History of Independence Iowa
Buchanan County, IA Biographies



The first building used for a courthouse was a small wooden structure standing at the corner of Main and Court streets. This was in 1847. The small, dingy front room was used as the county clerk's office and courtroom while the back end was occupied by Dr. Brewer, the first county clerk, and his family.

The first court was held in the log cabin of Rufus B. Clark. This cabin stood just north of where the Gedney now stands, in the middle of the street which was at one time called Mott Street. The second term of court was held in the store room of William Brazelton, then in a small building erected for a school house, and in various other places until the completion of the present courthouse in 1857, where it has since been held. This building cost about ten thousand dollars.

Later this building proved too small to hold all of the offices of the county officers and it was proposed to build another building. The first calaboose was a frame building located north of what is now the McClernon Block on Main Street, just east of Walnut Street

At one time the jail was situated in the basement under the Curtis livery barn, then later in the small wooden building back of the city fire department house on East Main Street used as a calaboose and jail. In 1869, at the general election a proposal to build a jail was submitted to the voters and carried by a majority of 1,405 for, to 264 against. In 1870 the present jail and sheriff's house was built at a cost of $18,828. The original arrangement of the jail had a row of cells at the north side, but jail deliveries were so frequent that in 1897 the cells were removed and a steel cage put in.

At the general election in 1880, the proposition to expend $7.500 of the swamp fund to build a fireproof building was presented and carried by a vote of 2,155 for, to 615 against. This building was completed in 1881. It was constructed of fireproof material and is now occupied by the county officers.


The second year after the settlement of Independence in 1848, a postoffice was established and S P Stoughton was the first postmaster. He held the office but a short time when Dr. E. Brewer succeeded him and continued in that capacity for about nine years.

During the first two or three years the emoluments did not exceed one dollar and twenty five cents a quarter. The mail was often carried in the vest pocket of the postmaster.

In 1857, Lorenzo Moore, a democrat, succeeded Brewer. Judging from the fact that Dr. Brewer was a whig and a republican, it is evident that he received the appointment because of his fitness for the place and the commission was so small that politics did not enter into the matter until Moore received the appointment Mr. Moore held the office until 1861 when he resigned and T. B. Bullen succeeded him. Bullen must have been a democrat, for Jacob Rich succeeded him some time during the same year, soon after the inauguration of President Lincoln.

Jacob Rich received a second appointment, but during President Johnson's administration he was remove.

He was the only postmaster at Independence ever removed for any cause other than political, and yet politics entered largely into the matter. Rich was in Washington most of the time and was very bitter in his attacks on the president. A petition was circulated in Independence and signed by a large number of persons who demanded a resident postmaster which, with Rich's venom toward the President was ample reason for Johnson to order his removal. Captain E. C. Little succeeded Mr. Rich in 1866 and held the office until his death on April 18, 1874, from which time until June 16th of that year O. D. Burr acted as postmaster.

On June 17, 1874, J. L. Loomis took charge of the office and continued until August 19, 1876, when he resigned Ľand William Toman was appointed and held the office until January 10, 1885, at which time David Dorman was appointed and on the advent of President Cleveland's first administration was succeeded by L. W. Goen on March 4, 1888. That was before civil service had advanced to any material extent and on the return of republicans Mr. Goen was succeeded by A. H. Farwell on February 19, 1891, who held the office four years, when Cleveland was again in and appointed W. H. Chamberlain on March 1, 1895.

During Mr. Farwell's administration the office was removed from the building now occupied by C. A. McEwen's drug store to the present location. The office had been in the building now occupied by A. S. Cobb before moving into the Leytze Block.

It was also during Mr. Farwell's term that the office became one of the second class and free city delivery was installed with two carriers, on December 1, 1892. Mr. Chamberlain was succeeded by Stephen Tabor on April 1, 1899, who was the only postmaster whose selection was determined by a vote of the patrons of the office affiliating with the party in power.

While Mr. Chamberlain was postmaster an attempt was made to rob the office. The safe was an old fashioned affair with a large bar of iron across the front, secured by a big padlock. This padlock was blown to pieces, but the robbers failed to get into the safe. They stole what change was in the drawer and a few stamps.

