Page 1 - History of Birmingham

History of Birmingham

The Van Buren County Historical Society, 1971

Compiled by: Clem Topping, Lester Lindsay and Beulah Scott

Our appreciation is hereby expressed to the following persons who assisted in supplying material used herein: Mrs. Orville Prill, Rose Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Johnston, Mrs. Earl Canaday and Rev. Knepper.

Printed by The Record-Republican, Bonaparte, Iowa

Page 2 - History of Birmingham

A Town Is Born

Some lands in Iowa were opened to settlement in 1833 but the Blackhawk purchase, of which Van Buren County is a part, was not opened until December, 1836. Not everyone who bought land in those days expected to settle on it. Some buyers were land speculators. One such was Robert F. Barrett, for he owned in the late 1830's, more than sixty-five tracts in Van Buren and Jefferson counties.

On November 21, 1838, he bought eighty acres in the southwest quarter of section 7, of what is now Union township. Presumably he paid $1.25 an acre for it, because that was the going price for land gotten through the U. S. Land Office. Thus he became the first man to own a part of what is now the town of Birmingham. But he didn't keep it long. Records indicate that early in 1839 he sold it to John Harrison for $1.75 an acre.

John Harrison, too, was evidently interested in profits from land. On June 27, 1839, he laid out the Original (town of) Birmingham, on the north forty acres of the tract of land he had gotten from Mr. Barrett. Records show that this plat was filed in the recorder's office on the same date. Mr. Harrison divided the forty acres into sixteen blocks, laid out streets and alleys and allocated one block for a public square. He deeded the streets, alleys and square to the public, platted the remaining fifteen blocks, and made ready to sell lots.

For one specific instance: Harrison sold Lot 2 in Block 4 to one Sally Skinner for $70.00 on December 22, 1840. Perhaps John Harrison dreamed himself to be an empire builder. At the least he was the founder of a town; and this example indicates that his dream was coming true. (This property lies just west of the present Farmer's Store.)

As shown by this table, one could say that the rise in property value of the original town of Birmingham was meteoric.

1838 40 acres @ $ 1.25 $ 50.00
1839 40 acres @ $ 1.75 $ 70.00
1840 132 lots @ $70.00 $ 9,240.00

This last figure assumes that all lots were of equal value and includes the value of the public square had it been platted. By way of comparison to the present day the area of the town (now one square mile) had a 100% property value on January 1, 1970, according to the assessor's records in Keosauqua, of approximately one million dollars.

Further evidence that Richard F. Barrett was a land speculator lies in the fact that on October 15, 1840 he and his wife, Maria, gave to a lawyer, James W. Grimes, the power of attorney to "sell and

Page 3 - History of Birmingham

convey by deed of general warranty any and all lands owned by us in Iowa." This James W. Grimes later became the governor of Iowa. (1854 to 1858)

Legal processes must have moved slowly in those early days for John Harrison's warranty deed to the tract on which he laid out Birmingham was dated January 18, 1843 and filed a week later on January 25th, and James W. Grimes gave him this warranty deed as the legal representative of Mr. and Mrs. Barrett. Pieces of paper and word of mouth must have made up the evidence of many_ early transactions and carried much meaning if John Harrison could lay out a town and sell lots on land to which he did not have a legal title for almost four and one-half years after he started such activities.

Other additions were made to the town. Probably very soon after Original Birmingham was platted, North Birmingham Addition was made and other areas soon followed. Among these are Barnes I, Barnes II, Wiedners, Wilson's Addition, Work's Addition and Work's Supplement. The writer does not know when the full one square mile area was finalized but remember when each of the roads leading into the town was marked with a sign at the edge of the town limits. These signs read: "Town of Birmingham" "Speed Limit 15 miles per hour". This was probably about 1912 or 13 when the automobile was beginning to become a factor in the road traffic.

The following items are excerpts from a History of Van Buren County published in 1878.

"A man named Berry was the first settler in the town, although Dr. I. N. Norris passed over the land where the city now stands when the plat was all grass-grown. James Steel kept the first hotel here. The man Berry, referred to, was the first blacksmith. The first physician was William Miller and H. C. Clinton was the first lawyer.

A daughter of Dr. Norris was the first to be born, while the first death was a child of Titus Moss. Reuben Morse (Moss), son of Titus and Almira Sanferd Moss (2nd wife) was born August 4, 1831 and died May 14, 1839 (and is buried in the old Methodist cemetery east of the present schoolhouse).

Jacob Lawton was the first postmaster, and carried the mail to Winchester. (Winchester was on a stagecoach route so was possibly a receiving center for Birmingham mail.)

