The 1850’s in Iowa City. The Keokuk Whig wrote in 1854: “Still they come!By railways and steamers, the flood of immigration continues pouring into the great West. The lake-shore roads are crowded to their utmost capacity; single trains of fourteen or fifteen cars, all full of men, women, and a large sprinkling of children, are almost daily arriving at Chicago. The Ohio River steamers are crowded in the same way.” And while Iowa City wasn’t everyone’s final destination, many did stay. Here are just a few.
The Boller Farms – 1853. Recently we discovered a rare surveyors map of Iowa drawn up in October, 1852. This map, which now hangs in my office, gives a wonderful overview of the Iowa our Boller family moved to from Ohio in 1853.
Johnson County Schools & the Boller Family. During the second half of the nineteenth century, most schools in Iowa were one-room schoolhouses. Here’s a neat Boller story connected to School #7 in Johnson County, Iowa.
Louis Englert – Iowa City’s Bavarian Beer Man. In 1853, calling on his Bavarian heritage, Louis Englert opened The Englert City Brewery, Iowa City’s first brewery. Operating his new business out of a basement on Market Street, beer production was a whopping ten barrels per day, using a Brobdingnagian kettle of brass, all carefully brewed in Louis’ modestly-equipped kitchen. Come read more about this name you might recognize: Englert – a big family that made a big impression on our fair community of Iowa City.
Josias & Christiana Ritter – Iowa City Church Planters. In 1856, the good people of German Lutheran heritage in Iowa City decided they wanted a church community to call their own. They summoned a German man from Strümpfelbach to help them and over the next two years the church that became Zion Lutheran in Iowa City had its humble beginnings. Our 1857 Letter: Marie Strübel in Germany to Nannie (Christiana) Ritter in Iowa City.
Heinrich Wehrs – Frontier Pastor. Soon after Josias Ritter got the German Lutheran church in Iowa City established in 1856, others came to build on what God started. Fellow German pastor, Henirich Wehrs, came to town in 1862, becoming a circuit-rider, traveling a 200-mile ministry circle near Iowa City before settling in as pastor of Zion Lutheran from 1863-1866.
Johann F. Doescher – Breaking Down Walls That Divide. This story completes the triad of Ritter, Wehrs, and Doescher: three German-born pastors who all came to Iowa City for a short time, establishing in one decade (1856-1866) the solid foundation of Zion’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church, which later became Zion Lutheran in Iowa City. Maybe the most inspiring story belongs to Johann Doescher, a young man with a true heart to care for souls, regardless of one’s ethnic or racial background.
George H. Yewell – Iowa City’s Pioneer Artist. Eleven-year-old George Yewell came to Iowa City with his widower mother to live with family, and over the next decade, George fell in love with his new hometown. At age 17, he began his journals of both words and art, sketching Iowa City scenes along the way, and by the 1850’s, this artist was well on his way to becoming recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, but this Hawkeye never lost his love for Iowa, leaving us with a valuable portfolio of Iowa City sketches – some of the earliest pictures we have of our beloved hometown.
Isaac A. Wetherby – One Artist with Many Dreams. In the mid-1850’s, one young man from Boston came to Iowa City to set up shop on Clinton Street across the street from Old Capitol. He billed himself as a portrait painter and photographer and as a result, gave us our earliest known photographs of Iowa City.
Celebrating The Iowa State Fair. Iowans have always had a special way of celebrating life. In 1854, the good people of The Hawkeye State held their first State Fair in Fairfield. And only in 1898, WW II, and 2020 did the Fair not happen, continuing now for nearly 175 years. Heck, even Rodgers & Hammerstein celebrated our Iowa State Fair with a musical.
The ‘Woke’ Abolitionist & Keeper Of The Fair. Did you know that in the late 1850’s, Republicans were the “woke” party, with thousands of young voters joining “Wide-Awake” chapters in nearly every county of every Northern “Free” state? It’s this awakened generation that played a huge part in electing a relatively-unknown senator from Illinois, named Abraham Lincoln, to be the 16th President of the U.S. Here in Iowa, brave abolitionists like Dr. J.M. Shaffer of Fairfield helped set the pace for such radical change, and by the way – Dr. Shaffer was also the key leader that helped pull together Iowa’s very first State Fair!
Iowa City – The Railroad. On January 1, 1856, Iowa City changed forever. The long-awaited railroad finally arrived. Now everything, including the way we send and receive communication with others, suddenly took a huge step forward. Come read the full story – all aboard!
The Rock Island Iowa City Depot. In preparation for the coming of the railroad, the good people of Iowa City built a small depot at the south end of Johnson Street. While there are no known pictures of this depot, it faithfully served Iowa Citians until 1898, when it was replaced by the Rock Island depot that still stands today.
1857 – A Capitol Moving Day. From day one of statehood in 1846, there were those who wanted to see Iowa’s capital moved westward. Finally, in 1857, a deal was cut. The capitol would go to Des Moines while the university was exclusively secured for Iowa City. As one newspaper writer quipped, “Des Moines can have the politicians, we’ll take the professors!” Come read this “moving” story.