Van Buren County Iowa
American Guide Series
Compiled by workers of the Writers' Program
of the Work Projects Administration
in the State of Iowa
FEDERAL WORKS AGENCY
JOHN M. CARMODY, Administrator
WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION
F. C. HARRINGTON, Commissioner
FLORENCE KERR , Assistant Commissioner
GEORGE J. KELLER, State Administrator
The Van Buren County American Legion
in a log cabin vacated by her father, but a schoolhouse was erected in 1869. The Baptists organized the first religious group. Later, David Doud granted land at the western edge of town for the first church, erected with funds secured by popular subscription. This church, still in use, was free to groups of any denomination when the Methodist Episcopal group, its chief sponsor, was not using it. Three of the trustees were Methodist Episcopal, and two belonged to other denominations.
A blacksmith shop, a saw mill, and other businesses were established. Alexander Findley, Sr., opened the first coal mine, and later Eliab Doud opened another small mine on his farm. Silas Inskeep operated a barrel and hoop factory. When steamboats came up the Des Moines River during the periods of high water, they refueled at Douds.
John Gardner operated a ferry between Douds and Leando until the bridge was completed in 1898. Originally the town lay between the Des Moines River and the C. R. I. & P. railroad tracks, but after the flood of 1903, several additions were opened north of the tracks.
In 1924 the Plowman Brothers set out an apple orchard of a thousand trees.
The town of Leando, which today consists of only a few houses clustered about the Douds-Leando Consolidated School, was laid out as Portland in 1834 by Samuel Holcomb, Robert Leggett, David Maggard, and others. After 1840 the post office name was Leando. A saw and grist mill, errected in 1854, blew up in 1875, killing one man and severely burning another.
Population: 1,012; Platted: 1839; Railroad: C. R. I. &. P., C. B. & Q.; Highway: State 3; Churches: Methodist Episcopal, Baptist Congregational, Catholic, Nazarene, Anson Community Church; Schools: Grade and high school; Newspaper: The News-Republican, Des Moines River Bridge: 1883; Theatre: State Theatre (daily except Tuesday).
Farmington, the largest town in Van Buren County, bordered on the north and east by wooded hills, and on the west by the Des Moines River, lies on the northern edge of a 6-mile long valley. Across the river, bluffs crowd almost to the river's edge, leaving room only for the road that parallels the river. In the vicinity is Farmington State Park, surrounding Big Duck Lake (see Points of Interest), once owned by the town of Farmington, but since given to the state. Along the lake's outlet to the Des Moines River are thick lotus beds.
The townspeople frequently have friendly gatherings in the high school gymnasium and in their churches. They have also taken it upon themselves to supply food for the wild game in the large tract of marginal land, recently purchased by the Government, which lies next to the town.
One block of Main Street, running at right angles with the river, might well be culled one of the town's social centers. Most of the two--story frame buildings, erected in an early day, still have one-story porches, supported by iron posts. The porches protect window displays from the bright light and keep the stores cooler in summer, and also provide a place to sit and talk. The benches on the porches are usually filled with men discussing topics of the day. In former days the ladies stepped from their buggies onto the porches, and dogs found shelter from the hot sun beneath the wooden flooring; but the level of the street has since been raised and graveled. The post office, built of the brick formerly used in the first Soldiers' Orphans Home in Iowa, is one of the few buildings without a porch.
Trees shade the graveled streets of the residential district, where the homes stand far back from the sidewalks.
The Farmington Cooperative Creamery, organized in 1929, with two hundred members, moved into its modern plant in 1933. Twenty thousand pounds of South Iowa Butter are churned there per week. Quality cream is collected in Van Buren, Lee, and Henry Counties Iowa, and Clark County, Missouri. The company also has a cooperative cow-testing association, and generally works in the interests of community dairying.
Farmington also has several small pickle factories. Most of the farmers in this section plant a few acres of cucumbers. In season
Old Orchard Chapel, Farmington
[click to view]
farm wagons piled high with cucumbers are seen along the roads enroute to one of the three pickle factories. Farmington becomes in-tensely alive for the few months of the cucumber harvest. The factories are open day and night, working at top speed to pickle the cucumbers as fast as the farmers deliver them; then the rush ends, and Farmington subsides into its usual quietness.
Early settlers staked their claims in this valley, partly surrounded by tree-covered hills, while the Indians were still in possession of the land. Early in 1833, Able Galland, first to arrive, selected a claim near the site of Farmington. He was soon followed by William Jordan, James Alfrey, John Fretwell, Jonas Denny. Zeke McCarty, John and Samuel Maxwell, the Swazeys, the Houghtons, the Crows, Henry Bateman, John Newport, H. G. Stuart, Tilford Reed,
and William Bratain.
Each of the first settlers traded the Indians a gallon of whisky, a mackinaw coat, and one brightly colored blanket for as much land as he could walk around in a given time. As soon as they had staked their claims, settlers began to farm. The Indians, watching their activities, called the settlement Farmington and the name was later officially adopted. In 1834 children in the settlement went to school in the the new log house, erected before some of the families had com-
fortable homes. It stood on the site of the present "oil well," and Seth Pratt was the first teacher.
