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Howard County History

This county is situated in the north tier of counties, third west from the Mississippi River.


This is a chiefly a prairie county.  The surface is undulating, and the elevation such that it is a healthful and agreeable, while the landscape is beautiful and pleasing in any direction the observer may choose to look.  All the rough land lies in the northeastern part, Albion Township.  No county in Iowa presents, in proportion to its size, less wasteland than Howard.


The timber region embraces a small proportion of Howard County, probably one-twelth.  A large portion of this is young timber of different varieties, but chiefly oak and poplar, but small bodies of burr oak may be found about the county at various points, skirting the rich prairies.  There is also considerable timber along the western Wapsipinicon, and in places along the other streams.


The Big Wapsipincon flows through the county, while the Little Wapsipincon rises with its limits.  The name of these streams is said to be of Indian origin, signifying "craw-fish," from the great numbers of this species that inhabit the head-course, running through the north tier of townships in an easterly direction.  The Turkey, or Crane Creek, flows through the county centrally in a very direct south-easterly  course.  Some of these streams, particularly the Upper Iowa, afford very good water power.  The county is also well supplied with small brooks and numerous pure springs, never falling in the dryest seasons.


The rock bases of Howard County in the northeast corner belongs to the Lower Silurian age.  On the southwest nearly one-half its area lies within the Devouian region.  The intervening space is that of the Niagra limestone of the Upper Silurian age.  There are frequent exposures of rock along nearly all the streams, furnishing good quarries of excellent building stone and lime.


Howard County, educationally considered, stands high.  The report of the county superintendent shows the following statistics:  Number of districts, 80; ungraded schools, 69; graded, 20; teachers employed, 142; makes, 46; females, 96.  Average compensation-males, $37.91; females $25.17.  Number of persons of school age, 2,666.  Number of pupils enrolled in public schools, 2,226; average attendance, 1,277; average cost of tuition of pupil per month, $1.22.  Number of school houses in the county, 69; value $45, 175.00; value of apparatus, $1,491.00.


The formation of this society was begun in the Winter of 1858, and the Fall of that year it held a fair at Howard Center.  The organization did not thrive, and never held another fair.  In 1866 it was re-organized under the same name-Howard County Agricultural Society.  Again it was not a success.  In the Fall of 1871 a second re-organization was made, which has met with flattering success; in fact, no similar organization in the enclosure of the Cresco Driving Park Association's grounds, with good buildings, sheds, pens, etc., a large floral hall, all of which are paid for, and the society has money in the treasury.  The present officers are as follows:  President, Calvin F. Webster; Vice President, John E. Peck; Secretary, John Steinman; Treasurer, Jesse Barber; and a Board of Directors, consisting of one from each township.
Old Settlers' Society--In 1869 this society was organized, Darius Seeley, President; H.D. Noble, Secretary.  The first annual gathering was held at Gillett's Grove the same year, and an address was delivered by Judge Martin V. Burdick.  The next year the annual meeting was postponed, and the second annual meeting, a year afterwards, was held at Lime Springs Station, and was a very successful gathering, the principal speaker being Bill Dobson on the subject of the "first barrel of whisky in Howard county."  In his address he told how the good women of that early day broke in the head and emptied the contents into Turkey River.  The society was successful, and annual gatherings have been held ever since.  The president of this society is Darius Seeley; W.H. Patterson, Secretary.


The following are the present county officials:: 

C.F. Webster, Clerk of Courts

W.H. Patterson, Recorder
Frank Kyte, Treasurer Jeremiah Barker, Auditor
D.H. Ackerson, Sheriff Laban Hassett, Surveyor
O.N. Hoyt, Supt. of Schools H.C. Price, Coroner


