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History of Cedar
County, Iowa, 1878.

  
 

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County Seat Controversy and Removal.

Rochester. -- In December, 1837, when Cedar County was created by an act of the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin, there were not more than 150 persons in the county; of these, perhaps 100 were voters.  Everything within the territorial limits of the county was in almost chaotic confusion.  There were no civil officers, no townships, no towns or villages, except in name, the people of the county had no representative in either branch of the Legislature, and that body had but little, if any, definite knowledge even of the Territory or its landscapic appearance, for it is not probable that a single one of the members had ever set foot upon any part of its prairies, valleys or forests.  The settlers had located in different parts of the county -- not in congregated settlements, but were scattered around miles apart, the bulk of the pioneers, however, being located in the Sugar Creek district.

At this time there was but one post office in the county -- Rock Creek -- which had been established at Rochester July 19, 1837.  Above Rochester there was no established ferry.  Rochester and Pioneer Grove were the pioneer settlements.    Rochester was laid out in August, 1836, and besides the post office and ferry, a store had been opened and the building of a mill was under consideration.   These facts had been communicated to the Legislature -- at least that knowledge was in possession of the House and Council -- and, assuming it to be the most important town or village in the county, Rochester was designated as the seat of justice for Cedar County.

Three other towns -- Centerville, Elizabethtown and Warsaw -- had either been named or laid off during the Summer of 1837.  Centerville, seven miles southeast of Tipton, in the edge of Sugar Creek Township, was named by John Sheller and John C. Higginson.    Elizabethtown, the site of which was at the proposed Cedar River crossing of the Chicago, Clinton & Western Railroad, was laid out by Jehu Kenworthy and one of the Millers.  Warsaw, now covered and occupied by the farm of James D. Wiggins, on Rock Creek, three miles west of Tipton, was laid out by James W. Stone.  Each of these villages, according to the notions of their several proprietors, was the place above all others for a grand city -- even the Territorial Capital.  Land was cheap, and a "good deal of it to the acre," to quote the words of an old settler, and the proprietors were generous in providing for the width of alleys, streets, avenues and parks, as well as in the adoption of "big" names for the same.  They also made liberal use of paper, and it is said that, in some instances, "corner lots" were sold to Eastern parties at almost fabulous prices.  But in a few short months their glory faded away, and all that is now left of them is the memory of their names.    The stillness of their locations, instead of being disturbed by the hum and clatter of machinery, is broken by the voice of the plowman; the alleys, streets and avenues which their projectors hoped and expected to see occupied by stately business blocks and palatial-like residences are filled, instead, with long rows of corn or other grains, that find a market far away from the old-time Centerville, Elizabethtown and Warsaw, once the imagined great commercial centers of Iowa.  All but Rochester are buried beneath the debris of accumulated years.

As immigration increased and settlements began to extend to different parts of the county, the people began to talk about removing the county seat to a more central location.  The agitation of this proposition kindled the fires of sectional animosities, and aroused and arrayed the Rochester interests against other parts of the county; and, although more than a third of a century has passed since the strife commenced, there are still some slumbering embers -- a few of the old-time adherents of the Rochester interests that are still "watching and waiting" for the time when the county seat will be returned to them, and honestly believing that the time will yet come when Rochester, Cedar Co., Iowa, will equal in proportion and commercial importance the Rochester of New York, after which the pioneer village of the "forty-mile strip" was named, by George McCoy, in 1836.

In the contest of which we are now writing, Rochester was represented, in the main, by J. Scott Richman, now of Davenport; William Green, Joseph Crane and Stephen Toney.    There were others, of course, who were equally earnest in their efforts to retain the county seat at Rochester, but they lacked the qualities of leaders, and so filled up the ranks and followed in the wake of those named above.  George McCoy, the original proprietor of the town site, had been an ardent advocate of Rochester, but being elected Sheriff in the fall of 1840, on what was known as the Tipton ticket, (Note: There were three candidates for Sheriff at that election, viz.:  Goodwin Taylor, who was put in nomination by the Democrats; I. S. Martin, by the Whigs and Rochester men, and George McCoy, as the Tipton candidate.)  was looked upon with distrust by the friends of Rochester, and made his permanent abode in Tipton until he removed from thence to California, where he still resides.