In 1836 the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin made the settlement the seat of Van Buren County; and the next year the first session of Court in Van Buren County was conducted by the Hon. David Irwin of the second judicial district of the Territory of Wisconsin. There was no jail to confine the first county prisoners; they were chained to a stump and guarded by a deputy. And the eight-by-ten jail that was erected did not prove as restraining as the stump. A favorite tale concerns one prisoner who managed to escape by hoisting the jail on his shoulders, and setting it over a hollow from which he crawled to liberty. The county seat was moved to Keosauqua in 1838 after the second term of court was held at Farmington. The county settlers rejected Farmington because it was at the tip-end of the county.
Henry Bateman laid out the town in 1839, and in the decade that followed the townspeople established businesses and industries and erected churches. In 1840 the Congregationalists organized thirteen persons into the first church group; and the next year the Baptists organized a class. In 1845 the Methodists erected the town's first church, the basement of which was immediately rented by the school directors. Three years passed before the Congregational Church was built. One of the earliest industries was George Doeling's cigar factory, established in 1840. The first steam mill in the county was constructed by James F. Death at Farmington, in 1844. The town was incorporated in 1847.
The Select Farmington Academy, which opened in 1844, maintained two teachers. Shares in this corporation were sold at five dollars each. A two-story frame building, erected in 1851, was the center of school activities for the ensuing nineteen years.
During this time Rebecca Pollard opened her school and introduced her methods. Her private school was a forerunner of the modern school. Rebecca Harrington Smith had come to Farmington from Louisville, Kentucky and married Oliver I. Taylor, editor and writer, in 1858. They soon went to Keosauqua, and then to Burlington, where Mr. Taylor purchased a newspaper, The Argus. When he died, Mts. Taylor returned to Farmington to open her school. She later married James Pollard.
In her private schools in Farmington, and elsewhere in Iowa, she developed methods of instruction that were unusual in those days. Out of her teaching experiences, she produced a series of spellers, stencils, pictures, and a teacher's manual. These, known as the Pollard series, were later widely used. Edward Everett Hale, an educator as well as the author of The Man Without a Country, visited Rebecca Pollard's classes in Boston, and approved and championed the methods she had developed in Iowa. In her school-
yard in Iowa all the battles of the Revolutionary War were refought. Broom-guns, eraser-pistols, and the roll of drums revived the spirit of '76. A history lesson might be outlined thus: "Tomorrow we are going to take Bunker Hill. Ralph is to be Warren and will speak 'Stand! The ground's your own, my braves'!" One of the former pupils said that the boys and girls could not forget volcanic action when they saw it illustrated by a pot of boiling mush, or saw islands, bays, and penninsulas formed by water spilt in sand. Fractions were fun to them because they could eat the apples they had used to demonstrate the lesson. Under the name of Kate Harrington, Mrs. Pollard wrote poetry and fiction, her novel, Emma Bartlett, being an answer to Uncle Tom's Cabin (see Rebecca Pollard's Grave, Points of Interest.)
The Baptists built their church in 1852. The same year, Week and Stoddard erected a flour mill that was operated until 1866, when an ice gorge carried it down the river, along with several small houses on Front Street.
Farmington continued to grow in the 1860's and 1870's, and began to achieve importance as a manufacturing center. In 1865 the Farmington Wagon and Carriage Works was established by Lewis Burg, and soon his woodworkers, blacksmiths, painters, and leather workers were turning out two hundred and fifty wagons and forty buggies a year. A pork packing plant owned by Swazy and Pollard was also in operation at this time. Droves of pigs were herded along the roads or ferried across the Des Moines River to the plant, where they were slaughtered, cured, and packed for shipment to other parts of the country.
The only Catholic Church in Van Buren County was erected in 1863 under the guidance of Father Hayes.
In 1864, the efforts of Mrs. Annie Wittenmeyer of Keokuk to provide for the orphans of Iowa soldiers who hail died in the Civil War resulted in the erection of the Soldiers' Orphans Home just above Farmington. Nearly one hundred children were admitted during the first six months and school was conducted for them. The home was maintained by popular subscription until 1864, when various orphans' homes in Iowa were consolidated into a state-supported home at Davenport. The orphanage at Farmington, a three-story brick building, stood near the dam and locks. E. H. Alton, one of the children in the home, recalls the trip to Davenport. He says that all of the children rode in freight cars to Keokuk, and then were sent by boat to Davenport. Mrs. Mary E. Scott of Farmington remembers the children marching from the orphanage to the old Lawrence Hotel to Sunday School.
In 1871, the town erected a six-room, three-story brick school building, costing $11,555. Two years later, the high school as a
recognized unit had its beginning under L. M. Moore, principal. In 1873 the Joseph Dickey flour mill was purchased by a Mr. C. G. Gleckler.
The first newspaper to be published in Farmington was the Gazette, which in 1872. L. E. Morris, principal of the Farmington school for several years, was the publisher. Two years later the paper was purchased by J. M. Elliott, who changed it, name to the Farmington Journal. After two years, the paper was discontinued. In 1880, Grub and Burger established the Farmington Bee, and published the paper weekly until 1884, when it was moved to Kentucky. The Farmington Argus began publication in 1885, owned by J. H. Gear, and edited by a man named Bar. A few months later the Argus was sold to Frank W. Rockwell of Burlington. He shortly sold the paper to his brother, Edward H. Rockwell, who continued to publish it until 1909, when it was taken over by Talbot and Taylor. The Farmington News was established in 1894, with G. E. Townsend as publisher. In 1899 W. H. Knott took over the publication. In 1909, Knott purchased the Herald and combined it with the Farmington News under the name of the News-Republican. The Farmington Republican was established by F. D. Carr and Jack McClanahan in 1910. Then name was changed in 1914 to the Farmington Democrat. George W. Neafie continued its publication until the plant was sold to a Keokuk printer. Thos. L. Keith, the present owner purchased the News-Republican from W. H. Knott in 1938.
