History of Bonaparte
Compiled by The Van Buren County Historical Society, 1967
CLAY M. LANMAN, PRESIDENT, 1967
Printed by The Record-Republican, Bonaparte, Iowa
Information can be found at http://iavanburen.org/history/bonaparte1967book/HistoryOfBonaparte-part3.html
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The Van Buren County Historical Society was organized March 21, 1960. It is developing a museum, and restoring the historic Pearson House following damage by the tornado of April 16, 1967. The Old Negro Church which was owned by the society was a total loss in the same tornado.
Officers of the society are Clay Lanman, Keosauqua, President; Clem Topping, Stockport, Vice President; Alma Lindsay, Birmingham, Secretary, and Ada Lazenby, Keosauqua, Treasurer. The organization meets monthly in different towns of the county. Membership is open to anyone interested in helping preserve and share our heritage with generations yet to come. Annual memberships of $1.00 and life memberships of $10.00 are available.
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Bonaparte 1837 to 1967
A Chronology of Events in the First 130 Years of Bonaparte History
The first white man to make a settlement in what later became Bonaparte was evidently Robert Coates who in the summer of 1836 "located a homestead on the small open park on the north bank of the Des Moines closely surrounded by forest trees". As his interest was tillable land for farming, he transferred his claim to Robert Moffett. He in turn disposed of the present western part of the town to William Meek who arrived late in the same year, 1836. Mr. Meek was seeking timber and water facilities and considered this a good location. William Meek had built a mill and established the town of Constantine, Michigan, where he was Chief Justice and later Associate Judge of the County Court of St. Joseph, Michigan. About the same time, Dr. R. N. Cresap came into this section and lived in a cabin east of the present town site.
In 1837, William Meek returned to Michigan and brought his family to his present location. After clearing ground, he built a wing dam, a flour mill, and a saw mill, thus starting the nucleus of a town. The village was designated Meek's Mills, Wisconsin Territory, U. S. A. Other citizens included P. R. Rice, Joseph Rabb, Edwin Wilson, David Sewell, Lewis Christian, William Welch, and Joseph Perkins.
New Lexington, a mile west, established a post office April 6, 1837, but in 1842 the settlement was abandoned. A projected early village called Napoleon, which was across the river from Bonaparte, also failed to develop. Southeast of this point a scant half mile was the village of Palestine which likewise has disappeared.
The first cemetery was laid out on land given by Wm. Meek in 1838 and the first burial was his son, Benjamin. The population of Van Buren County was 3,000 at this time.
In 1839 the first steamboat ascended the Des Moines to as far as Keosauqua. In this year Dr. Cresap bought 152 1/2 acres joining the town site on the east. The wing dam not being satisfactory, Wm. Meek and Sons petitioned the legislature for permission to erect a dam which was granted by special act of the territorial legislature January 17, 1839.
In 1840, Dr. Cresap built the first hotel called "The Tavern" where Burn's Motors is now located. Jesse Caves built a steamboat here. It was taken to St. Louis and finished. It made a trial trip to Bonaparte in 1841.
In 1841 the town was laid out by Wm. McBride, surveyor, and the name changed to Bonaparte in honor of Napoleon.
The first organization of a Baptist church took place in 1842, which was described as a very severe winter with snow covering the
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ground from November until April. The first school was built two years later. Thomas Charlton was the teacher.
Wm. Meek erected a flouring mill in 1844, and the Aunty Green Hotel was built the same year. In 1846, on December 28, Iowa was admitted to the Union as a state, and the Mormons spent the winter 2 miles east of Bonaparte at the Reed's Creek encampment.
The next year, in 1847, the first real thoroughfare, a state road, was laid out from West Point to Bonaparte.
The Odd Fellows Lodge was chartered November 8, 1849.
In 1850 there were many boats on the river, and in 1851 there was a very high water level. Beginning in May more than 40 days rain fell, and not until July did the floods subside. Stock drowned and crops were washed out. In 1852 a new dam was built.
In 1853 the Baptists started building a church, the small brick building now used as a library was built, and the Christy block was built. The brick building now used as a library then later housed the Farmers' and Traders Bank. Also the same year, Wm. Meek and Sons built the Woolen Factory. The year 1854 saw heavy steamboat traffic on the river with such steamers as Globe, Julia Dean, Time and Tide, Col. Morgan, and the Lovilla plying between Keokuk and Ft. Des Moines.
The Keokuk, Ft. Des Moines, and Minnesota Railroad completed its tracks and ran trains into Bonaparte in 1858.
The first Methodist Church was built in 1862. Before that time Methodists had held services in the Baptist Church.
The Meek Woolen Mill burned in 1863 and was immediately re-built at a cost of $50,000. An Academy was started in 1865 by Bonaparte Academy Assoc., and completed in 1867 at a cost of $20,000. It was popularly called Howe's Academy for the first principal, E. P. Howe.
In 1866 a pottery was started by Parker and Hanback. It was in this year that a serious ice gorge overflowed the river and large ice cakes floated down the main streets.
The Presbyterian church was organized in 1868.
In 1869 at four p. m. on August 7, there was a total eclipse of the sun.
In 1870 the Bonaparte School District became independent. They purchased Howe's Academy. Smith and Halcomb published the first newspaper.
The Presbyterian Church was completed in 1871, with the Rev. H. R. Lewis, pastor.
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The last dam was finished in 1872. This dam cost $36,000. Rees and Riggle began the manufacture of carriages in 1874.
The 1875 census showed a population of 668 males, and 671 females. This was a total of 1,339 people. [see transcriber notes]
The pottery burned down in 1876 but was rebuilt. On April 4th a license was issued for a five-year period to operate a ferry above the dam. The Ferry Tree was located on the north bank in front of the T. W. Boyer home, now the Hainline Rest Home. The ferry had previously been located below the dam and operated by Joseph Perkins. Perkins, who held the license since 1856, built the brick home across the river. This house is now owned by Edward Thornburg.
