The City of Mason City
The land upon which Mason City now stands was entered at the United States Land Office in Springfield, the year 1849, by an Irishman named William Maloney, who improved and settled on a forty-acre tract of his purchase adjoining the present corporation line on the northwest. He built a log cabin thereon, the dilapidated remains of which are still standing, surrounded by a cluster of forest trees. To protect his crop from stock running at large, he surrounded his forty-acre field with a sod fence, having no fencing material within his reach. Those sod fences, which were very common in the first prairie settlements, were made by digging a trench about two feet wide and two feet deep, throwing the dirt into a narrow and high ridge close on the inside, and then placing the sod removed in opening the trench carefully on top of the ridge, so that the grass would grow, and soon make a sod over the whole of it, thereby preventing its being beaten down by the rains. Before the railroad was located, however, George Straut, a man of wealth, an influential member of the Board of Directors, with an eye to business, bought out Mr. Maloney's land possessions, and laid out this town, embracing within the original plat 240 acres, in an oblong square of three-fourths of a mile in length, from north to south, and one-half mile in width, from east to west. The survey was made in September, 1857, be E. Z. Hunt, assisted by John M. Sweeney, the plat of which was filed of record in the Circuit Clerk's office the 20th of that month. There are thirty-seven full, and twenty-two fractional blocks in the original town. The blocks are 320 feet square, and divided into fourteen lots each, twelve of which are 50 x 150 feet, and two are 20 x 150, in the center of each block and extending east and west, to correspond with the twenty foot alley extending through each block north and south. The streets are eighty feet in width. The alley running through the blocks between Tonica and Main streets and extending from Court to Pine streets, however, is an exception to the rule in that it is forty feet wide, the additional twenty feet of width being taken from the east half of those blocks, which leaves the lots on that side 130 instead of 150 feet in length. This wide alley serves as a very convenient thoroughfare and by-way when the streets are crowded. The lots are numbered from north to south in each block, commencing at the northwest corner, which brings Lot 7 in the southwest corner, Lot 8 in the northeast, and Lot 14 in the southeast corner. An exception to this rule of numbering are the lots fronting Tonica street, on either side, between Court and Pine. The half blocks fronting this street, in the limit described, are divided into lots as follows: The east half of Blocks 13 and 16 divided into twenty lots each; the east half of fractional Block 13 is divided into thirteen full, and four fractional lots; the west half of fractional Block 15 is divided into six fractional and two full lots; fractional Blocks 8 and 12 and the east half of fractional Block 14, divided into ten lots each. Those lots and blocks are made fractional, because of the grounds reserved to the railroad company, upon which the depot and grain elevators are located. Block No. 30 was dedicated to the public by Mr. Straut, as a public square, and Block No. 36 as a park. The east and south sides of Block 13, east, north, and west sides of Block 16, and the east side of Block 17, contains all the mercantile business houses in the city now. Strawn's addition was surveyed by J. C. Warnock and plat filed of record August 8, 1866, Henry T. Strawn, proprietor. This addition consisted of six blocks, laid off in conformity to the plan of the original plat. It is three blocks in length from west to east and two blocks in width, from north to south, and lies on the north side of the original town, commencing at the northwest corner. Work having been resumed on the railroad, called forth this addition. Elliott's Addition was also surveyed by J. C. Warnock, the same year, and the plat filed of record September 25, 1866, Collin J. Elliott, proprietor. This addition consisted of three full and two half blocks, extending three and a half blocks in length from east to west, and two blocks in width from north to south. The streets and alleys correspond with those of the original plat, but the blocks are divided into four lots each, especially designed for residences, with which it is most all now occupied. It lies on the north side of the original town, extending in length from Strawn's Addition east to the northeast corner of the original town.|
Rosebrough's Addition was surveyed by Bentley Buxton and plat filed of record October 18, 1867, Benajah A. Rosebrough, proprietor. This addition consisted of two full, two half and one small fractional blocks, laid out on the plan of Elliott's Addition, and is situated on the south side of the original town, bounded on the east by the C. & A. Railroad.
Northeast Addition was surveyed by Bentley Buxton in the autumn of 1867, and the plat was filed of record February 29, 1868, William G. Greene, of Menard County, Gov. Richard Yates and John Mathers, of Morgan County, proprietors. This addition contains an area of eighty acres, and is divided into twenty full, four half and one fractional blocks. Its streets running east and west correspond with and are a continuation of those of the original town; but its streets running north and south are only fifty feet wide. The alleys run east and west through the blocks. The blocks are divided into twelve equal lots each. The lots are numbered from east to west on the north side of the blocks and from west to east on the south side, which brings No. 1 in the northeast corner, No. 6 in the northwest corner, No. 7 in the southwest corner and No. 12 in the southeast corner. This part of town is wholly occupied, so far as improved, by residences, except Block 11, upon which the beautiful new brick schoolhouse is located. This addition extends from the section line on north side of Elliott and Strawn's Additions south, along east end of Elliott's Addition and east side of original town, to the quarter-section line midway between Elm and Arch streets.