Tipton was represented by Samuel P. Higginson, an old sea captain; Joseph K. Snyder, John Culbertson, John P. Cook and William Cummins, as generalissimos.  The friends of the respective interests arrayed themselves under the direction of their recognized and chosen leaders, and the fight commenced.  The contest was fierce, and sometimes at short range, until the victory was declared to be on the side of Tipton, and measures were inaugurated to build the necessary county buildings -- court house, jail, etc.

The first aggressive movement in the county seat controversy was made in November, 1839.  At that time, a petition was presented to the Territorial Legislature, in session at Burlington, setting forth in a clear and concise manner, says Judge Tuthill, in a paper read at the Centennial celebration at Tipton, July 4, 1876, the reason why a change had become necessary, and asking for the passage of a law to enable the people to re-locate the seat of justice for Cedar County.  That session of the Legislature convened on the 4th day of November in that year (1839), and the petition was presented on the 24th day of that month.  It was referred to a committee, and on the second day after its reference the committee reported a bill answering the request of the petitioners.  After various amendments, the bill was definitely acted upon and became a law.

"The friends of Rochester were highly indignant.  They alleged that the petition had been recently circulated, and that they had not been apprised of its circulation, or that such a petition was in existence until after its presentation to the Legislature; that, in consequence of the secrecy observed by the friends of the removal project, the remonstrance prepared by them, and drawn up, as they believed, with argumentative force and forwarded to Burlington, failed to reach the Legislature until after the bill based upon the petition had become a law, and that, as a consequence, their remonstrance had received no consideration."  The petitioners denied the "allegations" [of secrecy and surreptitiousness] and defied the allegators."  The denial, however, had but little effect toward allaying the animosity of the Rochesterites, and they arrayed themselves in solid phalanx against the proposed removal of the county seat from the banks of the Cedar -- the head of navigation on that stream -- to any point whatever, whether central or otherwise.

Other authorities say, and with good reason, too, that the Rochester people knew full well that the petition was being circulated, and that it would be presented to the Legislature at an early day of the session, and that they were there in force to defeat its prayer.  It is not reasonable to suppose that a petition of that character could be circulated secretly among the friends of the scheme of county seat removal, and all knowledge of its existence be kept from the opposite party.  To entertain such a proposition would be to entertain an absurdity.  It is remembered that some of the representative men of Rochester made two trips to Burlington on horseback, during the early part of the session, and it is believed by some of the "old settlers" that these same Rochester delegates were present when the bill passed.

The bill, the passage of which was secured under such circumstances, was entitled, "An act to re-locate the seat of justice in and for the county of Cedar."    Its principal features, says Judge Tuthill, were embraced in the following provisions:

1.  Appointing Henry W. Higgins, of Scott County; John G. McDonald, of Jackson County, and John Egan, of Johnson County, Commissioners of Re-location.

2.  Prescribing their official oath to act with impartiality and for the best interests of the county.

3.  Requiring them to meet first at Rochester, on the second Monday in the following March (1840), and if, upon examination, they should find that place convenient and eligible for the seat of justice, they should re-locate the same there; but if otherwise, they were directed to proceed to locate the same as near the geographical center of the county as the most eligible situation could be found, combining the advantage of health, convenience of timber, water, etc.

4.  Directing them, as soon as they had determined upon the place, to give it such a name as they might think proper, and to file a copy of their proceedings, duly authorized, with the Clerk of the District Court.

A thorough examination of the papers in the office of the Clerk of the Circuit and District Courts failed to find any report of the above-named Commissioners, and, as a consequence, we are unable to present even a synopsis thereof; hence, the reader's imagination must supply a missing link in the history of their county, which loss was occasioned by seeming carelessness of early county officials.

After the passage of the law above quoted, the proprietors and friends of Centerville, Elizabethtown, Warsaw and Antwerp (the last named a new town laid out on the southeast quarter of Section 9, Township 80, Range 3, by Peter Dilts and Charles A. Warfield, in 1838, and not before mentioned in this chapter) began to push the claims of their respective town sites for county seat honors.