The first river bridge was erected in 1877 and 1878 at a cost of $35,000, financed by Bonaparte citizens. It was tested by parking each span full of wagons loaded with stone.
A new grist mill was erected in 1878 at a cost of $15,000. This building, which still stands, is operated by the Farmers Coop. At this time, the population had dropped to 1,200.
A Building and Loan Association was organized in 1881, and the Farmers and Traders Bank in 1882. The Park Hotel was built.
Fire demolished 14 buildings on July 16, 1886. In 1894 the Eason house, built in 1840, was also destroyed by fire.
Fishing must have been good in those days: In 1888 the mill wheel was stopped by fish. The Haney Opera House was built during this same year.
The first commencement of Bonaparte High School took place in 1891. Nelle Jones and Gerry Whitmore had the honor of being the first graduating class.
In 1897 the Methodist Church was built. A year later, Bonaparte was incorporated.
July 2, 1900, fire again destroyed three frame buildings on Main Street. On October 22 the ax handle factory was also destroyed.
In 1901 the waterworks was installed, the Presbyterian Church was built and the Union Telephone Company brought phone service to the town.
The Rees Carriage Factory partially burned in 1902, was later rebuilt by sons Herb and Harry Rees, finally torn down about 1942.
On June 3, 1903, the biggest flood ever known in the history of the Des Moines River occurred after a week of rain. The dam built in 1872 was washed away. Again in 1905 severe flooding resulted when 16 inches of rain fell in three hours. The Honey Creek railroad bridge and the wagon bridge were both washed out.
The present school building was dedicated December 17, 1915.
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In 1930, paving on Highway No. 79 was completed; connecting Bonaparte with No. 3, which is now No. 2.
The Bonaparte Centennial celebration and the dedication of the gymnasium, which was added to the school building, were in 1937. The Meek Woolen Mill building on the river bank was remodeled in-to a community building.
In 1943 the fact of World War II came home to people of Bonaparte with the death of Claire Osweiler as a result of battle wounds in North Africa. In 1944 John H. Moore was lost at sea and Alden Watts was killed. Albert Mills and Donnie Tade also died in the service of their country.
In 1947 on June 8 and again on June 15 flood waters covered the entire area between the river and the railroad tracks. Between the two dates the river had receded to within the banks. This was a record crest of river level in Bonaparte although it did not crest as high in Bentonsport or Keosauqua as it did in 1903.
The new river bridge was completed in 1960. W. S. Lane cut the ribbon at dedication ceremonies on December 3rd. The cost was $408,969.45. The 1960 census showed a population of 574.
Stone from the old river bridge and even larger rocks from several local quarries were used to build a dam in the summer of 1962. Damaged by ice and flood waters in the spring of 1963, repairs were made in 1964. This work was financed entirely by contributions of local citizens with help from other towns in the county, who hoped to improve fishing and boating and restore the beauty of the river as it was in the early days of the town.
A tornado roared into town on the night of August 20, 1964. The roof and one chimney were blown off the Community building, the roof off Hendricks Garage, the roof of the post office building was damaged. Rollo White's store building (the old opera house) and the Legion building next door were badly damaged. The Craig Fritsinger home across the street from the Baptist church was a total loss. Several other homes in the vicinity were badly damaged.
In reviewing the history of Bonaparte, the observer can't help but be impressed with the ambition and enterprise of its citizenry who first carved a village of industry from the wilderness. Right down to the present, in spite of fire, flood and storm, its people have overcome adversity and rebuilt to replace their loss no matter what the cause.
In no other town of our county and in few of similar size any-where is there so much evidence of the historical past. In Bonaparte there is an unusual opportunity to share landmark homes and buildings with present and future generations that we all may be inspired by the achievements of those whose deeds made the town great. May those of us to whom today is intrusted so work together to create a community with the significance to the 20th century that Meek's Mills had to the 19th.
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Sources of Brick and Stone
Many visitors to old towns such as Bonaparte, frequently ask about the source of the brick and stone used in the early buildings.
In the case of our town, brick were made in at least two locations. One was on what is known as the Whitmore farm 1 mile north of Bonaparte now owned by Rev. and Mrs. Richard Eis. They report finding many of the old brick. The larger and better known brick yard was on land owned by the Meek family and can be seen just over the west fence of the Bonaparte Cemetery in a pasture owned by Kenneth Hawk. Old timers report that the part of the cemetery adjacent to the area where bricks are in evidence was also a part of the original brick yard.
Limestone abounds in the rocky bluffs along the river near Bonaparte and was readily available for the quarrying. The skill of early stone cutters and stone masons is a lost art among present builders and craftsmen. There were many skilled craftsmen among the Mormons who passed through this area on their trek westward. They offered their skills at bargain prices to local people to earn a living while in winter encampments and it is said that there was probably no faster build up of fine brick and stone homes anywhere than that which took place in the Bonaparte-Farmington area during the win-ter of 1846.
Limestone was also used in plaster and mortar after being burned in kilns. Still standing like a sentinal and now just a monument to an almost forgotten industry that flourished over a century ago is the old lime kiln at the base of the Slaughter's Creek Bluff about 3 miles east of Bonaparte. Built at a time when things were constructed to last, it has with-stood the ravages of time and the elements and is still in a fine state of preservation. I well remember the thrill of discovery when as a boy I came upon it while on a tramp through the woods on the Levi Cummings farm which adjoined that on which I lived. I learned later that it was built by James Steadman and his son Asa, pioneer Bonaparte stone masons.
The kiln is about 24 feet wide and 30 feet high and has a circular hole extending from the top to the bottom. To burn the lime, brush or light wood was placed at the bottom of the kiln for kindling and then alternate layers of lime rock and coal or hard wood were added until the kiln was filled. The kiln was built against the side of the cliff so that the top is easily accessible for charging. An opening at the bottom provided for draft in the burning. The process required about 3 weeks. Older residents used to tell of the noise made by the burning lime and also of raking a piece of stone from the kiln and pouring water on it, this causing it to swell and greatly resemble a huge grain of popped corn.