The Sterling Woolen Mills were established in 1888 in the building now occupied by the Chevrolet garage. Pants and suits were manufactured in a building that stood across the street.
On January 21, 1883, a spirit thermometer at Farmington registered 46 degrees below zero.
Toward the close of the 1890's, the Municipal Electric Light Company was established. In 1924 the Iowa Electric Company extended its lines from Bonaparte to Farmington and absorbed the municipal plant. At the beginning of the 1890's the old brick school was no longer large enough, making it necessary for the school board to rent additional rooms. In 1898 A. T. S. Owen began his forty years of service as superintendent of schools. A new building was erected in the latter part of 1900.
In 1894, William Thero erected a second flour mill. People came from far and near to attend the beef barbecue he gave as a mill-warming.
In 1905 the first Chautauqua in Van Buren County was held at Farmington in Anderson Park. Among the speakers were William Jennings Bryon and Champ Clark, then speaker of the House. Until 1923, campers from all over the county, as well as the townspeople, attended the sessions. The campers enjoyed the rehearsals of the Swiss bell ringers, the jubilee singers, the trios, and the quartetts.
Former Covered Bridge, Farmington
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Each year the Farmington sponsors journeyed to Des Moines to select talent. The twenty-first and last annual session was held in 1925.
Many early Farmington industries continued into the twentieth century. Mr. Clayton Rabb continued to make cigars after the cigar factory closed in 1906. The pants factory closed in 1901 but reopened in 1910 and was operated for several years as an overall factory.
Until 1906, an old covered wooden bridge, the longest covered railroad bridge in the world at the time of its construction, spanned the Des Moines.
POINTS OF INTEREST IN VICINITY
1. GRAVE OF REBECCA POLLARD (in Farmington Cemetery, just east of Farmington, on Primrose Road, which crosses State 3 at the southeast corner of the school yard in Farmington). On a hill east of Farmington, overlooking the town, is the old Farmington cemetery, where Rebecca Pollard is buried in the Smith lot. Rebecca was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, September 20, 1831, and did her first teaching at Crab Orchard, near Danville, Kentucky before she came to Iowa. Her first articles were printed in the Louisville Journal. To the many in Van Buren County who knew her well, she was "Beck" Pollard. Her old home, in which she conducted her private school, still stands on State 3, three blocks east and one block south of the Des Moines River bridge. She never lost her interest in literary work. At the age of eighty she wrote Althea, or Morning Glory, a 37-page missionary poem. She died in Fort Madison on May 29, 1917 at the age of eighty-five (see also Farmington).
2. FARMINGTON STATE PARK (.5 m. W. of Farmington on State 3 to its junction with State 114; South on State 114 for .25 m. to park entrance; L. into park). One hundred of the 125 acres that comprise Farmington State Park, situated on bluff land overlooking
the Des Moines River, were donated to the state by citizens of the town from which the park takes its name. Nine acres were added to the original grant by the State Board of Conservation in order that the entire shore line of Big Duck Lake might he traversed by a trail. The forty-acre lake, impounded by an artificial barrier, lies in a natural bowl surrounded by native forest. The spring-fed body of water has been stocked with bullheads, bluegills and crappie and may be fished in season.
A trail around the lake leads past varied kinds of plant life. There are picnic grounds and shelters and a lodge overlooking the lake.
3. STATE LINE HOUSE (on State 3, .25 m. E. of Farmington, on the Lillie Lewis farm). More than one hundred years ago a brick structure with a hand-faced sandstone foundation, some of the slabs of which measured six feet in length and one foot in thickness and width, was built near a large bluff partially girded by Lewis Creek, in southeastern Van Buren County. Serving as a wayside tavern, it was named State Line House because of its proximity to the Missouri-Iowa border line.
Giant cedar trees flank the old tavern, now used as a residence by the owner, Miss Lillie Lewis, whose father bought the house from a Mr. Brock in 1859. The exterior walls. are bleached by years of exposure to the elements, but the hand-hewn oak and walnut logs used for beams in the interior are well preserved. The windows and doors are wide and the original brass door-latches are still in place. The fireplaces were sealed during Miss Lewis' childhood following an accident in which she was severely burned and permanently crippled when her high chair was tipped into the fire in one of the hearths. An inside door of the residence still bears the claw marks made by a mad dog that attempted to attack Miss Lewis more than seventy years ago.
4. GRAVE OF ABNER KNEELAND (in the Stulhman addition northwest end of Farmington Cemetery). The grave of Abner Kneeland, the founder of Salubria, is marked by a simple marble slab, about four feet high. Kneeland was first buried on his own farm.
