Historic Houses

Pioneer Log Cabin c. 1839

September 28, 2011


“A local historian alerted the Fairfield Ledger that this old cabin in New Sweden in Lockridge was about to be torn down. The Ledger reported on its possible destruction — they said the log cabin was “Logging out.” My instinct is to save our precious rare pioneer history, if we can, so I did what I could to take steps to save it from destruction. The new owner is open to adaptive re-use if there is a way to renovate the cabin and preserve it, if it were not a tax burden. Second-best is to have the historic dwelling carefully separated from the later additions and moved to someone else’s land to be used as a garden house, office, or some other creative use. Once set on new property it could be renovated and filled in with new mud. I believe it to be worth the effort!” — Rena Goff

SE ¼ of the SE ¼ of the NE ¼ of Section 21, Lockridge Township: NW corner of 195th and Velvetleaf Sts. This article is for historic interest only and not to be used for legal descriptions.

Historic log cabin in New Sweden, Lockridge.

We don’t know for sure, but we believe the original 14′ x 24′ portion of the New Sweden cabin, photo, right, was the original log cabin built around 1839 by Irish immigrant William Montgomery, and purchased in 1848 by Swedish immigrant Peter Smithburg. Local rumors in Lockridge and Brighton say it was. If in fact it is, this log cabin is now the second oldest structure in Jefferson County–second only to the Bonnifield cabin museum in age in Jefferson County, and worth saving.

On April 19, 1839, William Montgomery, a 26-year-old immigrant who had come to Iowa from County Down, Ireland by way of Pennsylvania, bought the 160 acres of the NE quarter of Section 21 in Lockridge Township from the U. S. Government. (The deed was recorded December 1, 1841 in Jefferson County Deeds Book F, p. 207. William also bought 80 acres in Section 3, 80 acres in Section 9, and 120 acres in Section 10 at the same time.) William probably built a cabin on his land when he purchased it that year, if not even earlier. Because there were no government land offices until 1838, Iowa pioneers often cleared their selected land and built houses before obtaining a deed. They trusted that as squatters they’d have the first right to purchase their land once the land office opened.

Early Jefferson County log cabin.

William was already farming in Jefferson County in the 1840 U. S. Census, which listed his household as containing one male in his twenties (William himself), one female aged 15-19, and one boy under five. Perhaps he was already married; if so his wife probably died soon afterwards. He returned to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to marry Harriet Richmond in 1842 and brought his new bride back to Lockridge, Iowa, where over the next 11 years they raised six children: James (who may have been the son of his first wife); Jane, who married a Mr. Bosworth; Mary, who married Fairfield farmer and stock-man George W. Shriner; John; Isaac R., who married Minnie C. Howard (older sister of Fairfield shoe merchant Elmer Addison Howard, who became vice president of the Iowa State Bank and vice president of the C. B. & Q. Railroad); and Henrietta, who married Fairfield druggist George D. Clarke. (In 1902 George D. Clarke leased his drugstore at the north corner of the east side of the square to his nephew Frank S. Shriner, son of George W. Shriner.) Though he sold the 160 acres of Section 21, including his farm of thirty cultivated acres and old cabin, to Peter Smithburg in 1848, William Montgomery continued to live and farm in Lockridge, where the Iowa State Census enumerated his household in 1856: the year before William died. (The 1856 Census describes his farm as 5 acres in meadow yielding 25 tons of hay, 10 acres of spring wheat with 140 bushels harvested, 10 acres of oats yielding 500 bushels, 25 acres of corn yielding 1250 bushels, ¼ acre of potatoes yielding 50 bushels, selling 42 hogs valued at $460, 8 cattle valued at $470, 500 pounds of butter manufactured, 20 pounds of cheese, 40 pounds of wool, $31.50 of domestic manufactures.)