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Lime Kiln Near Bonaparte, Monument to Iowa's Past
[click photo to view]
Built more than 100 years ago this lime kiln near Bonaparte. Lime burning was then a thriving industry in the new state of Iowa.
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There were several lime kilns at that time, one contractor having two and selling from one while the other was burning, but the Slaughter's Creek kiln, which was much larger and better built, is the only one now standing in this vicinity.
Coal and limestone abound in large quantities in the vicinity of the lime stone kiln, this accounting for the location. Lime from this kiln was used in most of Bonaparte's older buildings and at that time was used instead of mortar in building chimneys.
Since the first settlers came here in 1837 and established the town of Bonaparte, the Slaughter's Creek Bluff has been well known for three things: limestone, coal and rattlesnakes. Rattlers have been killed each year in that vicinity since that time. One of the largest was killed by Levi Cummings on his farm adjoining the bluff. This one was evidently the chief of the snake tribe as it had 20 rattlers.
Credit for much of the above information is given to a story which appeared in the Record-Republican, June 17, 1948, which was a reprint of a story in the Ottumwa Courier and was written by O. R. Perkins, an employe of the Record-Republican and correspondent for the Ottumwa Courier. As a boy I lived on the farm now owned by Mr. and Mrs. C. D. Sexton at Reeds Creek. My parents owned this farm from 1931 till 1946 when it was sold to Sextons. Dad had purchased it from the Cramblit family. My brother Orville lived on this farm and I spent most of the time during my high school years with him. He married Grace Hunter in the fall of 1938 and they lived there until they moved to the Nels Hunter farm on Vernon Prairie in 1946. While we lived there we killed many rattlesnakes and at least one copperhead. I recall that on one visit to the old lime kiln I found the biggest black snake I have ever seen.
Clay M. Lanman
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Bonaparte Flouring Mills Are Improved
(Published in 1887)
I. Meek, proprietor of the Bonaparte Flouring Mills, is determined to advance with the lengthy strides of progression. The mills have been overhauled throughout and about $3,000 worth of new machinery put in. Two months ago the mills had a capacity of 15 to 20 barrels per day, and the new process gives them a capacity of 100 barrels daily.
The new machinery was started Monday and everything is running in a most satisfactory manner. We find on the grinding floor where a short time ago stood the millstones, three double sets of Willford's light running rolls. On this floor we also find a Garden City first break and one Willford stone.
On the second floor are three of George L. Smith's Purifiers which have been overhauled and the latest improvements put upon them. They look as though they had just come from the shop.
In the third floor or bolting room we find a four reel bolting chest 20 feet long in which the main bolting is done, also a two reel bolting chest 18 feet long, one of them used for a flour mixer, and one for a bran reel. In this room are also two of Willford's centrifugal smoothing reels and three scalping reels six feet in length.
In the fourth, or top story, is another scalper and a United States bran duster. It requires nineteen stands of elevators to handle the product of the mill after the wheat has been cleaned. The new machinery placed in the mill is of the latest pattern and works like a charm.
We congratulate Mr. Meek on his enterprise and hope he may enjoy a good share of the public patronage to which he is justly entitled.
Stephen Blackburn, the miller of millers, and Ralph Bell, his genial and able assistant, will continue in charge of the mill. As a miller, Mr. Blackburn has few equals and less superiors.
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Bonaparte In 1878
Recorded In "History of Van Buren County, Iowa" published by Western Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois
The village of Bonaparte was commenced in the year 1837, by Messrs. Meek & Sons and Dr. R. N. Cresap, whose initiatory step embraced the building of a dam across the Des Moines River. The early settlers, whose presence was marked by the year in question, were P. R. Rice, Joesph Rabb, Erwin Wilson, David Sewell, Lewis Christian and William Welch. A few cabins were built about the wild country, and from the rude hut-town the place has grown until the din of machinery and clang of the mills is heard by 1,200 people, who constitute the present population of the place.
This population supported four dry goods stores, two drug stores, four grocery stores, one harness-shop, one jewelry house, two boot and shoe stores, one clothing house, one general store, three millinery establishments, two furniture stores, three tailor-shops, two commission houses, two agricultural marts, two butcher shops, two hotels, and a photograph establishment; while the following branches of manufacturing also thrive: A woolen mill, wagon factory, brick yard, pottery, blacksmith shop, flouring mill, saw mill and glove factory. There is one printing office in the place; also, three churches, one school house, Masonic and Odd Fellows Halls and a livery firm. There are four physicians and two Justices of the Peace in the place.
John Bundy and William Meek, Sr., are both credited with having kept the first store in the village. Dr. R. N. Cresap kept the first hotel. The first blacksmith was R. B. Willoughby, and Hamilton Kearns was the first wagonmaker.
Jackson Myers is said to have started the first flouring mill, al-though William Meek & Sons put up one in 1844, which served until the fall of 1878, when Robert Meek & Brothers erected a new one, at a cost of $15,000. The structure is of brick size 40x50 and four stories in height. The mill has six runs of buhrs.
Meek & Brothers also erected a saw mill in 1860, which has run since that time.
The manufacturing interests of this place are nearly all centered in the woolen mill and manufacturing has received a healthy start, and the life instilled into this branch of industry at the beginning, instead of growing less, has been fanned into a noticeable flame, which spreads with the tread of time.
One of the most extensive and successful woolen factories of the State is situated at Bonaparte. It was built in the summer of 1853, by William Meek & Sons, who ran it at a paying rate until 1863, when it was burned down, causing the firm a loss of $20,000.
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Robert F. Meek & Brothers immediately commenced rebuilding, and, at a cost of $50,000, made of brick a structure 50x85, and four stories high. The machinery is propelled by water power. The firm employs seventy-five hands. The capacity of the mill is a matter of mention. There are 1,640 spindles in use, six sets of carding ma-chines and two shearing machines. The mill hands turn out 22,000 yards of cloth every four weeks and from 1,600 to 1,800 pounds of stocking yarn.
A pottery was started in 1866 by Parker and Handback. This firm continued in business five years, when Mr. Wilson succeeded Mr. Parker and became known as junior partner. The firm is now known as Handback & Wilson. In November, 1876, the pottery building burned, at a loss of $1,200. It was rebuilt at once, the outlay being $1,300. The firm now employs ten hands and makes 75,000 gallons of pottery per year. A new feature has been added recently. It is a tile factory, with a capacity for turning out 6,000 feet of tile per day. The machinery throughout is run by steam power.
THE BONAPARTE BRIDGE
There are two bridges in the county of Van Buren over the Des Moines River, for the accommodation of the general public—that is, foot-travelers and teams. The larger of the two is at Bonaparte, it having 5 piers, 6 spans of 150 feet each, 23-foot truss and an 18-foot roadway.
This Structure was commenced November 25, 1877. On Tuesday, January 29, 1878, the bridge was tested and formally accepted.
Word was sent to the farmers in the neighborhood that teams and men would be required to fix the approaches and test the strength of the bridge. The test consisted of twenty-two heavily loaded wagons, averaging fifty hundred weight, besides horses, mules and men. The aggregate burden on each span was recorded at seventy-five tons, and in but one place did the settle exceed one-eighth of an inch. The super-structure is 900 feet long. Each span weighs 60 tons. The bridge stands 35 feet above low-water mark and from the bed of the river to the top of the truss the distance is 60 feet. The capacity of the bridge is 11,440 pounds per lineal foot. The approaches of the bridge are protected by a wing-wall and two abutments. The piers are 10 feet by 30 at their base. The cost of the superstructure was $35,000.
The following gentlemen composed the executive committee at the date of acceptance: Isaiah Meek, Thomas Christy, Uriel Neal, A. Whitlock, T. W. Boyer and Dennis Haney.
The date of church organization at Bonaparte does not run back far. The earliest move make in the direction of establishing churches was in 1853, when the Baptists, under the pastorate of Rev. William Sutton, began building a church, which was finished in the year
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1857. Prior to that, however—1851—the same society had been organized Mt. Zion, where they worshipped until 1853, when they moved to Bonaparte. The second Pastor was Rev. William Eggleston; the third, Rev. Mr. Burkholder; the fourth, Rev. Mr. Inskeep; the fifth was Rev. Willia Johnson; the sixth, Rev. Mr. Trevitt, and the seventh, Rev. W. C. Pratt. Atpresent the society are without a Pastor. They have one hundred and twenty-five members and a house of worship that cost $2,800.
The date at which the Methodist society of this place was organized is not known, neither are there any records of early work. For a time, however, the Methodists used the schoolhouse, where they worshipped until that building was burned down, when they rented the Baptist Church, which served them down to the year 1862, when they built a new church, at a cost of $700. The society numbers about fifty members. Who organized it is not known. Rev. Mr. Johnson preached for a while—the first—in the new church, but who led the flock in the olden day memory does not reveal. The Rev. Charles W. Shepherd is the present Pastor.
In 1869, the Presbyterian society was organized, and, in 1871, they built a $2,800 church, of which Rev. H. R. Lewis was the first Pastor. Next came Rev. H. K. Heighney, followed by Rev. James Welch, who is the present one. There are fifty members belonging to the Church.
Bonaparte has quite a school history. The first district school-house was put up in 1844. Thomas Charlton was the first teacher in the village. The house stood until 1859, when it was burned down. However, in the mean time, schools were kept in the buildings at present occupied by Mr. Carr as a shop, and in what is now Mr. King's house. After the old schoolhouse burned, the district rented schoolroom, until the Directors purchased the academy in 1871.
The academy in question was erected in 1865, 1866 and 1867, by the Bonaparte Academy Association, at a cost of $20,000. The Associatiton used it as an academy from 1867 to May 26, 1871, when they sold it as above stated for the sum of $12,000. The Association was an incorporated body. The following lines are extracted from the beginning of the articles of agreement or incorporation; "We, Isaiah Meek, Thomas Christy, Joseph A. Keen, J. G. Vale, Benjamin Wagner, John T. Stewart, George W. Sturdevent, and A. H. Leach, do hereby incorporate ourselves, and all other persons who may be-come members of the corporation hereby created, into a body corporate and politic, by the name and style of the `Bonaparte Academy Association'."
The purpose of this institution was "the promotion of literature, science and art". The articles of agreement further provided that the capital stock must not run below $10,000.
The first Principal of the Academy was E. P. Howe.
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One year prior to the purchase of the Academy, The Bonaparte district became independent. The October, 1878, report showed that the total enrollment in all the departments of the school was 168, and the average daily attendance about 126. The school is divided into four departments. Annie E. Packer is the present Principal.
Bonaparte is not an incorporated town. The officers embrace two Justices of the Peace and a Constable. The first Justice was Samuel Reed, who lived two and a half miles from town; but the first in the village proper was R. B. Willoughby. A. J. Myers was the first Constable. The present Justices are W. W. Entler and Joseph Perkins. Samuel Spurgeon in Constable.
The village Postmaster is J. P. Davis. When the place was introduced to a mail route, Thomas Charlton had the honor of being the first Postmaster. R. Moffit was the first Postmaster at Lexington, just above town.
The first physician in the village was Dr. R. N. Cresap.
William Willoughby, son of R. B. Willoughby, was the first child born at Bonaparte. The first death was in the person of Mrs. Angeline, wife of Dr. Cresap.
