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Updated March 27, 2005

Marion History

Source: The History of Linn County, Iowa : containing a history of the county, its cities, towns, &c., a biographical directory of its citizens, war record of its volunteers in the late rebellion, general and local statistics, portraits of early settlers and prominent men, history of the Northwest, history of Iowa, map of Linn County, Constitution of the United States, miscellaneous matters, &c. ; illustrated. Chicago: Western Historical Co., 1878, pages 534-538.

For six years after the Black Hawk war, there was not a human habitation within the boundaries of Marion Township. The virgin soil was yet unbroken, and the site of the city yet undisturbed by the hands of civilization. An occasional band of Musquakies, or Sauk and Fox Indians, encamped at the groves as they journeyed to and from trading points and hunting grounds.

After peace with the Indians had been restored, the interrupted current of immigration was resumed,  and began to fill up the valleys of Eastern Iowa, entering Linn County from the southeast. Not until the Spring of 1838 did the white settlers come as far as Marion to plant claim-stakes and build rude log huts, with a view to residence.

William K. Farnsworth took up a claim adjoining the town on the south, at Isbell's Grove, in 1838, and was probably the first actual settler, although other claims had been taken by persons living further east; among these were those of James, Preston and Prior Scott, who claimed a large amount of land just east of the village site. Soon after the county seat was located, there came Luman M. Strong, who located north of the west part of the town; James W. Bassitt, adjoining him on the west; Rufus H. Lucore, two miles west; John C. Berry, two and one-half miles north. Soon after, James W. Willis settled north of the east part of the town; Hosea W. Gray, who settled about August 20, 1838, and moved to Marion in the Spring of 1839; George W. Gray settled adjoining on the south; John Margrave, one-half mile northwest; Aaron Moriarty, one mile up Indian Creek; James and Henderson Smith settled on the Kemp place, three miles north; James H. Blackman, adjoining on the northeast; Samuel Ross, his mother and several brothers, adjoining the Willis place, now the E. A. Vaughn place; Henry Thompson erected a mill three miles south. The southwest and west, being timber, was taken up only in smaller parcels for timber. Ephraim T. Lewis, one of the Second County Commissioners, and A. B. Mason settled between Marion and Cedar Rapids, and were the first settlers in that direction. All of these came in during 1839. In the fall of 1839, the Brodies and Leverichs settled two miles northwest of the town.

Among other early residents, were Norris Cone, who settled a few miles south, but now resides in town; Norman, George and John Ives, three miles east, where the two former still live, while the latter now resides in Marion; Ira Wilson, three miles east, with his sons, George W., now in town, Ira G., on the farm, and John S. near the old place: W. L. Winter and wife settled on Dry Creek in 1842. Mr. Winter was a public-spirited man; active in securing railroads and mills.

The early days were times of great trial. At first, it was necessary to go to Rochester or Muscatine to trade and get mail. Prairie fires often swept away a house or stack. The creeks were not bridged, and the roads were few, yet grain had to be hauled to Muscatine. Many oxen were used to open up the farms.

As stated in the General History, Marion was located as the county seat by a special Board of Commissioners appointed by the Territorial Legislature in the Spring of 1839.

The first official act of the County Commissioners, after perfecting their organization, September 9, 1839, was to name the county seat "Marion," in honor of Gen. Francis Marion.

In November, 1839, the Board appointed David A. Woodbridge to superintend laying out the town of Marion and the sale of its lots, and at the same time, Ross McCloud, County Surveyor, was ordered to proceed to lay out the town. The Commissioners' Clerk was instructed to advertise the sale of lots to take place on December 6, 1839.

Accordingly, the survey of Marion was made December 2, 1839, by Ross McCloud, assisted by H. W. Gray and A. J. McKean, chain carriers, Elisha Kemp, stake driver, and Ira Wilson, flagman, under the direction of David A. Woodbridge, Agent, on the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 6, Township 83 north, Range 6, and the east half of the northeast quarter of Section 1, Township 83, Range 7 west of the Fifth Principal Meridian, with blocks 250 feet square, lots, 60x120 feet, alleys, 10 feet. The lots on which the court buildings now stand were reserved for public use.

August 26, 1842, Gray & Greene's Addition was made on the north side of town, being the space which the first surveyed north line varied from the proper section line, as afterward established by the general survey.

The land on which the county seat was located belonged to the Government, though it was included in the claim of Luman M. Strong. It was entered by Ephraim T. Lewis, Barimeas McGonigle and Oliver Day, County Commissioners, on February 20, 1840.

The house of Mr. L. M. Strong, then without the town plat, but now included, was the first to be built. It was erected on the Center Point Road, in 1839, and occupied by Mr. Strong as a tavern. It is now known as the old Martindale house.

In the same year, Henry Thompson and David A. Woodbridge built the second house, a frame structure, then north of the town plat, near the site of the late residence of H. P. Elliott, subsequently removed, and now used as a blacksmith shop. About the same time, these men built the first store, a log shanty, in the rear of Mrs. W. L. Winter's residence.

