1865 Iowa State Gazetteer


The First


Ever Published


-- 1865 --

Van Buren County

Is situated in the southeastern part of the State, bordering upon the State of Missouri. The county was organized December 7th, 1836, under the Territory of Wisconsin. Its boundaries are, Jefferson County on the north, the Counties of Henry and Lee on the east, the state of Missouri on the south, and Davis County on the west. It is divided into fourteen civil townships, viz.: Bonaparte, Cedar, Chequest, DesMoines, Farmington, Fremont, Harrisburgh, Jackson, Lick Creek, Union, Vernon, Van Buren, Village and Washington, and contains 450 square miles.

The SURFACE of the country is rolling, but cannot be called hilly in any part of the county, and there is very little swampy or overflowed land.

STREAMS.—The  DesMoines River enters the county at the northwest corner, and passes out at the southeast; from thence to its mouth, forming the boundary between Iowa and Missouri. The course of the river through the county is about forty-four miles, with an average width of about eight hundred feet, and a uniform depth. The current is rapid, and the bottom composed of rock throughout its whole course in this county. As the river winds through the low wooded hills and wide bottoms of the county, it forms a most beautiful appearance. The other streams of the county are, Indian, Bear, Chequest, Lick, Copperas, Honey and Reed’s Creek, emptying into the DesMoines; Big and Little Fox Rivers, in the southern part, running into Missouri, and emptying into the Mississippi; and on the northern border of the county, Cedar Creek, emptying into Skunk River. All these streams and their branches are bordered with timber, thus affording an abundance for the use of the county, which is about equally divided into timber and prairie. This timber is composed of oak, black and white walnut, hard and soft maple, hickory, linn, ash, elm, etc., with some cottonwood on the margin of the streams, and is of medium quality.

STONE.—There is an abundance of stone on all the streams, except Fox River, mostly limestone, affording plenty of stone for building purposes. There is some sandstone in the county, but it has not been much used as yet for building. There is an extensive quarry of very fine stone on Chequest Creek in Van Buren township, which takes a high polish and works easily, being much used in the county for monuments, tomb-stones and work of like character, in place of marble. The Iowa black marble, contributed to the Washington Monument, was obtained at this quarry.

COAL.—There is an abundance of bituminous coal throughout the county, some of the veins being extensively worked for exportation.

The SOIL in this county is composed for the most part of vegetable loam, mixed with clay, and resting upon a clay sub-soil. It is deep and friable, and produces abundantly and in perfection, all the grains, grasses, fruits, etc., which will grow in this latitude. All kinds of farm stock are remarkably healthy and thrive well, and this branch of farming industry is very profitable in the county. The climate, soil and dry rolling surface of the country are peculiarly adapted to sheep, and farmers are turning their attention to this very profitable branch of farming ; while some of the finest cattle in the State are the production of this county.

As to manufacturing facilities, the DesMoines River being quite shallow, with an even rock bottom, uniformly rapid current and good banks, affords a vast amount of water-power, when properly improved, which it lies been to some extent. There is a dam across the river at Bonaparte, where the Messrs. Meek have an extensive woolen factory, flouring mill and other machinery. At Bentonsport is another dam, built by Messrs. Brown & Allender, where there are in operation three woolen factories, two flouring mills, a paper mill, oil mill and other machinery. At Keosauqua, is also a dam, at which is a large flouring mill. At all these dams, a large portion of the water-power is yet unoccupied, and there are five or six other equally eligible points for dams on the river in this county, affording an equal amount of water-power. The coal and timber of the county will afford an inexhaustible supply of fuel for steam machinery, and there are a large number of steam flouring and saw mills throughout the county.

The DesMoines Valley Railroad, connecting the State capital with Keokuk on the Mississippi River, runs diagonally through the county, from the northwest to the southeast corner, located most of the way on the river bottom.

HISTORY.—The first court organized in the county was held at Farmington, on the 10th day of April, 1837. Hon. David Irvin, Judge of the Second Judicial District of the Territory of Wisconsin, presiding, W. W. Chapman, U. S. District Attorney and H. G. Stuart, Clerk. James M. Woods was the only practising attorney of record at this court. A Grand Jury was empannelled, composed of the following persons, to-wit: Isham Keith, Alexander Keith, Samuel Clayton, Elijah Purdom, sen., John Whittaker, James Hill, Charles H. Price, James Smart, Abington Johnson, Jonas P. Denny, William Jordan, Obadiah Cooke, William Judd, Thomas Summerlin, John Moffett, A. V. Syhawk, J. G. McCutcheon, William Brattain, sen., Abel Galland, Jacob Crow, Lewis Crow, Joseph A. Swazcy and John Patchett. Isham Keith was appointed foreman. No petit jury was empanelled at this court; indeed at that time there were not more than enough inhabitants in the county, whose boundaries extended westward to the Missouri River, to form Grand and Petit juries. Court continued in session but two days, and no cause was tried. Several persons were indicted by the grand jury, among whom was N. Doose, for exercising the office of constable in the county, by authority of the State of Missouri.

