Union Township History

Excerpt from The History of Dallas County, Iowa, published in 1879 by the Union Historical Company of Des Moines, Iowa

     This township is situated in the southwestern corner of Dallas County, and is known in the government survey as congressional township 78, range 29, west of the fifth principal meridian.

     The South Raccoon river flows entirely across the northern portion of the township in a winding course, and the Middle Raccoon river enters at the northwest corner of the township, and flows in a southeasterly course until it empties into the South Raccoon just below the site of Wiscotta, thus furnishing all the northern portion of the township with abundance of wood, water, mill sites, stone-quarries and coal mines.

     The south part of the township, comprising nearly two-thirds of the entire area, has excellent, fertile, rolling prairie land, which is now well cultivated, and in many cases converted into well improved valuable farms.

     This township has not so large a per cent of timber land as those east of it, as the river runs farther to the north; but these deficiencies are more than compensated by other redeeming qualities, making Union one of the very best townships in the county.

     It is not so old a settled township as some others in the county, but has sprung up with a rapid, healthful growth, and is scarcely surpassed by its neighbors in any of counties adjoining. To show what the people think of their own township we quote part of an article from the Dexter Herald, as follows:

     "Iowa is one of the best States in the Union, and Dallas County is one of the best counties in the State, and Union Township is one of the best townships in the county. The township is in the 78th tier of townships north, and in the 29th west of the 5th principal meridian, and is situated in the southwest corner of the county, and is one of the most thickly populated townships in the county, and is well watered by 'Coon river and its tributaries, It is bounded on the south by Penn Township, Madison County, on the west by Penn Township, Guthrie County, on the north by Linn Township, Dallas County, and on the east by Adams Township, Dallas County. While it is mostly prairie, there is an abundance of timber along the banks of 'Coon river to supply it with fuel for the present, There is also an abundance of coal, easy of access, along the banks of the river, and underlying the whole township. It contains two good business towns, viz: Dexter and Redfield; Dexter near the southern and Redfield the northern line. The C., R. I. & P. R. R. goes for quite a distance through the southern part of the township, giving it the advantage of easy access to market.

     "The eastern, or Bear Creek, settlement is one of the oldest and best settlements in Dallas County, and, we may also add, in Central Iowa. The soil throughout the township is a rich, deep loam, and almost inexhaustible, and capable of producing crops equal to those of the far-famed Miami valley, of Ohio. Stone for building purposes is also found in quantities in various parts. Artificial groves have sprung up as if by magic, and gives it a beautiful appearance, as well as greatly enhancing the value of the land. For a person accustomed to living in a timber country, to take a ride over this township on a fine summer day, the view is enchanting. Here you will see a stretch of prairie; over there you will see a beautiful grove surrounding a fine residence, with all modern improvements; and, again, your eye will be delighted with a long row of stately trees, entirely surrounding a field or an entire farm. You will see residences that would be the pride of any community. You will see churches and school-houses that show to the observer that this is a land of religion and education as well as agriculture.

     You will see mills that grind the grain that is raised here in such abundance, and prepare the material for the houses, and the cloth for your clothes. You will see men burrowing in the ground, and bringing forth the black diamonds in abundance, you will see large fields of grain that would put Illinois or Michigan to shame. You will see vineyards that will, in a few years, equal the far-famed vineyards of Kelley's Island in Lake Erie. You will see orchards that will, in a few years, outstrip those of Michigan and New York, for Iowa is no longer behind other States in the culture of fruit. You will find every class of business represented. You will find some as fine farms as your eye would care to look upon, and all in a high state of cultivation."

     By the first general division of the county into precincts, the territory now included in Union Township formed part of what was called Owens precinct, which included all the present territory of Union and Linn Townships, together with a two mile strip off the west side of what is now Colfax Township.