Salubria, established as the only infidel colony in Iowa, was a little cluster of farmhouses two miles south of Farmington. When Salubria was started it was in the heart of a forest, on a level belt of bottom land bounded by the Des Moines River and by deep ravines, leading from the hills into the river, about half a mile apart. It was a veritable sugar camp, with its sheets of snow and ice in spring, its tangled growth to be burned off in autumn, and its solitary bleakness in winter time. Now, no building remains to indicate the site of the town.
The founder and leader of the community was the New England
preacher and lecturer, Abner Kneeland. His father, Timothy Kneeland, of Scotch ancestry, was a carpenter and had served as a soldier in the American Revolution. Abner Kneeland was born at Gardner, Massachusetts, April 7, 1744, just when the Revolution was brewing. His early life was spent on a farm and his formal education was received in the common schools of Gardner, with one term at Chester-field (New Hampshire) Academy.
When Abner was twenty-one he went to Dummerston, Vermont, where he worked for a time as a carpenter and also taught school. There he was "converted" to the Baptist faith, was immersed, joined the Baptist church and began to preach. It was not long, however, before he began to question the "fundementalist" doctrine of the New England Baptists and plans were made to try him for heresy. In 1803 he withdrew from the Baptist church and united with the Universalists. A year later he was licensed to preach. Following his ordination in 1805, Congregationalists and Universalists at Langdon, New Hampshire, united to offer Reverend Kneeland the position of town minister, supported partly by public tax money. Thus began his twenty-five years of service as a minister in the Universalist church during which he occupied prominent pulpits in Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.
It was during the Langdon pastorate that Kneeland displayed his initiative and the diversity of his interests by representing the town in legislature of 1810 and 1811. He also became interested in spelling reforms, especially the elimination of silent letters, publishing in 1807 A Brief Sketch of a New System of Orthography. Later he prepared a number of reformed spelling books. At intervals his inquiring and restless mind began to trouble him with doubts as to the truth of the Universalist doctrine, forcing him to lay aside his ministry for a season and to occupy himself with other work. In Salem, Massachusetts he was a merchant for several years. In 1822 he published a translation of the New Testament; his knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew had been acquired largely without benefit of teaching. Almost continuously Kneeland lectured and debated on universal salvation; and throughout his early and middle years he edited a succession of religious journals sponsored by the Universalist church. But his restless mind grew more skeptical of Christian evidences until in 1829 he asked for and was granted permission to suspend himself from the Universalist fellowship. It was Dr. Joseph Priestly's Disquisition on Matter and Spirit that led Kneeland into a belief in materialism. He was not an atheist, he insisted, but a pantheist.
The next few years were filled with turmoil. In 1831 Kneeland founded a free thought weekly, the Investigator. in Boston, and a little later was chosen leader of the "First Society of Free Enquirers" in that city. In the issue of the Investigator for December 20,
1833, Kneeland published certain statements that aroused much opposition. "Universalists," he said, "believe in a God, which I do not." The story of Christ, he declared, meant no more to him than the story of Prometheus. He did not believe in miracles, nor did he believe in the resurrection of the dead, or in eternal life.
For these statements Kneeland was indicted under the Massachusetts law against blasphemy and a series of trials followed. At the first trial, held in January, 1834, he was convicted and sentenced to three months in jail, but appealed. In the following trial the jury disagreed, but at the third trial, in November, 1835, he was again convicted. Once more the case was appealed on the ground that the act defining blasphemy was unconstitutional. Kneeland also denied that the words upon which the indictment were based were blasphemous, if construed as he meant them. "I had no occasion to deny there was a God," he declared. "I believe that the whole universe is nature and that God and Nature are synonymous terms. I believe in a God that embraces all power, wisdom, justice, and goodness. Everything is God."
His defense, however, failed to move the jury, the prosecuting attorney, or the Governor. In spite of many delays, Kneeland's conviction was finally upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and in 1838 he was sentenced to serve sixty days in jail.
Feeling in the Kneeland case ran high. Those who feared the dread spectre of atheism prodded the prosecution; while the advocates of free speech and a free press declared the case was a disgrace to the state. A petition to the Governor was signed by 170 prominent persons, including William Channing, George Ripley, A. Bronson Alcott, Theodore Parker, William Garrison, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Another remonstrance, with 250 signatures, was presented to the Governor's Council. An editorial in a Windsor, Vermont newspaper asserted that if Kneeland could not speak his mind, the cause for which the Pilgrims came was overthrown. But Massachusetts justice was inexorable-and in the summer of 1838 Abner Kneeland spent sixty days in prison for frankly expressing his religious beliefs. It was, however, the last prosecution under the statute.
When Kneeland came out of prison on August 17, 1838, his religious beliefs had not, of course, been changed, but he was disheartened, disappointed perhaps, at his own unbelief. He was then sixty-four years of age, but still hoped to find a place where he could hold and express his own ideas. What next? The free-soil Territory of Iowa had just been established by Act of Congress. Kneeland decided to join a colony that the "First Society of Free Enquirers" planned to locate two miles south of Farmington, in Van Buren County of the New Territory. The town-to-be, ambitiously lithographed on paper, was christened Salubria before it was born.
It was not a communistic community of "free enquirers." "No minister," asserted the founders, "shall ever come to this community to air his superstitions."
