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 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 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, — article by Rory Goff.

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

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