On August 15, 1848, William Montgomery sold the 160 acres of Section 21 to Peter Smithburg, a well-to-do coppersmith who had just emigrated from Sweden with his wife and six children. (Deed recorded June 6, 1849 in Jefferson County Deeds Book F, p. 309.) In coming to Lockridge, the Smithburgs were part of America’s earliest surviving Swedish settlement: New Sweden, founded in 1845 by Peter Cassel. At the time Peter Smithburg bought William Montgomery’s land, it contained 30 acres under cultivation, along with Montgomery’s old log cabin, by now somewhat out of repair. Two weeks later Peter drowned while attempting to cross the heavily-flooded Brush Creek to bring lumber from the sawmill to repair the cabin. His oldest son Charles, then seventeen, made the trip with him and survived the accident, but he himself died four years later in 1852. Peter’s widow Anna Catherine persevered on the farm with her family. Philip L. Anderson, a minister as well as a good farmer and mechanic, became the caretaker of her farm, and on July 17, 1850 she married him. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 her two remaining sons, Andrew David and Gustaf Adolphus Smithburg, enlisted in Company M of the 4th Iowa Cavalry, and served throughout the war.

New Sweden Log Cabin

On January 10, 1863, while the Smithburg brothers were still at war, their sister Sophia sold her one-fifth interest in the 160 acres to their brother-in-law Eben Peck, who had married their oldest sister Inga on February 22, 1855. (Quit Claim Deed, recorded June 6, 1863 in Jefferson County Deeds Book 1, p. 540.) Eben and Inga Peck sold their two-fifths interest in the land to Andrew G. Anderson on January 27, 1864, the year the Pecks moved to Wapello County. (Quit Claim Deed, recorded February 8, 1864, Jefferson County Deeds Book 2, p. 108.; obituary of Inga Smithburg Peck, Blakesburg [Wapello Co., Iowa] Excelsior Newspaper, Vol. 29, No. 49, Thursday, Jan. 2, 1925, p. 2, online at archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/IAWAPELL/2001-08/0998971306.) How or whether Andrew G. Anderson was related to the Smithburgs remains as yet unclear.

On April 15, 1864, Andrew G. Anderson and his wife Christena S. sold their two-fifths interest in the land to the two veteran Smithburg brothers, Andrew D. and Gustaf A. (Quit Claim Deed, recorded January 13, 1865, Jefferson County Deeds Book 3, p. 1.) On August 26, 1864, their youngest sister Albertina sold her one-fifth interest in the land to Andrew D. Smithburg. (Quit Claim Deed, recorded January 13, 1865, Jefferson County Deeds Book 3, p. 1.)

On August 28, 1866, Andrew D. Smithburg and his wife Emeline, Gustaf A. Smithburg, Philip L. Anderson and his wife Catherine sold the 80 acres of the east half of the northeast quarter of Section 21 to Andrew G. Anderson. (Warranty Deed recorded September 6, 1866, in Jefferson County Deeds Book 5, p. 601.)

On June 23, 1868, Andrew G. Anderson and his wife Christena in turn conveyed the south 40 acres of this land, being the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 21, to Gustaf A. Smithburg. (Warranty Deed recorded June 24, 1868, in Jefferson County Deeds Book 7, p. 513.) On December 27 that year Gustaf married Christena M. Anderson, daughter of Andrew M. and C. Louisa (Johnson) Anderson, and perhaps related to Andrew G. Anderson. Gustaf’s mother died less than four months later, on April 2, 1869. It was probably about this time that Gustaf built his one-story cabin to the west of the New Sweden log cabin. Gustaf’s grandson Everett Smithburg has a photograph of this later cabin, (with the newer two-story house in the background to the left), which he recollects Gustaf built after he returned from the Civil War — most likely for his new wife and growing family. Over the next eighteen years the couple would have eight children. This cabin’s remains might be those visible on satellite photos around 1000 feet west of the Montgomery cabin and about 500 feet east-north-east of his more modern two-story house at 3073 195th Street, built closer to the turn of the century: however, the newer house is to the left of Gustaf’s cabin in Everett’s photo, and looks closer than 500 feet from the cabin. While clearly primitive, Gustaf’s post-Civil-War cabin appears to be constructed of clapboard, with no logs visible. It is a one-story structure with two south doors, the easterly one under a simple extended-roof porch; a center chimney on the north roof and also a saltbox addition on the north. At least one of the two windows in the south wall and the window on the east wall appear to be six-over-six, with a smaller attic window in the east gable.

