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Abandoned Towns and Village 
Franklin, Formerly Known as Franklin Centre

Germans from Hesse Darmstadt and Bavaria (Southern Germany) Settle Franklin

The little town of Franklin Centre, now known as Franklin, is located near the geographical center of Lee County. It was laid out in 1840 with the land donated by three different men, one of whom was John Brown out of Virginia. Most of the residents who own their homes find his name on their abstract today. He was the first postmaster and always kept the mail in his stove pipe hat sitting on the dresser. It cost 12 cents to send a letter at that time, postage collected on delivery; many settlers could not pay it so the postmaster generally gave them the letter anyway and took it out of his own pocket.

Franklin was selected as the proposed county seat in 1840 but lost this honor to Ft. Madison in an 1841 election. When the railroad was being planned through Lee County, Franklin was asked to donate $500 for the building of a depot but officials refused and Franklin Station and the line were laid out to miss the town by two miles. Despite not having the railroad pass through the town, Franklin still grew in size.

During 1837 and 1838, land sales for Lee County were held at the courthouse in Burlington. Eighty acres of land could be purchased for one hundred dollars. The first house in Franklin Centre was built by Thomas Douglas in 1859.

The settlers who came to this part of Lee County were mostly Germans of the Mennonite, Evangelical, and Catholic faiths. They came with the goal of owning property and making a better life for themselves and their children. They were hard workers and craftsmen. In 1856 the first church was erected by the Evangelical congregation, and in 1868 the Mennonites built their fine structure. The Catholics that came to Lee County did not settle right in Franklin but located a few miles north in West Point.

If you were to go to Franklin in 1860, with the population of about 2,500 people you would see a thriving village with horses and buggies lined up along the city square. Many of the houses were built of limestone cut from the quarry just east of town. A.C. Greener owned the quarry and he also cut tombstones, but never when there were children standing around asking questions, as he could not concentrate on names and dates.

The town had two flour mills, the first sawmill, and a woolen mill where fabric was made. There were a brewery, a wagon shop, barrel or cooper shops, a drug store, and a saddlery; Arthur Graham made Graham chairs and rockers which are rarely found today and very valuable if found. August Fye had an undertaker’s parlor on the northeast corner of the square with a barber shop beside it where he cut hair. He became well to do and left money to the German Church and other organizations.

The two-story, limestone school was erected in 1873 and seated as many as 160 students. It is still standing over 130 years later, in excellent condition; the upper floor is a replica of a school of that day and the bottom floor is used for meetings of city officials. The German churches also supported denominational schools and according to the census of 1875, Franklin boasted that every child of the age of 14 in the village could read and write. According to the 2000 census, there were 136 people living in Franklin.

Information on Franklin is extracted from a genealogy department scrapbook on Franklin, reminiscences of Franklin residents, 1887 Portrait and Biographical Album of Lee County, and the History of Lee County 1879.


Researched, transcribed and submitted by Erma DeRosear


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