     This arrangement did not continue long however, for under date of April 9,1850, another order appears on the minutes which throws all the territory of Owens precinct into Penoach precinct. And again in less than a year, January 6, 1851, Union Township is formed, including nearly the same territory as was before included in Owens precinct, as is [is] shown by the following:

     Ordered, That all the territory included within the following limits be organized into a township to be called Union Township, viz:

     Commencing at the southwest corner of Dallas County; running from thence east six miles, from thence north to the correction line; from thence west two miles; from thence north six miles; thence west six miles; thence south with the west line of the county to place of beginning; and that the election in April, 1851, be held at the house of John W. Hayes.

     By the above order Union was made to include not only its present territory, but also that now known as Linn Township. It seems to have remained in the above described shape for several years until June 4, 1855, when it passed through another change, as shown by the following:

     Ordered, By this court that hereafter the following shall be the boundaries of Union Township as petitioned for by divers citizens of Union and Penoach Townships:
Commencing- at the southwest corner of Dallas County; thence east six miles; thence north to the correction line; thence east on she correction line to the corners dividing sections thirty-two (32), and thirty-three (33); thence north six miles; thence west to the county line; thence south on the west line of Dallas County to the place of beginning.

     Again the minutes show that the following order made on February 2, 1857, first established Union Township in its present form as bounded by the congressional township lines:

     Ordered, By the court that the district of country included in the following limits shall form and constitute the township of Union, to-wit:

     Commencing at the northeast corner of township No. 78, north range 29; thence west to the northwest corner of the township aforesaid; thence south to the southwest corner of Dallas County; thence east on the south line of said county to the southeast corner of township No. 18, north range 29; thence north to the place of beginning.

     It then continued in the above described convenient and settled condition until May 9, 1859, when five sections were added to it for school purposes.  The five sections remained thus attached for school purposes until June 7, 1870, when Union Township was again settled with its present boundary lines by the following order of the board of supervisors, and from which it has not since been changed:

    Thus it is seen that Union, like several others of the townships, has been made to pass through numerous changes of form since first named. But has at last, though quite recently, become settled in a permanent and convenient form from which it will not probably be changed for some years to come.

     The first settler in Union Township, as Judge Burns informs us, was David Dailey, who settled on section 4, sometime in 1847.

     He was joined in the spring of 1848 by Humphrey Smith and his son-in-law, Henry Owens, who, in partnership, built the first mill in the township, near the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, on the banks of the South Raccoon river.

     Others may have come in about the same time, or previous, whose names and dates have not been received. In February, 1848, Leroy Lambert, now of Adel, settled on section 6, near the west line of the county, where he lived for a number of years.

     About the same time, or not long afterward, Mr. Wilcox, and others, came into that vicinity; but the settlement in this township did not increase very rapidly during the years of 1848-9; while in 1850-1 there was quite a rapid increase.

     In 1850 the Cavenaugh brothers, Patrick, Thomas and Michael Cavenaugh, came in and bought the claim of David Dailey, in section 4.

     They also entered a large tract of land adjoining it, which included the present site of Redfield. A few years later they laid out the town of New Ireland on part of the present site of Redfield, and a few years afterward they sold the town site and huge tract of land adjoining it to Redfield and Moore, after which the name of the town was changed.

     About this time, also, Elisha Morris came into the vicinity. J. W. Hayes settled on section 5, west of Redfield; John F. Willis, on section 4, which is now partly included in the town plat of Redfield; Nelson Cave settled on section 4, some three-quarters of a mile southwest of town; where he died the following year.

     In 1848-9 L. D. Hewitt settled on section 8, where he died about two years ago, having lived on the old homestead some 28 years. He was a great fruit man, one of the best in the county, and a highly respected citizen.

     In 1849, also, Charles Vermillion settled on section 8. He still owns the property though living now in Dexter.

     In 1850 Uriah Stotts settled in Union Township on section 8, where he still lives as an ex-probate judge of Dallas County. He had come to the county at an early day and settled first in Van Meter Township, perhaps as early as 1847-8, but moved to Union in 1850, and settled on his present homestead.

     In 1849 or 1850 George B. Warden also settled on section 1, three miles east of Redfield. He had previously lived for some time in Adel, and sold goods in the old court-house.

