Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


As many as 70 villages within the present Van Buren County boundaries were proposed, planned, platted, or settled during the first fifty years of development. Some never advanced beyond the drawing board, but of those that drew settlers, rivals competed with each other for business, industry, population, and eventually for existence. Often they sprang up in close proximity, and in many cases they merged or were incorporated with nearby settlements. A handful of villages became major towns with only six reaching a population over 500 (Farmington 1,342; Keosauqua, 1,263; Milton 1,107; Bonaparte 968; Birmingham 643; and Bentonsport 515.)

The following is a listing of the villages, with a brief description of each that includes location, if and when the village was settled, laid out, platted, incorporated, and the population, if any:

1. Farmington: Settled in 1833 in Section 2 of Farmington Township on the east bank of the Des Moines River, it is the oldest incorporated village, and reached the highest population of any village in Van Buren County--1,342 in 1905. Farmington was the first county seat (Van Buren County, Wisconsin Territory) from 1836 to 1838. In 2000 the population was 756.

2. Leando (Portland): Settled as early as 1831, John Tolman platted a village on the south side of the Des Moines River in Section 25, Village Twp., in 1834 which wasnít registered until 1847. The post office was named Portland in 1838 and changed to Leando in 1840, but the town was called Portland until about 1876. During the 1850s, the population reached 400 but had declined to only 88 in 2000. 

3. Kilbourne: Peter Avery had a trading post here in 1832, but the first permanent settlement was not until 1834. Laid out as Philadelphia in 1839, there was a post office on the north side of the Des Moines River in Section 2, Lick Creek Township in 1840. The name of both the post office and town was changed from Philadelphia to Kilbourne in 1858. In 1870, the population was 100.

4. Bonaparte: First settled in 1834, a town developed in 1837 known as Meekís Mills on the north side of the Des Moines River in Farmington Township Section 8 (Bonaparte Township Sec. 8 as of 1863.) When the town was officially laid out in 1841, the name was changed to Bonaparte in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte. Some early maps show it as Lexington (not to be confused with New Lexington one mile up the river.) It was not incorporated until 1899 therefore population records are few, but it reached 968 in 1905. In 2000 the population was 458. 

5. Keosauqua: Actually, Keosauqua was the Indian name for the area. The first settler arrived in 1835, and several settlements developed within the horseshoe bend before 1839. Eventually all of them (Van Buren, Des Moines City, Port Oro and Keosauqua) were incorporated as one town in 1839 and named Keosauqua. Keosauqua became the county seat by designation in March, 1838; by election in October, 1838; and by territorial legislation approval in January of 1839. Pleasant Hill and South Keosauqua additions boosted the population to 1,263 in 1895. Its location is along the Des Moines River in Section 36, East Van Buren Township. In 2000 the population was 1,066.

6. Port Oro: Late in 1836, mail began to be delivered by horseback from St. Francisville, Missouri to John Fairman. In 1837 he was designated postmaster and operated a post office in a river cave, carrying mail in his hatband until he could deliver it to settlers. His post office was called Port Oro (or Portoro), Spanish for "land of gold." By 1840, the post office was changed to Keosauqua. For location and population, see Keosauqua.

7. Bentonsport: First settled in 1836, platted in 1839, and incorporated in 1851, Bentonsport reached a population of 515 in 1867. Within 100 years after settlement it was nearly a ghost town. Best known for restoration that began during the 1950s, it is a popular tourist spot, often called "the Williamsburg of the Midwest." It is located on the north side of the Des Moines River in Section 35 of Washington Township. The current population is about 50.

8. Pittsburg (Troy): Settled in 1836 along the west bank of the Des Moines River in Section 27 of Van Buren Township West, it was originally called Troy until 1842, and was a contender for the county seat. (Note: It should not be confused with another town named Troy just west of the county line in Davis County for which an early plat exists at the Van Buren County Courthouse. Van Buren extended 1.5 miles west of its present boundary for a brief period in 1838 and included that village.) From 1842 to 1892, Pittsburgh was spelled with an "h" on the end and contained 109 blocks according to the plat at the courthouse. The "h" was dropped in 1892. A post office operated from 1844 until 1903. It was a town of saloons with a bad reputation, reaching a population of 160 in 1856 and about 200 in 1865. The current population is about 20.

9. Vernon: Originally called "South Bentonsport," a village existed across from Bentonsport in 1836 and was laid out in 1837. Located in Section 2 of Henry Township, the name was changed to Vernon in 1841. In 1845 and again in 1856, population estimates were 300, but the 1856 figure also includes East Vernon. The current population is about 20.

10. Birmingham: A nucleus of families lived here in 1837, located in Section 12 of Lick Creek Township and Section 7 of Union Township. Sixteen blocks were laid out in 1839 and incorporated in 1856. The town reached one square mile in size, yet only the original 16 blocks were ever incorporated. The population reached 626 in 1870, declined to about 400, then climbed back to 643 in 1950. After the railroad stopped operating in 1956, Birmingham again declined. Population in 2000 was 423.

11. Columbus: Surveyors in 1837 found this town in existence. A school operated here in 1839, but the date of the town plat is 1843. Located on the east bank of the Des Moines River in Section 27, Washington Twp., Columbus was abandoned before the railroad came through in 1857.

12. Des Moines City: Des Moines City, coined as early as 1836, was a French name synonymous with the Indian name Keosauqua, and referred to the 1837 triangle of Van Buren and adjacent land and cabins. In 1839, a triangle a half-mile north of Van Buren was laid out along the river, officially named Des Moines. The villages within the area merged as one, and the name Keosauqua was chosen for the new united village. (see Keosauqua for location.)

13. Van Buren: The Van Buren Company laid out a village in 1837 which was registered as Van Buren, but was usually called Keosauqua or Des Moines City. It was located approximately in the area bounded by present Hotel Manning, the high school, and the river. In 1839 both triangles of Van Buren and Des Moines, and the land in between, were incorporated and given the old name Keosauqua. (see Keosauqua for location.)

14. Iowaville: Originally an old Indian village on the north side of the Des Moines River in Section 7 of Village Township, James Jordan traded here as early as 1828, and lived here in 1831. The first permanent white settlers came in 1837, bought the land, and the Indians vacated. Black Hawk died here in 1838, the year the town was officially platted. The population was 200 in the 1860s, but disappeared by the late 1870s.

15. Napoleon: Opposite Bonaparte, a village was laid out named Napoleon, but not much came of the village in Section 17, Farmington Twp. (Bonaparte Twp. after 1863.) 

16. Palestine: One half-mile east of Napoleon, the village of Palestine was laid out in 1837 or 1838 but never materialized . 

17. New Lexington: About one mile west of the town of Bonaparte, a small village was founded called New Lexington. A post office bearing this name came into existence on April 6, 1837, but was abandoned in 1842. A rectangle of this village (Section 7, originally Farmington Twp., later Bonaparte Twp.) contained some land on both sides of the river. A rectangle on a 1918 plat map shows the village still in existence with two houses, but the name had been shortened to "Lexington" instead of "New Lexington."

18. North Farmington: An area of 2 blocks by 5 blocks, North Farmington was platted as a separate village in Section 35, Farmington Twp. and remained that way during the 1830s, carrying on separate deeds and entries. By the 1840s, it was absorbed into Farmington.

19. Parkersville: Already a settlement in Section 17 of Union Township in 1837 as noted by surveyors, it contained a store and a few dwellings, but did not prosper.

20. Rochester: Located 2 miles downstream (northeast) of Keosauqua in Section 29 of East Van Buren Township on the west bank of the Des Moines River, there are two plats, one containing 53 blocks; the other 24. It was a contender for the county seat in 1837 and 1838. The Wisconsin Territorial Legislature actually voted Rochester as county seat in September, 1838 but pressure caused them to rescind their vote on the following day in favor of a vote by the people. A special election was held the following month, and Keosauqua was chosen. The proprietor of Rochester sold his land and vacated in 1839, and the town soon disappeared.

21. Rockport: Rockport was one of the 23 settlements mentioned by surveyors in 1837 when they came through Van Buren County. There is no plat of the village, and Ralph Arnold search for this location for many years. He and I decided that it was probably located where Rock Creek enters the Des Moines River in Section 21 of Washington Twp. near another proposed village called Lexington. (see #25.)

22. Salubria: Abner Kneeland attempted to found a colony of infidel "free thinkers" south of Farmington along the Des Moines River in 1837, in Sections 12 and 13 of Farmington Twp. He claimed to have 100 settlers and followers, but the town never had more than six houses. Within ten years, the colony faded.

23. South Keosauqua: Settled about 1837, a plat exists dated 1840 with 9 blocks most of which is in Lacey-Keosauqua State Park near the bridge in Sections 36 and 1 of Van Buren Township East. Most of the area platted is rugged cliffs and timber, but the population reached 71 in 1880. It became part of Keosauqua by 1894. (see Keosauqua.)

24. Watertown: As noted by surveyors in 1837, this village was located about 1/2 mile north of Indian Creek, across the Des Moines River from North Farmington in Section 35 of Farmington Twp. The village never contained more than a handful of people.

25. Lexington: This Lexington was never platted, but a description of the village places it in Washington Township, Section 21, on the north side of the river, about four miles upstream from Bentonsport (The Keosauqua Republican, 15 August 1935, pp. 61, 66, "Abandoned Towns in Van Buren County.")

26. Hedvolante or Hedrolante: was a village in Van Buren Township west of Pittsburg in Section 28, according to the plat dated July, 1839. The proposed town never developed.

Continued . . .

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