Birmingham is an incorporated city. The first charter was dated June 1, 1856. The first meeting was held June 3. The first officers were: President, Joseph Talbott. Councilmen — J. B. Spees, J. N. Norris, E. Pitkin. Recorder — Robert Porter. Treasurer — Geo. Parker. A second charter was granted June 1, 1869 with H. Clay Clinton, Mayor. Robert Porter, Recorder. Joseph Graham, S. A. Bogle, C. C. Pleasant, F. B. Huffman and J. N. Smith, Councilmen. The present officers are Samuel Wilson, Mayor. Robert Porter, Re-

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corder. Joseph Graham, Treasurer. George Deahl, Marshal. Councilmen -- F. Eichelberger, H. Barnes, D. McMillen, Geo. Clinkenbeard and Newton Calhoun.

Next to the village of Bonaparte, Birmingham is probably the most important town in the county of Van Buren for extensive manufacturing."

The industries of the town were: the mill — lumber, grist and flour; a plow and wagon factory; creamery; tannery; pork-packing plant; woolen factory; cheese factory; Birmingham Enterprise.

It is difficult to believe today that for more than forty of its first years the only way to get in or out of Birmingham was either on foot or with transportation by oxen or horses. It was in late February, 1882 that the railroad track into town was finished and the first train came in on March 1, 1882. The railroad was known as the Ft. Madison and Northwestern. In later years this first narrow gauge railroad came into ownership of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Company and was changed to standard width track in 1891. At one time Birmingham's railroad extended from Ft. Madison to Ottumwa and came to be known as the "Peavine". The origin of this name is unknown. With the coming of paved highways and motor trucks, hard times fell on branch railroads and they began to he abandoned. The track from Birmingham to Batavia was taken out in the 1940's and in 1955 it was taken out from Stockport to Birmingham so that now the town is without a railroad as it was in its early history.

In the matter of education the town was active, as it was in industry. Dr. Norris taught the first school. This school was evidently built before Original Birmingham was platted for Dr. Norris taught in it in 1838-39.

An academy was established in 1857 by a United Presbyterian preacher, Rev. McArthur. This academy was called "The Collegiate Institute" and is referred to in some sources as a college. As such it can claim to be the only college ever established in the county. It was promoted as a stock company and finally ended up in the ownership of Prof. J. W. Wolf. Many of the leading citizens of the community during the boyhood of the writer had received most or all of their higher education at Wolf's Academy. But the coming of the public school finally drove Wolf's Academy out of business. The public school was established in 1871 and in a few years high school courses were added to it. The first graduating class from the Birmingham High School, in 1888, consisted of just one member, Elmer Moore, who, unfortunately, died just a short time before his graduation day.

On May 25, 1890 the Alumni of the school, which consisted then of twelve persons, met at the home of Dr. W. W. Nelson, father of one of the members, and organized the Birmingham High School Alumni Association. They have since met every year with possible

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exception of one or two of the World War years and are still a strong and active organization after more than eighty years. They are without doubt the oldest high school alumni association in the county and possibly could well challenge any such organization in the state for the honor of being the oldest and longest active of such groups.

From all the various sources of its early history, one gains the impression that the boom years for Birmingham were very likely the 1850's for then its industries were being established and it was rapidly gaining population by the new settlers who were being attracted to it. The town had its largest population in the 1870's with about 700 residents. Today its population is about 450.

The story is told by descendants of the Norris family that Birmingham received its name as the result of an incident at a spelling match at the first school conducted in the Birmingham area by Dr. I. N. Norris. A child was asked to spell the name Birmingham (a city in England) and he spelled it "Burmingham". He was much discomfited and embarrassed by his mistake and everybody present was so much impressed by the incident that Dr. Norris later remembering it, when he helped John Harrison plat the town, suggested that it be given this name. If this be the fact the suggestion was evidently well received.

The following letter was received this August, 1971 by Clem Topping and speaks for itself:

"Aug. 23, 1971

Dear Mr. Topping:

I and my family were in Birmingham Aug. 14. We had a nice talk with the lady who works in the postoffice. She said you were having a celebration in Oct.

My grandfather laid out the town of Birmingham, so the town makes a lot of interest to me. Am sending you the story of their trip from Ohio to Oregon. Hope you will enjoy it as it is interesting, sure has been for me.

My father was Arichibald McNair Harrison. Born May 24, 1832. Died April 27, 1916.

