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History of Fayette County, Iowa,

A history of the County, its Cities, Towns Etc.

Page 521

Pleasant Valley Township

Elgin and Lutra


About the year 1837, a party from Clayton County, consisting of Chancy S. Edson and William Grant, with their workmen, came to the beautiful valley in which the town of Elgin is now located, and commenced to build a mill on Otter Creek, near its confluence with Turkey River; but, says Mr. Samuel Connor, "it chanced to be on the Indian reservation, and, on complaint of trespass by the Indians, the agent informed the parties that they would have to decamp, which they immediately did, leaving their timber on the banks, with the dam completed about halv way across the "run." Soon after this, the Indians set fire to the dam and shanty, and thus destroyed the first civil work done in the county. Eleven years after this event, the Indians were removed, and Mr. Samuel Connor, hearing that the land had come into possession of the Government, and having lost his wife, resolved to come to Iowa and make a new home. Accordingly, in the Spring of 1848, in company with Thomas Smith, Simeon B. Forbes and Jacob Ashby, he started on a tour of investigation. Meantime, A. E. Wanzer had made a claim at the mouth of Otter Creek, including Section 14, and had sent William McElwee to watch it for him. In due time, the party reached the house of Mr. Wanzer and were hospitably entertained. In the course of conversation, they informed him that they desired to settle, and asked him in regard to the surrounding country. In answer, he proposed to go with them and show them his claim. They accepted, and they all started for Pleasant Valley. Mr. Connor was delighted with the prospect, immediately bought his claim and started back to Wisconsin after his effects; Forbes going to Section 15, west of Connor; Smith, to West Union Township, and Ashby to Clayton County, where he died in May, 1878. Mr. Connor returned and commenced work July 6, 1848, and erected a log house on the northeast one-quarter of the southeast one-quarter of Section 14, being the first house in the township. The same year, Connor and Forbes broke prairie on Section 22. During the following Winter, Mr. Connor cut and hauled timber for a saw-mill. In May, 1849, Mr. Benjamin Dimond and family arrived, entered into partnership with Mr. Connor, and together they erected the saw-mill on Otter Creek, a short distance above the site the Clayton County party had chosen, and completed it in August.

Connor & Dimond's mill was the first in the township, and one of the first, if not the first, in Fayette County. It is still standing and in operation, being now owned by C. Sneider, and the machinery runs as smoothly as if it had been built but yesterday. The first log sawed in this mill was for Jacob Garber, from Clayton, who said he wanted some lumber for a "cow hov'l," the only words of English he could speak. This mill supplied the lumber for the mill at Clermont, and also furnished parties on the Yellow River.

Shin Bone Valley

In 1849, Mr. Forbes wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, William Wells, at "Knob Prairie." The answer was returned, addressed to "Shin Bone Valley," and it is said that the settlement was known by this name until the town was laid out and called Elgin; but the name, probably, had a deeper significance and an earlier origin. Long before this region was occupied by white settlers, even before this tract was ceded to the United States by the Sacs and Foxes, this beautiful valley had been a favorite resort of the Indians, and was known to trappers and traders as the "Sac Bottom." A short distance above Connor & Dimond's mill, on the east side of the Turkey River, on Sections 10 and 3, was an immense Indian burial ground. Mr. Connor states that when he first came to the country there were thousands of graves thickly dotting the bottom in that locality. The Sacs had probably buried their dead here for many years before they made way for the Winnebagoes, and the latter continued the custom. The graves were not very deep, and bones might be seen protruding from the soil. It is very probably that the euphonious name "Shin Bone Valley" may have been given to this locality in consequence, as it was emphatically a "bone valley." For years after the whites first occupied the country, the Indians returned annually to "Sac Bottom" to visit the "graves of their fathers," and to hold some kind of memorial services there. On the west side of the river, opposite this aboriginal cemetery, the savages had a dancing ground, where they were wont to gather for their "pow-wows." In 1850-1, the Indians returned in large numbers and held their uncouth dances on the ground.

Some of the graves of the departed redskins were surrounded with rude palings. One in particular, says Mr. Connor, had a sort of a pole lodge erected over it, from the top of which floated a white flag, and which was frequently visited by the Indians, who kept the rude structure in repair for several years. It had become noised about among the settlers that this was the grave of the Chief "Whirling Thunder," and it was supposed that many valuable articles were buried with him, as he was "rich." Some sacrilegious scoundrels attempted to do a little "grave snatching" on their own account, and began to dig for plunder, but were frightened off by a passerby. When the settlers discovered what had been done, they repaired the injury as well as they could. Soon afterward, two Indians visited the spot and discovered the trespass, and went to the mill for an explanation. They were told of the rumor that prevailed, that "Whirling Thunder" was buried there, and that an attempt had been made by somebody to rob his grave; also that the settlers had endeavored to repair the injury. The Indians gravely replied that "Whirling Thunder" was reposing on the bank of the Volga, and the grave so ruthlessly disturbed, was that of a very aged medicine woman over 90 long moons old, who had been held in great veneration by the tribe, and when she died, the squaws had built the enclosure as a mark of respect. But, said the Indian, who appeared to be remarkably intelligent for his class, "I am ashamed that white men, Christians, should try to rob Indian graves."