James Oakley Thomas Griffin S.S. Lambert


The early settlement of Howard County dates back to December, 1851, when it is believed that Hiram Johnson built the first cabin in the county, at Oregon Grove; but what may be called the beginning of the permanent settlement of the county was commenced in the year 1854.  Among the early settlers at Oregon Grove may be mentioned Henry S. Shuttleworth, S.M. Cole, "Uncle" George Scofield, Thomas Lewis, and C.M. Munson.  This was about two miles from where Cresco now stands, in New Oregon Township.  Here was the most flourishing town of the county, until the building of the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad through Cresco, in 1866, when the buildings, business and population were transferred to Cresco.  About the time of the settlement at Oregon Grove there settled near what is now Cresco, Chas. S. Thurber, M.L. Shook, James Siddall, M.G. Goss, L. Aspinwall, James G. Upton, Edmund Gillett, and a few others.  The first frame house in the county was built by M.L. Shook.  In 1854, Wm. S. Pettibone, James Hall, Martin Boardman, Lemuel Potter, Archibald Pooler, Edward Butters, and Wm. P. Hough, settled on the Little Wapsipinicon, in Afton township.  In 1855, Augustus Beadle came here.  At this time a colony had been organized in New York City, and had purchased lands here and in Mitchell County, but only a portion of them came on from the east, and the colonial organization was abandoned.  Also in this year (1855) John F. Thayer and Aseph Webster became settlers of Howard Center, which become quite prominent as a country town in after years.  The same year a settlement was commenced at Jamestown by Dennis, Franklin, and Gilbert Rice, who built a mill on the Wapsinicon at a place called Riceville.  There were added to the Jamestown settlement several families from Massachusetts during the same year.  They at once built a steam saw mill.  A settlement was also begun at Foreston, Forest City township, by Joseph Daniels and S.L. Carey.


Prior to 1855 Howard was attached to Chickawaw for election, and to Floyd for judicial and revenue purposes.  In 1855 it was organized, Edmund Gillett being the organizing sheriff.  At the first election the following were the officers chosen:  County Judge, James Upton; Clerk, Edmund Gillett; Recorder and Treasurer, William Woodward; Sheriff, John Harlow; Prosecuting Attorney, M.V. Burdick.
So to speak, the County Judge was ex-officio, the County Government, by reason of authority vested in him by the statute, giving him control of all matters of revenue and assessment, as the supervisor system was not established until 1860.  The first recognized seat of justice for Howard County was located at Vernon Springs by the County Judge, in 1856.  It was moved to Howard Center in the Spring of 1857.  In December, 1858, the county seat contest was again inaugurated, and the District Judge appointed M.V. Burdick, Mr. Holbrook, and George Bronson commissioners to locate the future seat of justice, which Messrs. Holbrook and Bronson proceeded to do, Mr. Burdick not serving.  They located it about midway between Vernon Springs and New Oregon, on a bluff, since known as Court House Hill.  Here, as had been done previously at Vernon Springs, New Oregon, and Howard Center, the court house was furnished by volunteer aid.  This at Court House Hill was built of basswood, and not until it became so rotten as to be unsafe, in the Spring of 1865, was it changed, when the seat of the County Government was moved to Vernon Springs, where a building was furnished as a court house.  In 1867 the Board of County Supervisors transferred the county seat to Cresco, where it now remains.  The stone building it now occupies was furnished by the citizens of Cresco.
To return to the settlement of Howard County.  In 1856, H.D. Noble settled on the farm on which his family still resides, in Vernon Springs Township, and became a prominent settler.  During this year many others came to the county and settled permanently.  The severe winter of 1856-7, and the financial panic that was prevalent all over the United States, stopped, to a great extent, the influx of immigration to this county.  In 1860 it revived again; but in 1861 the great civil strife came on.  In 1866 the tide of immigration again turned westward, and with the construction of the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad through Howard County, hundreds came to settle and make homes in this county, and a steady growth has since continued and will continue until its highly valuable agricultural advantages have all been improved.

WINTER OF 1856-7

During the severity of the Winter of 1856, in December, four men started with a team from Oregon Grove for Granger.  The parties were Oliver Arnold, two men named Eddy and Carpenter, and the fourth, name not known.  When about one and a half miles from the present Town of Cresco, it is supposed they had lost the road and turned into a little oak grove.  Here Eddy and Carpenter said they would return to Edmund Gillett's place, about a mile distant.  They started on a direct line, but with blowing snow, difficult walking, and benumbered by cold, they became bewildered, lost their direction, and turned south into a grove, where the Town of Cresco now stands, and here they perished.  The two others of the party unhitched the horses, leaving them to their own will.  Waiting until evening for the expected return of Eddy and Carpenter, who did not put in an appearance, they started on foot for Zeke Miner's, about a mile distant on the road to Granger.  As soon as the horses were loosed they made direct for Mr. Gillett's, where they safely arrived.  The storm was so severe the following day that it was impossible to search for the owners of the team, but on the Monday succeeding the Saturday evening upon which the horses arrived, Mr. Gillett notified James Siddall, and they started in search, following the train as best they could find it by digging down through the loose snow to where the horses had broken the crust, and after a tedious journey found the sleigh, and also Messrs, Miner and Stowe, who told them that the other two men were missing.  Messrs. Gillett, Siddall, and Miner commenced search, taking turns in the lead, and tramping the snow, which was at least four feet deep on the level, and about half a mile distant from the sleigh found the body of Eddy.  Carpenter had wandered off about a mile and a half farther, where he perished; but his body was not found until the next Spring, after the snow went off.


