Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


For the first time, I have found some Iowa town and city population estimates for the year 1857, and they are quite interesting. Unfortunately, the newspaper does not reveal the source of these population figures of 150 years ago.

From the Burlington Weekly Hawkeye, July 15, 1857:

"We give below the estimated population of nearly 100 cities and towns in this state. Many have doubtless escaped us, (but) the list will give our residents a pretty good idea of the increase in population, and consequently the prosperity of Iowa."

Town or city (county) population

Davenport (Scott) 16,000

Burlington (Des Moines) 16,000

Dubuque (Dubuque) 16,000

Keokuk (Lee) 16,000

Muscatine (Muscatine) 10,000

Cedar Rapids (Linn) 8,000

Iowa City (Johnson) 8,000

Mt. Pleasant (Henry) 7,000

Montrose (Lee) 5,000

Fort Madison (Lee) 5,000

Council Bluffs (Pottawattamie) 4,000

Oskaloosa (Mahaska) 3,000

Marion (Linn) 3,000

Maquoketa (Jackson) 3,000

Des Moines (Polk) 3,000

Clinton (Clinton) 3,000

Ottumwa (Wapello) 2,000

Keosauqua (Van Buren) 2,000

Fairfield (Jefferson) 1,500

Farmington (Van Buren) 1,000

Waterloo (Black Hawk) 700

Washington (Washington) 500

Note: This is only about one-fifth of the list, but I have included the only two listed from Van Buren County, the largest towns in the state, and numerous towns in nearby counties for comparative purposes. Towns with populations as small as 500 made the list.

Since Bentonsport, Bonaparte and Birmingham were not included, we can observe that they were either missed in this survey, or (more likely) forward the conclusion that they were not large enough to make the list.

This is the only time I have ever found such a large official estimate for one of Van Buren's villages (Keosauqua at 2,000) but must immediately add that it is quite inaccurate, since the census of 1863 revealed a Keosauqua city population of only 849.

The estimate must have been for the surrounding area, probably for the township of Van Buren. In the official census reports, Van Buren Township had only 1,870 residents in 1856, but counted 2,244 in 1860. An estimated population of 2,000 in 1857 for all of Van Buren township can therefore be justified.

Similar mistakes were made on several occasions by the media concerning the population of other Van Buren villages, particularly Bonaparte and Bentonsport. We're getting used to finding these discrepancies.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick