Excerpts from Published by The Centennial Committee 1948
A CENTENNIAL HISTORY
OF MOUNT VERNON, IOWA 1847-1947
Prepared for the American History and Genealogy Project.
This is not a USGenWeb Project or Property
Copyright (C) 2001-2003 by Sandra Sanchez
All Rights Reserved
Sixteen miles east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa stands a mile long hill, white in winter, green in spring, and flaming gold in the fall. Mount Vernon-"The Hilltop" It is visible many miles around. From it an unending stream of influence has gone forth to enrich the earth. The mystic touch of the Hilltop, from its sons and daughters, has been world wide.
The story of that century is a heritage of experience and achievement that gives perspective. The spirit of the pioneer was adventure, initiative and courage. In Mount Vernon it produced great religious figures, teachers, inventors, educators, scientists, and leaders of men, all helping to foster progressive civilization.
Long ago ages prepared the site of the hilltop. Crinoids and mollusks were found in the bluffs of the Palisades. Dr. William H. Norton found a mastodon tooth in Linn Grove;another was found near Abbey Creek.
Mount Vernon boys who explored the caves and cliffs at the "Pal" did not suspect that for a thousand years the Indians had made the Cedar River a main highway for their canoes and had slept and eaten in those caves. The Indians gave the river its name -Red Cedar. They also gave us many native foods-the maize that made Iowa the Corn State, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, pumpkins, squash and others.
The Ice age for thousands of years shoved down sheets of clay and broken rock to give this area the most fertile soil of any state in the union. Iowa's soil drew the pioneer settlers as a magnet.
Settlers began moving into what is now Linn County as early as 1837. The County was named in 1848 for William Linn, territorial delegate fro Missouri, who helped sponsor Iowa's statehood.
By then end of 1838 approximately fifty people , possibly ten families, had settled in and around the Mount Vernon area. In the absence of newspapers of that early day exact figures and dates of arrival are difficult to obtain.
Prairie grass grew rank and high over the hilltop of what is now Mount Vernon. Tall elms, oaks, linden trees, perhaps a hundred years old grew on the west side of the hill. At the foot of the east end of the hill was a spring of water where travelers would stop for a drink.
The Rapids of the Cedar River held great promise of water power, and a dam was constructed and a grist mill erected in 1841. Settlers who formerly had to go to Muscatine or Cascade for flour found the Rapids mill a great time saver. Robert Ellis launched a raft which carried the wheat to St. Louis. He walked the entire distance on his return. Indeed settlers of those days did much walking. One man north of Mount Vernon is said to have walked to Galena, Illinois, for his mail at a time when there was no hitch-hiking.
Soon a post office was opened on the Robert Smyth farm. Mail came once a week by horseback.
By 1842 horse thieves were so common that settlers had to keep their barns locked at night. Notably, The Brodies were the tough gang who stole from cabins and broke up social dances. They came from the deep woods over by Linn Grove. They broke into the Goudy cabin over north, at night, brandishing a gun and demanding the $9000.00 Mr. Goudy had brought from the East. They found only $120.00 in a pocket book and went on to rob the neighbors. Later the vigilantes got two of the gang and flogged them on their bare backs until they fainted. There was not much government but plenty of rude justice in these prairies and woods.
It is startling to learn that like most communities of that day, the first business was a saloon operated by Harvey Jewett in 1843. The citizens, however, by moral suasion induced him to change to a general store. Also in 1843 the Cedar River became a highway for flatboats bound for St. Louis.
The winter of 1843 was severe. Snow drifted to twenty-one feet deep, lying all winter on the fields. The temperature at times registered thirty degrees below zero, and the shivering settlers in their not to weather proof cabins had trouble keeping warm. Settlers were found frozen on the way from the barn to the house in a raging blizzard.
In the year 1844 five families united to build the Abbe schoolhouse two miles west of town.
In 1846 Iowa entered into statehood. The inscription of the block of marble contributed by Iowa for the Washington monument fitly reads: "Iowa. Her affections like the rivers of her borders, flow to an inseparable Union."
In July 1847 Samuel Pfautz wrote to his mother back in Pennsylvania, " I let you know I am well. I came to Burlington, then on a steamboat to Bloominton and came on to Linn county. It is a fine delightful country. The land is rolling and dry. The timber is good. The Cedar River is navigable for flatboats and keel boats. Steamboats can come up in the Spring. Fish are very plentiful in the Cedar. Pike weigh from five to fifteen pounds, catfish from ten to thirty pounds. There are salmon also. Land is $1.25 to $10.00 an acre and very rich. The soil is five feet deep, good for any crop. Wheat, corn, oats are good. The timber is full of wild fruits; thousands of plum trees are found, and the trees are just as full as they can hang. There are strawberries in June . Deer are numerous; also wild turkey and other game. I like the country well. Coopering is good. There is fine stave wood along the Cedar. Direct your letter to Ivanhoe."