The first mill in the county was a saw mill at Vernon Springs on Turkey River, built by George Sprague in 1853.  In 1855, A.H. Harris added to it a grist mill.

The first Board of County Supervisors, elected in the Fall of 1860, was as follows:  John W. Baird, S.L. Carey, J.H. Baggess, G.W. Ostrander, T.R. Perry; T. Griffin, S.W. Seeley, S. Radford, M. Niles, C.M. Munson, W. Strother, and C.A. Salamon.

The first term of the District Court was held in Howard Center, in John F. Ayres' hall, June, 1857, by Judge Samuel Murdock.

The first man naturalized was Joseph Schafer, at the same term of the District Court.

The first marriage (of record) was Edmund Gillett to Miss Helen Barber, February 21, 1856.

The first County Auditor was D.O. Preston, in 1869.

The first store in the county was at Vernon Springs, by Miller, in 1854.

The first school taught was by Harriet Cole at Oregon Grove, in a log school house, in 1854.  She is still engaged in teaching in this county.

The first church in the county was by the Congregational Society, organized under the influence of Reverend John W. Windsor at New Oregon.

The first post master in the county was S.M. Cole, and the office was at his house in New Oregon Township, three miles south of the present site of Cresco, where he still resides.

The first flour made in the county was at Foreston.

The first hotel in the county was the old stage house and stopping place at New Oregon, kept by S.M. Cole, who was agent for M.O. Walker's line of stages.

The first newspaper in the county was established at New Oregon, February 18th, 1858, and named the Howard County Sentinel.  It was owned by the Howard County Printing Association, of which the President was S.M. Cole; Vice President, D.D. Sabin; Treasurer, M.M. Moon; Secretary, W.R. Mead; Directors, James G. Upton, J.F. Mitchell, J.S. Lawyer, E.W. Allen, Geo W. Scofield, C.M. Munson, and J.J. Clemmer; J. Howard Field, Editor.  This gentleman is at present on the editorial staff of the Chicago Journal.  The paper was a seven-column journal, thoroughly independent of party, creed, or religion.  Early in the year 1859 the Sentinel office and its contents were burned, and the association dissolved.

The second paper in the county was a rival of the Sentinel, established at Vernon Springs, by Harrison & Peek, and called the North Iowa Gazette.  It was a seven column sheet, and first appeared March 26, 1858; Democratic in politics.  It expired in less than a year.

Immediately upon the dissolution of the Howard County Printing Association, after the burning of the Sentinel office, the New Oregon Plaindealer was started by H. Lick and W.R. Mead, the former as publisher, the latter as editor.  It subsequently became the Iowa Plaindealer, published at Cresco, as elsewhere described.

For this history of early newspapers in Howard county, the writer is under obligations to Mr. S.M. Cole, who has all the first numbers.


This flourishing young city is surrounded by far-stretching and rich prairies, the beauty of which is only exceeded by their high value as a rich productive district.  The country, for a radius of from twenty to thirty miles, finds a market and transportation at Cresco, by means of the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, and is a large contributor to this line, in the extent of its shipments.    It is well laid out, the streets wide and roomy, Market street being particularly well adapted to the uses intended, and suggested by its name.  Elm, the principal business street of the town, runs at right angles with Market street, and parallel with the railroad, and is lined by warehouses, ten in number, and on this street also stands Bassett, Hunting & Co.'s steam elevator.  The buildings or business houses do not present a very attractive appearance on the outside, but inside they are large and roomy, and adapted to the purposes intended.  It should be borne in mind that it is only eight years since the town was laid off.   A better class of buildings will succeed them ere long.  The town contains some very fine residences.
Cresco is fortunate in its location.  The Davenport & St. Paul Railroad route at this point makes a junction with the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, and although not at present completed, there is enough of it already in operation to make it quite well settled that the road will be completed and running through the county at an early day.


