Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Logs were used to make the first structures

Adjacent to the small prairies, where timber was abundant along eastern Iowa's many streams and rivers, logs provided the means of building the first structures. Many of the cabins were covered with clapboards to economize time and because nails were scarce.

Poles were notched close and mudded for comfort and logs cut out for doors and windows, even their fireplaces. The back of the fireplace was made of packed dirt, and the chimneys were topped out with sticks and mud. Since there were no stoves, fireplaces were used for both heating and cooking.

Perhaps built by a trader, a deserted round-log cabin served as the first schoolhouse at Batavia in Jefferson County. Seats and desks were made of sawed lumber.

In Dubuque, a twenty by twenty-six feet log cabin erected in 1834 cost $255 to build, and served as the first church in Iowa. It was built by Methodists, although people of other faiths helped raise the money for the structure. It also served as a school and to house court for a while, so that it functioned as a center of religion, education and law.

Judge David Irwin presided in a much more primitive edifice when he held the first court in Wapello in 1837. He's the same judge that presided in Van Buren County's first court session at Farmington that same spring, and was (according to traditional legend) responsible for naming the new county seat in Van Buren County.

The centrally located village of Van Buren had won out by election over Bentonsport. When nearby Des Moines City decided to merge with Van Buren, a meeting was held in 1839 to determine the name for the new town. After hearing several names proposed and bantering back and forth between the settlers, Judge Irwin suggested using the old Indian name for the bend area, Keosauqua, which was the name used by the Indians to describe a hermit recluse (possibly a Jesuit) who had once lived along the river in ancient times.

Although it hadn't yet been officially recognized by the Territory, citizens of Van Buren had voted to change the name of their village to Keosauqua in October (1838). Early in 1839, the Judge had presided court for the first time at the new county seat location, and had entered the name Keosauqua on his paperwork. It seemed a good fit and he didn't want to change it. And after all, as he pointed out, the name is very unique.

Speaking about log cabin structures, let's not forget Farmington's first jail--a log structure that was only four feet high in the center. Prisoners could not stand erect inside but had to crawl around on their hands and knees while "guests" of the county.

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