Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
American Gothic Trail
"The purpose of the trail," according to the brochure, "is to promote physical fitness in the scouting program and to learn more about our American Heritage."
Beginning in Eldon at the Trail headquarters, the Boy Scouts have put together an interesting trail that visits historic sites at our backdoor, some of which may be unknown to many residents of the county.
The Eldon Depot was built in the late 1800s and served the KD line that ran through Van Buren County to Eldon. Railroad history and memorabilia is featured. The Depot celebrates "Hobo Day and Feed" in October.
The American Gothic House is the most famous landmark in Eldon. Made famous by artist Grant Wood in 1930, the house which was built in the 1880s is a National Historic Landmark. You can drive by and see it, and even take pictures in front of it, but you canít go inside the house, because it is still being used as a residence.
Not far from the Gothic House is Old Bearing Tree. Although the elm tree is gone (thanks to vandals) a plaque commemorates the location of a concrete marker used by government surveyors in 1846 when this part of the territory was laid out at the time Iowa became a state.
The McHaffey Opera House in Eldon was built in 1891 and was once on the New York circuit. Eldon High School graduations were held there until 1941. This building is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearby, the Library dates back to 1913 and was built from funds granted by Andrew Carnegie.
Perhaps one of the most interesting sites on the tour is Sioc Cemetery and Indian Mounds, located about 3 miles southwest of the Eldon bridge. This may be the only place you will ever find where whites are buried on top of Indian Mounds. Grave rows dating back to 1845 go across two mounds about 25 feet in diameter at the highest point of the cemetery.
Nearby to the southeast, is Eldon Game Area, a public hunting and fishing area containing 703 acres of wooded land with stocked ponds.
In Van Buren County at Vesser Creek is the site of A.J. Davisís whiskey distillery, known as the town of Blackhawk. One man hunted the area for the correct hickory that was used in making baskets, while his wife panned for gold in the creek and sold it to Mr. Davis.
A short distance, across the river bridge into Selma, is an old log cabin along Hwy. 16. Although dismantled and moved to that location, this is an original home of settlers who lived in the area.
Between Selma and the border of Van Buren County, is Iowaville Cemetery, overlooking the Des Moines River. It is one of the oldest cemeteries west of the Mississippi River, with stones of many people born in the 1700s. An interesting tombstone is that of Daniel McMullin, who died August 18,1841. On the stone is a crossed arrow and tomahawk.
Straight south along the river was the Sac and Fox village of Iowaville. This cemetery is also just a short distance from where archaeologists found the location of the Ioway Indian Village dating back to the early 1800s, near what became the Davis/Van Buren County Line.
A flat prairie along the river between Selma and Eldon s the site of the last great Indian battle between the Sac-Fox tribe and the Ioway Indians that took place in 1824. The Ioway Indians were racing their horses that day, about two miles away. At daybreak, Blackhawk ambushed the village, and then the race course, and easily won the battle. The remaining Ioway nation was absorbed by the Sac and Fox.
A stone house on the riverís edge about half way between Selma and Eldon marks the place where the U.S. Government decided to build locks to help navigate steamboats. The stone house, built for the lock tender, still stands. Near the site is the James Jordan House. He owned more than 1000 acres where Wapello, Davis, Jefferson, and Van Buren Counties join, and was a friend of Blackhawk, who died in 1838 and was buried behind the house. At one time the Jordan house had 8 large rooms, three fireplaces, and a spiral stairs. Jordan was one of several Indian traders who inhabited this area early in its history and development. The house was torn down in 1964.
Finally, the scout trail ends at the Wapello County Fairgrounds, one of the oldest county fairgrounds in Iowa. The track where the horses are trained and raced is very near where the Ioway Indians raced their horses. Art Hall on the fairgrounds is an unusual building worth seeing, and was built to display the artwork of the people in each of four area counties.
If you haven't visited these historic sites, this presents an opportunity to enjoy some history without traveling very far from home.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick