The History of Birmingham - 9th Grade Theme Paper

1968 -  The following history of Birmingham , Iowa was sent to us by Eva Bailey Rupe, of Montrose , Iowa .  She says,

Dear Mr. Kerr:

            “I am sending the history of Birmingham , Iowa , which was written by my sister, Ellen Bailey Brier.  She was thirteen years of age in the 9th grade when she wrote the theme.  The year was 1923.  She always loved her home town and I thought the people of Birmingham would enjoy this as much as I did.”


            The History of Birmingham

            In June, 1839, the proprietor of Birmingham , John Harrison, laid out the place--which was later known as Birmingham .  His reasons for starting, or planning, was because he thought it such a beautiful place, and also that trade would be very good, as it would be between two towns, that were progressing, very rapidly.  In talking to one of his friends, Harrison , is said to exclaim, “There are about two hundred acres of land--the place where I am helping to plan the town--that are beautiful--and in many ways wonderful.  Most of it is covered with trees--and the grass is so green and thick that it looks like a carpet, of green color.  The birds sing cheerfully, and after being there a day or two your heart fairly sings, with the birds.  In my idea, God has bestowed upon it such wonderful blessings, of nature, that it seems to me to be an ideal place to live.  There is no excuse for this town not growing--if the love of nature, is in some peoples minds.”  This is a good illustration of how some people, must have felt--when they saw the place--which is now Birmingham .

            The first settler was Mr. Berry , who with his family, had moved here from the northern part of Illinois .  His views of this place are so wonderfully expressed, as Harrison ’s, as told in some of his letters, written to his relatives.

            The first lawyer was Mr. H. C. Clinton--who in the future thought that Birmingham would be a large city--moved here.  He helped the progress of civilization, around here, when he had many criminals sent to the penitentiary, or executed.

            Dr. W. Miller was the first physician to move to this settlement.  He was a kind, noble person, and helped very much in the planning and progressing, of the town.

            Dr. I. N. Norris moved here later, and a daughter of his was the first person born here.

            A child of Titus Moss was the first death.  Moss, was another of the many, that took a good interest, in this place, and helped as much as he could.

            Our first postmaster was Jacob Lawton.  Besides being postmaster here, he also carried mail to Winchester , which was just a settlement then, too.

            Twenty-one years after Birmingham had been planned, or laid out, (1860), the school district of Birmingham was independent.

            The first school was in a log hut--which was very crowded and inconvenient.  Although there was a large fireplace, it was not warm enough on the coldest days, to be comfortable.  The seats, or what were really benches, were made from logs, that had been made very crudely.

            In 1872 a public school was built, and then the district employed four teachers.  The district then began to be very prosperous.

            Rev. McArthur was the founder of the academy--and it was called “The Birmingham Collegiate Institute”.  McArthur was a United Presbyterian minister.  A good illustration of this institution being very successful is:  in 1878 there were over a hundred students, for the average, of that year.  This showed the spirit that McArthur must have put into the school and the interest other people, besides those residing in Birmingham , had in it.  In 1880 the academy burned down.

            A few years later there was a log school house built--but as it was too crowded, quite a few classes were held in the second story, of two of the stores.  The present building was started in the spring of 1889--but was not completed until the summer of 1990.  In 1919, two rooms were added to this building.  The district now employs ten teachers.

            While the progress of the schools were going on rapidly--so were the churches.

            The first M. E. Church was organized by Rev. Joel Arrington, in 1839.  Their first church was constructed of logs.  Later, in 1847, a frame church was built--then a larger one constructed, in 1858.  This church burned down, in 1894--and then another built--but it burned down in 1919.  A large church, of Spanish architecture, is now standing, but was dedicated Jan. 1, 1923 .