At last the hour of destiny had arrived for which these lands and this hilltop had waited. In the midst of an ideal summer Allison Willis took Jesse Holman and family for a ride over the hilltop, He described the beauty of the location and the possibilities of a college located there. A few days later he took Richard Harbert, the carpenter, together with George Edgerton, Ackley Parker, and Robert Stinson, and laid out two blocks of lots west of the Military Road. Jewett and Gourley proceeded to sell the lots at &75.00 each . The survey as recorded in the Linn County Courthouse was made permanent by County Surveyor Andrew Botdorff, February 24, 1849. The first house after the survey was put up on logs by R. J. Harbert in September.
The first Child born in Mount Vernon was Huldah Harbert;and the first death that of her little sister, Galena, was in the same cabin.
In 1848 a stranger by the name of Servison came to town and with his sick father accepted the hospitality of H. D. Metcalf over night. He left the father in the care of the Metcalfs while he traveled on, promising to return in a few days. He never returned. The father died, it was supposed of cholera, and he was buried in the night in Main Street.
A sawmill was placed on Spring Creek south of Lisbon. The Torrence Mill two miles southeast of Mount Vernon, and this Spring Creek mill turned out dimension lumber which changed the style of building from log cabins to frame houses.
In 1851 Lisbon was laid out by John Kurtz, John H. Eby, and Michael Hoover the original plat was recorded June 4, 1851.
E.D. Waln began the construction of a frame hotel on the southwest corner of Main Street and the Military Road. He also built a two-story structure on the opposite corner to the north and Gourley built a store.
The founding if the Iowa Conference Seminary was in 1853. Immigration into Iowa reached a high peak.
George Campopened a factory for the manufacture of wagons. A election was held and N.W. McKean was elected the first justice of the peace.
Oliver Day and John Wilds, opened stores in the Ellison block. The Tedford brothers opened a store on the south side of Main Street. Elder Bowman laid out an addition to the town, and constructed a tavern which later became known as the Guild Hotel.
In 1856 a student at College, William Hallock founded the Mount Vernon Ledger Newspaper.
The shadows of the Civil War began creeping in in 1858-59, and the little Quaker settlement of Springdale became a center of agitation for the abolitionist cause. During these two years John Brown began cooperating with the residents in speeding the flight of slaves to the north. He drilled some of the Springdale boys that they might assist them in this movement and lived one winter in a house there.
A mechanics union was formed in 1859 It embraced all of the trade workers of the vicinity.
At the outbreak of the Civil War , Mount Vernon had 760 inhabitants.
Daniel Hahn was most likely the first settler of the Mount Vernon community. He came in March of 1837 and built a cabin a short distance below the site of the stone quarry. Often there would be visitors to keep over night sometimes as many as fifteen at one time in that 12 by 14 foot cabin. Mrs. Hahn acted the part of a doctor in bringing babies of the neighborhood into the world. She was widely known for her helpfulness to those in need. Their Grandson Frank K. Hahn was at one time the Mayor of Cedar Rapids.
C.C. Haskins, a bachelor, settled at almost the same time a half mile east of the cemetery. He married some years later and moved into town, building a home known as the Icon House.
By 1838 settlers began to arrive in force, in that year there being in the community about fifty. The Donahues settled near the site of Lisbon; Asher Edgerton went two miles west of town near the McAffertys, Silas Hammond and Hiram Beales. William Hayzlett settled south of the cemetery, and later moved to town to help found Mount Vernon. Three brothers, Peter, Henry and Conrad Kepler were early comers. Oliver Clark set out a claim and returned with his family from Illinois in 1838.
Laura Whitely Davis a real Daughter of the American Revolution was born in Vermont, September 16, 1792. She with her husband Zimri Davis, came from Cedar County to Linn County in the spring of 1838 and settled two and one half miles northwest of Mount Vernon. Assisted by his daughter Mr. Davis built a double log cabin.
John Stewart settled two miles southwest of town, and his home became a preaching place for the New School Presbyterians, who later erected a large church.
Jeremiah Burge bought land near Ivanhoe. The nearby community was called St. Mary's . A blacksmith shop and a log schoolhouse had been established, the schoolhouse being on the location of what became the Cedar Valley schoolhouse. Joseph Murford and Harvey Gillette were also pillars in that community; the latter established a store which served the Indians. In the Spring and Fall of the year these Indians passed through on their way to Flint Hills to replenish their stocks of arrow heads. The Indians like to stop at St. Mary's because Gillette had been a close friend and an early interpreter for Chief Blackhawk, negotiating a treaty between him and the whites. Frequently he remained among the Indians for months without seeing a white face. He was instrumental in helping them to buy lands and to settle on the Half Breed Track near Keokuk. In 1839 he entered land and opened a post office and secured a school teacher from Ohio to help in the education of the youth.