In may, 1839, Abner Kneeland, a white-haired and kindly man of sixty-five, arrived at Fort Madison, Iowa, by way of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Thence he went to the site of the paper town of Salubria where he bought a claim on which he and his stepson later built a comfortable two-story weather-boarded house. It was not until July that his wife and several members of their families joined him. The traveling expenses of Mrs. Kneeland and three children from Boston amounted to $190.75. Their household goods did not arrive at Salubria until August - some seventy-five days from Boston.
In this home, called the "Mansion of Salubria," modest by present day standards, but the grandest house in Iowa at the time, Abner Kneeland lived for the remainder of his life, surrounded by his family and a number of followers who had been attracted to the colony. The frame of the house was of native wood-black walnut, white oak and wild cherry, weather-boarded without sheathing, finished and roofed with pine brought from Louisiana. The walls were whitewashed mortar on split lath. The fire-places were beautiful structures three feet wide, two feet deep, and three feet high. On each of the two floors was a hall six feet wide leading into a "big-room." In the downstairs room Kneeland assembled the few books he still possessed, met his friends, and performed occasional marriage ceremonies. The kitchen was a lean-to of native boards nailed perpendicularly on stringers and roofed with clapboards.
In 1840, financial difficulties forced Kneeland to sell his private library, of about two hundred books, for $100.
On his way to Salubria and for about a year after he arrived there, Kneeland sent letters back to Boston for publication in the Investigator. In these he repeatedly expressed his admiration for Iowa. The forests and the corn impressed him deeply, but, he added, "this is but one item of the splendors of this wonderful country which is destined to outvie everything that can be even imagined in the east." He commented in like vein on the melons, squashes, pumpkins, and other vegetables. Hogs ran at large, however, and he found it difficult to keep them out of the corn.
In a later communication he called Iowa "the country from whose bourne no traveler returns,' not because they cannot, but because they will not." Many of the settlers he found congenial; those from the east particularly so, and it was in these homes, as in his own, that books and magazines were intimate companions.
In these letters to the Investigator. Kneeland revealed certian unfortunate investments - in a "cancer cure," for which he paid $50; in a perpetual motion machine that cost him $62.50; and in the still
more questionable endorsement of "two little girls who claimed to be able to divine fortunes by gazing into clear water." To all this censure, Kneeland gave an answer that other Universalists had been equally gullible and he had never attempted to make money from a scheme after he knew it to be fraudulent.
Apparently the leading citizen of Salubria was too busy to spread his panthestic propaganda in Iowa. "I have had but very few opportunities as yet, to disseminate any of my views in relation to theology," he wrote on June 29, 1839, to the Investigator, "as I advance them very cautiously; but whenever there is a chance without appearing intrusive I do not shrink from what appears to be a duty - a duty I owe to my fellow beings; and whatever I do speak, I find every ear open to hear; and not a tongue has moved yet to my knowledge by way of opposition." It appears that he lectured in Farmington, Bonaparte, Bentonsport, and Keosauqua.
Such attempts to disseminate his pantheistic views - atheistic to the pioneers - and the avowed aims of the sponsors to make Salubria a churchless town, aroused much hostility in Iowa religious circles. One answer to the challenge was the coming of the Iowa Band and the work of Harvey Adams, who spent twenty years as pastor of the Congregational church at Farmington.
But Abner Kneeland's interests reached beyond his private affairs and religious doctrines. For a few months he taught school in Helena, Arkansas, where he was remembered as being "competent and faithful, but very kind hearted and indulgent." Well educated courageous, a good speaker, with a commanding personality, refined and courteous in manner, he soon became a political figure of some importance, in spite of his unorthodox religious views.
In 1840 hew was one of the two Democratic candidates for Van Buren County's two seats in the Territorial Council, but was defeated. In 1842 hew unanimously chosen chairman of the county convention held at Farmington. During both these campaigns it was charged that an "infidel" had captured the Democratic party, and apparently enough Democratic voters were alienated to elect the Whig candidates. A member of the 1842 convention wrote of that campaign: "The Methodist and Baptists, indeed all churches, took the field. Uncle Sammy Clark, with his powerful logic and irresistible arguments, like a second Martin Luther, swept over the county, and party lines were for the time ignored. Whigs and Democrats united against the 'Infernal legions' - Kneeland and his ticket went down to defeat with a crash and no attempt was ever after made in the same direction."
In spite of his age Kneeland seems to have done a good deal of physical labor and to have walked long distances. He helped build his house, hoed in the garden, and worked in the hay field. One of the early settlers described him as "about 5 feet 9 and one-half
inches in height" and thought he weighed about 170 pounds. His complexion was light; by the time he came to Iowa his hair thin and white. He died at his home on August 27, 1844, at the was of seventy and was buried on his own farm. Later the body was removed to the cemetery at Farmington.
At his aide when he died was his fourth wife, Dolly L. Rice Kneeland, whom he had married ten years before. A stepson, James W, Rice, was for many years a respected citizen of Farmington, serving as mayor and as justice of the peace. Two daughters of this last marriage were born in Salubria. Kneeland's first wife, whom he married in Vermont in 1797, was Waitstill Ormsbee. By this marriage there were at leant three children. After Waitstill's death in 1806, he married Lucinda Mason who died a few years later, and in August, 1813 he married Mrs. Eliza Osburn, a wealthy widow of Salem. By these four wives Abner Kneeland had twelve children.