The next court held in the county was begun and held on the 16th day of April, 1838, at the same place, the same judge presiding, and the same officers present. At this term, Charles Mason. afterwards Judge of the District of the Territory of Iowa, was appointed Prosecuting Attorney pro tem. for the county. The first petit jury empannelIed In the county was empannelled this term, for the trial of William Jordan, indicted for housebreaking, and was composed of the following persons: Thomas L.Pickett, William Mynear, Thomas Keith, B. F. Anderson, James Sanders, Leonard Whitcombe, William Williams, John Newport, Henry Hampton. Charles Graves, H. D. Swazey and Robert Ewing. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, whereupon the court rendered judgment for a fine of fifteen dollars. The Indians were more numerous in the county at this time than the whites, but the latter soon took possession of and improved the beautiful and productive valley of the DesMoines, and the red man was obliged to retire westward.

KEOSAUQUA, the county seat, is a thriving town beautifully situated on the left bank of the DesMoines River, near the geographical centre of the county. The river and the DesMoines Valley Railroad usually run nearly parallel, but a few miles above Keosauqua the river curves abruptly to the south, and at the point where the town is located is from four to five miles from the railroad at Summit, the nearest station.

The town is settled by a class of citizens characteristic for enterprise in business, as well as taste in the arrangement of their dwellings. This is the home of the Hon. George G. Wright, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Iowa.

It contains Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Protestant Episcopal churches, also six general stores, three groceries, one dry goods store, two drug stores, two boot and shoe stores, one hardware store, one stove and tin store, one tannery and one flour mill and a distillery in the vicinity.

The  DesMoines River furnishes at this point a fine water power which is as yet but partially improved, though the rich country in the vicinity, and the ready market for all kinds of manufactured articles, would justify and richly repay the establishment of factories of various kinds, as the one flouring mill previously mentioned is the only establishment carried on by the vast water power already afforded by a well constructed dam..

There is a newspaper published weekly be Joel Mayne.

BONAPARTE is situated on the north bank of the  DesMoines River, thirty-five miles northwest of Keokuk, and on the line of the  DesMoines Valley Railroad. The  DesMoines River was navigable until within the last two years, since which time the imperfect condition of locks and dams renders navigation dangerous. The first settlement where the town now stands was made by Robert Coates, during the summer of 1836. He sold his claim to Robert Maffit, sen., who in turn disposed of the present site of the town to William Meek, sen. He, after clearing the grounds, built a flour and saw mill and laid off the town. R. N. Cresap, who was one of the earliest white settlers, laid off and made additions to the town from time to time. The first white child born William Willoughby, in 1837, and the first person who died and was buried in the town cemetery, was Benjamin Meek, son of William Meek, who died in 1838.

The town contains two churches, Baptist and Methodist. Arrangements are being made to build a large Academy during the present year. There is one Lodge No. 73, A. F. & A. M. which meets Tuesday evening on or before the full moon. One of I. O. O. F. No. 22, which meets every Saturday evening, and one of Good Templars, which meets every Monday evening.

The population of the village is about 600, and its principal business establishments are three dry goods, grocery and general stores, two drug stores, one tannery owned by J. G. Quirin, one flouring mill, and an extensive woolen factory built of brick, four stories in height, with a large stone dry house adjoining, and carried on under the supervision of its owners, Messrs. Meek Brothers, who grow large flocks of seep on their farms in the township adjacent to the river.

BENTONSPORT is a thriving town in Washington township, on the left bank of the DesMoines River, and thirty miles northwest of Keokuk via the DesMoines Valley Railroad. It is situated in the midst of a rich agricultural country, and in common with many other places in this valley attracts the attention of the traveler by the beauty of its location and the picturesqueness of its surroundings. At this point there is a dam built across the river which furnishes ample water power for a vast amount of manufacturing. It is now employed in propelling the machinery for two woolen factories, one flax and oil mill, two flouring mills and one paper mill. The town contains five general stores, one boot and shoe store, one stove and tin and one furniture store. It has Presbyterian and Congregational churches.

FARMINGTON is situated on the Keokuk and DesMoines Valley Railroad, twenty-eight miles northwest of Keokuk. It contains seven churches, Baptist, Christian, Congregational, German Lutheran, German Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, and Lutheran. Also Wildey Lodge No. 17, I. O. O. F., and Mt. Monak Lodge No. 27, A. F. & A. M. It has five general stores, two grocery stores, and one flouring mill. The Iowa and Missouri State Line Railroad Journal is published by Ebenezer Robinson. Population 1,100.