Stephen Tabor held the office until his death, August 5, 1903, and was succeeded by his widow, Anna Tabor.

During Mr. Tabor's administration free rural delivery was established with one carrier on February 15, 1899. The number of carriers was increased to eight on July 16, 1902, and afterwards on September 1, 1907, reduced to seven, which is the present number.

Mrs. Tabor held the office until March 10, 1909, when she was succeeded by H. C. Chappell.

During Mr. Chappell's administration the postal savings bank was instituted on August 26, 1911, and parcel post on January 1, 1913. The post office was rearranged and many new fixtures installed.

In March, 1913, President Wilson was inaugurated and A. T. O'Brien, a democrat, received the appointment on August 15, 1913.

The receipts of the office for the year ending June 30, 1914, were $18,585.37. There are now employed in the office, besides the postmaster, an assistant postmaster, J. C. Tekel; clerks, P. J. Tekel, A. B. Stout, Orin Primus, Raymond Stout; city carriers, C. J. Friedman (who was one of the original carriers and is now the patriarch of the office), R. H. Stannard, D. F. Black and W. H Sackett, and rural carriers, J. A. Bechter, N. R. Norton, H. A. Hallett, J. L. McDonald, J. W. Griffith, T. H. Hill and S. E. Lindsay, and J. C. Bates, mail messenger, and it is safe to say that no postoffice in the county has a more efficient, able and courteous force than has Independence.

It appears that in 1869 the United States Post Office Department furnished but one mail a day and the railroad company carried the second, or night mail, free, only stipulating that towns along the route provide carriage to and fro from the trains.

Captain Little, postmaster of Independence, solicited subscriptions from business men and those benefited. Liberal and prompt action should be taken, for upon his success depended its continuance.


After the occurrence of a severe fire in Independence in 1864 the grave necessity of having some more successful means with which to combat the fiery elements was fully appreciated and straightway some of the public spirited citizens proceeded to organize a hook and ladder company. At their first meeting in March, 1864, they elected the following officers: Foreman, Ransom Bartle; first assistant foreman, C. F. Leavitt; second assistant foreman, R. M. Chesty; secretary, J. M. Weart; treasurer, J. F. Hodges; steward, A. J. Howley; member of executive committee, J. B. Dorman. Immediately measures were taken to raise funds to buy a fire apparatus. All sorts of public entertainments were given whereby to create a fund and, like the town bell, for months it was the absorbing interest and object of all public benefits. The firemen were the instigators and moving spirit for all public affairs. They had charge of the Fourth of July celebrations, which were always a pronounced success, and of Washington's birthday celebration in 1865. Finally the funds were sufficient to buy an engine.

They expended $525 for an 'engine, hooks, ladders, and hose.

In the spring of 1862 a hook and ladder company, Fire Company No. 2, was organized. They built a truck house near the old bell tower adjoining the house of Company 1. This house is now used as a store house back of the wigwam.

Every night fire drills were held for the purpose of perfecting themselves in marching and parade duty.

They bought a big Cataract hand engine which cost $1,000, and 400 feet of hose. Louis Soener was foreman and Adolph Leytze, Sr., secretary. The old hand Cataract engine was also in service during the big fire and was placed on the east bank of the river south of the Main Street Bridge, but was disabled by the collapse of the Wilcox Building, which cut off the hose.

The old "Cataract" engine, which did such good service during the big fire, was, after Independence got through with it, sold to Eariville. It was an unwieldy affair and required a small regiment of men to move and operate, but it did some good work in its day and was a prize winner at the tournaments. It was constructed in 1852 and was used in Philadelphia for a long time and also in Peoria, Illinois, before Independence got it, and several other places owned it before Earlville came into possession of it.

It was yet in a good state of preservation when Eariville sold it to the Howe Pump and Engine Company of Indianapolis, Indiana.


In the city election in March, 1873, the proposition to establish a city library and to purchase a steam fire engine were both decided in the affirmative, the first project by a majority which was a compliment to the intelligence and public spirit of the citizens, and the last none too soon for the engine purchased arrived just in time to do effective work at the fire. Several engines were tried and finally a Clapp & Jones engine was purchased.