Salubria, which was to have been the capitol of free thinkers, never really took root. Only a few of the adherents of the philosophy of unbelief came, and in the years that followed, theme few and their descendants were gradually absorbed by the religious groups of the community.
In August, 1839, Abner Kneeland had written to the Investigator: "I had occasion to go to Farmington yesterday (Sunday); there seems to be some little movement there among religionists, such as prayer meetings, Sunday schools, etc., but I think they will not amount to much."
But Kneeland was mistaken. Pantheism was too cold, too abstract, too impersonal to appeal to the pioneers. They wanted a religion that was hopeful, confident, and personal. Farmington's churches received many of the descendants of these so-called free thinkers. Voltaire Paine Twombley, whose name bespoke his father's unbelief, grew up to be a Congregational deacon. Susan Knee-land Boler, a child .of the last marriage, became a devout member of the Farmington Congregational church, and in 1903 a grand-daughter was presiding over a Sabbath School in a chapel built on a half acre of ground donated by a descendant of a free thinker.
So ends the story of Abner Kneeland, the man whose trial for blasphemy ended trials for blasphemy in Massachusetts - a kindly, intelligent, and brave man whose only faults were too great a frankness in expressing his doubts, and an inability to harness faith and knowledge to make them work together.
Population 855; Platted: 1839; Incorporated: 1842; Railroad: Spur of C. R. I. & P.; Highway: State 1; Churches, Methodist, Church of Christ, Congregational; Schools: Grade and High School.; Library: In Community Building; Des Moines River Bridge: 1873 and 1938; Legion Post: Clyde Beer, No. 113.
Keosauqua, almost in the center of the natural Horse Shoe Bend of the Den Moines River, lies on its northern shore. It is built on rolling land, surrounded by wooded hillsides. Just across the river are the first of the rocky bluffs that make up the greater part of Lacey-Keosauqua Park. Lookout Knoll, in the Park, affords a view of Keosauqua lying in the crook of the Horse Shoe Bend.
Just beyond the bridge on the other side of the river is the old Manning Hotel, with its park area stretching to the river. The tall silvery smoke stack of the Cooperative Creamery, emerging from the treetops, marks one end of the business section. The many maple and elm trees hide the business section of the town several blocks north of the river, except for the tops of a few buildings that rise above the treetops. To the north of the business section the tall water tower rises above the building, on Courthouse Hill. To the west of the business section on another hill are the high school buildings, and the huge stone yellow-painted Manning Homestead.
Approaching from the south, the visitor is unaware of the nearness of the town until he comes over a hill and suddenly finds him-self in Keosauqua.
On a hill several blocks north of the main business section, stands the County Court House, built in 1842, one of the oldest county buildings in use in Iowa (see Points of Interest). Just north of it is the old county jail, and to the south is a small memorial park in which is the Civil War Memorial, a marble shaft flanked by two howitzers.
Two blocks southeast of the memorial park is the chief business section, which consists of three blocks of worn frame or dull brick buildings with modernized fronts. Here and there some of the old two-story brick buildings suggest the days when the thriving town was one of the state's larger cities. One of these buildings is the old remodeled Miller Hotel, now ninety-five years old. Across the street is the two-story brick building, covering half of the block, which housed the Manning Bank until it was closed in the 1930's. Another is the white limestone post office building, occupied by a general store fifty years ago, but the home of the post office for about thirty-five years. In the early days the upper floor was used by the Keosauqua Republican, and later by the telephone exchange.
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At the end of Main Street are the buildings of the Cooperative Creamery.
About three blocks to the north is the newly remodeled Legion Hall formerly the officer's headquarters of the C. C. C. Camp established here.
In the Masonic Lodge are the charred remains of Black Hawk's sword.
The streets of the town run parallel with the river. A well-kept little park extends along the river bank from the bridge to a point beyond the Manning Hotel. The old band stand near the bridge recalls the days when people from the neighboring countryside as well as the townspeople listened to the concerts. Frequently persons living several miles down the river claimed they could hear the band, and proved it by naming some of the selections played. The city's most popular park occupies half a block just north of the riverside park.
The Manning Hotel, an old landmark, has broad verandahs overlooking the park and affording a view of the river. This old building has withstood several floods. When, in 1903, the waters rose to a height of nearly seven feet, boats conveyed the hotel guests across the lobby to the stairway, and tied up at the bannisters. (see Flood of 1903, History of Van Buren County.
The old bridge constucted in 1873, is beingg replaced by a new one (1939), but there are still the remains of old landmarks down the river. Part of the old miII and its dam are still standing, as well as the old power plant that is now used as a fire station.
The town covers wide territory. The homes stand in spacious yards amid flowers, shrubs, and trees. Two-thirds of the houses are painted white. A few of the first homes in the town are brick. The people of the town find employment in the two produce houses, the lumber yard, the county shops, the Government Nurseries at the edge of town, the cooperative creamery, and in other businesses along Main Street. The Government Nurseries, across the river from the old mill site, shipped out hundreds of thousands of small trees in 1937 and 1938. Many local men were hired to pack the trees in small bundles for safe shipment. (see Points of Interest).
Sheep, livestock, and creamery products are shipped out on the spur railroad of the main line of the C. R. I. & P.