The "Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home " is located at this place, and has for its object the support and education of orphans of soldiers. The “Home" is in successful operation, and during the past year has fed, clothed and instructed many of’ the orphans of fallen soldiers, and exertions have been and are being made to increase the facilities by fairs and otherwise. In order that others who have been left helpless may enjoy the comforts and receive the benefits which they so much need, and which are so justly due the time offspring of men who have nobly died in defense of their country. The officers of the institution are as follows:

Hon. C. C. Cole, DesMoines

Vice Presidents:
Hon. R. P. Lowe, Keokuk
Hon. J. A. Parvin, Muscatine
Gen. Wm. Vandever, DuBuque
Mrs. J. Meyer, Newton
Hon. J. W. Cattell,  DesMoines
P. Melendy, Esq., Cedar Falls

Rec. Sec.
Miss Mary Kibben, Mt. Pleasant

Cor. S & G Agt
Rev. P. P. Ingalls, DesMoines

B. F. Allen, Esq., DesMoines

First District
Mrs. C. B. Darwin, Burlington
Mrs. A. Wittenmyer, Keokuk
Second District
Hon. Hiram Price, Davenport
Mrs. L. B. Stephens, Marion
Third District
Hon. J. A. Elliott, Mitchell
Z. D. Scoby, Esq., Delhi
Fourth District  
Hon J. R. Needham, Oskaloosa
Mrs. N. H. Brainard, Iowa City
Fifth District
Hon. Jas. Wright, DesMoines
Gen. T. H. Benton, Council Bluffs
Sixth District  
G. M. Woodbury, Marshalltown
Hon. I. Pendleton, Sioux City

IOWAVILLE is in the northwest corner of the county, on the DesMoines Valley Railroad, sixteen miles from Keosauqua. It contains two churches, Methodist Episcopal and Methodist Protestant; also Iowaville Lodge No. 28, I. O. O. F., five general stores, one flouring mill and one distillery. The village is situated on the bank of the DesMoines River, and near the old battleground of the Sacs, Foxes, and Iowa Indians, and near the home and grave of Black Hawk. The ruins of their old council house still remain. Population 200.

BIRMINGHAM is in Union township, in the northern central portion of the county. Kilbourn on the Keokuk and DesMoines Valley Railroad, is the nearest station. It contains three churches, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Presbyterian; also a Lodge each of Masons, Odd Fellows and Good Templars. A College under the patronage of the Presbyterian church, is established here. There are here six general stores, one drug store, one flour and saw mill, and one agricultural implement manufactory. Population of township 3,000.

VERNON is a small village on the right bank of the DesMoines River, immediately opposite Bentonsport, enjoying the same river, railroad and water power privileges. It contains one church, one flour mill, one general store, and one woolen factory. Population 225.

PITTSBURGH is on the DesMoines River about three miles from Keosauqua. It contains two general stores and one flour mill.  Population 100.

MILTON is in the southwestern part of the county, on the stage route from Farmington to Bloomfield. It has one boot and shoe store, one drug store, three general stores, one grocery, and one saw mill. Population 100

UTICA is in the northeastern portion of the county. It contains one church. Population 75.

NILES is in the southern part of the county, eight miles from Keosauqua. It was laid out in 1855 on the N. E. qr of S. E. qr, and S. E. qr of S. E. qr of Sec. 5, and S.W. qr of S. W. qr Sec 4, Tp 67, Range 10 west of the 5th Principal Meridian. It has one Lodge of Masons, Niles Lodge N. 50. Population 50.

MOUNT ZION is a small post village in Van Buren township, five miles from Keosauqua. It has a Presbyterian church and one general store.

LEBANON is in the western part of the county, eight and a half miles from Keosauqua. It has one Methodist church, one drug store, and one general store. Population 44.

HICKEY is in the northwestern part of the county, on the DesMoines Valley Railroad. It has one Methodist church and one Lodge of Odd Fellows ; and one general store.

PIERCEVILLE is a post office in the eastern part of the county, ten miles from Keosauqua. The township is exclusively agricultural, there being no stores, manufactories nor mills in it. Coal is abundant on Honey Creek, which runs through the township. Population 1,200.

The remaining post offices and villages are Dowd’s Station, Gainesboro, Home, Kilbourn, Mount Sterling, New Market, Oak Point, Portland, Sheridan and Upton.

[Note: Spelling of all wording was transcribed as in original document.]

1865 Population Van Buren County Iowa

Transcribed by volunteer Rich Lowe
Return to
Van Buren County Web Site