The first marriage that took place was April 8, 1841 when James A. Kearn and Elizabeth Williamson were joined in the holy bonds of wedlock.
Of the Orders akin to secrecy in the village of Bonaparte, the Bonaparte Lodge of Independent Order of Odd Fellows, No. 22, is the most ancient, its charter having been granted November 8, 1849. The charter members were R. H. Wyman, L. R. Beckley, John H. Bell, W. E. Kurtz and W. Cassidy. The charter officers were R. H. Wyman, N. G.; J. H. Bell, V. G.; L. R. Beckley, Secretary; and J. B. Cave, Treasurer. The Lodge now numbers fifty members. They have a library consisting of 200 volumes.
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"Doc" Glascock Bobbin Boy In Woolen Mill
By Alex Glascock As Told to Clay Lanman
Alex "Doc" Glascock who now lives with his daughter, Mildred Pence and her husband Al a mile west of Pierceville is the only per-son now living who worked in the Meek Woolen Mills at Bonaparte. Soon to celebrate his eighty ninth birthday, he remains active and enjoys reminiscing about his boyhood in Bonaparte when he worked in the Meek Woolen Mill. This is his story as told to me.
"I was born on the farm down the road here where Ray McCracken now lives. That was Dec. 17, 1878. We moved to Bonaparte when I was 7 and lived for a while in the house just north of Mrs. Christy's house (John Diephius home now). Scott Blackford built a house there that Rollo White lives in now. We also lived in a house on that lot where Mary Florence Derr's house is now there below the Baptist Church.
"Yes, I worked in the woolen mill. I'd go to school in the win-ter and work in the mill in the summer. I was a bobbin boy and I run a jack spinner. Guess I worked in every room there—the card room, the spinning room and up in the garret—that was the spooling room. That's where the girls took yarn off the big spools and put it on smaller ones.
"The mill was run by water power until they changed to steam with a coal stoker. I was there when they made the change over. My uncle was the engineer—Gid Glascock—two great big Babcock boilers, wonderful things. He run it till they shut down. He was the leader of the Bonaparte Cornet Band. I've got a picture of the band taken by G. E. Fahr in 1896 at his gallery which was located where Nelson's station is now, right across the street from the opera house.
"I've been interested in the Meeks because there was a family connection. Isaiah Meek was a brother of my grandmother—be an uncle of my mother's, my great-uncle. I stayed around him a lot, used to help with the chores and odd jobs.
"Alex Woods was my granddad. He came here with the Meeks. He owned 800 acres of land his self. He built that big brick house down there where your wife's uncle Earl and Aunt Rose lived—there where Gerald Keller lived when it burned last spring. That place belongs to Ervin McCracken now.
"That building that burned down where Corry's new building is was where they took in the wool. Old Joe Whiteley—that was the dad of Phil and Joe that run the store, he come here with the Meeks and was the wool sorter. Back in those days when people around here had some extra money they'd take it down and loan it
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to the Meeks for safe keeping. They had big sacks of wool up there in the upper floors of that building and Old Joe used to tell me that he'd taken thousands of dollars up there and hid it among the woo sacks. I don't think they paid much interest on it, maybe 1 or2 per cent, maybe none at all. They just had a little safe that 3 or men could pick up and walk off with. They were respected people the Meeks. People were honest then—why you never heard about any bank getting robbed then.
"You know where the cemetery is—that's where the brickyard was where they made the bricks they used when they built the pant factory. You can still see the old bricks there in Kenny Hawk's pasture just west of the cemetery but then it covered that whole hi] where people are buried now. Just think how many people have died and been buried there since 1892. That's when the pants factor; was built.
"The first bank in town was there where the library is now. Jo Johnson's dad run it for a long time and then Joe run it.
"Dick Rees and Dan Riggle had a carriage factory there west o where the glove factory is now. I bought my first buggy from then Herb Rees who lived up there at Keosauqua was Dick's boy. Dan Riggle built this house right here in 1895. I moved back to the oh home place in 1896 and up here in 1912.
"Remember old Emel Noske? I bought the last set of harness he made. When I got 'em he said "By God that's the last set o harness I'm goinna make". And it was! He died not too long after that. (July 23, 1948).
"You know where Pankey's feed store is and the tavern am Burn's Motor Shop? Back years ago there was a hotel there that they called the Eason House. I remember the night it burned down There were a couple hundred or so of us skating down on the river girls and boys both, when she caught fire and burned to the ground Old man Eason taught school as a young man. My mother went ti school to him out here at Woods School.
"He had a boy they called French. He was a traveling salesman of some kind, and a great rifleman—best shot I ever saw. He'd throw a bean or a pea up in the air and hit it while it was falling. A penny was a cinch. I remember when he'd come up there around the dam and shoot.
I'd always wondered how Mr. Glascock got his nickname and ii answer to my question he said, "I was called Doc for old Doc Brown, field, who brought me into the world. He only lived a half a mil or so down the road and he said that if they'd nickname me Doc he'd put me through school. They did but he didn't. He had 5 boy of his own to put through school and doctors didn't make mud money in those days. He moved down to Farmington and I guess he died there."
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Territorial Legislature Gives Go-Ahead To Build Dam At Bonaparte
An Act to authorize William Meek & Sons to erect a dam across the Des Moines River:
Section 1. Be it enacted by the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa, That William Meek & Sons be, and they are hereby authorized to construct a dam across the Des Moines River, in Van Buren County, in said Territory, between Sections 8 and 17, in Township 68 North, Range 8 west of the fifth principal meridian, which said dam shall not exceed three feet in height above common low-water mark, and shall contain a convenient lock, not less than one hundred and thirty feet in length and thirty-five feet in width, for the passage of steam, keel and flat boats, rafts and other water craft, provided said water craft will bear two tons burthen.
Section 2. It shall be the duty of the persons authorized in the preceding section of this act to build said dam, at all times to keep the lock in the same in good repair, and they shall, at all reasonable times, pass any water craft above-mention, through, free from toll, without any unnecessary delay. And any person who shall be unnecessarily detained, shall be entitled to recover of said owners double the amount of damages they shall prove to have sustained by reason of detention.
Section 3. Any person who shall destroy or in anywise injure either said dam or lock, shall be deemed to have committed a trespass, and shall be liable accordingly. And any person who shall willfully or maliciously destroy or injure said lock or dam shall be deemed guilty of misdemeanor, and. on conviction thereof, shall be fined treble the amount of damages the owners may have sustained or be imprisoned, at the discretion of the court.
Section 4. Nothing herein contained in this act shall authorize the individuals named in this act, their heirs or assigns, to enter upon and flow the lands of any person, without the consent of such person; and they shall remove all such nuisances as may be occasioned by the erection of said dam, which may endanger the health of the vicinity.
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Section 5. The Legislature of this Territory (or State) may at any time alter or amend this act so as to provide for the navigation of said river.
Section 6. The dam and lock specified in the first section of this act shall be completed within three years from the 1st day of May next.
Section 7. The right of constructing and continuing the aforesaid dam and lock across the Des Moines River shall be vested in the said William Meek & Sons for the term of fifty years from the 1st day of May next.
Section 8. This act to take effect from and after its passage. Approved January 17, 1839.
[click photo to view]
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Bonaparte In 1887
By Editor of Bonaparte Journal Eighty Years Ago
The following story of the early settlement of Bonaparte and its progressive business men is reprinted from the Bonaparte Journal's Holiday Visitor published in 1887, about fifty years after the town was founded.
This beautiful village is located on the Des Moines, in the south-eastern part of Van Buren county. Its location is a superior one, being surrounded by a section rich in fertility of its soil, excellent timber and good coal. The town was laid out in 1837 by William Meek and Sons and Dr. R. N. Cresap, and the initiatory step of those gentlemen toward building up a town here, was that of building a dam across the Des Moines river. The early settlers, besides those already mentioned, were: P. R. Rice, Joseph Rabb, Edwin Wilson, David Sewell, Lewis Christian and William Welch. At that time a few rude log cabins constituted the town. The early settlers of Bonaparte were energetic, and steadily pushed the town to the front, and today it is by odds the best trading point in southeastern Iowa. This is no idle assertion, because express and freight shipments to this place will bear us out. Competition is the life of trade, and we have it here. Today the din and clang of our mills, factories and machinery furnish music for the ears of one thousand people.
The roads leading to Bonaparte are well looked after by T. C. Pender, present Road Supervisor, and besides the inducements produced by competition, good reads have great influence in drawing patronage from the country. The town also has a large business custom from the people residing on the opposite side of the river, who are drawn here by the facilities afforded by our excellent bridge, which is the largest and most durable wagon bridge spanning the Des Moines in Van Buren county. This structure was commenced on Nov. 25, 1877, and on Jan. 29, 1878, it was tested and formally accepted. It has five piers and six spans, each 150 feet in length. Each span weighs sixty tons. The capacity of this bridge is 11,440 pounds per lineal foot. Its cost was $35,000.
There are four church organizations in Bonaparte, as follows: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Advent. The Baptists built the first church which was finished in 1857, at a cost of $2,800. The organizatiton has about 125 members, but at present they have no pas-tor. The Methodist society used the school house for a place of worship until it burned down. They then rented the Baptist church which served them until 1862, when they built a new church at a cost of $700. The membership is about 25, and Rev. Mr. Pool is the pastor. In 1868 the Presbyterian society was organized, and in 1871 they built a $2,800 church. Rev. H. R. Lewis was the first pastor, and Rev. C. H. Baldridge fills that position at present. The organization em-braces about 60 members. The Advent denomination has no church edifice of their own, but rent the Granger's Hall for a place of worship.
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The first district school house was built in 1844, and Thomas Charlton was the first teacher. The building was burned down in 1859. From the date of the burning of the old school building, until 1871, rooms were rented for school purposes by the district.
In 1865-66-67 the Bonaparte Academy Ass'n erected a fine brick building, two stories high, containing four study rooms and two recitation rooms, at a cost of $20,000. The incorporators of the Academy Ass'n were Thomas Christy, Joseph A. Kean, J. G. Vale, Benjamin Wagner, John T. Stewart, George W. Sturdivant and A. H. Leach, who erected the building for the purpose of promoting education, literature, science and art. E. P. Howe was the first principal.
In 1870 the Bonaparte district became independent, and in 1871, the Academy building was purchased by the directors of the Independent School District of Bonaparte for a public school building. The building cost the district $12,000.
The Bonaparte schools are now in a most flourishing condition, and nothing can better substantiate this than to note the goodly number of pupils enrolled, the general average attendance, the punctuality and deportment. The course of study requires twelve years to complete it and in addition to common branches it takes in algebra, philosophy, physiology, zoology, botany, bookkeeping, civil government and rhetoric. W. W. English is the present principal, and teacher of the high school department. The number enrolled is 38, of whom 12 are tuition pupils. Miss Grace Chapman is teacher in the Grammar department and the enrollment is 40. Thorough work is being done in the common branches of this department, preparatory to the high school. Miss Clara Blackford is teacher of the Inter-mediate department. The number attending is about 53. Good work is being done in language and in the development of the special senses. In the Primary department is Miss Joe Kennedy, who has efficiently filled that position for the last ten years. The number enrolled is 51. Here the little ones are kept busy with pencils, sticks, rings and other kindergarten goods, so that the time never lags, and the first days are made very pleasant ones.