In 1911 the Ladies Improvement Society, with funds raised through home talent plays and bakery sales, bought a lot and moved a four-room house on it. This was the nucleus of the present public library and community building. The society also provided funds for a librarian.
Some Keosauquans say that the bell of the Congregational Church can be distinguished from the bells of the two others that ring on Sunday mornings because ninety-five silver dollars, earned by women of the church, were melted and cast into the bell.
The Christian Church, which was first established in Pleasant Valley, and then moved across the river to Keosauqua, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1938.
Van Buren County is sometimes known as the county containing the Des Moines River Horseshoe Bend, a true, natural bend and not the jagged U-shape shown on some maps. At the center of the highest loop of this river horseshoe is a hill that was named by the Indians "Kat-ua-na," meaning "beautiful valley" or "point overlooking beautiful valley." During the Indian reign over this part of Iowa the hill was used as a lookout where scouts watched the river for traders or the "white people." From one spot near Kat-ua-na it is possible to see both the Keosauqua and the Pittsburg bridges. The distance around the river from the Keosauqua bridge to the Pittsburg bridge is approximately nine miles. Darts, arrowheads and other weapons used by the Indians have been picked up not far from this lookout point.
Indians originally occupied the site of the town, and later French monks lived on the bend. The site became known among the Indian as Keosauqua (river of the monks).
White settlers who came here later did not immediately adopt
this name for their settlement. Keosauqua was first platted as two small settlements, Des Moines and Van Buren, both of which were laid off in the form of a triangle with a third piece of diamond-shaped ground intervening. This third section was eventually incorporated into the townsite.
John Silvers, who in 1835 built a claim pen of round logs near the banks of the Des Moines River where the Manning Hotel now stands, was soon joined by Elijah Purdom, who took a claim to the north. Purdom built a double log cabin in which the first Methodist class was organized in 1836, and where all itinerant ministers were welcome. Later Silvers sold his claim to Mershack Sigler, who in turn sold it to the Van Buren Company. In 1837 this company erected the town's first building - a store kept by Carnes and Fairman. This was the first store in "Van Buren." When Fairman was appointed post master, Van Buren was given the post office name of Port Oro. Fairman wore a high silk hat in which he kept the mail and from which he distributed it.
"Des Moines" was laid out in 1839 with streets and lots irregular in size, since the plat was triangular. The present Hangman's Hollow was almost in the center of the plat. A large brick and stone hotel was erected, as well as a large livery stable. A stone grist mill, part of which stands on the banks of the Des Moines River, attracted settlers from long distances.
The two settlements, at first, contended for the honor of the county seat, but finally the settlers of the two villages assembled on a Sunday night to talk over a plan of combining the villages. They decided to unite and include the intervening diamond. John Carnes suggested the post office name of the Van Buren community, Port Oro, but the people though it was too "high-sounding." At last Judge David Irwin suggested the old Indian name, Keosauqua, and the settlers accepted it.
The surrounding country was thickly settled and the town quickly became a trailing center. In 1839 Edward R. Tyler erected the first brick building, and soon Elias Elder erected part of Alexander's block, popularly known as the "Barracks." The first school was in a log building, later used as on office by Sloan & Sloan, attorneys.
In 1839 the district court met for the first time in Keosauqua. Judge Charles Mason presided. The chief business of the court was the awarding of ferry licenses.
After 1840 the settlement's population increased. In 1842 it was incorporated by an act of the Legislature as the county scat, and the building of the courthouse was begun on a hill overlooking the Des Moines River. When completed, the building was considered one of the largest and most beautiful in the State (see Points Interest).
The first county fair in Iowa was held at Keosauqua in 1842 by the local agricultural society. Only two others were held; then interest lagged. At the time of the first fair the settlers had to get their supplies by boat from Warsaw and Quincy, Illinois. During these years they paid from $12 to $18 a barrel for flour, and from $8 to $20 a head for pork.
In 1843 the town had its first newspaper, the Des Moines River Intelligencer, edited by Jesse M. Shepherd and John T. Mitchell; it was later moved to Keokuk. The Des Moines Valley Whig, of which J. P. Howell was the editor and publisher, was founded at Keosauqua in 1846. In 1854 it was moved to Keokuk, where it later changed its name to the Keokuk Gate City.
Typical of the obstacles pioneer preachers overcame in their efforts to secure places of worship for their people were those faced by Rev. Daniel Lane, the first Congregational minister at Keosauqua. This energetic minister, serving at a salary of $400 yearly paid him by the American Missionary Society of New York, in 1844 organized the Congregational church with two men and two women. After he and his wife had decided to take $140 from his salary to buy the brick needed to errect the church, he went to Jesse Winn, who had promised to "do a good thing" if he were given the brick job on the church.
Lane approached him and said, "If I will furnish the brick from my own purse for a church edifice, will you lay them free of charge?"
Winn hesitated. "I don't know, Mr. Lane; that is a temptation." After a minute he added, "I owe Jesse Elder $50 on an election bet. I gave him my note. If you will get him to give me that note on condition I do the brick work of the church. I will do it."
Lane got the note and the brick laying was assured. He then persuaded the owner of a nearby quarry to furnish the stone for the foundation, and a stone mason to lay the stone. He found two families friendly to the church who agreed to haul the brick and stone to the site. But there we obstacles still: lumber was dear, and carpenter work costly, and even after the church members had contributed every cent they could spare, money was still needed. In casting about for other possible resources, Lane made a list of every man outside his church who he believed would contribute one dollar, interviewed them, and collected.
