Winnebago County History
from the
A.T. Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875



Winnebago County is the middle one of the northern tier of counties in the state. It contains a superficial area of about 400 square miles, equal to 256,000 acres. The largest and most important stream of water flowing through the county is Lime Creek, a tributary of Shellrock River. It is from sixty to one hundred feet in width, of good depth, and affords good water power for mills. There are several small but very pretty lakes. Two of these, located near together, are called Twin Lakes. Rice Lake embraces an area of about one square mile. The water in these little lakes is always clear and pure. Good well water is obtained by digging from ten to twenty-five feet, and springs are found along all the streams.

The greater portion of the county is undulating or rolling prairie. The southeast part is somewhat broken, but is well timbered. The west half is rolling prairie, with very little timber, but excellent soil. The soil is a dark loam, with some sand, rendering it very productive. The county contains considerable timber land, mostly in the eastern half, bordering on Lime Creek. Near the center of the county there is a fine body of timber called "Coon Grove," a considerable proportion of which is black walnut. No stone quarries have been opened, the stone used for foundations being the boulders found on the prairies, along the streams and about the borders of the lakes. Among them are found limestones which are used in the manufacture of quicklime. Good material for brick is obtained in sufficient abundance. The county contains at least two thousand acres of good peat land, some of the beds being at least six feet in depth. These beds of peat are mostly situated in the parts of the county least favored with timber. The dry rolling prairie usually comes up to the very borders of the peat marshes, so that they are in no way prejudicial to the health of the region where they are situated.


The earliest white settler of Winnebago County was George W. Thomas, who located on the north side of Rice Lake, in 1855. John Maben with his family moved into the county September 27,1855, taking a claim on the east side of Lime Creek, near where Forest City is now located. J. Gilchrist, J. C. Bonar and P. Tennis came the same season. Thomas Bearas took a claim near that of Mr. Maben the same Fall, but did not remain a permanent settler. John T. McMillan came also and took a claim, but soon returned to Mason City. During the Summer of 1856, the following with their families also settled, in the southeast part of the county; Robert Clark, John S. Blowers, A. T. Cole, Henry Allen, James L. Hitt, Robert Stephens, Ira Plummer and Daniel Martin. Cole, Clark and Blowers still reside in the county. In the Fall of 1856, a settlement was commenced in the northern part of the county, by Samuel Tennis, Archibald Murray and William Gilbert. Somewhat later came Charles D. Smith, William Porter, John and Lewis S. Anderson. In 1857, the nucleus was formed of the large settlement of Norwegians now in the county by the following persons with their families; Oliver Peterson, Colburn Larson, John Johnson. H. J. Knudson, John Iverson, Christian Anderson, Louis Nelson, and perhaps two or three other families. This Norwegian settlement received no further accessions until 1865, after which it increased very rapidly. A settlement at "Coon Grove" was commenced in 1867, by John Millington. Previous to this time, the settlements were confined to the vicinity of the groves along Lime Creek. They now extend to nearly all parts of the county.


The heavy groves bordering Lime Creek at the time of the early settlement of the county were prolific in game of different kinds, and many a fine deer from time to time replenished the larder of the pioneer. One evening in January, 1856, Thomas Bearas, was returning home after an unsuccessful chase after a fat buck, when within a mile of his cabin, and not exceeding a mile and a half from the place where Forest City is now located, his attention was attracted by a rustling of the dry leaves and bushes near him. He raised his gun in readiness for a shot, when an enormous black bear presented himself in full view. In the excitement of the moment he fired wide of the mark, while bruin made a charge upon him. Dropping his gun, Mr. Bearas seized his knife and prepared for the contest. The fierce animal sprang at him with open jaws, crushing him to the earth and rolling completely over him. As the hunter fell, he plunged the knife to the hilt into the body of the bear. This only enraged the animal more, and the contest continued, until at last the knife did its fatal work, and the bear rolled over dead, after twenty-four wounds had been inflicted. Mr. Bearas was fearfully lacerated and fainted from exhaustion, but in a short time recovered sufficient strength to crawl to the edge of the timber, where he was found by one of his neighbors and taken home. In due time he recovered from his wounds.


