Boone County History
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 U.S. 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 from the French, of which Iowa was a part. Three years later, as a prelude to eventual settlement, Lewis and Clark explored the purchased 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 and 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. Colonel Stephen W. Kearney led three companies of the First Regiment of the United States Dragoons up the Des Moines River from 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 Captain 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 as 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 confirm 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). As county judge, Montgomery 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 number of 17 townships.
Boone County’s Towns and Villages
Throughout Boone County’s history there have been several towns and villages, both incorporated and unincorporated. Two Boone County townships, Beaver and Cass, never had any towns or villages. Today there are ten incorporated towns in Boone County: Beaver, Berkley, Boone, Boxholm, Fraser, Luther, Madrid, Ogden, Pilot Mound, and Sheldahl. The others villages mentioned here are unincorporated.
Elk Rapids was the first permanent settlement in Boone County, located in Douglas Township on the east bank of the Des Moines River. Charles Gaston, who had been through the area as a soldier in 1835, settled there on January 12, 1846. Benjamin Williams arrived in June 1846 and staked a claim next to Gaston. The area’s first store and post office were operated out of Williams’s smokehouse by a man named Dawson, starting in 1850. The first mill in Boone County, built between 1849-1850 on the west bank of the Des Moines River by Adam and Jonathan Boles, was 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, were established in 1850 and met in southeastern Cass Township at Elk Rapids, when it was part of Pleasant Township. In 1851 Williams laid out the town and named it for the shallow crossing in the river where elk were seen to cross. In 1855 it had three stores and a population of 150. The Flood of 1857 destroyed the mill and the town started to decline. In 1913 the Elk Rapids Viaduct, constructed by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, spanned the Des Moines River in Cass County, but by 1914 the town was only a memory.
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 late 1846, where he married his second wife, Anna C. Dalander. The Dalanders, who were 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, Iowa 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.”
The darkest years Madrid ever saw were between 1865 and 1881. Two different railroads were supposed to run rail lines through Madrid, but didn’t and the population began to decrease. Finally, the Milwaukee Railroad ran an east-west line through Madrid, and the Des Moines and Northern Railroad ran a north-south line through the town. New residents arrived, lots sold quickly, and new businesses sprang up. Madrid thrived. Though Madrid’s economy was based on agriculture, coal mining was a major industry a few miles down the road from 1910-1945. Many Italians and Croatians emigrated to Madrid to work in the coal mining camps in Dallas County just south of Madrid that were rural postal branches of Madrid, including High Bridge, Scandia, Snyder/Sniderville, and Zook Spur. Madrid is the oldest continuously-inhabited Swedish settlement west of the Mississippi River and in 1910 the population was about 1,000 citizens.
Pea’s Point was the name given to the point of timber in Worth Township where John Pea and James Hull, and their families, settled on May 26, 1846. It was located near the headwaters of Pea’s Branch, also known as Pea’s Creek, which is near the present-day Boone Middle School and Five Mile Drive, and which runs south through Ledges State Park. When the raid on the Lott family was made by the Sioux chief, Sidominadotah, at the mouth of the Boone River in 1846, the settlement at Pea’s Point was the nearest one to the scene of the event. When Henry Lott and his stepson arrived to elicit help, John Pea and Thomas Sparks were two of the men who went to their aid.
Between 1849 and 1851, court sessions were held in various homes and buildings in Des Moines Township. Booneville was the first post office in the township; it was located one mile south of the current Boone County Hospital and was established on August 28, 1850 in the home of Samuel Bowers. On July 9, 1851, two years after Boone County’s first election, the county seat was established in present day Des Moines Township. Wesley Hull built a ‘courthouse’ for the county seat, a double log cabin—two log cabins connected by a covered walkway—that also served as general store and the post office. That summer the town of Boonesborough (currently West Boone) was also established; the plat is dated September 1, 1851. On November 29, 1851 the Booneville post office was moved to the new courthouse and renamed Boonesborough, with Jonathan F. Rice as postmaster. In 1854 there were 11 log homes and one framed building in town and the first permanent courthouse was built in 1856-1857. Nine years later four additions had been added to the courthouse, the town’s population had soared to 2,000, and Boonesborough was incorporated on June 4, 1865. In 1883, the spelling of the town’s name was changed to Boonesboro. (During this period, spellings were changed, names shortened, and apostrophes eliminated from many town names.) The Boonesboro post office was discontinued on June 30, 1902 and all mail was routed to Boone.