Indian City

Mr. Connor states that in 1848, when he came to Sac Bottom, the bank of the Turkey, where Elgin now stands, was for a long distance lined with Indian wigwams as thick as they could stand, and near them large heaps of fish bones. The river teemed with fish, which the Indians caught in large numbers, and boiled in large kettles obtained from the traders. When done, the contents of the kettles would be poured into willow baskets to drain. When sufficiently cool, these numerous "Lo" families feasted on these boiled fish, and, too lazy to remove the bones, heaped them up in the rear of their tepees.

Ancient Mounds

But aside from these evidences of occupation by Indians prior to the advent of the pioneers of 1848-9, there are evidences that this beautiful spot was inhabited ages before the Sacs and Foxes, Iowas, Sioux and other North American Indian tribes. In a wheatfield, as seen by the historian in 1878, between Lutra and Elgin, on the south side of the street, is a large mound. Near it, in a neighboring cornfield, is another, and in the immediate vicinity are other smaller ones. The plow of the farmer has been leveling these mounds for more than a quarter of a century, and yet they are distinctly visible, rising several feet about the surrounding surface. Mr. Connor states that in 1848, these mounds were six or eight feet high. None of them have been opened; but when they are, it is believed that they will be found to be of the same character with the prehistoric mounds that abound on both banks of the Mississippi Riber and its tributaries, from its head waters to the level alluvial bottoms of Louisiana.

In 1849, the new settlement was increased by the arrival of Matthew Connor, John Conner, James B. Stephenson, George Rowley, Rev. Joseph Forbes and others. Mr. Dimond had a horse, and Mr. S. B. Forbes a cow, which were then the only animals of the kind in the township. Matthew Conner built a log cabin on the site of the future town of Elgin, and in it opened the first store. Log houses were also erected by John Conner, B. Dimond, Stephenson and Rowley.

The first crop of corn was raised this year, by John Conner.

During that year, Rev. Joseph Forbes held religious services in the house of John Conner, and organized a Sabbath school, which was probably the first Sabbath school in the county. Mr. Forbes was one of the orators at the 4th of July celebration at West Union that year.

As is found to be the case with most townships, there are no early records in existence of the political acts of this township. In the Spring of 1850, Townships 94 and 95, Range 7, were created a civil township by the Commissioners of Clayton County, and an election is said to have been held immediately after the order, at the house of George Rowley. Charles Sawyer, Matthew Conner and George Rowley were Judges of the election, and George Rowley was elected Justice of the Peace for the Pleasant Valley district, and Charles Sawyer for the Clermont district.

In October, 1850, Fayette County having been organized, Pleasant Valley Township was created by the Fayette Commissioners, composed of Township 94, Range 7, and the northeast quarter of Township 93, Range 7. Election was ordered on the third Monday of November, at the house of Joseph Forbes; and Joseph Forbes, John Conner and Simeon B. Forbes were appointed Judges of Election, but no records of this meeting can be found. Prior to this, at the election in July, when the county was organized, Pleasant Valley Township was a part of West Union Precinct. At the November election, John Conner was elected Justice of the Peace, and Simeon B. Forbes, Matthew Conner and J. B. Stephenson, Trustees.

The first white child was Melvina Dimond, born July 22, 1850.

The first wedding was that of John Johnson and Miss Rowley in 1851; the hymenial knot was securely tied by John Conner, Justice of the Peace. Second marriage was Samuel Conner and Marrilla Howard, Feb. 4, 1852, by Rev. Mr. Briggs, a Methodist preacher.

The first settler to cross the mysterious river that separates time and eternity was Matthew Conner, who died in April, 1852. First death was an infant daughter of James Kinyon, in July, 1851.

The first Methodist Circuit preacher to visit the little settlement at the mouth of Otter Creek was Rev. Mr. Cameron, who preached in the house of Samuel Conner in 1851.

George Gay opened a store in the new settlement in 1851.

Elgin Laid Out

In the Fall and Winter of 1851-52, a town was laid out on Section 14 by Samuel Conner and others. M. V. Burdick was the surveyor. Mr. Burdick solicited the honor of christening the new town, which was granted, and he gave it the name of Elgin, in honor, it is said, of Elgin, Ill., his native town. "Shin Bone Valley" was buried and nearly forgotten, only to be resurrected by the historian and recorded in its proper place among innumerable other "things of the past."

