Mr. and Mrs. John L. Shearer.
Mr. and Mrs. John
L. Shearer came to Cedar Rapids in 1842. They first lived in the log
house built by Mr. John Young, on the river between fourth and fifth
Mr. and Mrs.
Shearer, with their family, we regarded as valuable acquisitions to
our community. They were the first family who became permanent
settlers of Cedar Rapids, that of Mr. Shepherd, of course, being
regarded as transient and temporary. Mr. Shearer was a man of
intelligence, and he always had a hearty welcome for his friends
wherever he met them, either at his own house or elsewhere. He was
very industrious and persevering in whatever he undertook. One of the
first frame houses in Cedar Rapids was built by him on the lot now
occupied by the Grand Hotel, on First avenue and Third street. The
studding and rafters were made of poles or small trees which he worked
out with chalk line and broad-ax, with his own hands. As lumber was
still so scarce, it was no easy matter to build a house, even of
moderate dimensions; but Mr. Shearer persevered till he had his
dwelling completed and ready for occupancy. For some years he served
the town in the honorable capacity of Justice of the peace, he being
the first to hold that office in Cedar Rapids. He and his wife became
highly esteemed members of the First Presbyterian church, after its
formation, and rendered valuable aid during its early struggles for
existence. Mr. Shearer held for many years, and up to the time of his
death, which occurred Feb. 20, 1859, the office of ruling elder of the
Mrs. Shearer was
a woman of sterling worth in our community. She was possessed of a
fine intellect and a tender sympathizing heart. In time of sickness or
trouble of any kind, she could always be relied upon to give counsel
and help such as few women are capable of rendering. She knew very
well from experience what the hardships and trials of a new country
meant, but she bore them with a courage that was little less than
She was one of
the few women who knew how to adapt herself to her environments, and
to be mistress of the situation however trying it might be. She had
many warm friends among the early settlers, and her society was sought
as one who was a safe adviser and a true friend.
She was one of
those characters that always adds to a community something better than
wealth, whose coming is welcomed as a benediction, and whose departure
is mourned with sincere regret.
She survived her
husband only a few months, and on the 9th of December,
1859, she ceased from her earthly toils and sorrows, to enter upon the
rest and reward of the redeemed.
Mr. and Mrs.
Shearer were the parents of seven children, three of whom died in
infancy. Cynthia died at the age of ten years at Canton, Ill. Of the
three who lived to mature years, Mary M. died Jan. 20, 1890, in
For several years
she was an honored and successful teacher in our public schools. For
this vocation she seemed eminently fitted. Even in her childhood her
tastes seemed to run in that direction, and her favorite employment
was to gather about her, her younger companions of the neighborhood
and form them into a school and teach them. Her health, however, was
never very firm, and after some years of active service in the
school-room, her bodily strength gave way, and she was compelled to
abandon her work that she loved so much. She, however, was spared a
number of years after this, exhibiting a character of rare excellence,
and of most earnest and active piety.
Elizabeth J., who
was for some years actively engaged in the work of city missions in
the East, is now a resident of this city, her home being with her
aunt, Mrs. Daniels.
John W., the
youngest of the family, who is a practical printer by trade, is
connected with the Daily Republican of this city.
Mr. Shearer was
born in Palmer, Mass., February 12, 1804. Mrs. Shearer was born in
Derby Line, Vt., April 11, 1812. They were united in marriage at
Otsego, Mich., May 3, 1836.
extract from a letter written by Mr. Shearer, from Bloomington, (now
Muscatine), Muscatine county, Iowa Territory, February 25, 1839, will
show how things appeared to him in that early day. The letter is
addressed to his brother-in-law, Henry Weare, at Allegan, Mich. After
expressing some regrets at not hearing from the home friends, he says:
“We are al
enjoying good health and spirits and hope soon to receive the same
intelligence from our friends in Allegan.
The prospects of
this place bid fair to make this one of the most essential points in
this country, owing to its location on the river, and the fact that it
is surrounded with a soil surpassed by none in the western country;
likewise the seat of government for the future State of Iowa is to be
located about the first of May next within the limits of Johnson
county, which will be about twenty-five or thirty miles from this
place, and this will be by far the nearest point to the Mississippi
river. That county is now thinly inhabited, and there is yet a broad
filed for improvement. Should you think of coming to this country, the
sooner you come the better, as the country is fast filling up.
I have a claim of
a half section of land about three miles from this place which is not
yet market, where I intend making improvements as soon as the ground
is sufficiently settled.
river was closed over with ice as early as the 15th of
December last, sufficient to be crossed by teams, but a thaw commenced
about the middle of this month, and about the 20th the ice
started in the river, and is now entirely broken up, and the
inhabitants are daily looking for steamboats to arrive from St. Louis
and the country below.”