Although 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 as it was incorporated in 1866, sprang up a mile and a half east of Boonesboro following a dispute over the location of the railway station and rail line. From a couple of hostelries in the early 1860s, 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. 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.”
Located in Yell Township, Ogden was platted by John I. Blair on June 6, 1866, then replatted on May 6, 1870. Ogden was named for Blair’s friend, William Butler Ogden, a distinguished railroad magnate and capitalist. Ogden was a railroad town; its first residents were railroad men William Patterson, John Regan, and George Stanley. Incorporated in May of 1878, Ogden was a ‘main street’ town, with the Lincoln Highway running right through the middle of it, from east to west. The town’s post office was established in 1871 and its first postmaster was William Lees. The town’s newspaper, The Ogden Reporter, was first published in 1874. In 1880, Ogden’s population was nearing 1,000; in 1910 the population was almost 1,300.
Ridgeport was laid out in May 1854 in Dodge Township by John Ridpath and Absolom Kelley; however, when the post office was established on June 13, 1854, it was called Mineral Ridge and the first postmaster was J. F. Alexander. First known as Fisher’s Point on 1868 maps, it was also known as Mineral Ridge, which was the name given to the range of hills, bluffs, and peaks that rose high above the surrounding country. Early surveyors couldn’t get their compasses to work on the ridge; they thought it was because of deposits of iron and minerals beneath the ridge but instead they had defective compasses. The nearby town of Ridgeport was situated near the summit of the mineral ridge that ran along the north edge of the township. Ridgeport never grew substantially, but at one time it had one general store, one blacksmith and woodwork shop, two churches, and a number of houses. The post office closed on July 31, 1913.
Centerville was located in Yell Township on the west bank of the Des Moines River. It was laid out in 1855 by James Corbin and Henry Fisher. A lumber mill was already in operation on the river in 1855 so people there thought it would help the town grow. After a few years Centerville grew large enough to support two stores and a blacksmith shop, but no post office. In 1888 the mill was washed away in a flood and the timber stand was nearly depleted. The town declined rapidly and in 1914 only a few houses remained.
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, later helped to spur immigration into the area. Coal mining flourished in Madrid, Moingona, Boone, Ogden, Fraser, and other Boone County communities. Government grants to war veterans also encouraged settlement. The railroads, farming and, from the 1850s through the early 1950s, coal mining, were the major industries in the county.
Midway was the original name of the village in Jackson Township located east of Highway 17 between Boone and Ames, established in the 1850s, but never platted and which had no post office. In 1864-65 it was changed to Harmon’s Switch when the Chicago Northwestern Railroad was built through the area. On April 13, 1896, a post office was established with the name Jordon, named for the Jordan River in the Holy Land. In 1914 Jordon had a railroad depot, a store, a grain elevator, a blacksmith shop, a post office, and a population of about 100.
On February 1, 1937 the town’s name was finally corrected to Jordan. Tons of livestock and grain were shipped to Chicago from Jordan, but the post office was discontinued on March 15, 1954. On June 13, 1976, a massive F5 tornado wiped out the town of Jordan, destroying 67 homes, 375 farm buildings, the Jordan elevator, and the old Jordan school. It also demolished 14,000 acres of crops and killed hundreds of livestock. Damage estimates were around $20 million, but no human lives were lost.