John Harrison was born in Fayette county Penn. March 14, 1802. Later he moved to Holmes county Ohio where he married Jane Miller. Their marriage being the first to take place in the newly formed county. Later he moved to Iowa where in June 1839 he laid out the town of Birmingham. Then in April 1846 (7 years later) he formed a company and set out for Oregon. Arriving (there) at a time when the city of Portland was but a group of wig-warns and log huts. He owned and operated the first grist mill in the state in Yamhill county.

Archie M. Harrison
Lafayette, Indiana
Box 317 R.R. 4 47095"

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Early Nearby Towns

In the history of Van Buren County, about forty towns were realized or dreamed so naturally some of them were close to Birmingham.


The government surveyors of 1837 set out in their notes that they found this town in the northwestern part of section 17, Union Township, which would be about one mile southeast of the present town of Birmingham.


Winchester, about three miles southeast, was at one time a rival of Birmingham but in the days of the coming of the railroads most of its leading citizens opposed having a railroad and the town soon after started to decline. In stage-coach days it had a population of probably two to three hundred people for it had forty dwellings. There were several stores one was a drugstore, a hotel and four churches. One of Winchester's most famous organizations was the Anti-Horse Thief Association. It was founded April 11, 1848 and lasted until April 3, 1937 when it was disbanded. Today the only evidences of early Winchester are its well kept cemetery and the fallen rubble of the Anti-Horse Thief building and the Methodist church.


Kilbourne is about five miles south and a little west of Birmingham. It never exceeded Winchester in size but there is more evidence today of its past than at Winchester. It was established as Philadelphia in 1839. The Van Buren county history of 1878 states -- "Nothing ever became of the place outside of a "paper town." However, this history calls it Kilbourne. One of its claims to fame is that in 1832 two early hunters or explorers, William Phelps and Peter Avery, camped for the winter at the confluence of Lick Creek and the Des Moines river, which place is very close to the present village. One of the characters of Phil Stong's novel "State Fair" is said to be based on "Peck" Stong, an early storekeeper of the place.


Collet, one mile and a few feet north of the Van Buren county line in Jefferson county, deserves to be mentioned as a nearby town because it was at this place, about four miles northwest of Birmingham, that the first railroad into our town ended. The story is told that there was a roundtable there on a switch-line where the engine was turned around so that it might be placed at the head of the train for the return trip to Ft. Madison and that this roundtable was pushed around by volunteer manpower which would come in from the surrounding community when the train arrived. The town never got beyond one or two houses and today it is open farmland and all but forgotten.

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C. L. Moss

Charles Lloyd Moss was born in Cheshire, New Haven County, Connecticut, May 7, 1821. He was a son of Titus and Bedie (Doolittle) Moss. The family is of Scottish origin and came to Connecticut prior to the Revolution. The name is spelled in no less than four ways — Moss, Moose, Mors and Morse. The grandfather, Joel Morse, was a lumberman and woolen manufacturer of Cheshire at which place Titus Morse was born in 1799. Titus Moss married and moved to Wayne County, New York in 1827, where he farmed. There his wife died at the age of 26. He remarried Almira Sanders and the family then moved to Kalamazoo County, Michigan in 1833. In 1837 they moved to Iowa and bought a 320 acre farm, three-fourths of a mile southwest of Birmingham from James G. Ritchie and as soon as the land came into market, secured a patent from the government. They found only four families within five miles of where they settled.

Until he came of age, C. L. Moss worked for his father. In 1843 he married Miss Hannah Barnes who had come with her parents from Ohio to Iowa. After farming for a short time, he engaged in merchandising in Birmingham, from which business he turned to buying and selling livestock.

In 1850 he drove a team and wagon to California, reaching his destination in four months. For a year and a half he sold miner's supplies at "Rough and Ready", Nevada County, California. Returning by way of Panama, and the Mississippi river, he reached Birmingham in 1851, some $5000.00 better off than when he started.

In 1853 Mr. Moss and E. Pitkin bought the saw mill and then built a large grist and flour mill adjoining. Later Mr. Moss became sole owner. In 1871 he added a cheese factory to his enterprises. His saw mill furnished a vast amount of timber for the Des Moines Valley, the Rock Island and the Chicago, Ft. Madison and Des Moines Railroads, whereby employment was furnished to thirty-five hands.

Mr. Moss was the first man to ship hogs from west of the Mississippi River. In December 1856, he shipped from Rome, Iowa, then the terminus of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, a full trainload of hogs (1,837 hogs) and drawn to Chicago by two locomotives. He unloaded at Chicago, could not sell at a profit, so fed and watered and reloaded to go to Cleveland. There he had the same experience as at Chicago, so reloaded them and went on to Buffalo where he unloaded, fed and rested before proceeding to New York. The market was good and he sold out, making $2000.00 clear profit. The event caused quite a stir among the stock dealers of that city, and at the opening of the Miles House (a drover's hotel) Mr. Moss was invited and made the honored guest of the occasion. Horace Greely sent Mr. Robinson, a reporter for the Tribune to interview Mr. Moss and published an account of the man, his journey and enterprise.

