County History

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Early Years

Before 1847, when Boone County was organized, its history was Iowa’s history. The first Europeans known to set foot in what later became Iowa were the French explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette, who traveled down the Mississippi River in the summer of 1673 and visited Native American villages on the river’s western shore.

During the next 200 years, white settlers from the east and immigrants from Europe pushed into the Midwest, driving Native Americans westward. The US government encouraged the settling of western lands and tensions between various Native American tribes and white settlers increased as the government gained control over western territories. That control began with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory, of which Iowa was a part, from the French. Three years later, as a prelude to eventual settlement, Lewis and Clark explored the purchase lands, including what became the western boundary of Iowa.

Subsequently, Iowa became part of other western territories. In 1812, when Louisiana became a state, the Missouri Territory was formed out of the Louisiana Territory. Although the Michigan Territory was organized in 1805, Iowa did not become a part of that territory until 1833. Three years later, Iowa became part of the Wisconsin Territory in advance of Michigan’s 1837 statehood. In 1838, the Iowa Territory was broken off from the Wisconsin Territory. Iowa became a state in 1846.

A critical conflict between government forces and Native Americans occurred in 1832 when Sauk leader Black Hawk attempted to retake the Illinois village of Saukenauk setting off the Black Hawk War. Three months later, Black Hawk and his warriors were defeated at the Bad Axe River in Wisconsin. Following the war, the Black Hawk Purchase of 1833 helped to open up Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa for settlement.

In the wake of the Black Hawk Purchase, Lt Col. Colonel Stephen W. Kearney lead three companies of the First Regiment of the United States Dragoons, up the Des Moines River from Old Fort Des Moines into southern Minnesota. Their mission was to assess the Indian situation in Iowa and to explore the land for future settlement. On June 23, 1835, Capt. Nathan Boone, youngest son of Daniel Boone and commander of Company H, camped near Mineral Ridge in what is now Boone County.

Organization of Boone County and its Townships
Twelve years later, Boone County was organized and named for Nathan Boone, but for more than two years after its founding in February of 1847, it remained a part of Polk County. By 1849 residents wanted their own county jurisdiction in which to vote, pay taxes and do business. Under Iowa law, the county sheriff was responsible for ordering the election of county officers, but there was no Boone County Sheriff. Therefore, on May 8, 1849, William McKay, judge of the Fifth Judicial District, of which Boone County was a part, appointed Samuel B. McCall county sheriff. Before the election could occur McCall had to divide the county into voting precincts, so he created Boone County’s first three townships--Boone, Boone River and Pleasant Townships. The election of county officers from these townships was held on August 6, 1849. The newly elected commissioners then voted to reconfirm McCall’s townships.

From 1849 to 1860, ten townships were established by Samuel B. McCall and John B. Montgomery. McCall, as organizing sheriff, created not only the first three townships of Pleasant, Boone and Boone River, but also, as county court judge after 1851, created the townships of Berry (1852), Dodge (1852), Yell (1852), Des Moines, (1858) Worth, (1858) Douglas (1858), Cass (1858), Marcy (1858), and Pilot Mound (1858). Montgomery, as county judge, created Union (1856) and Jackson (1857) Townships. McCall served as county judge from 1851 to 1854 and again from 1857 to 1859; Montgomery served from 1854 to 1857 and from 1859 to 1863.

Between 1852 and 1871, township boundaries were reconfigured several times and the four earliest townships ceased to exist as new townships were organized. Boone River Township ceased when Dodge Township was formed; Boone Township ceased with the creation of Des Moines Township; Pleasant Township ceased when Douglas Township was created; and Berry Township ceased when Cass Township was organized.

In 1860, Iowa law transferred the power and duties of transacting county business from county judges to a board of supervisors, consisting of one elected member from each township. In 1870, another law reduced the size of county boards of supervisors to not more than three. In January of 1871, Boone County Supervisors created seven new townships: Harrison, Colfax, Garden, Peoples, Beaver, Amaqua and Grant, completing the present township arrangement of seventeen.

Boone County’s Towns and Cities

Madrid, located in present day Douglas Township, is the oldest town in Boone County. The first resident of Boone County, Charles W. Gaston of Pennsylvania, settled in the Madrid area in 1846 where he married his second wife, Anna C. Dalander.. The Dalanders, Swedish natives, had immigrated to the area in 1846 and were the recipients of Boone County’s first land deed in 1849. Swede Point, now part of Madrid, was first surveyed in May of 1851 and officially filed for record in February of 1852. Other plats for the town were filed in 1853, 1855 and 1857. Gaston later was responsible for giving Madrid its Spanish name. According to the 1914 History of Boone County, Gaston was named the executor of his mother-in-law’s estate. He argued with some of the family, and “out of resentment to them he changed the name [of Swede Point] to Madrid. About the time of this change Mr. Gaston had in his employ a Spaniard, who often spoke of Madrid, the capital of his native country. He [Gaston] held the Spaniard, his country and capital, all in contempt; so to get even with his Swedish brothers, he took from the town its Swedish name and substituted for it the Spanish name.”

In July of 1851, two years following the Boone County’s first election, the county seat was officially established at Boonesboro, now West Boone, in present day Des Moines Township. Between 1849 and 1851, court sessions were held in various homes and buildings. After 1851, court sessions moved several times in Boonesboro before the first permanent courthouse was built in 1856-1857. Boonesboro was incorporated on June 4, 1865, at which time it had a number of businesses and about 2,000 residents.