Pioneer log cabin section of New Sweden Lockridge house.

Finally, on December 6, 1870, Gustaf and his wife Christena sold the nine acres in the southeast corner of the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 21, to Jonas P. Ehen: also variously spelled John Ain, and John P. Ane. (Warranty Deed recorded December 27, 1870, in Jefferson County Deeds Book 12, p. 27.) Newly arrived from Sweden, Jonas was a cabinet-maker or carpenter, and probably he built the northerly addition (with surviving six-over-six windows) onto the original log cabin: with the assistance perhaps of Lockridge house-carpenter Charles Ehen, who may have been his older brother. (The 1870 U.S. Census for Lockridge lists John Ain as a cabinet-maker; the 1880 U.S. Census for Lockridge shows him as carpenter and farmer; the 1885 Iowa State Census lists John P. Ane as farmer.)

Is the New Sweden log cabin the original structure built around 1839 by Irish immigrant William Montgomery, and purchased in 1848 by Swedish immigrant Peter Smithburg? Local rumors say it was. The 95-year-old Everett Smithburg, however, believes that his great grandfather’s original cabin lay about three-fourths of a mile northwest of the Montgomery cabin, close to a spring, and remembers seeing pottery shards and ruins there. We have not yet visited the site or found evidence of these ruins on the satellite maps of the area, other than the remains of what may have been the post-Civil-war cabin of Gustaf’s, about 1000 feet west of the Montgomery cabin. Perhaps Everett is remembering the ruins of this cabin. Everett does not know the history of the New Sweden log cabin, beyond saying it has been there as long as he can remember; he thinks it may have been connected to the Baptist Church, which lay just east across Velvetleaf Road in Section 22, but adds this is an unsubstantiated theory. The New Sweden Baptist Church was built in 1854 as a one-story log cabin; the 1871 township map appears to show the Baptist Church squarely in Section 22, where the cemetery is now: not in the New Sweden log cabin’s Section 21. The Smithburgs were Methodists, not Baptists; as yet we do not know the religious affiliation of the Ehens.

In some ways the New Sweden log cabin appears to date from the earliest pioneer period, circa 1839. Its logs are clearly hand-shaped with prominent adze marks, and some of the logs measure as much as 14 to 16 inches across. The single interior wall’s exposed studs are small unshaped tree-trunks, and much of the lathing appears hand-cut and irregular. The interior brick chimney, built against the cabin’s original north wall, probably dates to later than the earliest period – say about 1860. The east part of the cabin sits atop an early cellar, probably used as a root cellar, the pioneer form of refrigeration. Looking up from the cellar you can see that the subflooring of the cabin was created with a circular saw, which would only be from the 1850s or later. We wondered: why would the subflooring be more modern than the log cabin? According to about.com the final step in building an authentic frontier log cabin was to “rake the dirt and gravel floor smooth.” If this log cabin was typical, the floor would have been updated to wood flooring at a later time. The building appears integral to the site, which it commands nicely, and we see no convincing evidence of its having been moved here at a later date. It does not, however, sit immediately adjacent to a stream, as did most of the early pioneer homes; a well is sited just north of the north addition. In the absence of an examination of the ruins mentioned by Everett Smithburg, our current tentative theory is that the New Sweden log cabin is indeed the original William Montgomery cabin of ca. 1839, repaired in 1848 and afterwards by Peter Smithburg and his family, and that Gustaf built his newer cabin to the west around 1868-1870, when he sold the nine acres and the earliest cabin out of the family to Jonas Ehen, who probably added the northerly addition shortly after 1870 to the original log structure. Gustaf then moved still further to the west when he built his two-story house at 3073 195th Street closer to the turn of the century.