Of this, very little need or can be said.  The town sprang up so suddenly that we can only make mention of the land on which it is located, which was purchased from the United States government in 1853, and opened up as a farm by one Barber.  In 1854 it was sold to Martin L. Shook, and was for many years known as "Shook's Grove."  In Aprio, 1866, it was purchased by Augustus Beadle, who in the following month sold an interest to Wm. B. Strong and B.H. Edgerton, and a portion of the property was platted into village lots.  Then commenced the rapid growth which has continued until it has become a town of considerable importance.
According to the census returned by the corporation assessor for 1875, it has a population of 1,500.


The shipments for 1874 by the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, at this station, were as follows:  Wheat, 505,338 bushels; oats, 41,157 bushels; barley, 33, 122 bushels; corn, 785 bushels; flour, 3,451 barrels; grass seed, 8,080 pounds; hides, 97, 460 pounds; livestock, 200,000 pounds; live hogs, 276,000; dressed hogs, 365,590 pounds; eggs, 7,250 pounds; butter, 94, 320 pounds; poultry 5,830 pounds; horses, 18,020 pounds; miscellaneous, 723,650 pounds.  Total number of pounds, including grain shipments, 35, 798,630.
Cresco was incorporated in 1868, and at an election April 20, 1868, the following officers were chosen:  Mayor, Issac Gregory; Recorder, W.R. Mead; Attorney, Henry Widner; Treasurer, B. Chapin; Trustees, L.T. Woodcock, J.J. Clemmer, John C. Clark and John E. Peck.
The present officers, elected April 20, 1875, are as follows:  Mayor, J.F. Webster; Recorder, Henry Widner; Treasurer, H. Clark; Attorney, H.C. McCarty; Trustees, H.E. Crandall, John E. Peck, G.W. Coon, Fred. Miller and Jacob Lowry.


The Iowa Plaindealer was started at New Oregon, Howard County, in the year 1859, as a Democratic weekly journal, by W.R. & F.J. Mead.  It continued there successfully until Cresco absorbed the town and its business, when it was transferred to Cresco in 1867.  The first number issued at Cresco was on May 26th of that year.  It has been since regularly issued at this place from the office it at present occupies.   In politics it remained Democratic until the Presidential campaign of 1872, when it assumed an independent-liberal doctrine and supported Horace Greeley, since which time it has been and yet is independent of political parties.  It has a circulation of 950 copies, and is well conducted.  It has a good job office in connection with the newspaper department.  W.R. Mead, editor, and W.R. & F.J. Mead, publishers and proprietors.
The Howard County Times was established in Cresco, January 20, 1867, by F.C. Wood and Frank Mix, editors and proprietors, as a seven column folio, Republican in politics, and has continued so during its whole history.  August 22, 1867, Mr. Wood sold his interest to Mr. Mix, until its purchase by I.A. Hoxie, who sold it to W.N. Burdick, who, April 1, 1872, sold it to W.M. Fogo and W.W. White, who conducted it until April 1, 1873.  Mr. White sold his interest to Mr. Smith, since which time L.E. Smith has been sole editor and proprietor.  The name has been changed from The Cresco Times to its present name.  The Times is claimed to have the largest circulation of any paper in the country, as counted by the county board of supervisors.  The office has a full line of presses, type and printers' stock, and is prepared to do all classes of job work.
The People's Representative, a weekly, eight-column paper, Republican in politics, with a circulation of 700 copies, Geo. F. Crouch, editor and proprietor.  This paper was established as a seven-column paper in 1873.


The first school in Cresco was taught in the building now occupied as a private residence by Mrs. Bateman.  The upright of the present large stone public school building was erected in the Summer of 1869, at a cost of about $8,000.  The wing part was added in the Summer of 1874, at a cost of about $4,000.  This school is well conducted under the able management of the  principal, L.T. Weld, and five assistant teachers.


