Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
IOWA OLD PRESS TOUR OF VAN BUREN COUNTY IN 1854
FARMINGTON was an incorporated city with a dam under construction. This is the first town of significance on the Iowa side of the river moving upstream 30 miles from its mouth, with several manufacturing facilities.
Ascending the Demoine (spelled as one word) the Missouri line is just below Farmington. Some of the surrounding country was the first settled in the county. The town boasted a population of more than 500 in the 1850 census, second in the county only to Keosauqua.
Six miles upstream is BONAPARTE, an unincorporated town smaller than Farmington, but with a finished dam and a resident population of about 300. In 1854, it boasted a large flouring mill, saw mill, lath mill, and woolen factory using Hydraulic power created by the State Works.
BENTONSPORT, three miles upstream was an incorporated city. It was described as being about the same size as Bonaparte, also with a finished dam. A flour mill, saw and lath mill, and a paper mill were in operation. Lavish homes, a fine academy and churches provided an attractive community.
VERNOR was across the river, a misprint as the village was named VERNON. The rival town also had a flour mill, saw mill, lath mill and carding mill. The Vernon Academy or old Vernon School has always stood out as a prominent reminder of its interesting past.
Nine miles above them on the river, the county seat KEOSAUQUA is situated, which is and was then, the largest town in the county and a place in a high state of cultivation. The State Works with Lock and Dam are not yet completed in 1854, but a propelled steam flour mill, saw mill and other mills are operating. The court house, school and church edifices make this a delightful place, as the ground rises in three benches from the Demoine, perhaps the most beautiful stream in the west. The population had reached 703 in 1850.
PITTSBURGH with two stores and various machine shops, is quite a little village, four miles upstream. Four miles above that is PHILADELPHIA with a store and a couple of shops. This was the original name of Kilbourne, and was one of the towns frequently mentioned years later by local writer Phil Stong, although he called it "Brunswick."
PORTLAND, an unincorporated village with its stores, mechanics and steam saw mill is another State Dam location in progress. When settlers arrived in 1834, they found six houses occupied by squatters (thought to date back to 1831) making this Van Buren County’s oldest white village. Portland's population was about 400.
Six miles above Portland, IOWAVILLE was a white village of about 200, on the site of an old Indian town and surrounded by memorials made by the aborigines. The grave of Black Hawk is just above the town. Across the river is BLACKHAWK, with an extensive steam flouring mill just opened. A team runs a mill, lath machine, carding machine and there is a distillery in operation that makes whisky sold in the area and high wines furnished to stores in Keokuk.
BIRMINGHAM is a stirring, growing, business place out on the prairie twelve miles north of Keosauqua that may some day rival "queen" Fairfield in business and manufacturing. Three miles southeast is WINCHESTER, not quite so large, but also an important business place.
Twelve miles (they must have taken the long way around) south of Keosauqua is UNION CORNERS (Mt. Sterling) supported by three or four stores and shops. It is a farming neighborhood that will eventually grow into a snug little town near the Missouri border.
West of there on the State Line is UPTON with one grocery and an old fashioned plan of selling what they please to whom they please, when they please.
Still west of there is MILTON with stores and a steam mill described as "quite a city for one just planted."
Between Milton and Keosauqua lies LEBANON, a small four-corners market and meeting place of perhaps 50 people, and between Iowaville and Birmingham is BUSINESS CORNERS, made up of two stores, some shops and easily 150 inhabitants.
There are 16 towns in all, leaving out places with only a store or a post office. Ralph Arnold once said that anyone with a chaw of tobacco, a hound dog and a jug of brew could start his own town in Van Buren County!
"If Van Buren would consolidate her towns, she would boast one of several thousand more inhabitants than any town now within the state."--Democratic Union, August 26, 1854.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick