Our Iowa Heritage: The 1850’s in Iowa City.

“A Distant View of Iowa City” (from the north) as sketched by George H. Yewell in 1855. Click here to read more about George H. Yewell.
In 1854, a map of Iowa City was compiled and drawn by J. H. Millar. It featured twelve amazing sketches created by Iowa City artist, George H. Yewell.
Click here to read more about George Yewell and to view all twelve of his amazing sketches.
Click here for more early maps of Iowa City.
Click here to read about H.D. Downey & the CS&D Bankers – publisher of this beautiful map.
This etching of Clinton Street (looking south) by George H. Yewell was published on the Iowa City map (above). The building at far left is the Workman Building, the 1872 location of the St. James Hotel.
Click here to read more about George H. Yewell.
Click here to read more about Clinton Street in the 1850’s.
…from Iowa As It Is, N. Howe Parker, 1855, p53.

Parker continues… To the above, add the crowds who ascend the Mississippi and Missouri upon every boat, of whom as many as 600 have passed St. Louis in one day!

This etching of The State Capitol by George H. Yewell was published on the 1854 Iowa City map. Click here to read more about George H. Yewell.
Isaac Wetherby photograph – August 1854.
Isaac Wetherby photograph – September 1854 – Second Annual Iowa State Fair.
Isaac Wetherby photograph – October 1854.
Click here to read more about Wetherby.
Click here to read more about Clinton Street in the 1850’s.
Isaac Wetherby photograph – Clinton Street – fall 1854.

Iowa City is growing rapidly.

The editor of the Keokuk Whig addresses the amazing growth of Iowa…

“ 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. On Friday last, two steamers brought into St. Louis some 600 passengers; most of whom, being destined for the northwest, have already passed through this place. And still they come, from Pennsylvania, from Ohio, Indiana, and other States, until, by the size of this exodus, that of the Israelites becomes an insignificant item, and the greater migrations of later times are scarcely to be mentioned. Whether the older States are suffering by this rapid depletion, or how long they can endure it, is their own look-out. Certain it is that Iowa in particular,and the other Western and Northwestern States generally are rapidly filling up with a hardy, industrious and wealth-producing population. Let them come! Here is room, and to spare! Here is a theatre for human operations on the grandest scale! Here is the place for the young man, just starting out in life, for the old man, seeking to provide for his children, for all sorts of men, in search of fortune, fame, or wealth; for anyone, also, who has an eye and a soul for Nature in her grandest forms of lavish profusion and splendid magnificence.”

…from Iowa As It Is, N. Howe Parker, 1855, p58-59.
Circa 1857 – Banking House on the SE corner of Clinton & Washington Streets. Designed by architect Willett L. Carroll, this three-story building replaced a smaller framed structure in 1856. According to the Daily Evening Reporter (Aug. 12, 1856), the foundations of the “Banking House are laying deep and broad, worthy to support what is destined to be the finest edifice in the interior of Iowa.” This location became known around Iowa City as the Bank Corner by the late 1850s, according to Gerald Mansheim’s book “Iowa City: An Illustrated History,” as the building stood across from University Square with its domed capitol, symbolizing the city’s prosperity and permanence, even though state leaders moved the capitol to Des Moines in 1857. In 1872, Samuel J. Kirkwood and other leading citizens organized the Johnson County Savings Bank at this location, and in 1912, this pre-Civil War building was replaced with a taller one now occupied by Midwest One bank. Click here to read about H.D. Downey & the CS&D Bankers who built this building.

This is a rare 1857 ambrotype, probably developed by Isaac Wetherby, who used this photographic process that produces a one-of-a-kind image from a wet-plate negative on glass, which is made to look positive with a black backing. Ambrotype photography was invented in the early 1850s as a more viable, less expensive alternative to daguerreotypes. Read more about Isaac Wetherby here.
Downtown Iowa City in 1854.

Here are just a few letters to and from folks in Iowa City during the 1850’s…

(C-0026) Circa 1855 – Postmarked December 8 in Iowa City.
(C-0027) 1855 – Stamp-less postal cover postmarked in Iowa City on September 29 (1855). Dr. Dwight Carlos Dewey, was born December 17, 1824 in Turin, New York. In 1849, Dwight went to medical school in Buffalo, New York, where he attended lectures by Austin Flint and Corydon La Ford, two of the most renowned doctors of their time. In 1855, Dwight Dewey moved his practice from New York Mills, New York, to Keokuk, Iowa, and later to Iowa City. He accepted a post as assistant physician at the newly established Iowa Mental Hospital in Mt. Pleasant in March 1861, and stayed until 1865, when he moved to Washington, D.C. He practiced there for a brief time before returning to Turin, New York. Dewey married Mary Hart on October 20, 1868. He died in Turin, New York, in 1875.

Read more about “stamp-less” mail and how postage rates were determined.
(C-0028) Circa 1856-1858 This decorative postal cover is addressed to William F. Johnston, Esq. in Iowa City, Iowa, hand-postmarked in Blue Earth City Township in Faribault County, Minnesota. 
1857 William F Johnston
Born in Mt. Pleasant, PA in 1833, William F. Johnston learned the trade of carpentering from his father and pursued that business for several years. He then took up merchandising and for two years was employed as a salesman in his native town. In 1856, accompanied by two companions, he started Westward to Portage City, Wisconsin. After a few months, however, they left Portage, with one going to Minnesota (the author of our letter?), and the other two to Iowa. At Iowa City, Johnston was offered a clerkship in a store, but concluded that advancement in that position would not be very rapid so returned to his trade, working for $2 per day, his tools being furnished him by the contractors. In the fall he again began clerking, continuing that business until 1858, when he came to Toledo (Tama County) where he became a very highly respected member of the community.
109-1859- #26
(C-0029) This postal cover, postmarked November 21, 1859 (from “Mother” Catherine Paxson Darlington) in West Chester, PA., is addressed to Stephen P. Darlington, Iowa City, Iowa. The latter “arrived November 24, 1859” and was “answered November 27.”
Stephen Paxson Darlington (1836-1915) was born in Chester County, PA, and relocated to Iowa City, with wife Josephine Lewis Darlington (1836-1910) where they had 3 children. In September 1868, cousins invited him back to West Chester where he became a partner of Hoopes Brothers & Darlington Wheel Works. Both Stephen and Josephine are buried in Oaklands Cemetery in West Chester, PA.

1855 Ballou’s Pictorial “State of Iowa” Woodblock Engraving.

(M-0099) In our office hangs an original woodblock engraving – the cover from the Saturday, March 17, 1855 edition of Ballou’s Pictorial. Our copy has been hand-colored by artist Paula Perdue.

Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion was a 19th-century illustrated periodical published in Boston from 1851–1859. The name was changed to Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion in 1855, after managing editor Maturin Murray Ballou bought out the interest of Gleason. The magazine absorbed the Illustrated News of New York in 1853. It ceased publication in 1859. The March 17th, 1855 edition featured the new western state of Iowa and is an excellent example of the publicity Iowa was getting back east, attracting thousands to head west.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Iowa City and its Environs – 1854, J.H. Millar, G.H. Yewell artwork, Digital Library – University of Iowa

Iowa City sketches, George H. Yewell, Digital Library – University of Iowa

Clinton Street sketch, George H. Yewell, Digital Library – University of Iowa

A Rare Glimpse at Early Iowa City, Mary Bennett, State Historical Society of Iowa, April 21, 2020

Iowa City: An Illustrated History, Gerald Mansheim, The Downing Company, 1989

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