The first child born in Bonaparte was William Willoughby, the first death was in the person of Angeline, wife of Dr. R. N. Cresap, and the first marriage ceremony solemnized in Bonaparte was that of our esteemed and respected townsman, Joseph A. Kean and Miss Elizabeth Williams. In this household we find the true essence of matrimonial happiness and bliss. During the many years that have passed since this union in the holy bonds of wedlock, many changes have come and gone in the history of Bonaparte. These co-laborers have experienced the trials and vicissitudes of life, and yet they en-joy life, with thee blessings and triumphs which always come to those who obey the Divine Law.
In reference to the early history of Bonaparte, there is some questions as to who kept the first store in the town. William Meek and John Bundy are credited with being the first to wait on our citizens in this respect.
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Early in the history of Bonaparte manufacturing interests were instilled in the minds of the citizens, and today one of the most important industries of Van Buren county, and, in fact, of Southeastern Iowa, are the Bonaparte Woolen Mills. These mills employ from 75 to 85 persons and its payroll is about $2,500 per month. William Meek & Sons built the first factory in 1853, who ran it successfully until 1863, when it was burned down. Robert Meek and Bros. commenced rebuilding a brick structure 50 by 85 feet, and five stories high, immediately after the burning of the old one. It was rapidly pushed to completion. Goods turned out by this factory are known far and near, and sell on their merits. The mill contains 1,640 spindles, 32 looms, 6 sets of carding machines, 2 shearing machines and turns out 22,000 yards of cloth per month, consisting of tricots, flannels, cassimere, blankets, satinet, jeans, yarns, etc., warranted all wool. The machinery of this flourishing institution is propelled by water power. Isaiah Meek is sole proprietor, and W. R. Dredge is superintendent.
Another of Bonaparte's paying institutions is the flouring mill. The building of the old flouring mill, by William Meek & Sons, in 1838, was the first move toward making a manufacturing town of Bonaparte. There was no dam across the river at that date. A wing was built, and a large wheel placed in the current, for the purpose of running the mill machinery, but it was not a success.
In 1839 William Meek & Sons petitioned the Legislature of the Territory for the privilege of building a dam across the Des Moines river at this place, which was granted, and in 1844 another flouring mill was built by the above named firm, which served until 1872, when Robert Meek and Bros. built a new one of brick, 40x50 feet, and four stories high. Six sets of buhrs were put in, but in order to keep apace with the lengthy strides of progression, Isaiah Meek, who is now sole proprietor, completely overhauled the machinery in the mill and three sets of double rollers took the place of the six sets of buhrs. The latest improved machinery was installed in the mill, and practically it is a new mill and is doing an immense business. Besides the great milling trade done for the farmers of Van Buren county, quite a number of customers come from Jefferson, Henry, Lee and Davis counties, in Iowa, and Clark county, Mo.
The capacity of the mills are 60 barrels of flour per day, and the demands for its brands are so great that all cannot be supplied. 'Phis mill dam and water power cost about $36,000. The present darn, and, by the way, the best one in the west, was built in 1872, by Robert Meek and Bros.
Rees and Riggle began the manufacture of carriages in Bonaparte in 1874. For the first few years they had to stand the strain of heavy competition from cheap eastern work, but they held to the idea that handmade carriages would regain the favor of those using such vehicles and now they have a good trade in that class of work, the extent of which can best be estimated by stating that during the past year they have sold three thousand dollars worth of vehicles to
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their home trade, besides shipping large numbers to other portions of Iowa, also to Nebraska and Missouri. Parties wanting anything in their line should remember that they deal only in hand-made work. You could not buy a "cheap John" buggy or carriage of them at any price.
Stebbins Bros. Hardware Co. is one of Bonaparte's most enter-prising firms. The stock is quite large, comprising several lines, all complete—shelf and heavy hardware, lime, cement, plaster, hair, builders' material, barbed wire, pumps of all kinds, window glass, paints, oils, cast bobs, sleighs and cutters, and probably the most complete line of house furnishing goods in this section of Iowa, consisting of furniture of all grades and qualities, refrigerators silver-ware, queensware, glassware, stoves, oil cloth, window shades, etc. On visiting this firm we found the proprietors in good spirits, and well pleased with last year's trade.
This firm is doing an extensive business, and Mr. Stebbins had considerable to say about trade for the coming season, but space will not admit of its publication here. The firm has sold 144 stoves since Sept. 1, 1887, and has ordered ten thousand pounds of binding wire for the coming season.
The Jolly Melican Boss Tin Shop (Limited) Bicycle Base Ball Man is by far the leading light in his respective lines. He confines him-self exclusively to the manufacture of and dealing in stoves, tinware and house furnishing goods. He carries a fine stock, is a shrewd buyer, and his twenty-four years of experience has taught him that the best is the cheapest. He manufactures his own tin, sheet iron and copperware goods from the best material procurable. Guttering, spouting, decking, valleys, galvanized chimneys and job work, in all its branches, promptly and neatly executed.
The Bonaparte Pottery was started in 1866 by Parker and Han-back, and that firm conducted the business for five years, when Robert Wilson succeeded Mr. Parker. The firm name at present is Hanback and Wilson. They employ from six to ten hands and two teams. These works generally turn out about 125,000 gallons of pottery per year. They also make flower pots, drain pipe and fire proof bricks. There is quite a demand for their wares, and they are kept busy in filling orders. Thomas Hanback senior member of the firm, is traveling salesman.
The advertisers in this Holiday Visitor were the following:
T. I. Bradford, Bonaparte Livery, Feed and Sale Stable.
W. A. Packer, postmaster, full line of school supplies and stationery.
Will Page, barber.
C. H. Middleton, groceries, fruits and tobaccos.
E. B. Parker, Parker's Cafe.
Farmers & Traders State Bank, J. A. Johnson, cashier.
J. Q. Beck, Bonaparte Machine and Repair Shop.
J. B. Barnett, grain merchant.
D. E. Sedgwick, jeweler.
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Una L. Chapman, Milliner.
Joseph Hinish, tailor.
L. C. Meek, breeder of horses and mules.
Hopkins and Van Dorn, dealers in boots and shoes.