The town plat was not recorded, however, until March, 1855. Samuel Conner, Marilla Conner, Benjamin Dimond, Mary J. Dimond, Thomas Armstrong and Olivia Armstrong appear of record as proprietors. M. V. Burdic, acting surveyor when they were laid out, certifies to Blocks 1, 2, 3, and 4, and Winslow Stearns, County Surveyor, certifies to Blocks 5 and 6, July 4, 1854. The plat was filed for record February 20, 1855. The first or original plat, however, as made by Mr. Burdick, was filed for record March 9, 1854, by order of Thomas Woodle, Judge. Samuel Conner was sole proprietor.

In April, 1852, Messrs. Dimond & Conner commenced building a grist-mill, in which the first corn was ground in December, 1853. The mill was completed in 1854. Soon afterward, the proprietors added to it a building for carding machine, which was put in operation by Eden E. Rhodes, who carded the first wool in Fayette County in 1854. The flouring-mill is now owned by P. Dowse & Co.

In 1852, Samuel Conner built the first large frame building, the first hotel, on southeast quarter of northeast quarter of Section 14, Lot 15, Block 1, of the original survey of Elgin.

The post office was established in 1852. Benjamin Dimond, Postmaster. The first church was commenced in 1855; completed and dedicated in the Fall of 1857.

Mr. Isaac Kline built a saw-mill on Otter Creek, about two miles above Elgin, in 1854, probably. It has since been converted into a flouring-mill, and is owned by Mr. Farr and others. Thomas Alvey built a saw-mill in 1856, on Otter Creek, in Section 29. This has also been converted into a flouring-mill, and is still owned by Mr. Alvey.

Lutra Laid Out

When the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Minnesota Railroad was laid out, the engineers found it impracticable to locate it to Elgin, and established the line about half a mmile west of the town. Here Mr. Conner donated depot grounds, and also the right of way for a mile, and a small town was surveyed in August, 1871, by F. S. Palmer, and by him named Lutra. The proprietors were Samuel Conner, Marilla Conner, B. Dimond, Mary J. Dimond, Joseph Baldwin and Betsey Baldwin; and the plat was filed for record November 10, 1871. Work on the railroad commenced in the Fall of 1871, and was completed to Lutra from the north in September, 1872, but the depot was not built until 1875. Mr. Conner made an addition to Lutra in 1873. The first store on the town plat of Lutra was a small wooden building erected in 1871. The handsome brick block of stores was built by Borne & Conner, James Cook, Daniel Gates and others, in 1873-74.

A steam saw-mill and stave factory was built near the north end of the railroad bridge in 1873, by Peter Nicklaus, a very ingenious and energetic man.

In 1870, Messrs. Dimond, Conner & Co. erected a new flouring mill on Otter Creek, about three-fourths of a mile above the old saw-mill.

The two towns of Elgin and Lutra are beautifully located in the Valley of the Turkey River, near the mouth of Otter Creek - a lovely spot, nestling among the timber-crowned bluffs, a perfect gem of beauty.

Practically, Elgin and Lutra are but one town, although there is some rivalry existing between them. The business is being gradually and inevitably drawn to the new town, however, and Elgin has discovered, as many other Western towns have done, that railroads are town destroyers as well as town builders.

The geolgist will find a rich field in this valley. In the bed of Otter Creek, below the old saw-mill, the rock formations have been exposed, and are wonderfully rich in fossils, not only of shells, but of other forms of life that once flourished only to be preserved in stone. Mr. Conner states that a few years ago, he discovered in a block of limestone a perfect fish, petrified, of course, but every part perfectly preserved.


The first school in the township was taught by Mary A. Howard, in the house built by Matthew Conner, in 1851. In 1852, a school house was built on Section 22, to accommodate all the settlers, by John and Madison Phillips, in which, in the same year, Adelaide Simars taught the first school.

In 1855, a frame school house was built on the town plat of Elgin, by George Pratt, in which John Arbuckle was the first teacher. In 1860, this building was sold and removed to give place to a brick school house, which was erected in that year by Lewis Thomas, and school was first taught in it by David Whitley. In 1875, for the purpose of providing educational privileges for the children of Elgin and Lutra under one roof, a large and commodious brick school house was erected on what is called the "half-way ground" between the two towns. The building was built by Mr. Thoma, and cost about $8,000.


Wesleyan Methodist Church - The first minister of this denomination at Elgin was Rev. Joseph Forbes, who preached his first sermon in John Conner's house in 1849, and organized a Sabbath school, and probably a class, during that year. Among the earliest members, says Mr. Fox, were Samuel Conner, John Conner, James Conner, Matthew Conner, Joseph Forbes and others. The church was re-organized about 1857, under the ministrations of Revs. C. F. Hawley and J. E. Gould, who held a protracted meeting and awakened an interest, and organized a church with thirty-five members. George Pratt was class leader. Rev. Mr. Gould remained as Pastor about two years, and was succeeded by Rev. Joel Grinnell, who ministered to the church about two years, and then it was without a Pastor until February, 1868, when the society was again re-organized by Rev. Samuel Smith, with a membership of about thirty persons.