Kimball & Farnsworth--As early in the history of Cresco as 1868 the banking house of Kimball & Farnsworth was established, with a capital giving it sufficient financial strength to average with $50,000 national banks.  This bank has a very good location on Elm Street.
A. D. Wright--In August, 1873, the banking house of A.D. Wright was established, which continues with a capital of $50,000.  It is located on Market Street.


One of the institutions of Cresco, is the steam elevator of Bassett, Hunting & Co.  It was built in 1872, at a cost of $17,000.  It has a storing capacity of 50,000 bushels.  It has steam power for elevating grain, and the large amounts received and shipped, keep it running almost constantly.


This is one of the most successful organizations of the kind in Northern Iowa.  It was organized in 1872.  At that time it purchased eighty acres of land situated about one mile from Cresco, enclosed it, and completed one of the best mile tracks in the State.  This society is not entirely out of debt, but its liabilities are insignificant in comparison with its assets.  It is managed by a board of directors who choose its officers from among their own number.


Charles Best, an exhorter of the Methodist Church, settled in the northern part of the county in 1855, and commenced holding meetings in a sparsely settled neighborhood, and organized the first class in the county, at Foreston.  In 1856, Reverend G.W. Fall, now a resident of Cresco, a local preacher, settled near Vernon Springs.  In 1857, he organized classes at Vernon Springs and other points, which were immediately formed into a circuit, called "New Oregon Circuit."  In 1866, preaching was commenced in Cresco, and this soon became the central point of the circuit.  In 1870, Cresco was made a station, and the other appointments were attached to other circuits.
The first Methodist Church built in Cresco was completed in 1866.  It is a neat wood structure capable of seating about 300 people.  It cost about $3,000.
The organization of a Congregational Church Society in Howard County was first made September 7, 1856, by Reverend J.W. Windsor, with sixteen members, at Oregon Grove.  It is now known as the Congregational Church of Cresco.  In May, 1861, Messrs. Windsor, Sabin, and Clemmer were appointed by the Church as a committee to superintend the construction of a church in New Oregon.  The building was completed and dedicated at a cost of $1,000, November 17, 1861.  At that time the membership numbered 44.  In 1869, the building was moved to Cresco, enlarged by adding twelve feet front and a belfry, and the church was reorganized.
The first organization of the Catholic denomination in Howard County was at New Oregon, the date of which is not positively known.  The present organization was instituted by the Reverend M.A. McCarty, the present priest, in 1871.  The present church building 24x48 feet, was erected in 1872, at a cost of $3,000.  The church also owns a parsonage here, which has been built at a cost of $2,200.
The Episcopal Church Society was organized under the name of Grace Church, July 20, 1867.  The rector was Reverend J. Rambo.  Their church structure was erected in 1868.  Its size is 24x34 feet, capable of seating one hundred and fifty persons.  The cost of the building was $2,200, most of which was contributed by friends of that denomination in the East.  The bell was presented to the society by Jay Cooke, of Philadelphia.  The society owns also a very pleasant parsonage.


LIMES SPRING STATION--Next to Cresco in importance is Lime Springs Station, both in population and business.  It is situated on the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, in Forest City Township.  The settlement of this township was commenced at Lime Springs, a town about a mile north of the station, in 1854, by A.D.C. Knowlton and Joseph Knowlton, and Charles S. Thurber.  When the railroad was completed through the township of Forest City, it went just far enough from the old town to kill it.  Lime Springs Station has grown up rapidly, by reason of the excellent market afforded for the productions of the surrounding country.  The following is a statement of the shipments for 1874, by railroad:  Wheat, 246,944 bushels; barley, 14,335 bushels; oats, 8,001 bushels; flour, 3,574 barrels; dressed hogs, 73,500 pounds; miscellaneous freight, 424,460 pounds.  Total number of pounds, including grain shipments, 16,973,530.  The population of Lime Springs Station is 562.  Lime Springs has a population of 235.
Chester, Foreston, Florenceville, Saratoga, Howard Center, New Oregon, Busti, are post office villages.  Cheser being on the line of railroad, is the largest.

Source: A. T. Andreas; Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa. 1875. Published by the Andreas Atlas Co. Lakeside Building Chicago, Ills., County History. 1875

Submitted and Transcribed by Roseanna Zehner
29 Nov 2003