West Addition was surveyed by John R. Faulkner, and the plat filed of record September 29, 1868, George Straut, proprietor. This is laid out on the same plan as the Northeast Addition, except that the blocks are divided into fourteen lots, which are numbered as those of the Northeast Addition. The east half of Block No. 7 was given by Mr. Straut for a schoolhouse site, and upon it stands a large three-story brick schoolhouse. The west half of the block has since been purchased by the School Board, and the entire block is now used for that purpose. This addition lies on the west side of the original town, commencing at the northwest corner, extending west three blocks, and south along west boundary of original town five blocks, containing fifteen full blocks.
Mason City now embraces about three-fourths of a section, laid out in lots, and is divided near the center by the section-line running north and south, between Sections 7 and 8.
We will now return to the early settlement of Mason City, and its subsequent growth and prosperity. The inaugural steps to found a town, after laying it off in lots, was the sale of the lots. A public sale of lots was advertised to commence September 27, 1857, which was continued for two days, and which sale was attended by a large number of buyers and curious spectators, aggregating in number over a thousand. The whole county was agog with excitement over the novelty of a town "so far from no place," as they expressed it. Not-withstanding the uninviting, wild location, lots sold at from the high figure of $75 up to the extravagant price of $300-the latter price for choice lots in the supposed-to-be future business center of the town. Soon after the sale, David Dare put up the first building in the new town-a blacksmith shop-in the east part of the laid-out town, on Lot 14, Block 14, now owned by David Powell, on which is a neat dwelling, occupied by E. J. Eggleston. The next was a frame building for mercantile business, erected by Henry Keefer (who is now an agricultural implement dealer in Lincoln, Neb.), the same fall, near the laid-out line of the railroad, in Fractional Block 13, which, as soon as completed, was occupied by A. A. Cargill (now senior member of the firm of Cargill & Swing) and W. L. Woodward, who opened and operated the first store in town. After some years and several changes in the business firms occupying it, this home was wholly abandoned as a mercantile establishment. But this building is of historic interest in numerous other ways. Here was centered the first recognition of our town by the Government of the United States, by establishing it as a post office; and President Buchanan conferred upon A. A. Cargill the distinguished honor of the appointment as its Postmaster-the first postmaster of the town. Another is that the upper story was used as the initiatory step and nucleus of the crowning glory and pride of our town today-our public schools; and Miss Rhoda Allen (now Mrs. J. L. Hastings) was the teacher who taught the first school. Here, Mason City Lodge, No 403, A., F. & A. M., was organized under dispensation, early in the year 1864. Here also in the spring of 1866, the nucleus of the first newspaper in the town was founded, in a small job office, by Elder J. M. Haughey and Sheridan Eulass, who, at the time, were engaged in the picture business at that place. Here, also, the first religious services were held, Rev. Mr. Holtsclaw, a Baptist minister of Crane Creek, officiating.
The second store was that of C. Hume, on the corner of Tonic and Chestnut streets, but this building was removed some years ago, and its site occupied by the handsome brick buildings known as La Forge Block. The old frame building was erected by Joseph Elliott in the fall of 1858, and, in the upper story of which was organized early the following spring the Presbyterian Church of this city, with Rev. John Andrews as pastor.
The third store was that of Abraham and S. D. Swing, the building which now stands a short distance northeast of the La Forge elevator.
The first hotel was a small frame, erected by William Hibberd, which still stands on the north side of the Sherman House. This house was built late in the fall of 1857, on a lot donated by Mr. Straut for that purpose, and was dedicated on Christmas night by a dance, which was attended, for the novelty of the thing, by parties from all the surrounding towns. The summer of 1858, Henry Keefer erected the building which is now the wooden part of the St. Nicholas Hotel, which, as soon as completed, commenced business with Jeremiah Deitrich as proprietor. The same year, John Sutley built the house which now stands on the northeast corner of Tonica and Chestnut streets, and commenced hotel business in the name of the Sutley House, but which was given the name of Lion House by the town wags because the sign bore the figures of two lions. In those days, and up to 1867, all building material, merchandise and every other imported commodity had to be hauled with teams from Pekin, Lincoln, and Havana, and that was a very profitable though laborious business, and necessitated exposure to all kinds of weather. The first and still the largest steam grain-elevator is now know [sic] as the La Forge elevator.