In September, 1873, the society commenced building a church edifice in Lutra, which was completed in February, 1874, at a cost of $1,500, and dedicated early in March by Rev. Adam Crooks, of Syracuse, New York, under the pastorate of Rev. W. S. May. Rev. James A Preston was Pastor in 1877, succeeded by Rev. George Allen in 1878.

Present active membership, about thirty. Many of the old members have removed to other places, but still retain their membership here.

Methodist Episcopal Church - This church was first organized in 1853, in charge of Rev. Mr. Cameron. The absence of records renders it impossible to recall the names of the first members, but Elder ___ Newton, Eli Elrod, Charles W. Cooley, ____ Hosmer were among them. In 1854, Elder Newton, Mr. Elrod and a few others agitated the project of building a church, but the society was hardly strong enough to build it alone. Samuel Conner donated a town lot, upon which he placed the building, and members of other denominations residing in the township assisted in the work.

The work of building was commenced in 1855, and the house was completed and dedicated in 1857, during the pastorate of Rev. F. C. Mather. The church continued to be occupied by the society until June, 1878, when it was sold to members of the German Lutheran Church, who are about organizing a society in Elgin, and the Methodists now worship in the United Brethren Church.

When the church was organized, Rev. Mr. Cameron was preacher in charge, succeeded by Rev. Mr. Newton. In 1857, Rev. E. Skinner was Presiding Elder, and Rev. F. C. Mather, Pastor, succeeded by Revs John Fassett, William Cobb, W. E. McCormick, Rufus Ricker, Isaac Newton, B. F. Taylor, ___ Knickerbocker, _____ Garretson, William Black, P. E. Miller, ____ Ward and F. E. Brush, its present Pastor, successively.

United Brethren - Rev. Mr. Richardson, circuit preacher, organized a class of eighteen members of this sect in 1870; among the members remembered, for no records are accessible, were Mr. and Mrs. James Kingen, Mr. and Mrs. G. S. Klock, Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Doane, Mrs. Cornelia Owens, Mrs. Mary Stahl, Mrs. Mary Ann Martindale and Mrs. Gilmore. In 1872, the work of building a church was commenced, with J. Kingen, G. S. Klock, Cyrus Hazlett, G. Martindale and R. Barnum as Building Committee. The building was completed, and was dedicated by Rev. Mr. Kephart, December 7, 1873. Elder Drury succeeded Mr. Richardson, and Revs. Israel Shafer, Harvey, Fothergill, Laughlin and Hicks have occupied the pulpit in turn. The present pastor is Rev. Mr. Zebriskie.

I. O. OF O. F.

Elgin Lodge, No. 290, was instituted September 18, 1874, by Dr. W. A. Chase, D. G. M., with the following charter members, viz.: D. W. Redfield, J. A. Gruver, S. R. Graham, O. P. Miller, E. R. Carpenter, H. C. Mead and J. P. Marsh. The four officers installed were D. W. Redfield, N. G.; E. R. Carpenter, V. G.; H. C. Mead, Recording Secretary; and O. P. Miller, Treasurer.

The officers for first term, 1878, are: S. R. Graham, N. G.; G. S. Klock, V. G.; E. R. Carpenter, R. S.; J. A. Gruver, P. S.; J. C. Cooley, Treasurer.

A. O. of U. W.

Elgin Lodge, No. 82, was instituted August 17, 1876, by W. H. Burford, D. G. M. W. Charter members - O. P. Miller, G. S. Klock, E. Enos, H. C. Hammond, L. B. Mattoon, W. W. Gardner, W. R. Given, E. R. Carpenter, J. A. Hoagland, J. C. Cooley, A. A. Kumpf, J. G. Shafer, P. Dowse, Jr., Henry Klock, F. D. Lepper, C. T. Schmid, P. Nicklaus, G. A. Stoehr, Lewis Thomas and B. Schori.

The first officers were: O. P. Miller, M. W.; E. R. Carpenter, P. M. W.; W. W. Gardner, G. F.; C. T. Schmid, O.; H. C. Hammond, Recorder; J. A. Hoagland, F.; L. B. Mattoon, G.; P. Nicklaus, Receiver.

Officers, 1878: - C. T. Schmid, M. W.; P. Dowse, Jr., P. M. W.; A. Kumpf, G. F.; J. W. Callender, O.; D. Watenpaugh, Recorder; O. P. Miller, F.; G. S. Klock, Receiver; J. G. Shafer, Guide.

Present membership, twenty-nine.


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