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Mr. Moss was still operating the mills at the time of his death in 1892.

Mr. and Mrs. Moss had eight children. One of them, Abbie, married E. J. Hoenshel, President of Holton College (1890) in Holton, Kansas. Their son, Wendell, went to live with his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Moss, while he was quite young. With the help and advice of his Uncle Tom, Wendell entered the logging and saw mill business. He operated all over southeast Iowa, northeast Missouri and along the Mississippi river, and had as many as three saw mills cutting lumber for him at one time. Wendell is now retired (1971) and is the last descendant of the Moss family living in Birmingham.

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The Old Mill

In the year 1851 Abel Bott and John Gwinn built a saw mill on the northwest corner at the present junction of Main Street and Highway No. 1. A huge chimney eighty-five feet high and containing 85,000 brick was built adjoining the saw mill. The brick for the chimney were burned at a kiln on the Glotfelty farm, just northwest of town. The chimney was built by a man named Berry, and it is said that on the day he finished the chimney, he stood on top of it on one leg and drank a pint of whiskey.

In 1853 C. L. Moss and E. Pitkin bought Mr. Bott's share in the mill. In 1854 a grist mill was built in addition to the saw mill and in 1855 they were both burned to the ground. Within twenty-four hours the owners had men hired to rebuild both the saw mill and grist mill. It was a comparatively short time until both mills were running day and night and doing a better business than before the fire. In the new grist mill a carding machine was placed for the making of rolls and it was operated in connection with the other business from 1855 to 1860. In 1857-1858 a large addition was built to the grist mill and in 1860 C. L. Moss became the proprietor of all the mill property. In 1862, D. C. Cramer, a clothier, was taken into partnership by Mr. Moss, and they used the new addition to the mill for a woolen factory. The second floor was used for the work with the looms, jack and 350 spindles being used. Mr. Cramer did the spinning and making of fine woolen blankets and other articles out of the raw wool. He was assisted by Roswell Beach of Fairfield from 1857 to 1861. Mr. Beach did all the carding of the wool. The woolen factory was not a success and Mr. Cramer sold out to Mr. Moss.

The addition to the mills was now used for various purposes by Mr. Moss and finally it was converted into a sort of wagon factory

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or machine shop. Here wagon felloes, all kinds of wagon accessories -- axles, tongues, spokes - lath, chair seats and many other articles were made. The saw mill was running early and late getting out all kinds of lumber, frames, timbers and bridge plank. Moss was shipping his products to all parts of the state by the car load and sold millions of feet of lumber. For years he kept sixteen yoke of oxen and eight or ten teams of horses in his business. About the year 1877 the chimney was leaning toward the west and a man by the name of Hickory Davis constructed a ladder on the inside of the chimney and took about twenty feet off the top.

On Saturday, November 30, 1878, shortly after 1:00 P.M. the people of Birmingham were terrified by a cannon-like explosion and hurried from their homes to find that the boilers at the mills had exploded. The engineer, J. I. Withrow and James Morse, D. C. Cramer, Marshall Harbaugh, Al Dell (colored), Lewis Bonnet, C. L. Moss and S. B. Shott were in or near the mill at the time of the explosion but none was seriously injured. James Morse, who lives west of this city with his son Frank Morse was a witness to the explosion and was standing only six feet from the boiler when it exploded. Mr. Morse was bookkeeper in the mill for thirty years. When the mills were repaired new ten foot boilers were made to order. The mills caught fire about 1880 and were considerably damaged. The damage was soon repaired and the mills continued to flourish.

After the death of C. L. Moss in 1892 the mills were bought by Sam Arbaugh and John Parson. They operated as partners until the death of John Parson in 1907. After the Parson's estate was settled, Sam Arbaugh became the sole owner and about 1920 razed both the chimney and building. Thus came an end to a business that had a big part in the development of the area.

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The upper picture is a view of the south side of Cedar Street, which everyone today calls Main Street. The Opera House was located in the second story of the large building at the left of this picture.

The lower picture is of the south side. The Birmingham Enterprise was published on the upper floor of one of the central buildings on this side. These pictures were taken in the early 1900's.

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This school was built in 1872 and served as an elementary school with four teachers until 1885 when high school subjects were introduced. It was the third school building on this site.

Twelve classes graduated from this building before it was replaced in 1900 by the brick structure shown in the following picture. D. A. Miller was president of the school board when the new structure was erected.

