Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
BENTONSPORT IN THE EARLY DAYS
I remember hearing Velda McCracken Murphy talking with my father about Bentonsport and surrounding ghost towns such as Columbus, Lexington, and Oakland. In her very adamant and emphatic way, she said that Bentonsport never had more than 515 people in spite of some historiansí claims that 1,000 or more people once lived there. Years later, my research revealed that she was absolutely correct in her statement. It once had promise of becoming much larger, however.
Generations of McCrackens who lived in the area were very interested in preserving the history of the region. A great uncle named Albert Ward had been a pioneer of the area. He once recalled the names of many leading citizens who lived in Bentonsport at a time when it was a thriving and promising frontier "city" of five hundred people.
Ward came to Bentonsport with his parents in the spring of 1854, and always thereafter lived within a mile and one-half of town. Albertís father was employed at the grist mill owned by an uncle named James A. Brown. The mill was built in 1853 and began running in 1854, and did a large volume business. Ox teams brought wagons of grain from many miles around, and for customers who lived on the south side of the Des Moines River, Mr. Brown offered free ferry service. In addition, there was a public ferry down the river a short distance, and the landing was in front of a home where the McVity family had residence.
The grist mill ran two shifts, and Mr. Ward worked the day shift. One of his duties was to open the gates to allow steamboats through the locks. These were usually small steamboats (much smaller than those than ran on the Mississippi) but they were loaded with freight, passengers and merchandise. Other freight was hauled into Bentonsport by wagons from Keokuk and Burlington.
A stage line ran by Calvin Tromley stopped at a location about two blocks west of the railroad depot. When the railroad was built through Bentonsport in 1857, it only reached as far as in front of the Ward home. From there the freight was loaded on wagons to be hauled further west. Passengers could take the stage coach, or could purchase a horse and wagon if they desired.
(from an old newspaper article furnished by Evelyn McCracken)
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick