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Things To Do and See In Bentonsport Iowa
History of Bentonsport
Benton's Port, named for Senator Thomas Hart Benton, grew from the "Ross Settlement" of 1836. Vernon, originally called South Bentosport, began on the south side of the Des Monies River a short time later. Two ferries linked the towns.
At an election, held September 10, 1838, Bentonsport lost its bid to become the county seat, but that didn't keep the town from growing. It was officially platted early in 1839, and construction began on the first lock and dam system the following year. By 1845, there were two grist mills and a saw mill in operation. In 1846, several Mormon workmen temporarily dropped out of the wast-ward trek and a number of brick buildings on both sides of the river were built.
When a new lock and dam system was installed on the river in the early 1850s steamboat traffic increased rapidly and the towns prospered. The Green Brothers built a paper mill in Bentonsport in 1852, which was the first paper mill in Iowa. At about the same time the Vernon Democratic Mirror was established and was printed on locally made paper. James Clark started the county's first pottery in Vernon in 1848 and in the early '50s it was taken over by Dickson and Calinbourn. The railroad, which arrived in 1857 added to Bentonsport's prosperity and in that year the town printed it's own money.
The railroad continued on west of Bentonsport after the Civil War and in 1870 Congress declared that the Des Monies River was "unfit for navigation." This meant that the series of locks and dams no longer had to be maintained, and though boats continued to ply the river for a few more years, Bentonsport's days as a prosperous river town were nearly ended. The dam, through neglect, went down in 1879. The Green Brothers moved their paper mill workings to Kansas. James Brown's woolen mill had been destroyed by fire in 1865 and his grist mill soon suffered the same fate. A serious flood in 1851 had caused damage, and an even worse one in 1903 submerged all of the land below the railroad tracks. More floods struck in 1905, 1947 and 1993. Fires continued to plague both Bentonsport and Vernon and this accounts for the scarcity of frame buildings in the two communities.
The one-lane bridge, built in 1882-83, and opened in '83, is the oldest original iron truss bridge on the Des Monies River. If you look upstream from the bridge, you will see the "line" of ripples which marks the site of the dam. It is a reminder of the days when hundreds of people lived here. The population is now less then 50.
Portions of Bentonsport were designated as a National Historic District in 1972.
There are several buildings in Bentonsport that are being used for neat shops. Here is a little about some shops in Bentonsport.
The General Store - Built of Brick and stone in the Federal style in 1853, it was once the largest store in the county, and was owned by the Greef Brothers. The Greef General Store now displays antiques and crafts for sale, Native American artifacts, and historic Bentonsport information and memorabilia. There are public restrooms available and its finished basement can be used by groups.
MASON HOUSE INN BED & BREAKFAST - Built in 1846 to serve steamboat passengers and other travelers, the Ashland House was purchased by Lewis Mason in 1857 and was renamed the Pheonis Hotel. During the Civil War it was a station on the Underground Railroad and also a holding hospital. It stayed in the Mason family for 99 years. Now operated as a Bed and Breakfast, it is the oldest steamboat hotel in continuous use along the Des Monies River. Eight beautifully decorated bedrooms are furnished with authentic 19th century antiques.
Gems 4 Me - This frame building was originally a dwelling and stood west of the Bentonsport Academy. In about 1926, it was moved to the main street by use of horses and a stump puller and converted to a store. There was a barber shop in the upstairs room for many years.
INDIAN ARTIFACTS MUSEUM - This museum is owned and operated by Tony Sanders. He collected the artifacts himself and has over 4,000 different items on display. All of the woodwork from the building to the display cases are all built by hand from over 16 different native woods and shaped into different patterns. The inlaid wood work itself is a treat to behold. Tony is in his late 60's, never married, runs 5 miles a day, has no phone, and only eats what he hunts or grows. Open by chance or by appointment.
Originally opened in 1883 to horse and buggy traffic, this one lane iron bridge replaced ferries that linked Vernon and Bentonsport. It is the oldest original iron truss bridge across the Des Monies River. Damaged in the flood of 1903, it was repaired and opened to vehicles once more. It is owned by the County Conservation Board and was renovated by the Bentonsport Improvement Association in 1994. Is is now open for foot traffic and bicycles.
Iron and Lace
Built in 1990, using 100 year old posts and beams salvaged from old barns in Van Buren and Lee Counties, it was constructed for the use of a pottery and blacksmith shop. Owned and operated by Bill and Betty Printy. Bill is a blacksmith and makes hand forged artistic iron work. Betty makes the Queen Anne's Lace Pottery and jewelry. Also available are hand woven rugs and runners. Iron and Lace is open April to December and during the winter by appointment. Bill and Betty give demonstrations and various workshops.
- Iron and Lace
Queen Ann's Pottery and some of the most amazing Black Smitthing Iowa has to offer.