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"Faith of Our Fathers"

No history of a town could be complete without a search through the available records for the first evidences of the religious faith that sustained the founding fathers as they carved their community out of the wilderness. Five different religious denominations had leading roles throughout the years in the development of Birmingham. Today the bells still toll in three active churches each Sunday morning extending an invitation to worship.

In 1837, through the efforts of Titus Moss, a Methodist congregation was organized. His log cabin home of peeled hickory logs served as the first church, with Rev. Robert Hawke, as minister. The Sunday School was first organized in 1841 and the sum of $10.00 was collected and spent for books.

The Birmingham Circuit of Methodist Churches was formed in 1842 with Joel Arrington and Moses Shinn as pastors. It consisted of Birmingham, Robertsons, Dustins, Colony, Widow James', Winsells, Philadelphia (Kilbourne), Carrots, Keosauqua, Bentonsport, Bonaparte, Scotts, Utica, Washington, Widow Anderosn's, Newman's, Winchester and Busic's. With protracted meetings the memberships is the circuits grew.

The first church building of the congregation was completed in 1847 on a site east of the present school house. This is substantiated by the Methodist cemetery which is in evidence today. The church building was later purchased by the school district and used for a school for a number of years.

In 1865 the second church was erected at a cost of $700.00. This building burned April 3, 1893. The insurance of over $1400.00 furnished the beginning for another church which was dedicated January 21, 1894 at a cost of $3800.00.

On Sunday, November 30, 1919, following the morning service, the church was again destroyed by fire, with only a few dishes and the silverware, property of the Ladies Aid Society, being saved. With an insurance settlement of $3300.00, the congregation again set to work to get a church building, but the days following the war saw high prices for everything and construction was postponed. The congregation for three years held services in the opera house which was owned by Orange Calhoun, who furnished not only the building but the care, lights and fuel free.

The cornerpost of the present edifice was laid June 11, 1922 and the church was dedicated December 31, 1922 at a cost of $27,000.00.

In 1944, due to the shortage of pastors in the conference, the Birmingham and Stockport charges were combined. The Birmingham church in spite of its periods of stress, trial and tribulation has gone steadily forward and has for well over a hundred years, filled its place in the community life of Birmingham.

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The congregation of the United Presbyterian Church was organized as far back as 1839 at the town of Philadelphia (since called Kilbourne) by the Rev. George C. Vincent, of Washington, Iowa. In 1841, Rev. David Lindsay moved from Reynoldsburg, Ohio and settled near there, becoming pastor. He was the great-grandfather of Alma and Lester Lindsay who live near Birmingham at the present time. Rev. Lindsay moved to Birmingham in 1844 and as the majority of the members resided there, by mutual consent the place of preaching was changed to Birmingham. It was organized with two Elders, Mr. Leech, and Doctor Miller; afterwards Mr. S. Gould and Mr. William Collier were elected. The members numbered about thirty. Meetings were held during the summer months in Miller's grove and during the winter services were conducted in different homes but this manner of worshipping was not very convenient or satisfactory either and the people awoke by saying we will build a church. In 1850 they succeeded in building a church in North Birmingham directly north of the public school building. This is also evidenced by the cemetery which is still there today. The structure was forty feet square, facing the south with two entrances. On the interior four large pine pillars reaching from the floor to the ceiling were placed in the middle of the church. It was heated by four box stoves, two in the front and two in the back part of the church. There, on a cold breezy day, one could sing very appropriately, "From Greenland's Icy Mountains", and fully appreciate the line of thought. The seating capacity of the church was 600.

Mr. Lindsay was an energetic worker, often walking many miles to fill appointments. He was known to walk to Keokuk to attend Presbytery. The salary was a mere pittance, accepting what the congregation saw fit to contribute. He remained until 1854.

The congregation remained vacant until 1856 when the Rev. Samuel McArthur became pastor. A prayer-meeting and Sabbath School were started. Mr. McArthur did much for the cause of education as he was the founder of the College, called the Birmingham Academy. It was during Rev. McArthur's pastorate that the union was effected between the Associate and the Associate Reformed Churches, then becoming the United Presbyterian Church.

After twenty-four years of worshipping in the church in North Birmingham, the people decided they needed something more modern to worship in. After due consideration the old building was sold to Mr. Newman, east of town, for a barn. A lot was then purchased in South Birmingham for the new church and in 1874 the church was erected. It had a seating capacity of three hundred and was built at a cost of $2300.00. In 1893 a parsonage was erected and at the present time is the home of the Clarence Crafton family.