The first wedding of resident parties in town, was that of Sheridan Eulass and Miss Emma Hibberd, daughter of Squire Hibberd, October 12, 1859, the ceremony being performed by Rv. S. Wheadon, of Havana.
The first child born in town was Charles M. Keefer, son of Henry Keefer, in December, 1857.
Although in 1858, our people were few in number, the "fire of '76'" burned deeply and fervently in their patriotic hearts, and they decided to have a regular old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration and public dinner, which they did in no half-way manner. Every man, woman and child in the town staked their reputations and fortunes upon the success of the enterprise, and with one accord, expunged the word failure from their vocabulary. With these fundamentals to commence with, it is almost superfluous to say the celebration and all of its concomitants were an immense success. That was a year in which this section was visited with frost in every month of the year, and the July frost came on the morning of the 4th. At an early hour in the morning, long processions of teams came in from all directions, and by 10 o'clock an immense crowd, for this sparsely settled country, had gathered in. A platform had been erected, and seats temporarily constructed of such building material as could be found loose, were provided. R. A. Hurt, one of the early merchants and the village lawyer, read the Declaration of Independence, and Hon. William Walker, a prominent lawyer of Havana, delivered the oration, after which the hosts were martialed and conducted in good order to the extensive and burdened tables, where all were sumptuously fed from the lavish contributions of the people.
The 4th of July, 1867, witnessed the advent of the first locomotive engine in Mason City, and was hailed with great demonstrations of delight by the people, which wound up with a free fight between the railroad construction hands and our town bloods. The completion of the road to Bloomington that same fall opened a new era in our commerce, both in produce and merchandise. Chicago, which had before been looked upon as a far-away and almost inaccessible metropolis, suddenly was brought near, and a very small amount of business was a sufficient inducement to make a visit there. Business enterprise of all kinds ran wild with excitement, and all the mechanical labor within reach was brought into requisition to supply the demand in the construction of new buildings, both of mercantile houses and dwellings. Improved and unimproved lots commanded almost fabulous prices, and the demand for residence locations induced the laying-out of the Northeast and West Additions, the former of which was soon dotted with handsome dwellings. For a few years, the prosperity and growth of the town was the wonder and the admiration or envy, as interests might inspire, of all the country and adjoining towns.
Our own people were not indifferent to their growing importance as a town, and the village government under which their public affairs were administered began to look too small in name to some of our more pretentious citizens; so, late in the session of the Legislature, the winter of 1869-69, a few of these high-toned gentry of city ambition went down to Springfield and procured the passage of a special charter act, incorporating our village as a city. A large majority of our citizens were thunder-struck with surprise when they learned the fact, and denounced it as a imposition and a fraud; but the edict had gone forth, and there was no alternative but to submit to the new order of things, under protest. The parties who procured this charter have never been certainly known to the public up to this day, and probably never will be until some on of them discloses it in a dying confession. By this charter, they city was divided into four wards, and the first election was held in April, 1869, the result of which will appear in its proper order.
Mason City was organized as a village by an ordinance approved April 7, 1866, signed by J. P. Walker, President of the Board of Trustees, and attested by J. A. Walker, Clerk of the Board, including in the corporate limits the original plat. This form of government continued until the spring of 1869, when the first election under the new charter took place, as above stated. At the city election, the following officers were elected: T. J. Watkins, Mayor; Thomas Lamoreux, City Judge; S. N. Hornbuckle, City Marshal; William Warnock, Jr., City Collector; Dr. I. N. Ellsberry, Alderman, First Ward; J. C. Montgomery, Alderman, Second Ward; S. D. Swing, Alderman, Third Ward; Dr. J. A. W. Davis, Alderman, Fourth Ward. Officers appointed by the new Council: Dr. J. A. Walker, Treasurer; S. N. Hornbuckle, Assessor; G. W. Ellsberry, Clerk.
City election April 4, 1870: H.T. Strawn, Mayor; Well. Housworth, City Marshal; D. M. Childs, City Collector; D. E. Le Sourd, Alderman, First Ward; J. A. Phelps, Alderman, Second Ward; John Pritchett, Alderman, Third Ward; George Young, Alderman, Fourth Ward; R. C. Dement (appointed), City Clerk. Judge Lamoreux and Marshal Housworth having resigned, a special election was held December, 1870, to fill the vacancies, which resulted in the election of J. S. Shuck, City Judge, and George Tippey, Marshal.