            Rev. Soloman Coles organized the first Presbyterian church here, in 1839.  The first meeting was held in a barn--but later, in 1850, a church was built.  Another church was built to take its place, in 1854--which, the former, was sold, for a barn.  The United Presbyterians and Presbyterians united in 1916.  The old church was sold, and is now being used as a hall and theater.  The new church, a large building, was built in 1916--and is still standing.

            The United Presbyterians organized in 1839.  Rev. Vincent was the first minister--and the first church was built, in 1874.  When they united with the Presbyterians in 1917, the church and lot was sold to the citizens of Birmingham --the church later being torn down.

            Rev. Douthy organized the First Methodist church, 1874--the same year a church being built.  In a few years this was torn down, and a new one built, which is now standing.

            While these schools and churches were being constructed there was also what you might term as an ‘industrial stage’ in manufacturing.  Birmingham , in 1878, was next to Bonaparte, in manufacturing.

            A grist mill was erected in 1850, by Gwinn and Bott.  In 1854 it burned down but was rebuilt in 1871.  Several years ago they started to take their building down, because the lumber in it was so old, it was dangerous, but was not completely torn down until this spring.

            In 1860, a plow and wagon factory was built.  Their work, in the beginning, was very successful.

            In 1870, was the first time the woolen factory, was run successfully.  After that date, the work done by it, was wonderful, for the size of it.

            In 1871, C. L. Moss, built a cheese factory.  It was not a very successful factory at first but in later years it improved very much.

            John Park, James Glunder, and John Porter, opened a tannery, in 1868.  Later the building was sold to G. B. Smith, in 1869, and was made into a pork packing house.  Two years later (1871) , he moved his business to Keokuk.

            Oct. 27, 1852 , the I. O. O. F. Lodge, No. 36, was chartered.  The lodge is still here and the enrollment has increased.

            The F. E. A. M., No. 56, was organized in June 6, 1855 --and also their enrollment began to be increased.

            A Burlington railroad was built through here, in about 1879.  This railroad, though small, has helped Birmingham , very much.  A bus now goes from Keosauqua to Fairfield twice a day.  This has improved mail conditions; and also a more convenient connection, with the train in Fairfield and Keosauqua.

            About 1889, the Norris Brothers started a school, for persons wanting to study medicine.  This was one of the most successful schools, that was ever organized.  Their school building, was the Doctor’s office--standing about where Keimer’s Hotel now stands.  Many young people, from places all around here, attended this school.  Then later, most of them went to Keokuk, to finish.  Much credit has been given to this school--for the work it did.  Some of the best doctors in the state attended this school--and most of them say they learned more at this school, than they possibly could have learned at any other, for they explain that the Norris Brothers made it so interesting.  Dr. Norris, one of the Norris Brothers, is still living here in Birmingham .  He has watched with interest the progressing of this town--and also, I expect with more, the doctors of the surrounding towns, as he taught most of them--grow older--their work being appreciated more and more each year.  I think that certainly Dr. Norris should be highly respected, by all the citizens of this town, which he is, and that the town should think more and more of his work, in order that Birmingham might progress.

            In 1878 the population of Birmingham was about seven hundred and fifty.  Meanwhile, the mill and manufacturers have discontinued their business.  This is probably the main reason for Birmingham ’s declining in recent years, to a little over five hundred inhabitants.  At about the present, Birmingham stays almost the same; for there is no cause for declining or increasing.  At the present date there are:  three general stores; two butcher shops; one hardware store; a poultry house; a post office; two restaurants; three barber shops; one drug store; a hall; four garages; two oil stations; a harness shop; a gymnasium; two shoe shops; trading old and new cars, and their repairs; and a brush factory.

            Even though all the citizens living in and around Birmingham , do not think of this place as Harrison did; this town has a history which it can be proud of, and also citizens whose great works should be appreciated. 

Source: clippings from scrapbook located in the Van Buren Co. Genealogical Society Library, Keosauqua, IA

Contributed by Volunteer Transcriber Kathy Fisher


Van Buren Co. GenWeb Project