The Independence Steamer Company No. 1 was organized in 1874. H. E. Hunter was foreman; James Forrester, secretary; B. W. Tabor, treasurer; and L. M. Stevens, foreman of hose.

The steamer engine used by this company was purchased, by money subscribed from the citizens and money which was gotten from public entertainments, dances, public dinners, and other forms of entertainments. This engine for many years held the record and had the distinction of never having been beaten in getting up steam from cold water and throwing water 100 feet. This engine did service for many years and the last time it was in use was at the fire in the W. A. Jones stockyards, situated by the South Bridge, the water being pumped from the river where the Second Street Bridge is now located. This old engine made its last public appearance in the parade during the street carnival in 1899. This engine was sold to the W. S. Knott Company, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, for 800 feet of hose.

The first appearance of this engine was at the big fire of 1874. This engine had been sent here for trial and at this time stood on the flat car at the Illinois Central Depot and was brought downtown and placed on the river bank by the Klotzbaeh barn and when started in operation it was run without any steam or water gauge by Mr. A. D. Guernsey. This was a very hazardous undertaking and proved Mr. Guernsey to have been a true hero. Probably this daring feat saved the city many thousands of dollars of loss.

This engine was entered in numerous contests throughout the state and always was victorious. Instead of the laurel wreath the old engine brought home a broom, and had received numerous valuable money prizes. The members of the company comprised the foremost citizens of the town, were finely uniformed, expending something like one thousand dollars on their regalia. On June 15, 1885, the Independence Steamer Company went out of existence and the company voted to change its name to the C. M. Durham Steamer Company. This company and the Cataract Company were located at the engine house on Main Street, and Fourth Avenue S. E.


The steamer engine and old hand Cataract engine proving so heavy and unwieldy, the idea was conceived to make a smaller hand engine that could be quickly drawn to fires and in through gates for the purpose of rendering aid until a larger apparatus could be placed in position, to act as a sort of first aid. This company was known as the Boys' Wapsie Hand Engine Company.

The engine was built about the year 1878 by William and Bernard Yeager and Frank Megow, and was painted by Miss Rosie Otto.

The company was composed of boys ranging in age from ten to fifteen years. The first money for the purchase of this engine was made from the sale of old bones and contributions from the citizens for services rendered. It was stored in a shed on the ground now occupied by the Wise Block.

The members comprised A. T. O'Brien, Dan O'Brien, Louis C. Soener, George Soencr, C. L. King, Frank Yeager, Zion Lifts, Chris Seeland and Charles Leytze.

The engine was later sold for junk for $5.00, and the wheels 'were used by Charles Robinson for a buggy. This engine, though small, did excellent service and would throw water 75 to 100 feet.


After the Second Ward Schoolhouse fire the need of a hook and ladder company was very apparent and steps were immediately taken by the city to purchase a hook and ladder truck, which they did of L. M. Rumsey, of New York.

A meeting was held at the office of Hunter & Forrester, February 17, 1883, at which a company was organized to operate the truck. C. A. McEwen was elected foreman; S. B. Hovey, secretary, and W. H. Jacobs, treasurer.

The truck was stored in the Lee Building on East Main Street, now occupied by the Jones & Raymond garage. Upon the reorganization of the fire department, in 1887, it was moved to the engine house on Main Street at the corner of Main and Fifth Avenue.

This company made an enviable record at the Dubuque State Fire Tournament, being beaten for first money by one fifth of a second. In 1897 the truck was overhauled and a Seagrave truck ladder and chemical fire extinguisher being added.

This company, on account of the natty appearance of their light grey uniforms and the large and heavy truck which they used as the "Dude runners with the jumbo truck."


At a meeting held May 17, 1887, the Warne Hose Company came into existence. The meeting was called for the purpose of organizing a west side hose company. Ira B. King was elected foreman; Carl Goodwin, secretary, and L. S. Lyon, treasurer.

After various names had been submitted the one above was selected. The company was known as the Warne until a special meeting, March 9, 1889, when the present name, The Excelsior Hose Company, was substituted, and has ever since been in existence.

