Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

From a Keosauqua newspaper in 1854

The Democratic Union is one of the county's early newspapers, and was printed in Keosauqua. An article from August 26, 1854 paints a portrait of seventeen of the county's villages: Farmington, Bonaparte, Bentonsport, Vernon, Keosauqua, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Portland, Iowaville, Blackhawk, Birmingham, Winchester, Union Corners, Upton, Lebanon, Milton and Business Corners.

Although no attempt was given to estimate the populations of these villages and towns, the author said that if the population was all combined into one city, it would probably be the largest in the state of Iowa--with several thousand inhabitants! At the time Van Buren County was the third largest county in population.

Farmington was described as "a city" having a dam and a bridge over the Des Moines River for westward traffic.

Bonaparte, was an unincorporated place, smaller than Farmington but with a finished dam, mills and machinery. Bentonsport, 3 miles above Bonaparte, was an incorporated city of about the same size, that was equal in manufacturing, offering a large flouring mill, and a paper mill.

Across the river from Bentonsport was Vernon, with an equal advantage of water power. Here was another large flouring mill, saw and lathe mills, and carding facility.

Keosauqua had not yet completed its lock and dam but the writer thought it would happen during the fall (of 1854). It had a steam flour mill and saw mill, courthouse, school and churches.

Pittsburgh was described as having two stores, mechanics shops, and was "quite a village." The author used some tongue-in-cheek humor. Four miles above it, Philadelphia was "not quite as large as a town of that name in Pennsylvania," but still was a nice gathering with a store and shops.

Portland had a steam saw mill, and a dam under construction. When completed, the author thought this would jump start this village, which hadn't seemed to prosper very well.

Iowaville, the former home of the departed race of aborigines (Sauk-Fox Indians) was a nice business place. Across from it, Black Hawk had newly been built with the most extensive steam flour mill in the county, a steam sawmill, and a distillery that made most of the county's whisky and furnished high wine to Keokuk for the manufacture of brandy, gin, rum and wine.

Birmingham was a stirring and growing business place with numerous stores, said to rival Fairfield. Three miles below, was Winchester, not quite as large as Birmingham, but an excellent business place.

The road must have been winding with many curves, as Union Corners (Mt. Sterling) was described as being 12 miles south of Keosauqua!. At the time, it had 4 stores and some shops.

Also on the Missouri border, west of Union Corners, was Upton, with a grocery store. Further west was Milton, with stores and a steam mill. It was said to be impressive for a town "just planted."

Finally, Lebanon was a place of business importance with "a store or two" on the road leading from Keosauqua to Bloomfield. Along the road leading from Keosauqua to Iowaville was Business Corners. As the name implied, it was a place of business importance with a couple of stores and shops.

This is a bird's eye view of what was going on in Van Buren County in the 1850s. There were other places that were trying to become villages. Dotted with small towns and villages, none had clustered enough population to rival the large Mississippi River towns, such as Keokuk, Burlington, Davenport, Dubuque and Muscatine.
 - -
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick