

Under this order, Andrew Kenady, on June 29th, "preemptioned lot No. 6 in block No. 8." "Thomas H. Gray," so the entry reads, "came on the same day and done as above." There is no clue to his choice. Thomas Dickey, on July 5th, "preemptioned lot No. 1 in block No. 7." This was the location of Dickey's first hotel and later of an opera house which was destroyed by fire. L. W. Saunders, on August 19th, "preemptioned lot No. 4 in block No. 19." This lies at the southeast corner of the public square. Its value was fixed at $150.00 by the county commissioners. John Ross, on September 3d, "preemptioned lot No. 7 in block No. 12," and Samuel Parsons "lot No. 3 in block No. 18." Thomas H. Gray, on September 5th, "preemptioned lot No. 3 in block No. 12." The last three lots all front on the public square. Parsons' lot soon passed to Richard Irwin, to whom on January 16, 1840, it was priced at $140.50. Lot No. 8 in block No. 24, also at this time, was priced at $25.00 to Dr. J. S. Waugh. Medley T. Shelton, on July 7th, was allowed to change lots on the payment of $2.50 as the difference.

The second public sale of lots took place on September 10th, but was not so successful, either in the number sold or in the total of receipts, as the first one. A few of the purchases will serve for comparative purposes. Lot No. 3 in block No. 20 was bid in for $38.25 by John R. Kirk. Lot No. 1 in block No. 21 was bid in for $13.75 by Joseph Hickenbottom. Lot No. 5 in block No. 25 was bid in for $26.00 by David Sens. Lot No. 1 in block No. 16 and lot No. 5 in block No. 20 were bid in respectively for $52.00 and for $25.00 by William Steel. Lot No. 3 in block No. 19 was bid in for $79.00 by William Williams. On this lot was built the Clay Hotel, the forerunner of the Leggett House.

The building order was revoked on September 12th, which may be fairly interpreted to mean that its necessity or desirability had passed with a general disposal of the lots.

Notes taken at the May sale falling due in November, Samuel Shuffleton as clerk was authorized to receive the money and to use the signature of the board of county commissioners when and where necessary. Some of the makers proving dilatory, their paper was placed in the hands of H. B. Notson for collection. His fee was 3 per cent of the amount recovered.

The financial report of January 7, 1840, shows $4,985.75 as the sum paid in and to be paid in for lots sold. Of this $1,409.08 had been received in cash. Of the remainder, $399.76 were represented by notes due November 15, 1839, $453.40 by notes due March 10, 1840, $1,910.51 by notes due May 15, 1840, and $919.00 by notes due September 10, 1840. Of the cash, $1,102.99 had been expended in locating the county seat, in building the courthouse, and in meeting various expenses.

On January 16th, "sundry citizens" were granted lot No. 7 in block No 18 on condition that "the petitioners give a note to the board for $20.00 payable the 10th of September next." The intention back of the request for this grant is probably disclosed in an entry under date of March 7th, which runs, "The trustees of Fairfield School District returned the lot formerly granted by the board for a school lot; whereupon it was ordered that said trustees may build a schoolhouse outside of the town plat." Not so much consideration was shown another effort for the general good. This was the "petition of J. S. Waugh and two other persons," presented on March 31st, praying for the grant of a town lot "for the erection of a house of publick worship." A remonstrance also was filed. The dilemma was avoided by laying both petition and remonstrance on the table.

In the Burlington Hawkeye of March 12th is a description of Fairfield by an unknown correspondent. "The first house erected in Fairfield, excepting a small log hut, was built in July last, about eight months ago. Now there are about twenty substantial buildings, including a fine courthouse, three stores, two groceries and two taverns; and it is also thought at least forty more will be erected the coming season. The number of inhabitants exceed one hundred, including ten or twelve house carpenters, three cabinet-makers, and various other mechanics, and two physicans and two attorneys at law." The physicians were J. T. Moberly and J. S. Waugh; the attorneys were Samuel Shuffleton and Cyrus Olney. One hotel was run by Thomas Dickey, recently commissioned postmaster, and one by Doctor Waugh. The latter was planned and advertised as a sanitarium and was styled "Restoration House." It stood north of the courthouse on the west side of the Public Square.

On Monday, the 13th of April, a third sale of lots took place. The terms now provided for one-fourth of the purchase price in cash, one-fourth in six months and the balance in twelve months. Of this it may be stated positively only that lot No. 7 in block No. 3 was bought by Dr. John T. Moberly.

On July 7th a petition was laid before the county commissioners asking for the appointment of an agent for the sale of lots. They took no action at the time, but on January 5, 1841, "ordered that any person wishing to purchase any public lot or lots in the Town of Fairfield may select such lot and lots and pay over to the treasurer one-fourth part of the purchase money and deposit bonds payable in six, nine and twelve months for the residue with approved security, the average price of the lots to be ascertained by the clerk of this board; provided that the purchaser shall within six months from the time of purchase put good and useful improvements thereon of the value of $50.00, and on the bond being filed as aforesaid the clerk of the board shall issue bonds for a deed of said lots conditioned that if the purchaser shall fail to comply with the provisions aforesaid then said bond shall be void; provided, however, that lots lying on the Public Square shall not come under this regulation."

As there was no jail, offenders against the law whom it was necessary to hold had to be placed in the custody of a special guard, or at both inconvenience and expense removed for safekeeping either to Mount Pleasant or to the Agency. The county commissioners decided to cure this condition and on February 13th, at public outcry, let to the lowest budders the various contracts for the erection of this safeguard to society. It was placed on lot No. 4 in block No. 23, now part of the grounds about the home of Judge C. D. Leggett. According to the "description," or specifications, to employ the modern term, it was to be built of logs 24 by 18 feet; to be 18 feet high, the first story to have double walls, with a space of seven inches between them; the two floors to be of square timber one foot thick; on these flooring plank, to be spiked in such manner as to prevent being bored through; and the upper story to be ceiled. William P. Hitchcock furnished the timber. Charles Hitchcock put in the foundation. Willis C. Stone raised the structure. Crocker and Van did the iron work. The entrance was in and through the upper story. A trapdoor in the floor provided a way to the place of confinement. A ladder, which a jailer withdrew when he shut in a prisoner, furnished the means of descent and ascent. The jail was not completed till (sic) fall.

The town's growth turned attention to the land without the plat. On March 29th, John A. Pitzer, Joseph Cole, Gilbert M. Fox, Samuel Shuffleton, Thomas H. Gray and William Alston were each authorized to purchase the land lying between their respective homes and the line of the quarter section. The price was set at the rate of $50.00 per acre. On May 8th, William H. Houghland was aurhotized to "purchase four lots on the unsurveyed part of town quarter north of the lot owned by Willis C. Stone," which was No. 1 in block No. 4. The price was $120.00, one-fourth down, one-fourth in six months, the balance in twelve months. On July 5th it was "ordered that a public street be left on each side of the town quarter."

Nothing more was done in this direction for just a year to a day. Then, on July 5, 1842, William A. Hendricks was allowed to purchase for $45.00 two lots "north of Madison Street at the extremity of the town quarter east," and Thomas Bartholomew to purchase for $50.00 two lots north of Madison Street next the plat on the west. It was also determined "that the unsurveyed portion of the Town of Fairfield be surveyed as soon as practicable." This intent was shortly carried out. The survey was completed on August 19th by David Switzer, the county surveyor. Charles Negus assisted for six days as "axman and chainman." On October 3d the plat was acknowledged before Samuel Shuffleton, notary public, by the county commissioners, Ezekiel Johnson Gilham, Barracka S. Dunn and Thomas Mitchell.

The "New Plat," as this survey is known, is a border about the original plat and is of different widths on the several sides. On the north it makes but half blocks; on the east and west it makes blocks of ten lots each; and on the south it makes two rows of blocks, one of regular size and one with fractional lots on the outer side. These irregularities, which are puzzling only because without visible excuse, arose naturally from the conditions. They were not the result of conscious planning. As the ground there lay to better advantage, what was supposed would be the line of the quarter section was used by Snyder as the northern boundary of his plat. A discrepancy was manifest when the Government surveyors in 1841 established the true line. A prior claim to part of the land thus included appears to be acknowledged in the issuance of an order on November 11th "that Samuel Shuffleton is entitled to a deed in fee simple for that certain piece or parcel of land lying north of the original line of the quarter section as established by the survey of Mr. Snyder * * * and east of Washington Street."

The county commissioners now found it necessary to exercise their right of preemption. Being without funds, they were driven to the expedient of borrowing $200. This sum was secured from E. S. Gage at an interest rate of 20 per cent per annum. This rate was neither unusual nor exhorbitant. The faith of the county was pledged to the repayment of the loan. By means of this, on May 13, 1842, the entry was made. The meeting of the debt was more difficult than its creation. On January 3, 1843, the treasurer of Jefferson County was specially instructed to "pay over to E. S. Gage the first money that comes into the treasury not otherwise appropriated," to redeem the county's note. On May 17th James T. Hardin, clerk, was given authority to borrow $250 at 20 per cent interest to satisfy this obligation and to mortgage the real estate belonging to the county for security. As he failed in the effort, the order was renewed on August 21st, with no better success. The most that could be done was do apply on this indebtedness what money was received from time to time from the sale of lots. The claim was not settled in full until January 9, 1845, when the final payment of $37.40 was made. The incident illustrates the financial depression of the period.

On August 6, 1842, it was "ordered that one lot north of the street running east from Ratcliff's corner on the outside of the town be sold for $5 to build a schoolhouse on." This expression bears witness to thoughtfulness for the future rather than to immediate purposeful action. The location became definite when, on August 21, 1843, lot No. 5 in block No. 30, in the New Plat, was donated to the trustees of the Town of Fairfield and their successors in office "especially for school purposes." Here a schoolhouse was finally built.

To follow further the sales, forfeitures, resales and exchanges of lots would be a difficult and unprofitable task. With changes of names and dates it would be largely a repetition of the story already told. Some litigation arose over violated contracts, due in a measure to disappointed hopes and reluctant failures. This did not greatly affect the development of the town, which steadily grew and thrived. In a few years, a few lots excepted, the land passed from the ownership of the county to the ownership of individuals.

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