On May 8th of that year the Excelsior Hose Company elected their first officers, with Ira King foreman; S. G. Curtis, secretary, and L. S. Lyon, treasurer.

This company was quartered in a barn on the ground now occupied by the J. E. Moore residence in the Fifth Ward, later being transferred to the hose house on Main Street, west of the Presbyterian Church.


The A. D. Guernsey Hose Company was organized May 17, 1887. H. R. Marinus was elected foreman; William Opie, treasurer, and Ernest Leytze, secretary.

In June, 1895, the fire department decided to take part in the State Firemen's Tournament at Vinton. The company was organized and sent under the name of the A. D. Guernsey Hose Company. They were successful in winning the first money in the amateur class and equaling the state record of forty five seconds. Waldron, the leader, winning the leaders' race of 300 yards in 31 3/5 seconds. At first it was quartered in the engine house on East Main Street, then was removed to a house adjoining Joslinville, and later the house and company were moved to Third Avenue Northeast, north of the old high school.


The Clipper Horse Company was organized May 6, 1887. John F. lekel was elected foreman; Charles L. King, secretary, and Louis C. Soener, treasurer. This company is quartered in the engine house on East Main Street. It has taken part in a number of state tournaments.

In 1912 a chemical hand engine was added to the company and placed in the engine house.

On March 5, 1901, two fire alarms were sounded for two different fires at the same time, this being the only instance in the history of Independence.

The department has had fourteen chiefs, T. J. Marinus being the first, and the present chief is E. W. Raymond.

Each company draws $75.00 a year from the city, the chief's salary being $100.00. The hose companies comprise eighteen members each and the hook and ladder company has twenty five members.

The Guernsey Hose Company used the old Steamer cart and the Clipper Company used the old Catarack, both of which were borne made, the Excelsior Company taking the reserve cart of the Steamer Company. This cart was an elaborate affair with four wheels, finished in white enamel and gold.

These carts were later replaced by a lighter and new two wheeled carts.

The first fire alarms were given by the old town bell. By a vote of the citizens this was discontinued and the steam waterworks whistle was voted to be used for that purpose.


During the city election of 1885, this question was submitted to the voters, "Shall the city council contract for a system of waterworks at an expense not exceeding $2,500 per year?" The proposition carried by a vote of eighty five majority.

At a meeting on July 12th of this year, the resolution was adopted. At a special meeting of the council on July 28th the committee who had visited Fort Dodge and Mason City reported favorable to the bonding of the city in the sum of $27,900. This report was adopted and the necessary ordinance was enacted. At a meeting of the council held on August 9th, a resolution was adopted authorizing the purchase from Tom Palmer of the lot on the west bank of the river, just above the flouring mill, for the sum of $250.

For several days the council debated upon the question and the contract for engines, pumps, and boilers was finally let to the National Iron & Brass Works, of Dubuque, the same guaranteed by a bond issue of $10,000. The contract for the water mains was let to Denison & Cowell of Muscatine, for $25,420, and the Dubuque National Iron & Brass Works secured the contract for the machinery.

The contract for the foundation of the building was let to M. J. Baker, the work to be completed by September 15, 1886, and Mr. George Netcott received the contract to build the 75 foot high smokestack and building.

On August 25th the council passed an ordinance repealing the ordinances to bond the city for $27,900 and fixed the bond at $40,000. About the middle of September the work of filling in the lot with stone and earth was begun.

In the spring of 1887 this work was completed. The lot was leveled up, sown with grass seed and planted with trees. In October, A. D. Guernsey was given charge of the placing of the drive well system from which the water supply is derived. These drive well points were sunk in a bed of gravel underlying a great pressure, on the west side. The water is pure and soft. The gravel serves as a natural filter.

The pumping engines were supplied by the National Iron & Brass Works of Dubuque and were of the Smedley duplex pattern and were the first of their kind built west of the Mississippi.

Before the middle of the summer the pumps were ready for fire service and private consumers were supplied without charge until May 1st. The rates of water supply to consumers were very low.

The waterworks were entirely owned by the city and were under the control of the council. The works came under the direct supervision of the water commissioners, three members of the council. The first commissioners for the waterworks were Hugh McClernon, Mel L. Webster, and F. B. Bonniwell.

