Wassonville, Iowa Historical Account Published in 1889

From The Wellman Advance  - originally published Friday, November 22, 1889.


 Its Early History and Reminiscences.

Chapter V.

Wassonville was subject to all the influences which tend to make or break a pioneer town.  Semi-annually she was inundated and the freshet often drove the inhabitants to higher ground.  Bridges, ferry boats and houses were swept away in the torrents and nothing remained but mud and destruction to show for it.  Her merchants made fortunes and lost them in a single day.

Barring floods and the credit system, however, the merchants were in a fair way to make money.

Among the early merchants were the following: Josiah Shillings, who moved to Mapel's Mill, after he had broken up at Wassonville, the cause of his failure being the abominable credit system.  W. B. Bolding and Robert Gilliam, who each had a handful of goods and could not long survive.  Thomas Downing, afterward senior member of the firm of Downing and Tucker.  Our Mr. King was with them through it all, and is still able to do business, for the reason he did not give his goods away for faithless promises.  The first blacksmith was one William Kirk, who handled the first fire in the old town, and struck the first blow on the anvil. 

He was succeeded by George Lambert, who was a great joker in those days.  He could spin yarns by the yard and spread a genial humor around his forge that is not forgotten by the old settlers even to this late day.


During one of the freshets the drift wood on the river was literally alive with rats.  Plucky George Lambert mounted the driftwood and began his relentless war on the imprisoned rodents.  We haven't the statistics at hand, but can quote authority when we put the numbers slain at millions.  This sounds like a ratty story, but verily truth is more poetical than fiction.  It was during those freshets that monster fish would stray away from deep water and come on excursions up the English River.   A number were caught that actually weighed from 25 to 50 pounds, and a great many that were below those figures.  Duck in plenty were found along the river banks and all you had to do was load your shotgun and fill your game bag.  Two or three ferry boats were sunk in the river by mischief making parties, and three trussle bridges were swept away by the floods. 

During one of those floods the water rose so high that the residence of Mr. King was inundated, the water rising as high as the ceiling of the first story.  Saloons and groggeries were kept by one Michael, one Farley and one McIntosh.  To say they did a thriving business is to put it mild.  According to history, Wassonville was laid out in March, 1848, on Section 12, township 77, range 9.  It was on the road from Iowa City to Oskaloosa, and was also a station on the underground railroad.

In 1854 the town of Dayton was laid out by Lewis Longwell, that is, that portion of it lying on the west side of the north and south road.  We reserve further history of Dayton for a subsequent chapter.

At this time primitive things began to give way to better things, and the pioneer was surrounded by neighbors, who, in common with himself, shared a better existence.  (To be continued next week.)   

Project Wassonville 2007

1889 articles from Wellman Advance  - Community History Project, January 14, 2005. View Original Images

Chapter I

Wassonville Mill from The Palimpsest, January 1961 Iowa State Historical Society, "Iowa -  Land of Many Mills" - (1940) Jacob A. Swisher.  Photograph courtesy of Susan Webb Wright

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII



Yellow:  Fillmore and Greene Townships - Iowa County
Blue: Liberty Township - Keokuk County
Red: Lime Creek Township - Washington County


Map showing the tri-county area including portions of Washington, Keokuk and Iowa Counties in Eastern Iowa.  Hinkletown and Wassonville were trading and stage stops on the early leg of the east-west Diamond Trail that carried settlers from the Eastern Iowa port cities on the Mississippi River to Fort Des Moines and points westward, including California and Oregon.  Additionally, Wassonville sat on the north-south route of the Iowa City-Oskaloosa Road.  From the county maps published in the 1875 Atlas of Iowa.


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