Beaver is the only town located in Amaqua Township. According to the 1914 edition of History of Boone County, Iowa, amaqua is the Native American word for beaver, and the town was named after the nearby Beaver Creek, where beavers could be found up to 1856. The Beaver post office was established on April 26, 1866, discontinued a week later, and reestablished on June 19, 1879. In 1867 a railroad station was established in Beaver, which led to the town being platted on June 30, 1879 and incorporated in 1911. The town of Beaver drew considerable trade from neighboring Greene County and in 1914 it had two churches, two general stores, a barber shop, pool hall, three grain elevators, and a population of about 100 people. It is a small farming community and since it is situated on the main line of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad (now the Union Pacific), it was a shipping point for a great quantity of grain.
Moingona, located in present day Marcy Township, was laid out on July 6, 1866 when the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad established a station there. Coal, timber, and building stone were abundant in the area and the town and railroad prospered together. The town was named by C.E. Vail of New Jersey after the Native American word, “mikonag,” which meant ‘road’ and was pronounced by French people there as Moingona. A post office was established in March 8, 1867 with John Dows as postmaster. During its coal mining days, Moingona’s population grew to about 1,000 people.
Moingona is notable because it was the home of railroad heroine Kate Shelley, who on July 6, 1881, at 15 years of age, crawled across a railroad bridge in the middle of the night in a dangerous storm to warn authorities of a bridge washout and downed engine, thus saving the lives of railroad men and passengers. But when the coal ran out and the railroad rerouted its line to cross the river four miles north, the town’s prosperity ended and it unincorporated. By 1914 the population had dwindled to 300.
The town of Coal Valley in Marcy Township was laid out in 1867 as a mining town, but when the coal played out and miners moved away, the area reverted to farmland.
Mackey’s Grove was a small hamlet in Harrison Township that was first settled in 1856 by a farmer from Illinois, Sebastian Mackey, whose farm boasted 400 acres. The hamlet’s post office was established on May 4, 1870 and discontinued two years later. Mackey’s Grove was never platted. In the late 1850s a schoolhouse was built, then a store, a blacksmith shop, a harness shop, and later a church, all because the settlers needed services closer to home than Boonesboro, which was 14 miles away. The post office was reestablished on September 18, 1876 and the town was renamed Mackey on June 20, 1883. Since there was no rail line nearby and no other transportation source, there was little hope of Mackey surviving or thriving and the post office closed on April 15, 1905.
The area that became Sheldahl was settled by 120 Norwegian immigrants on June 7, 1855, including Osmond and Anna Sheldahl and five of their children. Sheldahl became a large land owner and the regular pastor for Palestine Lutheran Church in 1860. The town of Sheldahl was platted by Osmund Sheldahl and J. S. Polk of Des Moines in August 1874 and was incorporated on January 18, 1882. It was named for Osmund Sheldahl, who donated twenty acres of land to the original town of Sheldahl, this deed being signed by Abraham Lincoln. The post office was established in Boone County on November 10, 1874, with Oley Nelson as postmaster. The town is located in three counties, with a small piece of land in each of Garden Township in Boone County, Palestine Township in Story County, and Lincoln Township in Polk County. After building a house in town in 1877, Osmund Sheldahl and his sons built the First Norwegian Lutheran Church (pictured); Sheldahl served as unpaid pastor there for 13 years. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad established a rail line through Sheldahl during the 1880s. On September 7, 1885 the post office was moved to a site in Polk County.
Zenorsville was a coal mining camp and village located in eastern Jackson Township. The village was named for Milan and William Zenor, who settled there in the spring of 1851. About 1875 a large coal deposit was discovered there and by 1880 there were three mines in operation at Zenorsville: J. Clemens Mine, Hutchinson Brothers Mine, and Joseph York Mine, employing 93 men and producing a lot of coal. A post office was established June 29, 1876 and the village grew to about 400 people. Along with the post office, there was a store, a blacksmith shop, a meat market, one church, and a school. When mining operations ceased around 1900, the houses were gradually sold or moved, and residents moved away. The post office was discontinued on December 5, 1900, the church and school were moved to the highway west of the town, and the land where Zenorsville once stood is now cultivated. By 1914 no trace was left of Zenorsville.
