Hardin County - Clay Township

The Past and Present of Hardin County Iowa
ed. by William J. Moir.  Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1911

Transcribed by Linda Suarez

Congressional township 88 north, of range 19 west, is known as Clay township, in speaking of it as a subdivision of Hardin county. It was organized in the month of October, 1855, under the old county judge system. It is the township in which Steamboat Rock is situated. The first election held in this township was at Steamboat Rock, when the following were duly elected to township office: Porter Eastbrook, Samuel L. Higenbotham and Isaac Fail, trustees; Samuel H. Rathbine, town clerk.

Topography and Minerals

The principal stream of Clay township is the Iowa river, and it presents about the same appearance as at Eldora and in Jackson and Hardin townships, of finding its way through an immense fissure, which in time widened more or less into bottoms of considerable width, as seen now. The country here is much higher than the Cedar, forty miles to the east, and the South Fork, west. It was written in 1879 of this section that, "Besides minerals, gold and sulphur, clays and paints, etc., are brought up and made more or less visible, although very limited investigation has been made. It looks as though the river runs through an immense ridge, with a very zigzag fissure through the center, in some places hardly wider than the stream. Above and below it is as other streams. The township is mostly beautiful prairie land, except a fine skirt of timber along the river. Soft coal abounds to a considerable extent and underlies the township in greater or less veins, and at one days was believed to be of great commercial mining value, but of recent years, with much thicker veins farther south in Iowa, these coal lands have not been worked much." The expert committee who examined these lands when the Central railroad was being proposed, said, "Clay was undoubtedly originally the most heavily timbered township in this county, being about half covered with heavy timber. The timber is white oak and red oak; also black walnut, hickory, basswood, white walnut and elm."

In 1857 and in 1876 there were gold excitements in this county and within this township was the center of attraction. In 1857 gold was discovered on section 29, on the west bank of the Iowa, being worked by O. M. Holcomb and others, he being an old gold miner of California gold diggings. the shining metal was also found in small amounts on the northwest quarter of section 22, in 1858-59, in the east bank of the river, north from Steamboat Rock.

The Pioneer Settlers

Without going into detail about when and where all of the first settlers in Clay township made their claims, it will suffice to state that it was first settled in 1851 and that prior to 1854 the following came in and made permanent settlements:

Nicholas Rice, 1851; S. A. Williamson, 1851; Bolivar Fail, John Williams, Mathias Jackson, Gideon Rathbone, Samuel W. Hoover, Isaac N. Lesch, William Ranesberger, George Hayden, Elijah Hayden, Henry Isebrands, Granville Arnold, Henry Johns, William Leverton, Benjamin F. Reed, Charles H. Rockwell, S. B. Cunningham, Porter Esterbrook, Sidney Ellis, Daniel Bates, John Wright, J. W. Higenbotham, Ebenezer B. Wilcox, James D. Fuson, F. H. Sterns, L. E. Campbell, A. S. Root, S. F. Lathrop, Anthony Robertson, William Robertson, William Haynes, William Scott, James McConchie, John A. Moore, William Freeborn, 1852; N. W. Doud, George Ranesberger, Ezra Hungerford, Asher Park, Charles Boyle, Sanford Baldwin, Rev. E. C. Crippen, Geo. Hayden, John Giles, John Kelso, Joseph Felkner, James Tucker, Ellis Parker. A majority of these men have long since been called from earth, while others have found homes in distant sections of the country. A few of the original pioneer band still remain in Hardin county, enjoying the fruit of their early-day labors.

The first school in Clay township was taught by Mrs. Samuel Hoover in her residence, on section 29, on land later owned by John H. Hoover.

The following will give a brief outline of some of the settlers who first broke sod in Clay township: Benjamin F. Reed was a native of New Hampshire and went to California when a young man, remained some years and after visiting his old New England home, came West, locating near Steamboat Rock, Iowa. He reared a large and intelligent family, several sones of which are now engaged in drug and mercantile business in Iowa, including one son, a druggist, at Eldora.

Isaac N. Lesh, a native of Preble county, Ohio, born in 1813, moved to Clay township in 1852, entering the land on which now stands the town of Steamboat Rock. In 1861 he moved to Nebraska, but soon returned and settled on section 29.

Samuel W. Hoover, a native of Kentucky, located in this township in 1852, on section 20, where he built a small cabin and there lived until the Civil war came on, when he enlisted and served his country until his death, at Savannah, Tennessee, in 1862.

William Leverton came to this county in the summer of 1854, locating on section 3, Clay township, but later moved to section 4. He was a native of England, born in 1812, and emigrated to America in 1831. He first came to Canada and later to Joliet, Illinois, where he worked on the canal. He succeeded in Clay township as a farmer and was a strict Democrat in politics.

Henry Johns came to Clay township in 1854. He was a native of England, born in London in 1829. The father located on section 4, where he died in 1864.

Isaiah Frost came in 1854, locating at the village of Steamboat Rock. He built a small blacksmith shop, and worked at his trade, he being the first blacksmith in the vicinity, [sic] Later he moved to a farm three miles out of town and there died.