In relation to the first store, the Commissioners' Record says: "Ordered, That Woodbridge & Thompson be allowed a license to vend and retail foreign merchandise, at their store in Marion, for one year from the 9th day of October, 1839."

Wm. H., a brother of David Woodbridge, came with him. The latter built a small house in 1839, in the northern part of the town, which is now nearly opposite McKean's book store.

In March, 1840, Addison Daniels came to Marion on horseback from Iowa City, seeking a location in the Western country. He found there a broad prairie covered with tall wild grass - not a house, not a tree within the "city limits." The outlook for merchandising was not very favorable, yet Mr. Daniels courageously set out for Muscatine, and thence to St. Louis, where he purchased a stock of goods and returned with them to Marion. On his arrival, he found the house which he had contracted for with Hosea W. Gray completed, and he immediately opened his small stock of goods therein.

It is an unusual fact that Mr. Daniels has remained in business to the present time, thirty-eight years, having been associated with his brothers during a great portion of the time, and is now one of Marion's wealthy, substantial citizens.

The old building which Mr. Daniels first commenced business was twenty by twenty-two feet in size, and cost about $75. This log house, sided with sawed lumber, is still standing on the west side of Market street, near Main, and is occupied as the shoe shop of J. G. Ross. This was the fourth house in Marion, those previous being George Green's house, built on Main, west of Market street; Joseph W. Bigger's house, where Dr. Bardwell now lives; and the first frame house in town, built by Joseph W. Gibber for L. D. Phillips as an hotel, and known as the American House, on the site of the Newhall House. Here within a year Mr. Phillips opened a stock of groceries. After eight or ten years, Mr. Phillips moved to Mineral Point, Wis., where he has become a prominent citizen.

In the same Spring, O. S. Hall built, just north of Mr. Daniels' first store, a story and a half frame building, where he opened the Iowa House. He died in 1846, and the hotel was continued by his wife and sons, O. S. Hall, Jr., until 1871. The building in which they began the hotel business is now occupied by the bakery of C. Domer.

In the same Spring the old log jail was built on the site of the Court House. The first prisoner was installed within it for horse stealing before the logs had been laid higher than his shoulders. The Court House was built at the same time. This building was purchased by O. S. Hall, in 1845, for use as a Methodist Church, and is now occupied by the grocery and restaurant of O. S. Hall, Jr.

S. D. Thompson came in the Fall of 1840, and has been in Marion, more or less, to the present time.

In that year, Woodbridge & Thompson moved their store down on to Main street.

Porter W. Earl was the first painter in Marion, 1840.

In the Spring of 1840, Hiram Beales built and operated a saw-mill, probably the first in the county, a half mile west of Marion. "Uncle Richard" Thomas, now living in Marion, soon became a partner.

In 1840 came George Patterson, who yet remains a citizen of Marion. The built a house in that year, and was followed in the next year by his brother, Wm. J. Patterson, who built the frame store building now known as the "Regulator." in which Robert and Magnus Holmes opened a stock of goods.  Seven years later, Charles Nye became a partner of Robert Holmes; afterward Henry Ristine purchased Mr. Nye's interest, and, successively, Charles Carter replaced Mr. Ristine. Mr. Carter died in 1856, and the firm ceased in 1857, Mr. Holmes becoming connected with the Marion Register.

Brazilla Johnson, an original genius, established Marion's first saloon, in 1840, opposite the "Phillips House." His log cabin was so primitive that he was compelled to offer an occasional reward for goods which the boys stole at night by reaching through the chinks between the logs. If gun caps were inquired for, he would reply, "Just out, but have got some good flints." "Have you any salt?" "No, but I've got some excellent mackerel brine."

Religious services were first held under a roof in the Court House. Outdoor meetings were held as early as the Summer of '40.

In 1841, the first school house was built by subscription, near the site of the Prairie Hotel, on Main street. It then stood alone on the open prairie, and school was first taught there by Mr. Higby. Religious services were also conducted there by Rev. Mr. Emerson. A Methodist society was organized, and in the next year, Rev. Mr. Rankin, of the Presbyterian Church, held services there.

The county officers and other in-comers soon erected houses, and Marion began to assume the form and dignity of a village.

The first post office was established in 1839, at the house of Luman M. Strong. Soon after arrival, Mr. Daniels assumed the office of Postmaster, and in turn, transferred it to John Zunbro, who with Mr. Hoops, established the next store after that of Robert Holmes, in 1841. In 1843, Harvey Gillett, of Muscatine, opened a store at Marion, under the management of O. H. Lovett. About 1846, G. W. Gray engaged in a general merchandise business.

The first brick building was built by Wm. H. Woodbridge (Ambrose Harland, mansion), as a residence, regardless of the town plat, on the northern part of Marion street, in 1842. It is now known as the Berry House. Here the land sales were held soon after it was built. In the following year, Wm. H. Woodbridge (known as "Democ," because of his strong Democratic sentiments) built a second brick building on Meridian street, south of Main, now owned by A. Daniels & Co. With similar disregard to streets, he began the foundation for this house diagonally to the lines of the block, but was persuaded to wheel into line with civilization.

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