Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Much has been said about the many squatter villages existing in Van Buren County before it was surveyed. After all, when the surveyors crossed the county in 1837, they mentioned the names of twenty-three settlements or communities. Farmington was the largest of these with an estimated population of 150.

Such places as Des Moines City laid out as Van Buren (Keosauqua,) Meeks Mills, Philadelphia (Kilbourne,) Troy (Pittsburg,) and Bentonsport were in their infancy. New Lexington (the forerunner of Bonaparte,) Portland and Iowaville had small white populations, whereas other settlements were primarily paper towns, some proposed on fancy grids or plats. Most of these ventures never materialized or soon went defunct.

A settlement as defined by the dictionary is either a colony or small town, but the term came to mean any pioneering habitation or venture. When western expansion brought people to Van Buren County, it was common for several families to travel together and stake out adjacent claims for protective purposes. Thus one large family or a group of two or three families might constitute "a settlement," and were likely to give their new locale a specific name. Ralph Arnold once said that anyone who had his own jug of whiskey and a chaw of tobacco proposed his own town or village.

Rockport is one of the twenty-three names mentioned by surveyors in 1837. There is no plat of Rockport, but Ralph Arnold and I decided that it was probably located where Rock Creek enters the Des Moines River in Section 21 of Washington Township, very close to another proposed village called Lexington.

The village of Lexington at this location is referred to in "Abandoned Towns of Van Buren County," Keosauqua Republican, August 15, 1935, pp. 61, 66. Likewise, it was never platted. This is not the same village as New Lexington, forerunner of Bonaparte.

According to Ralph Arnold, just as the curve in the Des Moines River straightens out near the line between Van Buren and Washington Townships, a railroad siding called Rock Port was built to load limestone for the new proposed State Capitol building in Des Moines around 1870. Unfortunately for Rock Port, the acquisition was rejected and replaced with limestone from a source closer to Des Moines. The location of the siding called Rock Port is the basis of our determination of where the earlier settlement of Rockport existed that was mentioned by surveyors.

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