John Kelso, a native of Licking county, Ohio, came to Hardin county in the autumn of 1854, settling in Clay township where he was a successful farmer for many years.

Other quite early settlers were: William Haynes, John C. McConkle, Martin Snider, William Scott, Meno Harms, James D. Fuson, George Hathaway, Samuel W. Stewart, John T. Hardin, John A. Fisher, Myron Conklin, John T. Hardin and others whose names are now forgotten, but whose improvements in the township are enjoyed today by others.

Wild Animals

In 1852-3 the snow fell November 18, and remained on the ground until the late springtime. During that memorable winter, elk, deer and buffalo were found in abundance. A large number were killed that winter, but since then but few have been seen here.

In the latter part of the winter of 1854-55, a bear was found by C. J. McClure, and followed by him and J. G. Vansickle on horseback. They finally captured and killed the bear and her cubs, over in the edge of Grundy county.

When the Civil war came on, the patriotic men of Clay township entered the Union army in goodly numbers and the writer wishes to record in this connection a paragraph concerning

A True Veteran

Asel Wickham, who was a native of Ohio, served as a soldier in the war with Mexico; was past fifty years of age when he enlisted in the Twelfth Iowa Infantry Regiment; was taken prisoner and laid in Libby Prison for eighteen months. He was captured at the famous battle of Shiloh. He drew a patent for six hundred acres of land in Texas for his services in the Mexican war. While trying to escape from Libby Prison, he was struck with the butt end of a musket, which broke a rib which ultimately caused his sudden death, in Clay township, while operating a weaving loom, March 26, 1880. It appears that the piece of broken rib worked its way to near the heart and after all those years punctured that vital organ and caused him to drop dead. His military career was one checkered and seldom surpassed.

Town of Steamboat Rock

Steamboat Rock is one of the oldest places in Hardin county, it havinf been platted in May, 1855, by John Shepherd, the first surveyor of the county. It is situated handsomely on the bank of the Iowa river, on section 28, township 88, range 19. The original owners of this town site were Isaac N. Lesh, Charles Boyle and John Royal. The town took its name from a large projecting rock on the river bluff, which at a distance presented the appearance of a number of steamboats lying at anchor. On one of these was what resembled a wheel-house, and on this grew a large pine tree which in 1858 was struck by lightning and the shock cut off the "wheel-house" and ruined the appearance of the rock resembling the steamboat. Freshets later completely washed away the piece of rock known as the wheelhouse. While it might have had to draw largely on fancy and imagination to ever have seen a steamboat on the bank of the Iowa at that point, it was enough to forever give a pretty name to a townsite.

First Events

To the reader of local history there is always more or less interest awakened in tracing the first settlers and the first of a long series of events, such as here follows, hence they have been collected from the memory of pioneers, and some have been published in a former county history, so are reliable, for they were handed to the historian by men and women who had personal knowledge of the facts herein narrated.

The first person to locate here, after the platting was made, was Sanford Baldwin, in a house built by Isaac N. Lesh, in December, 1855. It stood on the northeast corner of the northwest quarter of section 28. It was subsequently burned.

The first stock of goods was opened in that building by pioneer Lesh, who was followed by Joseph Furry.

Isaac Frost was the first "village blacksmith."

I. M. Silverthorn was the first wagonmaker.

The first shoemaker was E. G. Smith, who years later moved to Nebraska.

The first school taught in Steamboat Rock was by Lizzie Kadoo.

The first religious services were held by Rev. Lowrance, A Cumberland Presbyterian preacher.

Dr. O. G. Fisher was the pioneer physician.

The earliest hotel was conducted by Reuben Wright, who later resided in Washington Territory.

S. B. Cunningham was the first attorney of the place.

The above nearly all located in Steamboat Rock prior to 1855. Some came, however, as late as 1857.

Postoffice History

The postoffice at Steamboat Rock was established in 1855, then known as Lithopolis, a station on a mail route from Waterloo to Eldora. The name Steamboat Rock was given to it later. Mail was received once a week over the old stage line to Waterloo when this office was first established. The following have served as Postmasters: Jack Seeley, who was followed by S. B. Cunningham and he by R. C. Wright. Next came D. B. Morse, who held the position until 1876 and then came Mrs. Phebe Wales, who held it until August 20, 1877, and was succeeded by R. H. Waite and he in turn by F. H. Sterns. September 18, 1885, came the commission to Henry Luken, who served until April 29, 1889, when R. M. Wheeler took charge and resigned in 1893, when W. T. Neessen succeeded him, serving until June 6, 1897, when came Henry Luken again and who is till postmaster. In October, 1910, Mr. Luken moved the office to his new building on the corner of Market and Sixth streets. For the year ending June 30, 1910, this office had issued one thousand six hundred and fifty money orders. Four mails are received and sent daily now.

Rural route No. 1 was established December 4, 1899, with Henry Eilers carrier, salary four hundred dollars per year; route No. 2, established February 1, 1902, Howard H. Turner carrier, salary five hundred dollars; both carriers now receive eight hundred and sixty-four dollars per year each.