John Wolfe settled in 1839 on the north side of the river, building a hotel and starting a ferry. He was the first justice of the peace in the county. After his death in 1854 his sons Dan D. and S.W. continued to operate the ferry until a bridge was built in 1870.
As early as 1839 Col. H.H. Merritt was operating a fur trading depot and general store. One afternoon a party of Indians dropped in to demand whiskey. Loafers fled but Merritt merely reached for his axe, and the surprised Indians made a quick getaway. Merritt was later a candidate for governor running against Kirkwood, but suffered
Anson Cowles came to Ivanhoe in 1840, laying out the site of a great city. He planned a university, a large park, and a handsome residence where travellers could be entertained with royal hospitality. In his plans the sale of town lots would pay for the expenses of the university. The plans however, never materialized.
George Greene landed at Ivanhoe in 1839 and began to teach school. He was admitted to the bar in Iowa City the next year; and in 1848 he made chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. George Greene was one of the early founders of Cedar Rapids.
Peter Roland built a log cabin at the north edge of the hill. Reuben Ash purchased this site and set out a large apple orchard, using seedlings brought from the East. Elisha Williams settled in the timber area to the north, his land in later time being incorporated into the Witter farm. Robert Smyth settled three miles west of Mount Vernon in 1840; his brothers, James and Jeremiah came two years later. Robert had two sons an two daughters, William, John, Elizabeth and Anna. Robert was state representative and senator, and paymaster in the army during the Civil War.
Allison Wilits a pioneer of great initiative came in 1840, settling east of the Abbe farm, and later purchased much of the land which became Cornell campus. Moving into town he built a store.
A.J. McKean settled by Spring Creek south of Lisbon and began to teach school in the first schoolhouse on the Mount Vernon-Lisbon road as it enters Lisbon. In 1846 he enlisted in the Mexican War and became a brigadier-general and paymaster of the army. Later he was surveyor -general of Wisconsin and Iowa. His brother N. W. McKean moved into town and built a home he served as the towns first elected notary public.
William Hayzlett who was to lose two sons in the war , settled a half mile east of the cemetery, then moved into town and built a frame store building. Also in that year Chauncey Blodgett brought his family into the community where they were the first members of the local Methodist Church.
Elijah D. Waln came in 1841 and left a great impress on life and history. He had driven from Ohio with a prairie schooner of goods and family and located at the Hale Spring.
Henry Chapman built a cabin on the east end of Main Street. John C. and W.H. Goudy and William Perkins settled near Linn Grove. Jesse Holman, son of a Revolutionary War doctor, an earnest Christian and abolitionist, bought from Robert Stinson a cabin. There were 11 children in the family among them a daughter, who became a teacher of Mount Vernon Children for two generations. Mrs Holman, after the death of her husband Jesse, delighted to go past the school building, arrayed in her best black dress and white collar, so promptly at closing hour of school that she came to be called "Grandmother Four O'Clock".
Philip Stinger bought land near Linn Grove, while J.W. Walton and James Barkley staked out claims in Yankee Grove(Lisbon). A tall heavy set mechanic by the name of Richard Harbett came to town. He was most useful in many of the appointive offices of the town.
Joshua Hess started a harness shop and J.J. Smith a livery barn. A Tailor shop was opened by Mr. Oglebay. Dr. James Carson came to town and advertised "Physician, Surgeon, Dentist, Drugs, and Wallpaper Supplies".
George B. Bowman arrived in 1850 having been presiding elder of Dubuque district, which included all the local territory as well. He saw the possibility of uniting the scattered preaching places on the hilltop. It was during this year that the first local church was built.
This year the Post Office was removed from the Smyth farmhouse and located in town. E.D. Waln was the first Postmaster.
Bohemians began to possess the land of plenty just south of the river, and eventually Linn County became the most favored spot in the nation for the Czechs.
The Leigh brothers, C.H. and John B. in early 1852. Before long they owned hundreds of acres of good Iowa land; and yet they were so poor in cash that it is related they had to sign a note one day at the bank in order to pay for an express package. They were shrewd investors in the future.
Some of the new arrivals destined to become prominent came into the community in 1853. Among them were B.F. Beach, N.U. Ballard, Joab Lacock, and Andrew Hayzlett. Augustus Bowman cane this year and built a house at the south edge of town.
Dr. Pease came and built a Drug Store . he built a brick house on the right side of the road entering the town from the south. Morgan L. Ink brought goods from the East and opened a general store; he also built a new sawmill. S.K. Young came this year, as did A.G. Neff, William McFarland, Andrew Beatty and A.E. Goodyear.
An important event in 1856 was the arrival of William Brackett contractor and builder. He was the contractor for the brick schoolhouse , the second brick church, and he finished the college chapel.
Henry Collin came this year and Mr. Carhart. Mr. Collin built a small cottage, and it was said each time a child was born in the family , he added a new room.