City election April 5, 1871: Luther Naylor, Mayor; M. C. Vanloon, City Marshal; F. N. Smith, City Collector; H. M. Anderson, Alderman, First Ward; George A. Withers, Alderman, Second Ward; N. Travis, Alderman, Third Ward; J. S. Gates, Alderman, Fourth Ward. Officers appointed by the Council: J. F. Culp, City Clerk; John Lazell, Treasurer. F. N. Smith, having failed to qualify as Collector, and Judge Shuck having resigned, a special election to fill the vacancies was held August 1, 1871, at which J. H. Wandle was elected City Judge, and Jeremiah Riggins was elected Collector.
City election, April 1, 1872: Luther Naylor, Mayor; Joseph Statler, City Judge; A. S. Jackson, City Marshal; Rev. S. S. Martin, City Collector. Aldermen-H. M. Anderson, First Ward; Andrew McElhany, Second Ward; N. Travis, Third Ward; J. S. Gate, Fourth Ward. J. F. Culp was re-appointed City Clerk, and John Lazell, Treasurer.
A petition, as provided by law, having been presented to the City Council, an election was ordered to take place August 5, 1872, to vote upon the question of organizing under the general incorporation act, which was carried by a large majority of the voters, who were glad of an opportunity to "set down on" the old "Tweed charter," as they contemptuously called the one which they were then under. This required a change in the boundaries of the wards, as it was found, by a census, that we were entitled to but three wards and two Aldermen from each ward. The Clerk and Treasurer now became elective officers, and a City Attorney was added to the list. They city government went into operation under the general incorporation act at the beginning of the next fiscal year.
City election, April 15, 1873: T. J. Watkins, Mayor; J. C. Warnock, City Clerk; John Lazell, City Treasurer; W. P. Freeman, City Attorney; Jacob Benscoter, Police Magistrate; Dennis Pride (appointed), City Marshal. Aldermen-A. A. Cargill, J. S. Gates, First Ward; W. I. Kincaid, J. C. Ellsberry, Second Ward; W. S. Chenoweth, L. D. Case, Third Ward.
City election, April 21, 1874: Aldermen-Dr. J. A. Walker, First Ward; W. I. Kincaid, Second Ward; M. C. Vanloon (to fill vacancy), Second Ward; S. D. Swing, Third Ward. John Lazell, City Treasurer; J. C. Warnock, City Clerk; G. W. Ellsberry, City Attorney; John B. Wilson (appointed), City Marshal.
City election, April 20, 1875: T. J. Watkins, Mayor; J. O. Warnock, City Clerk; John Lazell, City Treasurer; I. R. Brown, City Attorney. Aldermen-J. S. Gates, First Ward; M. C. Vanloon, Second Ward; W. S. Chenoweth, Third Ward. John B. Wilson (appointed), City Marshal.
City election, April 18, 1876: J. C. Warnock, City Clerk; John Lazell, City Treasurer; I. R. Brown, City Attorney. Aldermen-Augustus Green, First Ward; John Dietrich, Second Ward; S. D. Swing, Third Ward. D. E. Lessourd (appointed), City Marshal.
City election, April 17, 1877: T. J. Watkins, Mayor; J. C. Warnock, City Clerk; John Lazell, City Treasurer; W. a. Bartholomew, City Attorney; D. E. Lessourd (appointed), City Marshal. Aldermen-J. S. Gates, First Ward; F. N. Smith, Second Ward; Luther Naylor, Third Ward.
J. C. Warnock having resigned the office of City Clerk, and election was ordered by the Council to take place October 16, 1877, to fill the vacancy. The election was held, but was decided to be unwarranted by the charter, consequently null and void, and the vote was not canvassed. At the meeting of October 27, 1877, the Mayor appointed W. H. Weaver to fill the vacancy.
City election, April 16, 1878: J. C. Johnson, Police Magistrate. Aldermen-Nelson Warnock, First Ward; John Dietrich, Second Ward; S. D. Swing, Third Ward. D. E. Lessourd (appointed), City Marshal.
Mayor Watkins having died soon after this election, Alderman J. S. Gates was unanimously appointed Mayor for the unexpired term, by his colleagues in the Council.
In consequence of the continued absence of W. H. Weaver in business, the office of City Clerk was declared vacant at the meeting of April 5, 1879, and Frank M. Conehay was appointed to fill the vacancy.
City election, April 15, 1879: J. C. Warnock, Mayor; F. M. Conehay, City Clerk; J. H. Faith, City Treasurer; I. R. Brown, City Attorney. Aldermen-Dr. A. M. Bird, First Ward; Henry Wakeman, Second Ward; J. C. Ambrose, Third Ward. D. E. Lessourd (appointed), City Marshal.