Guttenberg, Iowa: History of an American Town
Great River Road
Historic Town in Iowa
Guttenberg is an historic Iowa town located along the Mississippi River in Iowa’s Clayton County. It has about 2,000 people (1919 pop.as noted in the 2010 census.) French explorers originally started the town in the year of 1673, according to Wikipedia. The French called it Prairie La Porte or “door to the prairie.” The Sac and Fox Indians had campgrounds there until 1823. The United States acquired the area in the Louisiana Purchase.
I’ve been through this river town on several occasions we like to drive the river roads. It is set in an attractive site by the Mississippi River on what is known as the Great River Road. If a person wants, they can follow the road along the river from Minnesota to New Orleans. Although I have not traveled it outside of the mid-west, there is something attracting about the river. At least, for me.
I’ve lived by the Mississippi River most of my life and sometimes near other rivers. The Wisconsin River runs through the town I presently live in.There is a theory that some of us have a “sense of place.” Various people are drawn to environmental features, such as rivers, maybe lakes or deserts and so forth. Whatever the case, enough people were drawn to this area to make it a place to live from the first French explorers, Native Americans, and later on-German immigrants.
It was the German immigrants who gave the name of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of movable type, to the town. I do not know why the names are spelled differently.
Black Hawk Purchase
As well as the Louisiana Purchase from the French, the United States acquired land belonging to the Sauk, Meskwaki (also known as the Fox Indians) and Ho-Chunk (also known as Winnebago.) The United States had defeated these tribes in the Black Hawk War and an area of 6 million acres was bought for $640,000 on September 21, 1832. The area is bordered by the Mississippi river on the East. The present cities of Dubuque, Fort Madison, and Davenport are included in the purchase.
The first section of Iowa opened for settlement when the treaty was signed and became effective June 1, 1832.
If you tour the town of Guttenberg, you’ll see a number of limestone buildings which were built by German immigrants in the later part of the 19th Century. You may observe both residential and commercial buildings, some of which date back to before the Civil War and are now part of the National Historical register, according to Wikipedia’s article on Guttenberg, Iowa.
Like other river towns, it was Guttenberg’s location on the Mississippi River that made it important as for early commercial development and a stepping stone for settlement to the west. It was also an early government and administrative center.
Like other frontier towns the businesses in the beginning were those that served a need for people passing through, as well as residents, including general supply stores, blacksmiths, wagon shops, and hotels, according to Wikipedia.
From 1838-1843 it served as the county seat and a supply center for the area until after the Civil War. It lost some of the market center attraction with the development of the railroads and an interior road system after the war.
In 1843 the county seat was lost and growth slowed and population declined as a result. The Western settlement Society brought in hundreds of German immigrants in 1845 and economic revival began. Lead mining along Miner’s Creek helped keep the development going. The German immigration started in 1845 and started the growth of the town which was now almost entirely German by 1865. They named the town after Johannes Gutenberg who invented movable type.
In 1851 the town incorporated. It shows its German influence by the construction of the many stone buildings. Limestone was obtained from the river bluffs and local clay and lime was also found locally. Warehouses, a large flour mill, stores and hotels were built during this period, according to Wikipedia. Steamboats delivered merchandise and took on farm produce, milled flour and lead ore.
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© 2014 Don A. Hoglund
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