(Additional sources: Biography of G. A. Smithburg in Portrait and Biographical Album of Jefferson and Van Buren Counties, 1890, p. 519; also in C. J. Fulton, History of Jefferson County, Iowa — A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Vol II, Published 1912, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, Pages 54 and 58; Pioneer Family Recollections by Mrs. Alberta MENDENHALL in 1927, http://iagenweb.org/boards/jefferson/documents/index.cgi?read=351432) — article by Rory Goff.

Disclaimer: The above article is for historic interest only and not to be used for legal descriptions.

The 1838 Bonnifield cabin is the oldest house in Jefferson county, Iowa.

This video shows photos of another log cabin on Velvetleaf in Lockridge that isn’t quite as old but is probably from the same generation. The Fairfield Ledger recently reported that this cabin will be demolished.

Here is a 1907 announcement for volunteers to reconstruct the 1838 Bonnifield cabin at its present site at Old Settlers’ Park: Fairfield Tribune:
“At the Old Settlers’ Park on Friday, Oct. 25, the Jefferson County Old Settlers Park Association are going to have a log-rolling and cabin raising, and place the old Bonnifield cabin in a final resting place. Bring in your froes and help rive shingles. Everybody is invited. Come and bring your dinners and enjoy a hard day’s work and an appetite.”

1876 striped wood floors

August 28, 2011

striped wood floors in Fairfield Iowa.

Between 1876 and 1879 a number of stores on Fairfield’s Square installed striped wooden floors, usually in alternating bands of walnut and ash or walnut and maple.

Photo, above right, is a floor in the Cafe Paradiso, located at 59-61 West Broadway at the corner of North Main Street. The Paradiso occupies two adjacent store-buildings; J. E. Roth built the east one, No. 59 West Broadway, in 1871. When he remodeled it in 1879, the Fairfield Ledger commented, “The new store room of J. E. Roth & Co. is finished in all its details. The stock was again removed into it last night, and the boys are as pleasant as can be to-day — if J. Edward is away from home. New and modern shelving, a handsome and durable oiled walnut and ash floor, new counters splendidly furnished, fresh painting and graining, bright walls and ceiling now give Roth & Co. the largest and best dry goods room in the city, at least that’s what they think.” ( Fairfield Ledger, April 2, 1879, p. 3, col. 5)

The other three photos, left and below, are of a private residence on Kirkwood built around the same time.

Beautiful houses on B Street 200 block.

Both 200 E. Washington (left) and 203 S. B St. (right) are on Lot No. 4 in Block No. 21, Old Plat, and Thomas D. Evans gave the whole lot to the Methodist Society in 1844 for them to build their church on. Finally finished in 1850, the brick Methodist “Old Zion” Church stood at the southeast corner of Washington St. and B St. (now 200 East Washington). After the Civil War the Methodist Society split into two factions, with some of the members leaving “Old Zion” for the Harmony Church, which stood near the courthouse.

“Old Zion” on S. B Street was demolished in 1876. The Fairfield Ledger of Aug. 17, 1876, says (p. 3, col. 4): “With the demolition of the Old Zion and Presbyterian Churches will disappear two of Fairfield’s old land marks….They were the two oldest churches in the city, and the first brick ones erected.”

The two factions later reunited under Rev. Henry Wing, who then built a large wooden Methodist church in 1877 on the northeast corner of Briggs and Court Sts., where the brick Methodist Church is now.

Scroll “Older Posts” on facebook, April 28-May 2, 2011 for more conversation.

Before and After Fairfield Iowa street, West Broadway.

Then and Now: West Broadway Avenue, looking east toward the Square from North 4th Street.

Above: In this photograph from ca. 1907, the avenue is unpaved, and piles of horse-dung appear to have been carefully deposited down the center and north side of the road, but the fire hydrant, sidewalks, lawns, regal trees and splendid residences leave no doubt that West Broadway is a civilized neighborhood. At far right is an ornate residence at No. 308 West Broadway, which Oscar Herring says “was built by Marshall S. Crawford in 1873 and rebuilt in 1880 by J. C. Thorne and after its partial destruction by fire in 1905 again rebuilt.” He adds that the property was “conveyed to Parsons college on the annuity plan” by a daughter-in-law of J. C. Thorne. (Oscar Herring, “The Homes of Fairfield,” Fairfield Ledger, Jan. 6, 1933, p. 4.) J. C. Thorne sold dry-goods on the north side of the square at 59 East Broadway from 1880 for more than thirty-one years.