The city council at its adjourned meeting October 18, 1905, received the report of the committee that the Stewart lots west of the city plant had been purchased for $300. The bid of the Smedley Company, at Dubuque, to furnish the material necessary to drive well work for $958.50 was accepted. The new system of water supply was sunk to a depth of twenty five to seventy five feet in the Stewart lots, according as experiments showed the best water supply to be secured. This system has proven very successful other places and it was contemplated that it would insure a water supply to meet all emergencies and that the river suction would never be reinstated. The total expense of the change was estimated at $2,000 which insured a constant and reliable supply of water for all needs.

The largest users of water from the city waterworks is the State Insane Hospital, which uses up to sixty thousand gallons daily. Three or four years ago an addition was built on and new machinery installed which greatly improved the service. The pumps were changed from steam to electric power in 1907 and are now operated by power generated in the electric light plant.

On August 11, 1908, when the Wapsiepinicon Mill and Power Company bought the plant they began immediately to erect a fine concrete dam to replace the old wooden structure which had been in use for so many years, and was always in a state of dilapidation, from the continuous patching and repatching. Work was begun in the spring of 1908, and on January 8, 1909, the gates were placed in position and closed and on January 24, the water poured over the milldam for the first time in months, while the dam was in process of construction. It took just fifteen days and twelve hours to fill the mill pond.


On September 26, 1889, J. P. Smith proposed to establish the first electric light plant and at a special meeting of the council the matter was laid on the table, but at a subsequent meeting it was decided to submit the matter to the voters and it carried 544 for, 52 against.

Mr. Smith immediately contracted for the machinery and built a plant on the north side of West Main Street in the block next to the Hawthorne School. The plant was ready for operation on February 12, 1890, with a capacity sufficient to furnish 700 sixteen candle power lamps. It operated four years. On January 12, 1893, the old electric light plant was sold to the Independence Gas Company. In March of that same year, a proposition to build a municipal lighting plant was submitted, and was carried by a decisive majority of 527 votes. The proposition to erect a building was duly discussed at the council meeting and finally the ayes won, by the mayor deciding the issue with his vote, and the city proceeded to erect a plant adjoining the waterworks building, and which was operated in connection with the waterworks.

In 1911 a large addition was built and a new Corlis steam turbine engine was installed.

After the Wapsie Power and Light Company built the big concrete dam in 1910 and installed a dynamo in the mill, the city entered into a contract with the, company to buy such power as the company could produce at a rate which was a decided advantage to the city and the city has since enjoyed splendid service and light.


On Wednesday, June 27, 1906, A. B. Cummins, who was in Independence, laid the first brick on the original paving. It was a very impressive ceremony and had the brick been a gold one could not have attracted more attention and interest. For something like forty years Independence had had periodical spurts of agitating the paving question, but not until this year did the proposition carry. Again in 1909 the paving was extended, and in 1913. It now extends from the Central to the Rock Island depot and on East Main Street to the block west of the Forrester Bridge, and on Walnut from Second Avenue Northeast to the south end of that street at the corner of Oakwood Cemetery, and from Chatham Street, east on Second Street, to Walnut, and from Walnut Street to the South Bridge and from the South Bridge to the high school corner and north to Main, and it is contemplated to extend the paving quite extensively in 1915.


Independence has three city parks, the East Side or Courthouse Park, situated just east of the Courthouse Square. It comprises the entire block and was established sometime in the '60s, but not until 1871 was any improving done to it, when a, contract to grade it was let to Simon Murray for $850. Trees were planted, the ground seeded and that is the extent of its improvements today, with the exception of a bandstand which adorns its center, erected probably twenty years ago, and a gravel walk which cuts the park diagonally. But nevertheless it is a beautiful, restful spot and one which ought to be more enjoyed by our own citizens and made more attractive for wayfarers.

The Third Ward Park was a gift to the city from the Boggs Estate, and is adorned with beautiful natural trees, and a fine tennis court makes it an attractive place for those who indulge in the game. Walks and benches are the only other additions to its natural state.