In 1882 the pastor was Rev. George Warrington. He was the founder and editor of the Birmingham "Free Press" and was an earnest opposer of secret societies taking an active part in all measures to expose or overthrow their evil designs. Copies of his publication are on file in the present Birmingham Public Library.

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In 1916 the United Presbyterian Church was merged with the Presbyterian Church in Birmingham and the old United Presbyterian church building was razed.

Source materials for a history of the earliest years of the Presbyterian church in the community are somewhat lacking. Unfortunately, the record book of the first few years has been lost. Some dates and other information are available from the minutes of Presbytery of that far-off date.

At the spring meeting of Presbytery in the year 1842 the church was received and entered on the roll as the Union Church of Winchester. An early history of Iowa Presbyterianism states that the church was organized by L. G. Bell, that famous pioneer of southern Iowa Presbyterianism who is credited with organizing a Presbyterian church in every county seat from Burlington to the Missouri river. From a manuscript volume containing the autobiographies of several early Iowa ministers of this denomination, we learn that L. G. Bell came to the Union church of Winchester partly because several families in the congregation had migrated from his former church in Zanesville, Ohio.

Here, according to his own account, he was in charge of Winchester and Shiloh churches and received a salary of $300.00 per year, one-half from his congregations and one-half from the Board of Domestic Missions.

The first church building at Winchester of which we have record was of brick and was located between the Methodist Church building and the cemetery. In later years when this building was torn down, the material was sold and used to construct a brick dwelling northeast of Winchester.

Later the growing population of Birmingham and some shift in membership caused the Presbytery to divide the church into two, one at Winchester and the other at Birmingham. In 1856 the Winchester organization at their own request was dissolved and all the members and the records transferred to the Birmingham church.

In 1853 the Birmingham portion of the congregation consisted of 38 members who were joined by seven new adherents at the time of their separate organization. When the Birmingham church was organized in 1853, the members worshipped for some time in a building which belonged to the Associate Presbyterian congregation. This church was located across the street from the present school building. In 1855 two lots were purchased in North Birmingham Addition, the site of the present church, and a new church erected which served the congregation down through the years until 1915 when the present church was built. The present church cost $11,500.00 and was dedicated debt free.

Just proir to the construction of the present church, the old church was sold and removed from the lots to another location. Some years ago it was destroyed by fire.

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The Birmingham Free Methodist Society was organized in 1871 with Rev. B. F. Doughty serving as pastor. Services were first held in the old brick Academy and in 1873, a church building was erected. A number of years later an addition was built to the church to accommodate the increasing crowds. This building served the congregation until August of 1948 when the old building was torn down and a beautiful new building was erected on the same site. The opening service was held in the new auditorium on Sunday, April 24, 1949. In 1963 an addition was built to the church almost doubling the seating capacity in the auditorium and the basement facilities.

The parsonage of the Free Methodist Church is located at the entrance to a beautiful fifteen acre camp ground at the west edge of Birmingham. This camp ground was known for years as the "Huffman Grove" and has been used by the Fairfield District for Camp Meeting purposes off and on since at least 1887. In the District Conference Minutes of 1897, it was spoken of as the "Old Camp Ground at Birmingham," suggesting that it may have been used earlier than 1887.

After much discussion and consideration given to a permanent camp ground it was decided to purchase the Huffman Grove at Birmingham at a cost of $1125.00.

J. Graham, who represented the Birmingham site, secured pledges amounting to $440.00 of the purchase price from citizens of Birmingham. Lewis Mendenhall, A. S. Doughty and S. S. Stewart were appointed as the committee to draw up the articles of incorporation necessary to make the purchase, which articles were executed December 24, 1898. The old well at the East of the tabernacle was dug by J. S. Booten and his brother, G. G. Booten, in August, 1901 to save having to haul all of the water to supply the large crowds who attended the camp. The present tabernacle was built about 1905.

Evidently, the crowds on Sundays were massive for an action was taken by the District Quarterly Conference, August 10, 1901, "to petition the Burlington Railroad Company not to run Sunday excursion trains to the Birmingham Camp Meeting, for the reason that it brings such a rowdy element to the camp ground."

The Fairfield Ledger published an account of the camp meeting in the horse and buggy days, stating that the trains and hacks were chartered to take the crowds to the camp meeting which numbered on Sundays, around 7000 people. An attendant at the camp stated that the horses and wagons lined the highway north of town for two miles.

The camp ground was not used for a few years and the Fairfield District Conference decided in 1942 to deed the camp ground to the Iowa Conference as a permanent conference camp ground on the condition that the conference would gradually improve the property. In compliance with this agreement, the tabernacle was completely

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repaired and the grounds landscaped. The present dining hall was built in 1944 and the Missionary Chapel in 1946. Rest rooms were provided in the basement of the dining hall and new wells bored in 1949 to increase the water supply. Some additional land was purchased in 1967.