Athough the court house and county offices were to remain in Boonesboro, within 10 to 15 years the economic and commercial center of the county shifted to Boone. Established by John Insley Blair in 1865, the new railroad town of Boone Station or Montana sprang up a mile and half east of Boonesboro following a dispute over the location of the railway station and line. From a couple of hostelries in the early 1860’s, the town grew rapidly. By 1866 retail businesses, homes, churches and schools were springing up. By 1867 there were 300 buildings and the town had a population that rivaled Boonesboro. Boone was first incorporated as Montana in 1866. In August of 1871, a petition was filed before the Circuit Court to rename the city “Boone”. On September 11, 1871, the city council ordered the name change. By 1887, Boone and Boonesboro had grown close together; so on March 21, 1887, Boonesboro was annexed to Boone. A state legislative act of March 23, 1888, officially changed the name of the county seat from Boonesboro to Boone: “Whereas, Said incorporated Town of Boonesboro, Iowa, became by proper proceeding in March A. D. 1887, annexed to the City of Boone, Iowa, and no conditions were mentioned as to the name therefore be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Iowa: Section I. That the name of the county seat of Boone County, Iowa, shall be known and designated as Boone Iowa, instead of Boonesboro, Iowa.”

Ogden, located in Yell Township, was platted by Blair in 1866. He named the town for his friend and fellow railroad magnate, William Butler Ogden. Like Boone, Ogden was a railroad town. Ogden’s first residents were railroad men William Patterson, John Regan and George Stanley. Patterson and Stanley argued and Patterson followed Stanley to Ames where he killed him. Ogden was incorporated in May of 1878.

The town of Pilot Mound was laid out on September 8, 1881. It is located in the township of the same name. A post office, also with the name Pilot Mound, existed prior to the town. The name was derived from the large mound located in the region, which was called Pilot Mound because of its visibility to the surrounding area. The area also had witnessed an Indian battle between the Sac and Fox under Chief Keokuk and the Sioux under Chief Wamsapasia. Keokuk emerged triumphant, but the remains of many Indians killed in the battle were found in the region.

Boxholm, in today’s Grant Township, was platted in April of 1900. The Newton & Northwestern Railroad, later the Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern, ran through the town. John B. Anderson operated a store and a post office at the town site prior to 1900. Anderson became the town’s first official postmaster and was responsible for naming the community Boxholm after a town in Sweden. Boxholm was settled largely by Swedish immigrants.

Moingona, located in present day Marcy Township, was organized in 1866 when the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad established a station there. Coal was abundant in the area and the town and railroad prospered together until the coal ran out and the railroad straightened its line so that it no longer ran through Moingona. Moingoina, is notable because it was the home of railroad heroine Kate Shelley who on July 6, 1881 warned authorities of a bridge washout during a violent storm, thus saving the lives of railroad men and passengers.

Luther, in Worth Township, was platted in 1893, although there was a post office there in 1884. In 1883 Clark Luther, for whom the town was named, built a storehouse on the town’s site and J. K. Jenkins opened a store. Jenkins was the town’s first postmaster. A farming community, grain and livestock were shipped from the town when the Boone line of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad ran through it.

There were many smaller communities scattered throughout the county; a few still have homes or churches, but many have vanished. Ridgeport in Dodge Township, also called Mineral Ridge, was laid out near the summit of Mineral Ridge in May of 1854. Fraser, also in Dodge County, was laid out in 1893 by the Fraser Coal Company. Centerville and Daily City (Yell Township) were laid out in 1855. Daily City never materialized and Centerville died out after its mill was washed away around 1858. Incline, also in Yell Township, was an active coal mining village in 1880, but by 1914 the coal was played out and the town, except for a few cellar holes and foundations had disappeared. The area was later referred to as Shepardstown or Logansport. The town of Coal Valley, Marcy Township, was laid out in 1867 as a mining town. When the coal played out and miners moved away, the area reverted to farmland.

Angus in Union Township, originally called Coaltown, was settled in the 1870’s. In 1885 Angus was the largest coal mining town in Iowa and had a population of between 3,500 and 5,000 persons. The Climax Coal Company, operated by railway magnate James J. Hill, was the largest of the nine companies operating in Angus. A strike, declining coal reserves, the closing of the Climax Mine, a bank panic and changes in the management of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad (the Mud Line) doomed the town. By 1900 there were only 333 persons left. Berkeley, first called Somersville, in Union Township, was laid out in 1883. Like Angus it was on the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad.

The first mill in Boone County, built between 1849-1850 by Adam and Jonathan Boles, was located at Elk Rapids, established in 1851 in current Cass Township. There was also a stone quarry in the area. The first two roads in Boone and Dallas Counties, one leading from Boone County and one from Dallas County, met in southeastern Cass Township at Elk Rapids. They were established in 1850 when the area was part of Pleasant Township. By 1913, the Elk Rapids Viaduct, constructed by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, spanned the Des Moines River in Cass County. Two villages grew up in Jackson Township, Jordan and Zenorsville. Jordan was a railroad stop on the Chicago & Northwestern line. Although never platted or incorporated, Jordan continued in existence until 1976 when a F5 tornado ripped through the area destroying the village. Between 1876 and 1890 coal was mined in Zensorsville. In 1880 there were three coal mines in operation; by 1914 the community was gone. Mackey or Mackey’s Grove in Harrison Township, was never platted as a town, but a post office, church and a few businesses grew up in the area. Beaver in Amaqua Township was platted in 1879 and incorporated around 1911.

Settlers poured into Boone County after the Civil War. Following the war, the development of the railroads, which ran first through the cities of Boone and Ogden and later, as coal mining flourished in Madrid, Moingona, Boone, Ogden, Fraser and other Boone County communities, helped to spur immigration into the area. Government grants to war veterans also encouraged settlement. The railroads, farming, and from the 1850’s through the early1950’s coal mining, were the major industries in the county.

Information provided by Boone Historical Society