Angus in Union Township, originally called Coaltown, was settled in the early 1870s on an extension of the Des Moines Valley Railroad after a large seam of coal was located in the area. A post office was established there on June 11, 1879 with Arthur Smith as the first postmaster. The post office was renamed Angus on March 31, 1881; it was named for a railroad official as an incentive to reroute the railroad to the mines. In 1885, Angus was the largest coal mining town in Iowa, with nine active mines and 5,000 people. The Climax Coal Company, operated by railway magnate James J. Hill, was the largest of the nine companies operating in Angus. A bloody 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 1886 the population had decreased to 3,500 and the company-owned houses were sold and moved. By 1900 the population had completely dwindled to only 333 people and by 1910 to 240.
The town of Pilot Mound, in Pilot Mound Township, was laid out on September 8, 1881, one mile northwest of the mound it is named for. A battle was fought on the mound between the Sac and Fox tribes under Chief Keokuk, and the Sioux under Chief Wamsapasia; Keokuk’s tribes won. Later, the mound was used to pilot travelers, helping them locate Norton’s Ford on the Des Moines River; hence the name “Pilot Mound.” The mound was also located directly on the old stagecoach route between Fort Dodge and Fort Des Moines, and was a stopping place for troops of Army Dragoons. Pilot Mound got a post office on November 14, 1865 and it boomed as a young town; in 1875 there were over 700 residents. The town’s newspaper, the Pilot Mound Monitor, was started in 1898 by August Samuelson and had 4 different owners in 15 years before it ceased. In 1910 Pilot Mound had 347 residents and by 1914 the town boasted two general stores, a drug store, two grain elevators, a lumberyard, a restaurant, a barber shop, a blacksmith shop, and a bank.
Berkley was the third town to be laid out in Union Township. The post office was originally established as Sommersville on February 23, 1882, with Frank Sommers as the first postmaster. The town’s name was changed to Berkley and it was laid out on June 25, 1883. Situated on the Milwaukee and St. Louis Railroad line, it had a population of 150 in 1914, plus a post office, two general stores, one implement store, a bank, a grain elevator, a blacksmith shop, one restaurant, a church, a schoolhouse, and many residences. The post office was discontinued on January 31, 1935.
Boxholm, first called Grant Center, is located in Grant Township. During its early years, Boxholm was a rail center for livestock and grain shipments because it was on the line of the Newton and Northwestern Railroad, later known as the Fort Dodge, Des Moines, and Southern Railroad, and then as a branch of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. The post office was established on April 2, 1887 by John B. Anderson, the first postmaster, in his store. It was at his request that the town was named Boxholm, the name of his hometown in Sweden. The town was laid out on April 21, 1900. In 1914 Boxholm had a population of 200, with two general stores, two implement stores, two hardware stores, two garages, one drug store, one lumber yard, one blacksmith shop, two grain elevators, and two banks. Located in the middle of very rich farming country, the town was settled by mostly Swedish immigrants.
Located in Worth Township, Luther was platted on January 26, 1893 and named for Clark Luther, who owned the land and the storehouse where the post office was established in 1883. Mr. Luther was a prominent farmer with large land holdings in the area. In 1883, when he built a storehouse on the town’s site, J.K. Jenkins opened a store in it and served as the first postmaster. Luther was a farming community; grain and livestock were shipped from there because the Boone line of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad ran through it. When the original wooden water tower was constructed in June 1913, Luther was believed to be the smallest town in the state with a water system. In 1914 there were three stores, one bank, a blacksmith and woodwork shop, a livery, a telephone office, a practicing physician, two grain elevators, two churches, a schoolhouse, and about 150 residents.
Incline was situated in Yell Township along the Des Moines River. The Milford Coal Mines initially employed many people and produced a lot of coal by 1880, but the post office wasn’t established until February 2, 1893, with James Flockart, Jr. as the first postmaster. The town was never officially platted and as the coal ran out, the post office closed on September 14, 1901. By 1914 all the mining machinery was moved to other places and the only village remains were a few cellar holes and foundations. The area was later referred to as Shepardstown or Logansport.