Below: In 2011, the avenue is paved; all evidence of the horse has given way to the ubiquitous automobile; a stop-sign now appears on the northeast corner, from which the fire hydrant has migrated to the southeast corner; the exuberantly turreted Queen Anne at 308 W. Broadway is now a parking lot, while the old corner house at 312 West Broadway (out of the picture to the right) has been replaced by the yellow bungalow at 310 with another parking lot at the corner — but the trees have grown even more magnificent; the orderly sidewalks and lawns remain, and most of the rest of the houses down the row east from 306 W. Broadway on are virtually unchanged from a century ago.

1201 S. Main St., Fairfield, IA.

1201 South Main Street, by special request:

The first resident of 1201 South Main St. we could find was in 1922: William H. Bangs, vice-president of the First National Bank and his wife, Edna.

In 1927 Dr. Claudius Rasmussen, an Osteopathic Physician lived here. His office was at 54 Leggett Building, on the west side of the Square.

In 1930-1931 two unmarried family members lived here — Gladys E. and Eugene A. Miksch. The street directories available at the Fairfield Public Library fill in the names of many of the other occupants through the years:

1937: vacant
1939: Clarence W. Courtney
1942: Richard Myers / Bruce Warner
1945: Richard Myers (in the US Service) and family
1949: Walter E. Huddleston
1966-1971: Hubert E. Jones
1973: Samuel Hamilton

First mention of two-family residence, 1201 S. Main St and 1201 1/2 S. Main St:
1974: 1201–Sandra Baker; 1201 1/2–Theo A. Brewer
1976: 1201–Sandra Baker; 1201 1/2–not at home
1977: 1201–Cheryl Hostetler; 1201 1/2–vacant
1980: 1201–Judith A. Mc Chesney; 1201 1/2–Cheryl Hostetler
1981: 1201–Judith A. Mc Chesney; 1201 1/2–Michl. L. Branam
1984: 1201–vacant; 1201 1/2–Steven Sperber
1986: 1201–Isaac Hamilton; 1201 1/2–Steven Sperber
1988: 1201–not at home; 1201 1/2–Steven Sperber

The assessor records state the house was built in 1900.

If you have any interesting stories relating to this house, please post on Facebook.

South Main Street, Fairfield, IA near Madison Ave.

Then and Now: South Main Street, looking north across Madison Avenue

Above: In this peaceful view taken ca. 1910, South Main Street is as yet unpaved, but is flanked by stately houses and a lush double-row of trees.

Below: Even with pavement, street signs, and traffic lights, the tree-lined view up South Main is still recognizable in the winter of 2010-11. Though the old house at 402 S. Main, second from the left, has been replaced, most of the residences of a century ago yet remain.

The two houses in the foreground at left and right were both erected around 1895 by brothers-in-law and business partners. 406 S. Main, at left, was built by Edmund Hunt, who married Ward Lamson’s daughter Elizabeth M., and 405 S. Main, at right, by Elmer Addison Howard, who had joined Hunt’s shoe business in April 1883 when he married Elizabeth’s sister Mary.

Hunt & Howard first sold shoes on the south side of the square in the Wilson Block, but moved to the north side when they purchased Roth’s shoe business at 57 W. Broadway in 1889. Three years later they built the lovely turreted structure at 51 East Broadway which now houses the Guiding Light School of Massage and Healthy Inspirations.

Hunt & Howard’s father-in-law Ward Lamson lived just south across Madison from E. A. Howard, out of the picture to the right, in the old Caleb Baldwin house at 501 S. Main, which Ward’s son Ralph Waldo Lamson inherited and inhabited until his passing in 1938. Here is a picture of Ward and Ralph Lamson’s house.