The letter is
folded in the usual way of those early days and sealed with a wafer,
and the suggestive .25 on the upper right-hand corner, indicating the
amount of postage which was then charged.
Mr. John Vardy.
In July of the year
1841, Mr. John Vardy came to Cedar Rapids. Of his birth-place I am not
appraised, but I think it was in the State of Virginia. He was a cabinet-maker by
trade, but was proficient In any kind of carpentry, as he built his
own house in 1842, which was the first frame building erected in the
town, and it stood on the corner of Third street and Sixth avenue.
Mr. Vardy had a wife and several
children, Martha, afterwards Mrs. J. G. McLeod, and Henry, now living
in Texas, being all that I can recall.
Mr. and Mrs.
Vardy were Christian people, and when the First Presbyterian church
was organized in 1847, they were numbered among its charter members.
Presbyterian preaching ever conducted in the town was by the Rev.
William Rankin, in the fall or winter of 1842, at Mr. Vardy’s house.
Here, too, the
first Sabbath school was organized in 1843 or 1844. Mr. Vardy acting a
part of the time as superintendent, and Mr. Joseph Greene, Mr. Alex.
L. Ely and Mr. Barnet Lutz, also serving at different times in that
In the same year
the first school ever opened in Cedar Rapids, was taught in this
house, Mrs. Vardy being the teacher.
This good woman
died in June, 1846, having served her family, her community and her
In 1849 Mr. Vardy
was married a second time, and in 1856 the family moved to Texas, with
the exception of the eldest daughter, Martha, who was at that time the
wife of Mr. John G. McLeod, of whom mention has been made elsewhere.
She is now the
wife of Mr. J. A. Malum, and their home is in Eustis, Florida. It is
from her that these dates are principally gathered.
It will readily
be seen from this brief outline that, while this family were plain,
unpretentious people, they were nevertheless made of the right kind of
material, and they were very useful members of the community, and did
their full share in the way of setting right examples, and instilling
right principles in the minds of the young, and in laying the
foundations deep and strong for our city’s future prosperity.
Mr. N. B. Brown.
The first and
most prominent figure that stands out before us in the matter of
improving the water power of our city, is that of Mr. Nicholas B.
Brown. He came to this place in 1840, and purchased the land which
contained the original plat of Cedar Rapids. It was not until sometime
during the summer of 1841 that he began active operations towards the
improvement of the water power. The first dam was a very weak and
temporary affair, made of brush or small trees with stone piled upon
them. The brush and trees were brought down the river on flat boats
from the neighboring islands, and the stone was quarried from the
river bottom on the rapids. It was a long and tedious job to build it,
and when completed, it was a poor make shift, and always caused
trouble whenever there was a rise in the river. However, it answered
for a beginning, and when the saw-mill was completed in 1842, and the
waters of the Cedar began to make its machinery hum, it was the
beginning of a new period for our town and the harbinger of better
days to come.
Mr. Brown’s means
were limited, and it was with much difficulty that he could procure
the money with which to pay the faithful toilers who had helped him in
this new enterprise.
A grist mill was
added in due time, and later, in 1846-7, I believe, the woolen factory
The one dominant
characteristic of Mr. Brown was his great tenacity of purpose. He was
not an aggressive man, but rather the reverse. But he had the gift of
hanging on, and this, doubtless, was what brought him his fortune at
last. His loose business habits involved him in endless litigation and
caused him an immense amount of needless trouble.
There can be but
little doubt that many a shrewd business man, standing in his place,
and possessing his rare advantages, would have made vastly more out of
the splendid property which he controlled. However, it must be
admitted by all, that Mr. Brown did some excellent work as a pioneer
settler, in making a beginning in a new country, and under many
In my personal
relations with Mr. Brown, I always found him courteous and
gentlemanly. In the later years of his life, I seldom met him, not
being a resident of this city during that period.
But I am told
that a decided change came over his life a number of years previous to
his death, and that he became a member of the Methodist church, and a
regular and interested attendant upon its stated meetings, and a
liberal contributor towards its support.
He was born in
New Jersey in 1814.
A few years
before coming to this state, he had resided in Kentucky. His death
occurred Sept. 16, 1880.
His first wife
was Miss Catherine Craig, who died many years ago. His second wife’s
maiden name was Miss Susan Emery. Her home is still in the city,
although, much of the time she is absent. She is a woman of
irreproachable character, and is, and always has been, conspicuous in
works of benevolence and charity. Few can show a better record.