     Elijah Thomas, also, and his three sons, Malon C., Martin and Abner Thomas came in 1850. Two years afterward Martin died, and Abner died in the army. Malon C. Thomas is still living in Redfield, and to him we are indebted for many important items regarding this township and town.

     The above names are but a few of the settlers during that period; but they are only given as some who were among the early settlers of Union Township. Since those days the general appearance of things is radically changed, and Union is no longer the weak, sparse settlement, but the influential, thickly populated township.

     The first cabin in the township was probably built by David Dailey in 1847, and the next ones by Humphrey Smith and Henry Owens, who built the first water mill; and the Cavanaugh's, perhaps, erected the next cabin.

     The first death in the township was probably that of David Dailey's child, soon after he settled in the township; and some time in 1849 Mrs. Brewer died, on the Smith property, and was buried in the Wiscotta burying ground. In 1850 old Mr. Cavenaugh, father of the Cavenaugh brothers, died near the present site of Redfield; before the town was laid out, and soon after he arrived in the county. He was buried in the Wiscotta burying-ground, and a few years ago his remains were removed to Des Moines. He was over eighty years of age when he died.

     The first grave-yard started in the township was the Wiscotta grave-yard, above mentioned. The ground for this was donated to the public for burying purposes by the Cavanaugh's when the town was first laid out, and the grave-yard property was deeded to three trustees, Isaac Fee, George Noel and John Puffer. It is still the principal one in the township. There is another now near Dexter, which has been deeded and laid out for several years.

     Union Township is well supplied with mills, having at least four good water mills and one steam mill within its bounds.

     The Parker & Hollingsworth grist and saw-mills, known as the Redfield mills, stand just west of the town of Redfield, on the same site of the old Cavenaugh mill. This old mill was built about 1854-5, by Thomas Cavenaugh, now of Des Moines. It was a frame structure, and, from all accounts, a pretty jolly time was had at the raising of it. L. D. Burns was the millwright in its construction. It was afterward burned down. The grist-mill now on the same site was built by Hollingsworth & Brown in 1874, and the saw-mill was built in 1874, by Amos Dowe, of Maine.

     The Wiscotta mill, situated about one mile southeast of Redfield, on the north bank of the South Raccoon, was built in 1865, by Bowles & Horner, and is now owned by Zimri Horner & Co. A sad accident occurred near this mill a short time ago. Two men attempted to cross in a boat while the river was terribly swollen and the current very swift, so that with all their strength and efforts they could not stem the current nor keep their boat right side up, and they were swept over and drowned.

     The Newport woolen mills, situated just across the river from Horner's mills, and using the same dam, were built about the same time by Joseph Cook and A. W. Lewis. The dam was built in partnership. This mill has changed hands several times, and is now in the possession of Joseph R. Sheely. It is not running, and has not been for some two years.

     The Cottonwood mill, on the South Raccoon, also, about one mile east of the Wiscotta mill, was built about 1870 by Bowles, Pearson & Hollingsworth. This one has also changed hands several times, and is now owned by Mr. Sheely, and is doing good work.

     At Dexter there is a steam grist-mill within the corporation, owned by Mr. Maulsby, which is doing a thriving business.

     The Compton steam saw-mill is also in Union Township, some miles southeast of Redfield. It was built in 1856 at Wiscotta, and afterward removed to its present site, about thirteen years ago.

     Union Township also has some good coal-mines  and several county bridges. The bridge at Redfield, built by Jonathan Peppard, 240 feet long, is said to be the best wood bridge in the county. An iron bridge 150 feet long is now being built across the South Raccoon by the King Bridge Company, of Ohio, in place of the old wood bridge torn down. There are also several other smaller county bridges in the township spanning Bear creek and the North river near Dexter.

     This township now has nine school-houses, and as many sub-districts, besides the graded and public schools in the different towns, the Bear Creek Academy, and the large Normal school-building now being erected at Dexter.

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