Davis & Stutsman, drugs and patent medicines.
William Sivil, boots and shoes.
A. C. Huffman, groceries and queensware.
H. L. Coolidge, dry goods and groceries.
J. T. Humphryes, boots and shoes.
Noske Bros., harness and saddles.
Dr. B. P. Blackmar, physician and druggist.
L. H. Mills, groceries.
Christy & McDonald, dry goods and clothing.
L. Henry, photographer.
P. O. Beck, White Elephant Novelty Repair Works.
J. F. Perkins, breeder of horses and mules.
J. H. Cresap, live stock merchant.
W. W. Entler, general agency business.
W. E. Smith, Bonaparte Lumber Company.
George A. Demple, furniture and undertaking.
W. H. Brooker, Bonaparte Marble Works.
Samuel Sharp, the Park Hotel.
T. J. Feazel, photographer.
Mrs. Eason, the Eason House.
The township officers were: Trustee, A. Whitlock, Joseph Meek and T. W. Boyer. Clerk, Robert Wilson. Justices of the Peace, I. J. Hogan, W. W. Entler and J. P. Michler. Constable, Jacob Hogan.
School board: President, A. McDonald; Secretary, H. C. Creswell; treasurer, T. W. Boyer; directors, Robert Wilson, D. W. Riggle, W. E. Smith, William Meek and J. P. Davis.
The town was not then incorporated.
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Bonaparte On The Mormon Trail Through Van Buren County
The Mormon pioneers marked the first great route from the Mississippi to the Missouri, opening up a thoroughfare which later guided thousands of home seekers to the great West. From the city of Nauvoo, largest city in Illinois, with a population of 20,000, refugees streamed across Iowa. In July of 1346, 15,000 people, with 3,000 wagons and 30,000 head of livestock were camped along the Iowa trails. Over 150 companies made the trek over a period of about 8 years.
In Van Buren County were several stopping points for the Mormon pioneers. The Journals express many different reactions to the scenes along the way. For some it meant merely a jolting ride, pleasant or painful, depending on the weather. For others it involved hard work, as some of the men split rails, built fence and homes for the local settlers, or worked on the farms in exchange for means to continue their journey.
Historians say they drove resistless bargains with the Iowa farmers, for their skill and labor, and that as a result, the spring of 1846 in the Des Moines valley above Farmington saw more frontier shanties replaced by two story dwellings than has occurred in any like time and area in any western state.
The first train consisted of 500 wagons, which approached Farmington Mar. 3, 1846, from a camp 4 miles below, near the present site of Croton. One party camped 3/4 mile No. of Farmington on property of a Dr. Jewett, while most of the company went on to the vicinity of Reed's Creek, 2 miles east of Bonaparte. On one of the steep hills along this stretch, one of the teams gave out and the wagon tipped over, injuring a woman. This is thought to have been near the old Slaughter farm area.
A group of men had gone ahead to work at "chopping and fencing" at Reed's Creek. The camp was 1/2 mile from the river bank, and it is of interest to note that two ladies, going for a walk in the evening, lost their way, and had to be escorted back to their wagon home. A burial ground for this camp remains on a bluff north of the Creek mouth, where local residents report graves marked very plainly. The WPA Writers Program attributes some of the burials in the Snyder Cem. in Bon. Twp., to the Mormon pioneers at this camp.
Grain of the pioneers was ground at the Bonaparte Mill. While some of the men remained behind to finish the work at Reed's Cr., the main body traveled 2 miles up river to Bonaparte where they
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crossed the Des Moines. Brigham Young writes that they crossed just below Bonaparte Mills where the water was 2 feet deep. Eliza R. Snow writes that she slung a tin cup tied to a string into the river as they crossed, and found the water very refreshing.
Most journals agree that the hills on the south side of the river were difficult to negotiate . . . one writer describing them as almost perpendicular, and told of the difficulty of getting teams up hill after hill in the mud.
There were various camps going west from here . . . on Indian Cr., Fox River, with the last camp in the county being at Richardson's Point, near the Davis County border, about where the present road runs west from Lebanon. A Mormon burial ground lies deep in the woods on the Bonar farm near there.
There were countless smaller groups, branching out from the main companies, which camped, often for several months at a time at Reed's Creek, mouth of Bear Cr. near Vernon, Bentonsport, John Fitzgerald farm, Jacob Silver farm, Fatherson farm, Ely's Ford area at Keosauqua, and one group traveled up Coates (Honey) Cr. from Bonaparte, camping at the spot marked by the DAR on hiway No. 16.
The "Brass Band" which accompanied the first company, to "ease the discouragement of the travelers", played concerts for the Iowa citizens also . . . at Farmington on March 4th, and at Keosauqua on March 8, 10, 11, and 17, on the Main Street and on "Court House Hill".
The Historians of Iowa remind us that "in the persecution the Mormons endured in their early years, Iowa never joined. The people of Iowa seem to have enjoyed their music, made use of and paid fairly for, their labor and skills, and in general, conducted themselves in marked contrast with the officials and citizens of Missouri and Illinois, for which the struggling thousands of those pioneers years, must have been very grateful".
By Marion Flake, BonapartePage 25 - History of Bonaparte
The above picture showing Bonaparte from acros the river looking north was taken many, many years ago. This view shows the old woolen mill, grist mill and many other buildings of early Bonaparte.
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Building of Bonaparte Bridge in 1877
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The above picture must have been used on advertising literature by the woolen mills.
This picture was taken forty or so years ago and showed the old mill race during high water with a boat and canoe being used for a pleasure ride. In the background is the old band shell and the Rees Carriage Factory building.
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Pictured above is the Eason Hotel building of early Bonaparte.
The above photo shows, according to old residents of Bonaparte, a blind horse that somehow got into the river above the dam and was swept downstream lodging on the dam. The horse was rescued according to our information and led from its perilous perch on the dam.
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