The present site of Tipton was an unbroken and almost undisturbed prairie wild.    This quarter section was first claimed by William M. Knott, who sold his interest therein to Henry S. Chase before he commenced to make improvements.

Monday, March 9, 1840 -- that being the second Monday in that month -- the locating Commissioners met at Rochester, as required by the law under which they were appointed, to enter upon a discharge of their duties.  At that particular time, unfortunately, perhaps, for the success of that village, there was an unusual stage of water, and the town site was completely submerged.  This fact, no doubt, as much as anything else, caused the Commissioners to determine that Rochester was neither "convenient nor eligible for the seat of justice."

Commencing on Monday, the 9th, the Commissioners spent the intervening time till Friday, the 13th, in visiting the different proposed sites and feasting and dancing at the expense of the different proprietors.  After leaving Rochester, the Commissioners visited the northwest quarter of Section 6, Township 80 north, Range 2 west -- the exact geographical center of the county, and the site proposed by the old sea dog, Capt. Higginson, and by whom, says R. L. R., in his outline history of Cedar County, "they were entertained with unparalleled magnificence, when we consider all the circumstances."  After carefully examining the beautiful site (Higginson's), where Tipton has since been built up, the Commissioners visited Mr. Robert Dallas' home, in Red Oak, and from thence they went to visit Van Antwerp, who lived about half way between Tipton and Rochester.  A banquet and a ball were tendered the Commissioners and their retinue wherever they turned in for the night.  John Ferguson, of Red Oak, the first man to strike a note on any musical instrument in the county, was one of the delegation.   He carried his violin, and furnished the music at each banquet and ball.   Friday, the party again reached Rochester, were they were received with marked enthusiasm, the citizens supposing they had returned there to render their report in favor of that village; but their enthusiasm was illy spent.  Saturday, March 15, 1840, the Commissioners turned their backs upon Rochester and their faces toward the geographical center of the county.  When they arrived here, John C. Higginson, a brother of Capt. Higginson, produced a stake, the top of which was squared, which the Commissioners sunk in the ground.  One of the Commissioners then took a lead pencil and wrote "Tipton" on one of the squares on the upper end of the stake.   When this was done, John C. Higginson produced a bottle of champagne (some say whisky), which he broke on the to of the stake, at the same time shouting "Hurrah for Tipton!"

The new county seat was called Tipton in honor of Gen. Tipton, of Indiana, a friend of one of the Locating Commissioners.  It appears that one of the Commissioners was averse to fixing the county seat at Tipton, or, as it was then, on Higginson's site.    He agreed, however, not to offer any factious opposition to the decision of the other two Commissioners, providing they would permit him to name the new seat of justice, an agreement to which they readily assented.

The stake was stuck; the die was cast; and Rochester -- well, if its people didn't mourn, the "howled," and were exasperated and indignant beyond measure.    With Higginson and his friends, there was great rejoicing; and it is fair to presume that the hilarity of the occasion was somewhat stimulated by imbibitions from sundry black bottles, one of which was broken on the top of the stake, as just mentioned, in honor of a custom that prevails among seamen when they name a new vessel.

This decision of the Locating Commissioners did not quiet the controversy, nor allay the feelings of animosity and sectional hatred that had grown up between the adherents of Rochester and Capt. Higginson and the other parties interested in removing the county seat to a more central location.  Rochester interests were as much determined to reverse the decision of the Commissioners as they had previously been to secure it in favor of Rochester; and they at once set to work to complete their plans for future action.    Their first plan was to secure the passage of a law, at the next session of the Legislature, to enable the people of the county to vote on the question of removal.

The friends of the site selected by the Locating Commissioners were equally active, and they made immediate preparations to "hedge" in and protect the advantage thus far obtained.

The county seat stake was planted on Saturday, the 14th day of March, 1840.  On Monday, the 16th, the County Commissioners met, in special session, at Rochester.    Present:  Messrs. D. Comstock, W. Miller and J. G. Foy;  W. K. Whittlesey, Clerk.

"The report of the Locating Commissioners was caller for, and the Clerk read the same -- which report was accepted by Daniel Comstock and William Miller, and objected to by John G. Foy," when it was

Ordered, By John G. Foy, that it be proved the signatures to the report of the Locating Commissioners were placed there this day, the 16th of March, 1840.