A yearly program of improvement is planned by the camp trustees which is making the camp one of the outstanding camp grounds in the middle west.

In 1880, a company of Sabbath (Seventh Day) Keepers in the vicinity of Union Church and Douds met at Brother Ed Morrow's for the purpose of organizing a church. These people had been diligently searching the scriptures. They were thoroughly convinced that the Ten Commandments should be their guide and that the fourth commandment was in equal importance with the other nine. There were fourteen men and women in attendance at this meeting among whom were William and Esther Greenfield, grandparents of Ruth McKee Canaday who lives near Birmingham at the present time.

At this meeting it was decided to build a church in Birmingham. In 1884 a lot was purchased from Mr. Hoagland for $200.00. The head carpenter for the new church was George Countryman and he was paid $625.00 to erect the structure. Ed Morrow assisted as well as several others and the building was completed and dedicated on December 14, 1884. There was a good attendance for many years at this little church, but by 1963 the membership became small and the decision was made to close the church and unite with the Fairfield Church. The old church building has been turned into the Dorcas Welfare Center for the distribution of clothing and supplies.

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The Rutledge Family

It is gratifying to any community to be able to tie itself in some way to national history. One of Van Buren County's ties is with the life of Abraham Lincoln, and Birmingham is the community that claims this tie. Historians make much of the romance between Lincoln and Ann Rutledge.

Lincoln Iived and boarded with the Rutledge family for a time when he clerked in the New Salem, Illinois store and it was in the Rutledge home that the romance between him and Ann . (or Annie) began. In the summer of 1835 Ann contracted an illness (typhoid fever) which proved fatal and she died August 25th of that year. A few months later her father also died of the same disease. They moved from New Salem to a nearby farm where the family lived for a year or so. In 1837 they came to Iowa — the mother and six living children. They settled on a farm next to the Jefferson-Van Buren county line in Lick Creek Township, Van Buren county, about two and one-half miles due northwest of where the town of Birmingham was to be laid out two years after their arrival.

In "The Gate City", a Keokuk newspaper dated January 16, 1898 an article entitled "Early Days in Iowa" relates the following: "In the fall of 1838 J. N. Norris contracted to teach a subscription school taught in this section of the county. The school was in a small log cabin - - - -. It might be of interest to some of your readers to mention the names of some of his scholars. The most of them are gone.

William, Elijah and Martha Redman; Nancy, Sarah, Robert, and William Rutledge; William and McCray Parker; Pattison, Emily, Rhoda and Jane Martin; Jacob, David and Katy Ann Griffiths; Joseph, Isaiah, and Judah Foster; C. L. James: Mann and Reuben Moss: Jane and James Bickford, and others."

These Rutledge children named above were sisters and brothers of Ann Rutledge. The other two children were Jane, the eldest child and John, the eldest son.

Two families living nearby came to be intertwined with the Rutledge family. Anthony T. Prewitt and family came to the area about 1843 from Lee county. On November 9, 1845 his wife died and the next year, October 14, 1846, Anthony married Nancy Rutledge. Mr. Prewitt died in 1864 and shortly after Nancy Prewitt and her children moved to Birmingham where she lived until after the death of her mother. The Plaskets came to the Rutledge neighborhood about 1838 and Robert married their daughter Sarah, probably sometime between 1843 and 1845 for Sarah died young in 1847, March 16th.

The Rutledge family was active in both church and civil life. They were Cumberland Presbyterians and the church they attended was at the crossroads about a mile south of their homestead. The

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remains of this church with sheds added to it for farm uses still stands in the northeast corner of this crossroad on Woodrow land. A parsonage for its minister was across the road west from the church but it has been long gone. No one now living remembers when this church was active.

An article on Rutledge family history appearing in the October 13, 1921 issue of the Fairfield Ledger-Journal has these statements which attest to the civic activities. "Out of regard he would naturally have for the family, Lincoln appointed Robert as provost marshal of the First Congressional district of Iowa during the war. He was sheriff of Van Buren county when he was appointed."

When Mrs. Rutledge in her declining years moved to Birmingham to live with her daughter Nancy, the son John came into possession of the old homestead and lived there until his death in 1879. Mrs. Rutledge, who was blind the last twelve years of her life lived to be past 91. She died at her daughter's home in Birmingham on December 26, 1878. A few years after this Nancy Prewitt moved to Fairfield that her sons might attend Parsons College. One of her sons became a Presbyterian minister in California.

