June 2, 1955: Truly a festive time in La Porte City, the community was just days away from celebrating its Centennial. Introducing the special Centennial Edition, then publisher of The Progress Review, Cliff Burr, wrote, “We’d like to remind the people of this community that it is fine- to bask in the glories of the past of the many accomplishments that have made it possible for the present generation to be observing a centennial. But that after the celebration is over next Tuesday night we must never lose sight of the fact that our second century is started and that it is our duty to do all that we can to make La Porte City an even better city in which to live.”
Consider the words of Professor Penelope J. Corfield: “Communities speak languages that are inherited from the past. They live in societies with complex cultures, traditions and religions that have not been created on the spur of the moment. People use technologies that they have not themselves invented. So understanding the linkages between past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human. That, in a nutshell, is why History matters. It is not just ‘useful’, it is essential.”
Want to learn more about La Porte City’s history? Back issues from 1880-1889 and 1930-1969 of The Progress Review are now available online, courtesy of Hawkins Memorial Library, The Progress Review and a number of generous local donors. Explore La Porte City’s past by logging on to www.theprogressreview.co or www.laportecity.lib.ia.us.
By NINA WIENANDS
The Prairie lay undisturbed century after century in a vastness of beauty, loneliness and peace, close to the heart of nature. Life of its inhabitants— the native red man, the wild animals and the birds- was as lazy and serene as the prairie itself except when storms, floods, prairie fires or Indian warfare interrupted for short intervals and then passed on and left the prairie to itself again.
Endless vistas of beautiful rolling land, covered with a sea of lush grasses that rose shoulder high and rippled in the wind were broken by stretches of great groves and tree-lined streams that wound their courses, confined to their banks or flooded the lowlands.
Millions of gorgeous flowers blossomed in their seasons and wild fruits were abundant. In winter the prairie slept frozen and silent with a snow covering deep, wide and drifted and with ice topped streams, hard and glistening.
Time stood still, measured merely by variations of day and night, the change of the moon and the shifting of seasons.
Into this hunting ground of the red man. one day came an intruder— a white man. He was perhaps a trapper or trader who crossed over the Mississippi River. His foot prints became the first challenge to the prairie and to the moccasin imprint of the Indian. His calendar brought the first evaluated time to the prairie land.
With his venture into the unexplored began the background of La Porte City history.
After the purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the United States in 1903, exploration of the prairie began, but the area including Iowa was reserved exclusively for the Indians. The land was lawfully opened for settlement in 1837, when the Sac and Fox tribes ceded the territory to the United States.
The Indians still remained after the treaty but settlements by white people were inevitable.
The first settlers were roving bands of men, bent on trading with the Indians and fishing and hunting. They stopped for a month or several years in passing through.
A roving Frenchman, who lived near Cedar Falls during the summer of 1837, is reported as the first settler in Black Hawk County. Others followed in succeeding years and located temporarily or permanently in scattered parts throughout the county. William Sturgis and wife made the first permanent settlement near Cedar Falls in 1845 and the same year settlements were made near Waterloo.
Coming closer to the present La Porte City area were a Mr. Johnson, who cut logs eight miles above Big Creek (then called Wolf Creek) in 1844 and Dickerson, who cut logs at the mouth of Big Creek in 1846. Owen McManus and a Mrs. Mitchell located in Eagle township in 1845, David Baker, Samuel D. Warner and Otto F. Hayden in Big Creek and Cedar townships, Moses Bates on the banks of Spring Creek in 1847 and Peyton Culver and John Robinson near Bates in 1848. The John Clark families came to Spring Creek township in 1851 and settled.
These immigrants trekked across tho prairie by wagon, on horse back or afoot and found their way into the roadless wilderness by following the course of streams or by the guiding direction of the sun, the stars and a compass.
The wild rose of the prairie, now Iowa’s state flower, welcomed the strangers and the strong, courageous, fearless pioneer families who followed in the ensuing years.
Time no longer stood still on the prairie The white man brought change and civilization and recorded his activities by years.
Black Hawk county had been created and had a population of 135 in 1850.
Three years later James Hamer, a rover, found his way to the banks of Big Creek at the site now known as the corporate limits of La Porte City. After remaining here a few years he took up his journey westward. In the same year, 1853, George Cook located here and became owner of a large piece of land embracing the area included in the original plat of La Porte City. He built a log house, the first home erected on the site.
No thought of starting a town was in these men’s minds. They were simply settlers on a spot in the prairie along Big Creek.
In 1854, a settlement minded man, John A. Dees, platted a town on the west side of Big Creek and named it Ottawa, in honor of his home town of Ottawa, Indiana. He built houses and a log hotel 44 feet long and 16 feet wide and nearly a story and a half high.
Wasson Buys Land
Early the next year he opened negotiations for selling his town to Dr. Jesse Wasson, then living in Vinton. Dr Wasson came to investigate the settlement, but believing that the east side of the creek offered a better location for a town, he immediately purchased a largo acreage of ground there from George Cook, including the land on which the town of La Porte City was originally built.
Wasson and his associate partner, Joel W. Catlin of Vinton, moved here at once and by the middle of May 1855, they had erected a store house 18 by 50 feet, on which is now the corner of Main and Locust Streets.
May 31, 1855, Dr. Wasson married Junia Haun of Vinton and brought her to the settlement.
Mr. Catlin’s wife Rozella also came to the settlement. The Wassons lived in the store building while they erected a home across the street.
Dr. Wasson named the village La Porte after La Porte, Indiana, where he had spent his early years. He had the town platted by Wesley Wipple, June 5, 1855 and the plat filed and recorded July 16, 1855.