Moved by A. L. McCrea, seconded by William Bolton, that S. P. Higginson be sworn.   Accordingly S. P. Higginson was sworn by the Clerk, and pronounced the signatures just and true.

Moved by John G. Foy, seconded by William Miller, that S. P. Higginson be sworn in relation to the signatures to the report of the Locating Commissioners as to the date.   Accordingly sworn, and pronounced the same yesterday.

The commissioners then ordered a recess of ten minutes; and on re-assembling for business, the question being put by the Clerk, it was

Ordered, That the protest of John G. Foy be rejected and put on file.

The protest was accordingly placed on file.

Ordered, That the County Commissioners do preempt the quarter section selected by the Locating Commissioners as the county seat.

Ordered, That the Board adjourn until Monday next, having due reference to the county seat, and that the Clerk advertise the same.  Those having money to loan can do the same by taking an interest in the town, at the lowest rate of interest.

[Signed]

William Miller,
John G. Foy,
Daniel Comstock.

The quarter-section where the Locating Commissioners planted the Tipton stake was first claimed by William M. Knott, who, before making any improvements, sold it to Henry S. Chase.  Chase immediately Knott to erect a 16x16 foot cabin on the claim, for which he agreed to pay him $16.00; so that when the Commissioners located the county seat on Higginson's site, the land was held in claim right by Henry S. Chase.  When Chase purchased the claim from William M. Knott (who was under age), he gave him a note for $60.00 in part payment therefor, which he gave to his father.  After the Commissioners rendered their decision, Mr. Chase held that the County Commissioners ought in justice, to pay him for his interest in the land.  In the adjustment of the matter, Solomon Knott -- who held the note given by Chase to his son, William M. Knott -- gave up the note in consideration of whatever the County Commissioners might concede was due to Mr. Chase, be it more or less.

When the Board met, on Monday, the 23d day of March, 1840, Samuel P. Higginson submitted the following proposition:

To the Board of County Commissioners of Cedar County -- Gentlemen:  I beg leave, most respectfully, to make you the following proposals for furnishing money to enter the quarter-section of land on which the county seat of this county was lately located:  That I will give outright to the County Commissioner of Cedar County the sum of $200.00, for the aforementioned purpose, on the following conditions:  That the County Commissioners shall come under bonds to me to make a good and general warranty deed to twenty lots upon said quarter-section, said lots to be of a general average of the whole, as they may hereafter be laid off, and to be deeded and set off to me as soon as said quarter-section is surveyed, and before any sale of lots takes place.  Said money to be furnished immediately, in Land Office funds.

[Signed]   Samuel P. Higginson.

-------- Iowa, March 22, 1840.

It was then

Ordered, By the Board, that any person proposing for lots in the county seat, and will advance $200.00 in Land Office money, for the purchase of the county seat site, lately located under the name of Tipton, they shall propose on these terms:  The Board of County Commissioners shall choose nine lots, and the person proposing shall take one lot; the Board shall take nineteen lots, and the person proposing shall take one lot:;   the Board shall then take nineteen lots, and the person proposing shall take one lot, and so on, until the proposer receives the complement he names, of twenty lots, or, in like proportion, of any number of lots laid off in said town, the entire quarter-section to be laid off in lots.  We do accept of the above proposal -- the letter of Samuel P. Higginson being made a part of the same.

[Signed]

William Miller,
Daniel Comstock,
Commissioners.
John C. Higginson
(Agent for S. P. Higginson).

Attest,
Wm. K. Whittlesey.

Dated at Rochester, this 23d March, A. D. 1840.

Gave bonds in the sum of $200, payable to S. P. Higginson, to be void on the County Commissioners furnishing him with warranty deeds as per agreement.

Daniel Comstock was appointed agent to procure a pre-emption right to the county seat as located on the 16th day of March, by the Locating Commissioners, on the northwest quarter of Section 6, in Township 80 north, and Range 2 west of the Fifth Principal Meridian.

[Signed]

William Miller,
Daniel Comstock.

The Board then adjourned.

 

 
 

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