During the course of the fifty to sixty years that the Rutledges lived here, family burials were made in the Bethel cemetery one mile west of the farmstead. There are six marked Rutledge graves all in the eastern half of the cemetery. One of these is the gravesite of Mary Ann Rutledge, mother of the young manhood sweetheart of Abraham Lincoln, Ann Rutledge. There, under a hit of the Iowa prairie that she came to know so well, Mother Rutledge rests from the long and often harsh pioneer life that earned her a niche in history. The grave, in the northeast section, is marked by a slender marble shaft and ninety years of time and weathering have already softened its sharp lines and began to dim its inscriptions which read:

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[click photo to view]

"Mary Ann Rutledge
Wife of
Jas. Rutledge
Dec. 26, 1878
91 yrs. 2 mos. 5 da."

"O mother dear a short farewell
That we may meet again above
And rove where angels love to dwell
Where trees of life bear fruits of love."

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An Iowa Governor

[click photo to view]

William Beardsley

Birmingham has had the honor of furnishing Iowa one of its governors. He was William Beardsley, better known locally as Bill. Beardsley was born at Beacon, Iowa in Mahaska county near Oskaloosa. When he was two years old his parents moved to Birmingham

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where Mr. Beardsley, the father, engaged in merchandising, buying the drug store that had formerly been owned by J. S. Ragsdale. This store was located in the building which is now used and owned by the local Lions Club.

Bill received his elementary and secondary education in the local school, graduating with the class of 1919. There were nine members in his class and three — Vada Anderson (Mrs. 'Ralph Shott), Loren Lazenby and Annetta Nelson still live in Birmingham'. Prophetic of his later role he was president of his class in its senior year.

As a school boy Bill clerked in his father's drug store. When his father retired and closed out the store Bill also worked in Lee Ruggles drug store. Between his work and his school activities he became well and widely known in the community.

He married Charlotte Manning (who by the way was a granddaughter of Dr. J. B. Spees, the early resident of the town who was its second doctor). In 1922 Bill and his wife moved to New Virginia, Iowa where he soon became the owner of his own drug store. Thru industry and acumen he later became the owner of farm land in the area also.

In the thirties he entered the political arena serving several sessions in the Iowa legislature. He was state senator from his district prior to the governship. In 1949 he became governor of Iowa. He was serving his third term as governor when he lost his life in an automobile accident on November 21, 1954.

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[click photo to view]

Dr. J. B. Spees House

The Dr. J. B. Spees house located on the south side of Main Street (Cedar Street) west of the present city hall. This was said to be the fifth house in town and the first one built away from the square.

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Bits of Interesting Information

The Farmer's Mutual Insurance Company (north of the river) was founded at Birmingham in 1871. Down through the years their annual meetings have always been held in Birmingham.

Elizabeth McMillen, better known as Miss Lib, was a primary teacher in the Birmingham public school from 1871 to 1915. A plaque in recognition of her long record of service has been placed in the present school building.

In 1854 the town's fire alarm was a great steel triangle on the roof of the hotel located at the northwest corner of the city park. A hammer was used to strike the triangle and its detonations could be heard for miles.

Dr. S. H. Bauman was one of Birmingham's centenarians, representing Van Buren County in the House of Representatives for several sessions. He served the community as a veterinarian, having received his education from a Chicago University.

The leading newspaper of the town was "The Birmingham Enterprise" which was published for approximately three score and ten, when it was merged with the Bonaparte Record.

The first automobile in Birmingham was owned by the Arbaughs, about 1909.

The opera house was the center of culture and entertainment in Birmingham for over forty years.

A wagon train left Birmingham on the 11th of April, 1850 for the gold fields with Hiram Barnes as captain. Others who accompanied him were Leander, Adoniram, Judson, Abner and Andrew Loomis, all brothers, a preacher named Lowry, Rush Skinner, Zenas Caster, E. D. Skinner, Benjamin Sandford, Morse Brooke, L. Morse, John Saunders, a Mr. Wood, Jonas Speelman, a Mr. Baird, Smith Culbertson, F. Peckham, Newton Calhoun, Doc Boon, E. Winner, S. Marlin.

North Birmingham was platted on 39 acres Sept. 12 and 13, 1849 by John Henderson, Titus Moss and William French.

In 1857 a 66 x 132 lot in North Birmingham sold for $650.00 lending evidence to the belief that the 1850's really were "boom" years.

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Reproduced with permission of the Van Buren County Historical Society

[a limited number of copies of the original book remain available - click here]

Transcribed by Rich Lowe for the Van Buren County IAGenWeb Project - copyright 2008