Guttenberg, Iowa: History of an American Town

Great River Road

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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.

Gutenberg Bible

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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.

Commercial Center

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.

Guttenberg,Iowa

A markerGuttenberg,IA -
Guttenberg, IA 52052, USA
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Guttenberg, Iowa

Primary references for this article are:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hawk_Purchase

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guttenberg,_Iowa

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_River_Road


© 2014 Don A. Hoglund

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12 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Been there many times. Friends of mine had relatives there, and we visited them quite often. Another good Hub, Don!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks Bill. For some reason it is popular in Illinois and Minnesota to look down on Iowa, but there are a number of nice places in Iowa. I was born in Des Moines and worked in some Iowa towns. There are a number of good and scenic towns in Iowa and this is one of them.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

My dad and mother and all three of my sisters were both born in Iowa, but I was born in Missouri due to the beginning of the Second World War. Dad was working on the Boeing plant in Seattle, and they thought the Japanese might attack it, so Mom, 7 months pregnant with me, was sent to stay with her mother St. Charles Missouri. Her father was also working on a war project, although I never knew what it was.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

There was more mobility in those days than folks think. My folks both came from Northern Minnesota. My oldest brother and my sister were born in Minneapolis. My other brother and I were born in Des Moines. The family moved back to Minneapolis when I was about 6 years old. My sister's idea of a small town is Des Moines.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Don,

What a gorgeous setting in that town of Guttenberg, Iowa. Somewhere along the way the spelling got messed up if it was indeed supposed to have been named after Gutenberg who invented movable type. That one invention surely helped to change the world!

Enjoyed this hub immensely. I still have relatives who live in Bettendorf, Iowa. Up votes and sharing this hub. Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Peggy. You are right about the spelling. However, I did not find any explanation for it. The area is very impressive because of the hills.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 22 months ago from The Beautiful South

I was in Iowa several years ago for a couple of weeks and it a very beautiful place and it was great getting out on the Mississippi! Great article. ^+


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 22 months ago from sunny Florida

One little town at a time this country took shape. It is always fascinating to me to read the history behind them

thanks for sharing

Angels are on the way to you this evening ps


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 22 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Jackie. People tend to think of Iowa as only flatland and cornfields. However, there are some very attractive areas. Thanks for your comments.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 22 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

pstraubie, it seems like all my life whenever I went to or through small towns, I wondered what people do there, how it gat there and why. I think every town has a story behind it. Thanks for commenting.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 21 months ago from Ontario, Canada

You have introduced me to another interesting small town in the U.S. I don't think I have been to Iowa but the virtual visit is good enough for now.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 21 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Iowa seems to have an image of being dull and uninteresting, but there are many interesting things in the state. These towns interest me because they are on the river and there is quite a history because the river was the first means of settlers getting to the frontier historically.

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