She is a member
of the Methodist church, and for many years has been one of its most
oldest settler now living in this section of country, is Mr. Robert
Ellis. He was born in Westmoreland county, Penn., Jan. 20, 1817. He
and Mr. O. S. Bowling came to Iowa together, but Mr. Bowling stopped
for a time in Cedar county, and Mr. Ellis came on alone to Cedar
While stopping in
Cedar county for a short time, Mr. Ellis heard of a few settlers
further up the river, and so he decided to extend his explorations to
that new region.
the night with Mr. Michael Donahoo, at Sugar Grove, on the morning of
May 8, 1838, Mr. Ellis started on foot to follow the trail up the
river. Reaching the bend in the river at the point now known as “the
narrows,” he found that the water was so high that the trail was
covered, and he was obliged to make his way through the woods and
brush, and over the hills as best he could. At length he reached a
high point where he caught sight of the broad, beautiful expanse of
rolling prairie, where the future city of Cedar Rapids was to be
built, but of whose present magnitude and importance he had not yet
the slightest conception.
the hill, he came in sight of a little bark-covered hut, near the spot
where now stands the old reaper works. As he drew near the rude
habitation he could discover no sign of life within. Following a
well-beaten path towards the river, he soon discovered the prostrate
form of a man, whom, at first sight, he supposed to be dead, his face
being hidden from view. Startled at the sight in the midst of the
silence and solitude that surrounded him, Mr. Ellis hardly knew which
way to turn. But he finally raised such a shout as made the hills echo
with the sound. In an instant the apparently dead man stood upon his
feet, more startled than his discoverer had ever thought of being. For
a moment he probably thought that his end was at hand and that the
Indians were about to take his scalp. It must have been a pleasant
surprise when he made the discovery that it was only a white man like
himself, who although a stranger, he could nevertheless welcome as a
brother of the same race and language.
Certain it was
that Mr. Ellis was more than delighted to find that the lone stranger
in the wilderness, was a live man and not a lifeless body.
This man’s name
was Philip Hull. It seemed that he had spaded up a little piece of
ground near the river and was planting a few garden seeds that he had
brought with him, and becoming tired, he laid down on the ground and
fell asleep, where he remained until aroused by the young adventurer
who had just arrived.
remained with him a few days and then crossed the river and made his
claim a mile and a quarter above the point where now stands the First
This has been his
home ever since, although he spent some time during the first decade
in the Minnesota pineries and several years in California.
A little after
they first met, the two men entered into partnership and bought a
breaking team of four yoke of oxen, and a large plow, of Mr. William
Abbe. Neither of the young men had any ready cash to pay over to Mr.
Abbe, and not a dollar in money passed between the contracting
parties. The agreed, however, as an equivalent for the team, to split
ten thousand rails, and to break up seventy-five acres of prairie.
Those who know anything about the breaking up of new ground,
understand that a plow-share will soon get dull in the new ground
where it encounters so many roots. In order to keep it sharp a file is
carried along and every few rounds the share is turned up and filed.
But with constant wear, it finally becomes so dull and blunt that it
has to be heated and hammered out thin by a blacksmith. But there was
no blacksmith shop here at that time, and so our young pioneers had to
invent some way of their own. There being plenty of dry elm limbs at
hand, which make a very hot fire, they proceeded to heat the steel
share, and then hammer it down to the requisite thinness, using for an
anvil an iron wedge driven into a log. This was probably the first
blacksmithing ever done in this part of the country.
It seems now
almost incredible, as we look out upon our wide-awake city with every
trade represented many times over, and listen to the ceaseless hum of
the hundreds of factory wheels, and hear the constant din of business
life, that the man still lives in comparative health and vigor, with
the flush of youth scarcely faded from his cheek, who participated in
scenes like that which I have just described. And yet such is the
fact, as all those who know Mr. Ellis can testify.
Mr. Ellis has
always been a thorough-going business man, and has been engaged in
many different branches of industry. His life has been a very busy
flat-boats, in an early day, and shipped wheat to St. Louis and New
Orleans. The statement has gained currency that these boats were built
in 1841, and probably the error will be perpetuated down through the
years to come. This date, however, was prior to the erection of mills
in this region, and although Mr. Ellis has always been regarded as a
man of great enterprise, he would have hardly undertaken to build
three or four flat-boats without lumber. The true date was 1846,
according to his own statement.
the summer of 1838, Mr. O. S. Bowling came into the county and located
on the west side of the river, opposite the present site of the famous
T. M. Sinclair Packing House.
He was born in
1812, in Westmorland county, Pennsylvania, a region of country which,
as will appear from this record, has furnished some of our most
substantial and honored citizens.
Mr. Bowling was a
man of dark complexion, with keen, black eyes, and of a stature
somewhat above that of ordinary men.
He was one of
those persons that cared but little for the fashions and foibles of
this over-critical age in which we now live, deeming it, no doubt, of
far greater importance to look after the inner rather than the outer
He was a man of a
good deal of intelligence, and was always regarded as an honest and
highly respected citizen. He was the first man, I believe, that ever
held the office of constable in this community, and in later years he
held various offices of public trust, in all of which, he performed
the duties imposed upon him with conscientious fidelity.
