Winnebago County
History 1903


WINNEBAGO COUNTY lies on the Minnesota line about midway between the east and west boundaries of the State. It was at one time a part of the old county of Fayette but in 1851 was created by act of the General Assembly with present boundaries and named for the Indian tribe that at one time occupied a portion of northern Iowa.

The county contains nearly twelve congressional townships, making an area of four hundred three square miles and was at different times attached to the counties of Polk, Boone and Webster.

The first white settler within the limits of Winnebago was George W. Thomas who, early in 1855, took a claim and opened a farm at Rice Lake. On the 27th of September of the same year John Mabin made a claim on the east side of Lime Creek where Forest City stands. P. Tennis, J. Gilchrist and J. C. Bonar arrived during the summer of 1856 and Robert Clark, John S. Blowers, A. T. Cole, Henry Allen, J. L. Hitt and others settled in the southern part of the county with their families. In the fall of the same year Samuel Tennis, Archibald Murray and William Gilbert made homes in the northern part of the county. In 1857 several Norwegian families arrived and from year to year many of their countrymen joined them, making a large settlement of that nationality.

Most of the early settlers made their homes in the groves along Lime Creek which were numerous and abounded in game. This stream is a tributary of Shellrock River and affords good water power. Twin Lakes and Rice Lake in the eastern part of the county are clear and beautiful sheets of water. The greater part of the land of Winnebago west of Lime Creek is rolling prairie of great fertility.

In the fall of 1856 Judge Robert Clark laid out a town on the west bank of Lime Creek, half a mile from the south line of the county, which was named Forest City. A post-office was established of which Mr. Clark was post-master. He built a mill on the creek and opened a store.

The county was organized in the fall of 1857 by the election of the following officers: Robert Clark, judge; C. H. Day, recorder and treasurer; B. F. Dinslow, clerk; John S. Blowers, sheriff, and C. W. Scott, superintendent of schools. In 1858 the commissioners chosen to locate the county-seat gave it to Forest City.

On the 14th of June, 1867, J. W. Kelley issued the first number of a weekly newspaper named the Winnebago Press. It was printed on an old hand press which was first used at Belmont when that town was the Capital of Wisconsin and Iowa. It was moved to Burlington in 1837 and used to print the second paper established within the limits of the Territory which became Iowa in 1838 and is reported to have done good service on papers at Osage, Mason City and Ellington before it was taken to Forest City.

In the fall of 1869 the village of Lake Mills was laid out by Charles D. Smith where a large mill was built.

-source: History of Iowa From Its Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century 1903
-transcribed by Debbie Clough Gerischer
-used with permission of the Iowa History Project & Debbie Clough Gerischer

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