Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Van Buren County Money and Certificates

On display at the Mason House in Bentonsport is a certificate of currency issued by the City of Bentonsport in the 1850s. I recently ran across what appears to be a stock certificate, also issued in Van Buren County during the same time period.

What struck me as interesting, is that the engraved design and lettering of the stock certificate so much resembles the piece of currency in Bentonsport, that perhaps it was printed by the same company--Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson.

From a prominent printing and engraving company in New York, the company expanded to Philadelphia, Boston and Cincinnati. After Edson joined the firm, it became known as the American Bank Note Company, that built up a huge operation in New Orleans, which was the forerunner of numerous printing and engraving companies still in existence. The firm really took off in 1847 when it received a government contract to make postage stamps.

The certificate I discovered was issued from the Des Moines River Improvement Association. In recent years, Des Moines River Locks number 5 and 7 were named to the National Historic Register.

The Des Moines River Improvement Project had been approved by Congress in 1846. Lock number 5, built in 1852, was one of the few that reached completion and the remains are in the City Park at Bonaparte. Lock 7 is at the old mill site in Keosauqua.

The anticipated system was designed to make the Des Moines River navigable from the Mississippi to Raccoon Fork (Des Moines) by constructing a system of 28 locks and dams. This would have given Keosauqua, Bonaparte and additional towns along the way unprecedented growth, but the project was never completed. According to Ed Manning of Keosauqua, only three stone-masonry locks and two dams were completed between 1852 and 1858, which led the State Legislature to scrap the project.

Steam boating on the Des Moines came to a halt with the Civil War. The railroad was advancing, the river was filling up with silt, and the Legislature had stopped funding the Project. For a combination of these reasons the industry never resumed operation. Some river power could be harnessed from the dams, however, and this continued until about 1903.

The Project’s Stock Certificate is surrounded by an ornate border. On its surface are vignettes of farmers and Indians and in the center a depiction of a large mill operation. The certificate says “Issued in pursuance of an act of the Legislature, Feb. 5th, 1851.” In larger letters, “United States of America, State of Iowa, Des Moines River Improvement.”

According to the web site, all old stock and bond certificates are authentic, are never reproductions, and are sold only as collectibles. I don’t know how many are available, but according to web site, an actual Des Moines River Improvement certificate more than 150 years old has been marked down forty bucks and can now be purchased for only $149.95!

(History from

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