He secured quite
a large tract of land, and held on to it till it became very valuable,
a portion of it being laid out into lots upon which the southern part
of this city is built. He had the gift of continuance. Having located
his claim, he remained upon it the rest of his life.
Bowling was not a member of any church, so far as I know, yet his high
moral character and honesty of purpose were never questioned. He was
always regarded as one of our most substantial farmers.
occurred December 25, 1883.
In 1849 Mr.
Bowling was married to Miss Frazee. It was never my pleasure to be
personally acquainted with Mrs. Bowling, nor with any of her five
children. But their reputation is quite in keeping with that of the
honored husband and father.
Thomas Gainor and
David W. King arrived in Cedar Rapids on the 18th of June,
1839, and located on the west side of the river, Mr. King on the bank
of the river opposite the island, and Mr. Gainor on the rolling
prairie a half mile further back. The former was from Westmoreland
county, Pennsylvania, and the latter from Michigan.
Mr. David W. King.
Mr. King was an
energetic and intelligent man, and, although he was afflicted with a
kind of hip disease that rendered him very lame, he showed himself to
be a man of pluck and determination. He established the first ferry
across the river which he operated for many years, and until the
erection of the first bridge rendered it no longer necessary.
The town on the
west side of the river for many years bore the name of Kingston, in
honor of its first settler.
Mr. King was for
some time justice of the peace, an office which he seemed well
qualified to fill. He lived to see great improvements on both sides of
the river, and by his industry and the wise management of his business
affairs, he was able to secure a very comfortable competence of this
He and his wife
were members of the Methodist church. He died in the autumn of 1854,
leaving behind him the record of an honest man and a good citizen.
venerable with years and highly honored and esteemed by all who know
here, still survives, and makes her home with her son, Mr. William
King, who is a prominent business man on the west side of the river.
Mr. Thomas Gainor.
Among the good,
honest farmers of an early day, we mention Mr. Thomas Gainor. He was a
man of great tenacity of purpose, and he always clung to the home
where he first located till near the close of his life, when the
infirmities of advancing years made it necessary for him to retire
from the arduous labors which a farmer’s occupation demand.
He was somewhat
old-fashioned and non-aggressive in his character and habits of life,
but he was always considered one of our good, substantial men, such as
the pioneers were glad to welcome among their number. He appeared to
be a man of strong constitution, and seemed to be well adapted to meet
the trials and hardships of a new country.
bereavement came to his home at a time and under circumstances that
made it peculiarly hard to bear. His wife, after giving birth to a
little girl in May following her arrival here, was, a few days later,
called to exchange her new home in this world for one beyond the
boundaries of earth. It was the first death in this region of country
among the white settlers, and it cast a gloom over the whole
The little child
for whose life she had laid down her own, was the first to be born in
this vicinity. It survived, however, but a few months and then
followed its mother to the grave.
Mr. Gainor and
his wife were honored members of the Methodist church.
For his second
wife he married one of the sisters of Mr. Levi Lewis, of whom mention
has already been made. Mr. Gainor’s last years were spent in
retirement at his home within the city limits on the west side of the
river where, at a good old age, he passed away a few years ago.
The Listebarger Brothers.
About the first
of April, 1839, there came from Pennsylvania, Westmoreland county, two
brothers, John and Joseph Listebarger by name, who settled on the west
side of the river. Later in the season an older brother, Isaac
Listebarger, came, and he also located on the west side.
John and Joseph
had a little cabin located above, and Isaac afterwards built one
below, where the dam was built in after years.
They all had
claims, and all did something in the way of farming. Isaac and Joseph,
however, being carpenters and joiners, worked a good deal of the time
at that business. They were the first carpenters to locate in Cedar
Rapids. They were all good, honest men, and had the utmost confidence
and respect of their fellow citizens.
Isaac and his
wife became charter members of the First Presbyterian church in this
place when it was formed in 1847.
John and Joseph
here members of the Methodist church, and all of them were men whom
any church might gladly welcome to its communion.
died about the year 1853, and John passed away in 1861, on his farm in
Fairfax township, where he had lived for many years.
Only a few years
ago Joseph, the last of the brothers, departed this life at his home a
mile and a quarter west of the river, on the Vinton road.
Mr. Farnum Colby.
Mr. Farnum Colby
came to the place in 1839, and made his claim on the south side of the
bluff on the west side of the river, a mile north of First avenue
bridge. His land probably included a part of the town now known as
“Time Check.” Of his nativity I am not apprised, but he was probably
from Pennsylvania. He, too, was a member of the Methodist church and,
I believe, was a candid, good man. He left here in an early day and located in Jones county,
near Olin, where he died a few years since.