The Fifth Ward Park is perhaps the prettiest and best kept one in the city. It is situated just one block north of the Hawthorne School and has some few natural attractions. Its beautiful shade and pleasant surroundings make of it one of the most attractive spots for picnics. Many automobile parties passing through the city seek this quiet, shady retreat. When the civic improvement idea first struck Independence a few years ago, the place having become so neglected, the people in the immediate neighborhood undertook to improve it. Soon the whole ward became interested and dinners and picnics were given whereby to raise funds for the purpose. A goodly sum was realized. A fountain was established, flower beds planted, gravel walks built, and the place was one of the show spots in town.

Mrs. P. G. Freeman deeded a plot of ground to the city for park purposes. It is beautifully located along the river bank at the outskirts of the Fifth Ward, and should Independence ever grow to be a city this park would help the city beautiful idea with a chain of or one continuous park along the river bank. At this point one can command quite an extensive view, both up and down our beautiful Wapsie.

Purdy's Park recently established, in the summer of 1914, and named in honor of the mayor, is situated just north and west of the city waterworks and electric light plant. It is small in area but embraces many attractions in the way of seats and is very convenient for passengers waiting for boats on the river.

Fair View Park was perhaps the most popular park which Independence ever had, and this strictly speaking was not a city park but was established by the Street Car Company. It was situated on the street car line just at the corner where it turned south through the fields to reach the hospital grounds in the eighty west of Rush Park. This natural grove, upon a small hill overlooking the city and easily accessible by car and vehicle, made a most desirable resort for picnickers and was the rendezvous for almost daily excursion parties during the few years of the Independence boom.

One big excursion worth mentioning was when the Y. M. C: A., between Independence and Decorah, had an excursion to this city. Fifteen hundred excursionists took advantage of the rates and made Fair View Park their destination.

A large pavilion, benches, swings and other regulation picnic apparatus constituted the entire improvements.

Besides for picnic purposes Fair View was extremely popular for dancing parties, and almost nightly the strains of sweet music and rippling laughter was wafted on the gentle evening breezes. (So much for a sweet, decadent past.)


The question of renaming and systematizing the streets of our city arose out of the necessity of adopting some regular system preparatory to the establishment by the government of the free delivery of mail here. What the postal requirements ask is simplicity and clearness in the arrangement. The following plan was presented to the council and was finally adopted.

Main Street shall be divided into East Main and West Main. All streets running north and south shall be designated numerically as First, Second and Third, etc., east and west of the river. Streets running east and west shall be designated numerically as First, Second, Third, etc., beginning with Main Street, and further designated in the division. All streets running north and south are designated as avenues, the river forming the starting point for numbering. The city shall be divided into four districts separated by Main Street and the river, to be known as northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast divisions and the portions of streets in these divisions shall have these respective letters added to their titles, according to location of such portion of street. This system was adopted and has proved simple and satisfactory.


Daniel S. Lee from 1864 to May 8, 1865, when he resigned and J. S. Woodward was appointed to fill out the unexpired term.

W. A. Jones, from 1866 to 1868. Charles F. Herrick, from 1868 to 1870. Henry P. Henshaw in 1870. O. H. P. Roszell in 1871. W. A. Jones, 1872. O. H. P. Roszell, 1873 to 1875. D. D. Holdridge from 1875 to 1877., O. H. P. Roszell in 1877. Mr. Roszell having died on October 5, 1877, Samuel Hussey was elected to fill the vacancy.

John J. Ney in 1878. John Hollett from 1879 to 1881. C. M. Durham from 1881 to the time of his death in 1884. L. F. Springerin, 1885. D. W. Howard from 1886 to 1897. Warren F. Miller from 1897 to 1901. P. A. Sutkamp from 1901 to 1905. C. F. Herrick, 1905. R. E. Leach was appointed to fill vacancy caused by the death of Mayor Herrick in August, 1905. R. G. Swan from 1907 to 1911. A. N. Todd from 1911 to 1913. C. E. Purdy in 1913 and 1914.

History of Bachanan County, Iowa
And its People
By Harry Church and Katharyn J. Chappell
Vol II
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chicago 1914

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