Township Officers - 1911

Justices of peace, W. F. Ashen, G. L. Fiske; constables, W. C. Cable, H. H. Eilers; cleark, R. S. Wardwell; trustees, H. A. Gellhorn, John Eilers, Harry Grieves; assessor, J. M. Higginbotham.

A literary society was organized during the winter of 1856-57, at Steamboat Rock, which met to discuss various literary topics during the long, cold winter season. From time to time there have been other similar societies, all being of an uplifting character.

Milling History

With the founding of the town, Isaac N. Lesh, Charles Boyle and Samuel Higenbotham put in a saw-mill and dame, forcing the waters of the Iowa river to propel their mill in the cutting of timber. In 1857 this property was purchased of Charles Boyle by S. F. Lathrop, who at once commenced the erection of a three-story grist mill, thirty by forty feet in dimension, the same costing ten thousand dollars. It had two run of buhrs and had a capacity of one hundred and twenty-five barrels per day of twenty-four hours. In 1862, during a great freshet, the dam was washed out and swept down stream, as was also the old saw-mill. In 1867 the dam was replaced, after it had been washed out a second time. It never changed hands for years and in 1881 it was greatly enlarged and much improved. W. C. Baker, of Cedar Falls, had the management of the mill for a number of years.

In the fall of 1910 this mill was burned and the water power and millsite was sold to Eldora Electric Light and Power Company, who are using the same, together with the power at Eldora, for the production of electricity to light both Eldora and Steamboat Rock. The loss of his milling plant is a severe blow, commercially, to Steamboat Rock.

General Business History

Steamboat Rock has always been a good trading point. The first to deal in lumber by having a regular yard was the firm of Lathrop & Thomas in the summer of 1868. They sold two years later to Hall & Conger and two years later they sold to D. W. Turner. After the town got a railroad, Noyes & Turner began to handle grain. P. H. Hayden, in 1870, started in the grain trade and a year later erected an elevator holding ten thousand bushels. In 1873 D. W. Turner became sole proprietor and was soon handling two hundred thousand bushels of grain annually.

The buying and selling of wood was for many years and important industry at Steamboat Rock. It was first commenced in 1870 by Messrs. Dickey, Lathrop, Turner and Bigelow. Their shipments averaged over a thousand cords of fire wood annually. A dozen men were employed in cutting wood for the market.

Town Incorporation

Under the general laws of Iowa, Steamboat Rock was incorporated as a town in 1875, and the first officers elected were: Mayor, A. W. Wales; recorder, R. H. Waite; councilmen, H. W. Kelley, J. C. Root, Jerome Seabury, Thomas W. Neeson and D. B. Cartwright.

The following have served the town as mayors since its organization: A. M. Wales, 1875-1878; D. W. Turner, 1878; E. D. Campbell, 1879; M. Ackerman, 1880; (no record found to 1887); A. W. Wales, 1887 to 1896; Walter Nussen, 1896 to 1898; E. Christians, 1898 to 1900; T. E. Gearhart, 1900 to 1903; F. W. Eilers, 1903 to 1907; A. S. Root, 1907 to 1910; Dr. J. W. Caldwell, 1910 to 1911.

The present town officers are: Dr. J. W. Caldwell, mayor; W. E. Noyes, clerk; R. S. Wardwell, assessor; H. H. Turner, treasurer; G. P. Howell, marshal; councilmen, W. Briggs, W. Cartwright, W. Asher, B. F. Morse, Henry Grieves.

The town is without fire protection or water works. A move is now being agitated to secure such improvements, but is being opposed by the slow going citizens who later may lose their property by fire.

A first-class school building is found here, occupying a public park, with a handsome band-stand and many ornamental shade trees. The town is not known as thrifty, in many ways, as in years gone by. The recent fire destroying the excellent water-mill and the closing of the creamery has, with other causes, given the place a temporary setback.

Business in 1911

The following have charge of the business interests of Steamboat Rock in January, 1911:

Agricultural implements - Sanders & Eekhoff, Luken & Cramer.

Hardware dealers - Sanders & Eekhoff, Cramer Brothers.

Drugs - T. K. Reed.

Furniture - Sanders & Eekhoff.

General dealers - Johnson Bros., Asher & Son, Eilers Mercantile Company.

Lumber - Steamboat Rock Lumber Company, of which E. W. Noyes is manager.

Grain - H. Potgster.

Livery - Briggs & Hughes.

Harness shop - John Cramer.

Blacksmiths - William Hartman.

Meats - Ole Matherson.

Physicians - Dr. J. W. and Dr. J. Willard Caldwell.

Bank - Farmers' Exchange Bank.

Restaurants - C. L. Fiske, B. B. Morse.

Barber - William Hathaway.

Notary Publics - H. H. Turner, Henry Lukens.

There are also a jewelry and shoe shop. The stock company creamery closed in the fall of 1910.

The Masonic order sustains a good lodge at this point and is mentioned in the lodge chapter of this work. The churches are the Methodist, Congregational and German Baptist, mentioned in the Church chapter at length.

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