Methodism, which predominates in Van Buren County, is partly indebteded for its early growth to Peter Cartwright, an enthusiastic evangelist who once held revival meetings at Keosauqua, and Henry Clay Dean, an eloquent pre-Civil War preacher. Many are the stories told of Cartwright's activities. He confessed to being a wild and wicked boy, delighting in horse racing, card playing, and "rough drinking parties." Returning home from a riotous wedding party
one night, the sight of his Christian mother, peacefully sleeping, filled him with shame. Suddenly he became blind; and filled with the fear of death, began to pray. His mother, who awakened, prayed with him. Several months later at a camp meeting, he heard a voice saying, "Thy sins are forgiven thee," and he felt this to be the moment of his conversion.
Although Cartwright's manners and dress were as plain as those of the pioneers to whom he spoke, his fervent preaching brought many to the mourner's bench. Believing that the Methodist Episcopal Church was a necessity to sinners, he was often "at war" with other denominations. Once two sisters, Universalists, came to his meeting to scoff, but stirred by his preaching, one of them made her way to the mourner's bench. Her angry sister started after her to take her home. Cartwright blocked her path. Infuriated, the sister slapped Cartwright's face. He pushed her unceremonioously toward the door and called to the men sitting nearby, "Gentlemen, please open the door. The devil in this Universalist has got fighting hot, and I want to set her outside to cool."
A man of action as well as of words, he once arrived at a tavern in a small village where a dance was in progress and took a seat near the door to watch. When a girl asked hint to dance, he accepted her invitation; then, as they reached the dance floor, he astonished the crowd by announcing that he always asked God's blessing on anything he attempted to do. Pulling the amazed girl to her knees beside him, he started to pray, and turned the dance into a prayer meeting.
Henry Clay Dean, who served as a Methodist minister at Keosauqua and other towns in the county, began to preach when he was four, having learned a Negro sermon and delivering it exceptionally well. He migrated front Pennsylvania to Iowa in 1850, speaking and debating in towns along the way.
Short and stout, with a full beard and mustache, Dean cared little for convention. One Sunday as he stood preaching, his shoe pinched his foot. Without losing his eloquence, he pulled a jack knife from his pocket, stooped over, and split his shoe. Frequently he went about with his shoe laces flapping. If he happened to notice an untied lace while he was speaking, he lifted up his foot and tied it while he was talking, without detriment to his eloquence. One admirer paid this tribute to the effectiveness of his preaching: "Sinners were nightly melted like old pewter and run up into Christians bright and new."
In the summer, when he made political speeches, he went collarless, with his shirt open at the neck, and perhaps one suspender off his shoulder. He adopted this attire, he said, "to put myself near the common people. When I ask a working man a question, dressed as I am, I always get an answer."
Fearless. interested not in details and technicalities but in principles, he denounced those with whom he did not heartily agree. Believing in the principles of Stephen A. Douglas, he campaigned for him and criticized Lincoln severly. At a meeting in Keosauqua where he was berating Lincoln, a man in the audience stood up and shouted to him, "Here's six feet four for Lincoln." But nothing stopped Dean. Fie went on saying what he thought.
When the war question created a division in the Methodist church, Dean opposed it, believing it a step toward the dissolution of the nation. He did not believe in secession, but neither did he favor coercion as a means of restoring the Union. Dean said that if it would preserve peace between the North and South he "would take the biggest and blackest Negro he could find, pin his ears back, and swallow him whole, wool and all."
He was chaplain of the United States Senate just before the Civil War; and a few years later, in a political speech in Washing-ton County, he asked anyone to tell him, if he possibly could, when the Democratic party had ever squandered any money. A Quaker named Henry Morgan, "no bigger than a pint of eider half drunk up," piped up, "I can tell."
"Well," said Dean gruffly, "when was it?"
"When they gave you eight dollars a day to pray for the Senate."
Dean replied, "Thank God, I shall never pray for you until I pray for the brute creation."
Afterward, Dean admitted that the little Quaker's heckling really had disturbed him.
During the Civil War, Dean was denounced as a Copperhead and credited with the organization of secret lodges all over the state. Several times he was seized by mobs; and once, in Keokuk, a crowd had a rope around his neck, ready to swing him off the box on which he stood, when Judge J. B. Howell intervened and saved his life. He finally left the ministry and took up law. He later left Iowa, and built a country home in Putman County, Missouri that he defiantly called Rebel's Cove.
The Keosauqua flour mill became the property of J. J. Kinersly in 1843. In 1846 a pottery was opened that operated for five year. In 1847 the stone and brick Pearson residence, now the oldest home in Keosauqua, was erected by Franklin Pearson, father of F. A. Pearson, who lived his eighty years in the house. In the early days the upper story, one room, was used for religious meetings. Inside and outside stairways reached the second floor (see Points of Interest).
In 1850 an attempt was made to build a bridge across the Des Moines. The bridge was hardly begun before the completed part fell into the river, and the project was abandoned.
The old ferry at Keosauqua was operated by a cable, one end
Transcribed by Rich Lowe for the
Van Buren County IAGenWeb Project
- copyright 2007 -