The county was organized in the Fall of 1857, the following being the first county officers elected; Robert Clark, County Judge; C. H. Day, Treasurer and Recorder; B. F. Denslow, Clerk of the District Court; John S. Blowers, Sheriff; and C. W. Scott, Superintendent of Schools and Surveyor. The county seat was located in October, 1858, by the following Commissioners appointed by the Legislature; T. E. Brown, of Polk County; Dr. William Church, of Webster County; and Dr. William Farmer, of Boone County. The commissioners, after making examination of the different localities proposed, finally made selection of the east half of the northeast quarter of section 35, township 98, range 24, where in the Fall of 1857, Robert Clark had laid out the town of Forest City.

The first newspaper in the county was the Winnebago Press, the initial number of which appeared June 14, 1867, at Forest City, with J. W. Kelly as editor and proprietor. In September of the same year, he sold out to Arthur Linn and J. C. Harwood, since which time it has passed through various changes of ownership. The press on which this paper was first printed, has an eventful history. It was first used at Belmont, Wisconsin, when Iowa was known as the Territory of Wisconsin, and afterwards at Burlington, and was used for printing the second paper within the limits of Iowa, in the Spring of 1837. Afterwards this venerable "Foster Patent" started on a tour of service through the eastern and northern portions of the state, and we hear of it at Osage, at Mason City, and at Ellington, Hancock County, before it reached Forest City.


H. K. LANDRU, Auditor.
O. T. SEVERS, Clerk of Courts.
ROBERT CLARK, Treasurer.
E. L. STILSON, Recorder.
WM. W. OLMSTED, Supt. of Common Schools.
V. A. JONES, Coroner.



This is the county seat of Winnebago County, and is located on the west bank of Lime Creek, a half mile from the southern boundary of the county. It is on high and rolling ground, mostly prairie, but protected on the east and northeast by extensive groves of timber. Towards the west and south the broad prairie stretches its undulating surface as far as the eye can reach. The town was laid out by Judge Robert Clark in the Fall of 1856. Mr. Clark erected a saw mill, the first in the county, in the Fall of 1856, and about the same time opened the first store in the county. A post office was established here in 1857, with Mr. Clark as post master. In 1861 the original court house building was erected, which was subsequently improved. In the Summer of 1873 the graded school building (three stories high) was erected. It is a good substantial structure, and is ornamental as well as indicative of the intellectual taste of the citizens. The Norwegian Methodist Church, built about the same time, is a neat and substantial edifice. Forest City has now some good business houses, and a fair local trade. The Winnebago Press was first established by Will Kelly, June 14, 1867. It is now under the editorial management of Colonel A. H. Chase, and is issued weekly, being now called The Winnebago Summit. Forest City has a prosperous lodge of Masons.


This place is located about fifteen miles northeast of Forest City near the north end of Rice Lake. It is situated in a grove of timber, and surrounded by a region well adapted to farming and stock raising. The village was laid out in the Fall of 1869, by Charles D. Smith. A post office was established here in the Spring of 1867, with S. D. Wadsworth as post master. The same year S. D. Wadsworth and C. D. Smith erected a steam grist mill, and connected with it a saw mill and wool carding machine. On the 31st of August, 1871, the buildings were burned, the loss being estimated at $15,000. A new and larger steam grist mill was soon erected. A store was opened by Mr. Wadsworth in the Fall of 1867. A fine two-story school house was burned, but the people of the village had the energy to recover from their misfortunes. Lake Mills has several stores and a weekly newspaper, the Independent Herald, ably conducted by M. Halvorsen, at this time the youngest journalist in Iowa.


This village is located in township 99, range 24. It is on the east side of Lime Creek, about six miles north of Forest City. A body of timber adjoins the town. It was laid out by J. B. Hill in the Summer of 1867, and a post office established the same year, with Mr. Hill as post master. The line of railroad from Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Wells, Minnesota, was surveyed and partly graded some three years since. When completed it will open up direct communication with the coal-fields of Central Iowa on the south, and the pineries of the north. The former saw mill of Robert Clerk is now being converted into a flouring mill with three run of burrs, which will add materially to the manufacturing interests of the county. The moral and intelligent citizens of this county have made provision for the wants of the present population by the erection of good comfortable school buildings and church edifices. Of these the public school and the Norwegian Methodist Church in Forest City compare favorably with any of the newly settled counties of the state.

-source: A.T. Andreas Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa, 1875
-transcribed by Pat Wahl

1875 Winnebago County Business Directory
1875 Winnebago County Patrons Directory

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